“Single Mothers are Ignorant Whores”: Update


As you’ll recall from last month’s article, about the Ministry of Health and Welfare (보건복지부; MOHW) once defining single mothers as having “low levels of education [and] impulsive sexual drives”, I promised to find out how recently that had been posted on the Ministry’s website, speculating that it was sometime within, say, the last decade or so.

You can imagine my surprise then, when Seunghee Han of the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network (한국미혼모지원네트워크; KUMSN) informed me that wasn’t removed until as recently as May 2010. This was in response to Executive Director Heejung Kwon posting the definition on the Missmammamia (미스맘마미아) website, which prompted many mothers to write directly to the Ministry to complain.

Unfortunately however, the definition that has replaced it is also a little problematic, implying that most Korean single mothers are in their teens. Whereas that is certainly true of most Western countries though, and – if the 2008 Drama Little Mom Scandal (리틀맘 스캔들) above is any guide – may also be the Korean public’s perception, the reality is that most are in their late-twenties or early-thirties, as the following post on the KUMSN website makes clear:

(For a good introductory article to the plight of single mothers in Korea, see the New York Times here)

건강길라잡이사이트문제있습니다 / A Problem with the Health Guide Website

건강길라잡이는 보건복지가족부와 건강증진사업지원단에서 운영 중인 국민 모두의 건강증진을 위한 건강증진사업 홈페이지입니다. 그런데 여기에 쓰인 미혼모의 정의는 이상합니다.

The “Health Guide” is a website jointly run by the MOHW and the Management Center for Health Promotion for the public health of all citizens. However, the definition of single mothers on it is strange.

합법적이고 정당한 결혼절차 없이 임신중이거나 출산한 여자를 미혼모라고 정의내리고 있는데 마치 미혼 임신, 출산을 하면 모두 불법을 저지르고 있는 범죄인으로 여기고 있는 것 같습니다.

According to the definition, single mothers are women who are pregnant or who have given birth who have not gone through the legal and proper marriage procedures. Put this way, it sounds like all unmarried pregnant women or mothers have committed some sort of crime!

그리고 기본적으로 미혼모를 대부분 10대라 여기고 있습니다. 그러나 2010년 조사한 바로는 한 지역사회에 있는 미혼모의 경우, 평균 나이는 20대 후반 30대초반이라는 결과도 있었습니다.

Also, it basically says that most single mothers are in their teens, whereas according to the results of a survey of single mothers in one local area [James – unnamed] in 2010, most were in their late-twenties or early-thirties.

국민들의 건강을 증진하기 위해 유익한 정보를 제공하는 사이트에서도 이런 잘못된 정보를 제공하기 때문에 미혼모들에 대한 사회적인 인식이 더디게 바뀌고 있습니다. 잘못된 정보는 정정되어야 합니다.

Because there is wrong information even in a guide aimed at promoting citizens’ health, the public perception of single mothers is slow to change. This wrong information needs to be corrected.


And here is the section of the guide/website referred to:

10임신과미혼모 / Teen Pregnancy and Single Mothers

미혼모 : 합법적이고 정당한 결혼절차 없이 임신중이거나 출산한 여자.

Single Mother: A pregnant woman or mother who has not gone through the correct and proper marriage procedures.

산업화 도시화 과정, 성에 대한 가치관이나 태도의 변화, 이성교재의 범위가 늘어남에 따라 미혼모의 수가 계속적으로 증가. 미혼모 중 약 25%는 10대.

Because of industrialization and urbanization, people’s sense of values about and attitudes towards sex are changing, and more people [James – I think it means unmarried people] are having sexual relationships. Accordingly, the number of single mothers is rising, and roughly 25% of those are in their teens.

(James – Before you quite rightly point out that 25% isn’t “most” single mothers, the guide contradicts itself just two lines further down)

미혼모에 대한 정확한 통계는 없으나 전국 출산력 조사결과 18~34세 미만의 미혼여성들 중 3.4%가 임신의 경험이 있는 것으로 추정.

While it is difficult to get accurate statistics about single mothers, based on the results of a national birthrate survey [James – unnamed] it is estimated that 3.4% of single women aged between 18 and under 34 have had the experience of being pregnant (source, right).

미혼모는 대부분 10대 임신으로 교육적 경제적 정도가 낮아 충분한 건강관리를 받을 수 없으며 부모로서의 발달과업을 달성할 수 없다.

As most single mothers are teenagers, with inadequate access to healthcare and low levels of education and earning ability, then they can not really succeed as parents.

신체적인 미숙과 영양부족으로 유산, 조산, 저체중아 출산 등 고위험 임산부와 고위험 태아 및 신생아가 된다.

