When my fellow English columnist Kyu asked me if I would be okay with my husband staying at home taking care of the baby, I said no. When he asked me why, I didn’t really have a good answer… so I thought: why don’t I like the idea of my man staying home?
The paradoxical nature of reverse sexual discrimination can be partially explained by cultural hegemony. Cultural hegemony, a term coined by Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, refers to “the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class, who manipulates the culture of the society- the beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, and mores- so that their ruling-class worldview becomes the worldview that is imposed and accepted as the cultural norm” . That is to say, we have internalized and institutionalized the norms, values, and behaviors of the patriarchal system that has been around for hundreds of years. Throughout most of Korean history, women were treated as property. The value of a woman was determined by her relationship to her husband and son; it did not come from herself. In Joseon Korea, a man was able to divorce his wife if she committed any of the acts of the chil guh ji ak (칠거지악, 七去之惡), which included disobeying her in-laws, not producing a son, being lewd, getting jealous, having a serious disease, being talkative, and stealing. There were clear distinctions between the superiority of the husband over his inferior wife, reflected by one of the five Confucian ethics of human relationships (오륜, 五倫): discrimination between husband and wife.
In modern Korea as well as other parts of the world, this kind of overt sexism has clearly decreased, and women are rising up to fight for their equality. However, a “benevolent” form of sexism still pervades our society today- a seemingly favorable but nonetheless patronizing view of women that even women themselves hold. Women are considered “helpless” and in need of protection, and many women enjoy this “special treatment” they get; we are agents of the system we oppose. We like some things about the system because they are beneficial to us; so the things we like, we shut up about, and the things we don’t like, we fight against. It’s funny how we don’t say anything when men help us carry heavy things because, I mean, how dare they think they are superior and stronger than us, right? If we were true advocates of equality, I would think that we would demand military service for women as well, not just equal pay. Furthermore, the feminist demand for gender equality has exceeded the point of hypocrisy and has become a paradox, as instances of reverse discrimination have become quite apparent today with the implementation of many services exclusively for women, such as “women-only” parking lots, taxis, and libraries. This actually seems to promote inequality, as it serves to acknowledge that women are, in fact, inferior, and depend on “special services” to be protected.
Even the recently released 50,000 Won has been a subject of gender equality controversy. It was the first Korean banknote to have a woman on it, reflecting the increasing awareness of and demand for gender equality today. Ironically, however, Shin Saimdang (신사임당, 申師任堂) was chosen to be on this banknote because she was the “ideal” traditional woman- a hyun mo yang cheo (현모양처, 賢母良妻), literally meaning wise mother and good wife- who raised a great son, Yulgok (율곡, 栗谷). Even in today’s seemingly changing society, the notion of “New Woman” remains immature. This is likely because gender, unlike sex, is a social construct, and we are taught how to be a man or a woman from a very young age. Traditional gender roles have stuck with us for so long that they are difficult to replace with new ones. These traditional views were reflected in the responses to a survey that asked, “What do you think about women in the workforce?” and “Who do you think should be in charge of housework?” . The majority of respondents held the view that women should “focus on marriage and childbearing,” and 63.3% of men and 55.8% of women thought that “the wife should primarily be responsible for household chores” . Moreover, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) revealed in a study that Korean married men spend the least amount of time doing housework among all 29 OECD countries, with an average of 45 minutes per day . Even with the rise in the number of working women, the amount of time that men spend doing household work has not increased in the least. Thus, while it is true that most women do not want their husbands to stay home, it is also important to note that the majority of men themselves do not want to stay home. They also have been “brainwashed” by social standards and feel the need to support their family as the head of the family.
So, to get back to the question: why don’t I want my man to stay home while I go out and work? Probably because this idea that men are supposed to support the family has been engrained in my head, and because, I admit, I do not want to be looked upon as having an “incompetent” husband. Perhaps a more acceptable explanation, if there is one, would be that income discrepancies still exist today, and women, on average, earn less than men for doing the same work, making it harder for the woman to be the main supporter of the family. Not only that, men and women tend to dominate different types of industries, with women in jobs that pay less. Either way, though, we are victims of the system; as Kyu said, perfect equality may be impossible, but the first step toward it is for both men and women to stop feeding the system.
 Social Psychology lectures 5, 15 (Professor Paul Chang)
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