Korean Sociological Image #24: Childcare is Women’s Job

Oma(Source: 제동환 via Photo and Share CC)

For traveling parents, this is a godsend:

Asiana’s mother-friendly services have been gaining enthusiastic reviews from those who have been through the ordeals of traveling with infants.

Through the recent launch of “Happy Mom Services,” the airline has been providing exclusive check-in counters for mothers at the airport, breastfeeding covers and baby slings free of charge for travelers with babies.

It gets even better:

In response to the enthusiastic reception, Asiana will extend the “Happy Mom Services” to 66 airports internationally. Also, they will lengthen the age limit from 24 months to 36 months old…

….Passengers with infants will also receive a “Priority Tag” on their checked baggage. Arriving passengers with infants will now be able to quickly retrieve their baggage without the hassle of caring for their infant while waiting at baggage claim…

…For larger infants traveling on children tickets, Asiana is providing free installation of baby safety seats upon reservation. Asiana hopes the service will negate the need for passengers to bring along their own baby seats.

And considering the discriminatory hiring practices of its main rival Korean Air, which refuses to hire men for its cabin crew (see #2 here), then it seems somewhat picky, almost churlish to find any fault with Asiana’s initiative.

But still, “Happy Mom Services”?

(Source: Travel Story)

Yes, easy to overlook, unfortunately we are already barraged with signals that encourage and/or reinforce the notion that childcare is primarily women’s responsibility. For instance, wherever you are in the world, note the warning signs the next time you step on an escalator: only very rarely will you see child stick figures being protected by a male or gender-neutral one rather than a female one. Or, closer to home, consider Seoul Mayor Oh Se Hoon’s recent “Happy Women, Happy Seoul” plan involving the provision of such things as more women’s toilets and the now notorious pink parking spaces: as I point out here, providing larger spaces for those with children and pushchairs to unload is all well and good…but not if fathers are not allowed to use them. And I could go on with many similar examples.

Granted, probably none are confined only to Korea. But in the country with:

…then one suspects that greater attention should be paid to the grass-roots origins of those issues, which unfortunately Asiana’s choice of name only adds to.

Having said that, they’ll still easily be my first choice for traveling with my two young daughters from now on. And if it would be effective, I’d consider writing letters to both English and Korean-language newspapers to draw Asiana’s attention to the problem, hopefully persuading them to change the name to “Happy Parents’ Service.” What do you think?

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Images Series, see here)

14 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #24: Childcare is Women’s Job

  1. But “parent” is so much harder to write in hangeul! =)
    Yeah, my (adult) female students always speak about international companies and their day care services with a mix of incredulousness and longing.
    Just out of curiosity, if you had the power to influence the Korean government, what one thing would you recommend they do to increase the birthrate?


  2. it wouldn’t be that hard to call it “해피 부모 서비스” or shift the emphasis by calling it “해 피 베이비 서비스” instead.
    The government has a limited amount they can do here, but they could start by guaranteeing maternal AND paternal leave. But much of the change needs to be at the business/societal level, with companies not punishing women for taking time off to give birth, allowing men the flexibitity to take time off to take care of their families, relieving mothers of some of the burden. When companies start to provide the flexibility for workers to take time off for kids, things will get better.
    The other component here is the expense not of raising kids per se, but of the level of educational competetiveness. Hagwons, quite simply, are considered a must, rather than a luxury for children’s success. Regular schools now work on the assumption that students are getting at least a portion, if not a majority, of their scholastic knowledge in outside coursework. Bringing down the cost and/or importance and competetiveness of education in Korea, combined with flexible time new parents can use without being punished will do more for the birth rate than any government incentive or legislation will do.


  3. Thanks GG: I realize I say it perhaps every 3rd comment you make, but that is pretty much what I was going to write, albeit with some witticism about being unable to choose just one.

    Adding what I can then, I’d especially echo your point about change needing to be at the business/societal level, for more on which I’d point to this post I wrote on the subject 2 years ago. In it, I argued that considering that Korea went from the highest number of salarymen in the OECD (and with the attendant male-breadwinner welfare system and mentality) in 1997 to the highest number of irregular workers in the OECD just 10 years later, it was simply incomprehensible how Korean work culture remained (and remains) firmly stuck in the pre-crisis era. Even in 2009, it is not at all uncommon to find companies that fire and/or expect women to leave once they get married for instance.

    Regardless, the best start for the government would be to actually enforce the existing legislation they have. Despite it only being a miserable 3 days long for instance, when he inquired about it during a job interview a friend of an expectant friend’s Korean husband was simply told that the company grants no paternity leave whatsoever, despite it being law. Of course, job interviewees in Western countries wouldn’t be in a position to challenge that either, but I doubt that companies would be so blatant about breaking the law.

    Finally, expected costs of hagwons is indeed a big factor in people’s decision to have children here. Considering that classes ran until past midnight at a place I used to work at, I noticed with interest newspaper articles about new laws saying that they have to close by 10pm. Still noticing articles like that a year later though…and still hagwons close whenever they damn well like.


  4. You should fly Asiana with a kid(s) and try to use the Happy Mom Services… wonder what they will say, apart from you not being a mum. Will they be able to process the fact that a male furriner is taking care of children?


    1. Oh don’t get me wrong: judging by all the news reports and associated images I can see, fathers are more than welcome to and have already been using the service. But I agree with the sentiment, and it just reinforces how misguided the choice of name was.


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  6. Hi James, great post as usual. I don’t have time to add any comments to it, but there is something I wanted to bring up that’s not in relation to this post but I didn’t know where else to write it.

    I was just wondering if you were going to be writing about Kim Daul’s death/suicide, seeing as you wrote a post about her not that long ago that caused some… heated discussion! I noticed a quote on one of the portals from her saying she thought she was a 왕따 but I wasn’t sure where it came from. Like I said, unfortunately I’m in an exam period at the moment and have little time for blogging and such, but I was just curious to see if you had any thoughts.


    1. Thanks, and I’m afraid not: after writing this rather unflattering post about her back in August, I won’t be touching the topic with a bargepole, and have in all seriousness been holding a bit of a vigil on the blog today in anticipation of a wave of negative comments and trolls and so on. Fortunately though, although I have been called names here and there, and today has the dubious honor of being the most “popular” my blog has ever been, I’ve yet to receive a single negative comment about it.


  7. “we are already barraged with signals that encourage and/or reinforce the notion that childcare is primarily women’s responsibility.”

    We. Woman is best for child. Primates and dogs. Signals from heaven.


  8. I have it on good authority that Asiana won’t hire men for training the cabin crew, though. At least not in the area of English-language training.

    (Probably a good policy, though, considering how badly the (very pretty) flight attendants want a promotion, which is partly dependent on their English ability evaluations.)

    This name exhibits the same sort of sexism that I suspect was commonplace in the West even 30 years ago or 40 at most. Didn’t this stuff only start really disappearing in the English-speaking world in the 70s? Hell, even today many Western ads have sexist undertones.


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