Teenagers that are not fully physically developed, and/or are malnourished, are at high risk of having miscarriages, premature births, underweight children, and/or complications during their pregnancy.

미혼인 여성이 임신을 하면 임신한 결과를 인공유산과 분만 중 어느 쪽을 선택할 것인지를 결정해야 하고 분만을 할 경우는 자신이 키울 것인지 입양을 시킬 것인지를 결정해야 한다.

If a single woman becomes pregnant, her two options are having an abortion or delivering the baby. If she chooses the latter, then she has to decide if she will raise it herself or offer it for adoption.

우리나라의 경우 84.8%가 인공유산, 분만은 15.2%(김승권, 1992)

In Korea, 84.8% of women in such a situation choose to have an abortion, and 15.2% choose to deliver it. (Kim Sung-gwon, 1992)


Apologies for not being able to find the title of the book referred to for the last figure, but I’m afraid I’ll have to recover from the shock of seeing a 19 year-old source used before I start looking. Moreover, combine that with the sloppily-written, contradictory, and incorrect information provided earlier, then frankly – and ironically – it’s only as I type this that I realize how bad things must be for single mothers here.

Sure, call me melodramatic, and/or reading too much into what is most likely simply a hastily-written piece of work, but recall that it comes from an organization presumably charged with supporting single mothers, promoting their rights, and trying to overcome stereotypes. Yet if that’s the best that it can do, then I shudder to think of how other organizations and segments of society treat them, with the sterling exception of the KUMSN.

But to end on a lighter note: has anybody seen Little Mom Scandal, and/or know how sympathetic it was to single mothers? Please let me know!

(Thanks to Seunghee Han of the KUMSN for the information. And also to Marilyn for putting me in touch with her, and again for translating October’s much longer article!)

Korean Gender Reader


1) Kiss of the Spider Woman (거미연인의 키스) comes to Korea

From HanCinema:

A Korean version of “Kiss of the Spider Woman“, a theatrical adaptation of Argentine playwright Manuel Puig’s novel, will take to the stage from Feb. 11 to April 24.

Set in a cell in Buenos Aires in 1976, the play revolves around two inmates _ the revolutionary Valentin and homosexual Molina. The play has sparked controversy over the relationship between the two main characters, but it has been widely produced in film and musical form. The musical version swept seven Tony Awards in 1992, receiving rave reviews both from critics and fans.

Lee Ji-na directs the Korean adaptation. She has built her reputation with the play “The Vagina Monologues” and musicals “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Gwanghwanmun Yeonga”. “I will create new characters suited to each actor”, said Lee.

2) Fatherhood in the ROK

Over at Busan Haps, writer and father Roy Early talks about the challenges of raising a kid abroad; which as I can personally attest to, are (usually) much greater than raising a child at home.

See also Oh, Baby! by Daegu Pocket’s Craig White.

3) How to deal with ajoshi, or middle-aged Korean men

Found via her recent column in the New York Times on the shortage of single men there, how can one not love Patricia Park’s observations about Korean life:

All day I patiently swallow the comments ajoshi make about my appearance, my bad Korean (even though, ironically, we can carry on whole conversations in the language and we understand each other 100%), how ethnic Koreans who move to America are “living the good life” (aka they sold out), or how I should be able to buy the more expensive item because I am “rich” because I am from America. The taxi ajoshi grumble about how you (as the customer) inefficiently stood on the wrong side of the street and so they are forced to do a U-turn. They get mad if you are going somewhere (still in central Seoul) that they don’t feel like going.

At night, all that piled up frustration gets released in the drunken cab ride back to my apt, and there have been moments where I have shouted back things like: “Eat well and live well!” (the K-equivalent to “F— you”), “I’m writing down your ID# to report you to the authorities!”, “Why else do you think Korean men have fallen in popularity?” and just, simply, “Why are you so mean?”

Needless to say, these tactics hardly work, and they only alienate you from the ajoshi. I learned this the hard way. I’m still learning; I’m still pissing off ajoshi who piss me off left and right. Because even though my father is an ajoshi, forty years of living in America has softened him up and he lets his children have opinions about things. But hopefully you can learn from my mistakes with the following tutorial.

For that tutorial, by no means only relevant for Korean-American women, see her blog New Yorker in Seoul here. Also, see here for why you might find landlords refusing to rent to you in areas with lots of coffeeshops and sooljeep (술집)!

4) Organization helps single moms

The Wall Street Journal interviews Dr. Richard Boas, who started and funds the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network.

Also, see #12 here for another interview just after he founded it in early 2009.

5) People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman by Richard Lloyd Parry

A review from the Economist:

EVERY foreign correspondent has stories that get under his or her skin—the ones for which the only hope of securing enough column-inches is to write a book. For Richard Lloyd Parry, who has spent 15 years in Tokyo for two British newspapers, the Independent and then the Times, it was one which linked his homeland with his adopted home: the death of Lucie Blackman, a 21-year-old Briton who was killed in Japan in 2000.

All of the review is interesting, but these last parts in particular caught my eye:

…shocking are the failings of the policing and judicial system. Mr Lloyd Parry partly blames the prejudices of the Japanese police about the foreign women who work in the [hostess] trade for their failure for so long to catch a serial rapist who used chloroform and knockout drugs to subdue his victims and filmed himself raping them…(source, above)

“People Who Eat Darkness” may fuel a Western prejudice that Mr Lloyd Parry himself tries to counter: that such crimes are peculiarly “Japanese”—perpetrated by desperate, repressed men infatuated with a myth about Caucasian sexual availability. Already, her case is often confused with the rape and murder of another British woman, Lindsay Hawker, in 2007. But in fact, violent crime is far rarer in Japan than elsewhere. The “Japaneseness” may lie in the illusion of safety which induced the two women to let their guard down. It is not Japan that is weird and terrifying, nor is it the Japanese alone who “eat darkness”; it is simply “people”.

Fortunately no comparable Korean cases quickly come to mind, but then there are definitely similar myths about Caucasian women here, and as I type I can vaguely recall something about the death of a female English teacher(?) in Itaewon at about the same time that also wasn’t investigated properly (but not to be confused with this case). Does anybody know more about that ?

6) Why the crackdown on “Kiss Rooms” (키스방)?

In a follow-up to the last article on them (see #5 here), Asian Correspondent explains why the owners of these brothels are only being prosecuted for their advertising, not for what goes on inside them.


7) Korean lesbian film Ashamed (창피해) plays at Berlin International Festival

While the film “pushes the envelope for same-sex eroticism, a narrative first in South Korean cinema” according to Variety, surprisingly I can find little information about it in English other than this synopsis at Dramabeans, and this (albeit interesting) comment at Asian Media Wiki. Can anybody add anything?

8) Most divorcees dodge child support payments

Some basic, albeit shocking figures from the Chosun Ilbo:

Some 64 percent of divorcees ordered by a court to pay child support fail to do so, government statistics show. And of them, 70.4 percent fall behind out of spite rather than because they do not have the money…

…countries like Sweden and Germany try to avoid such problems by making the government pay first and then collect the money from the divorced parent.

Does anyone know how these compare internationally?

(“Some forms of prostitution – in particular [these] ‘pan pan’ teenage amateurs – were the direct result of the presence of GIs as sources of income and images of liberation.” Source)

9) Feminism and the Cold War in the U.S. Occupation of Japan, 1945 – 1952

An essential article for anyone looking at the origins of the current “Yellow Fever”  stereotype, and which I’m sure has many parallels to the Korean experience after the Korean War:

It was within this context of the American project to civilize and democratize a racially inferior other that Japanese women as gendered subjects emerged as centrally important figures. Seen by the occupation authorities as victims for centuries of “Oriental male chauvinism,” Japanese women embodied feudal tradition, backwardness, and lack of civilization. As helpless women of color, they became ideal candidates for American salvation and emancipation. The occupier’s zeal for liberation of Japanese women from indigenous male domination was all-consuming and multifaceted. MacArthur granted suffrage to Japanese women and praised their “progress” under U.S. tutelage as setting an example for the world. Other male occupiers “emancipated” Japanese women by initiating various constitutional and legal changes and policies. Following a familiar colonial trope of heterosexual rescue and romance, some American men expressed their desire to save Japanese women in more personal ways: Earnest Hoberecht, a correspondent for United Press International, advocated kissing as a path to liberation’ Raymond Higgins, the military governor stationed in Hiroshima, married his Japanese maid to “save” her from the aftermath of the atomic bomb and her abusive husband.

Read more at Japan Focus.

10) A Shanghai Scrap Valentine’s Day Exclusive Interview: East-West Relations(hip) Blogging with Shanghai Shiok!

In Shanghai Scrap’s own words:

Well. It has long been my observation that some of the best and most trenchant observations on East-West relations come from those who have – or have had – East-West relations. Which is to say: you might just have a keener appreciation for the different ways in which China and, say, the United States resolve differences if you’re an American who’s had to resolve who gets to do the dishes with your Chinese partner. Obviously, there’s limits to this kind of wisdom, but you sort of get my point. The regrettable thing, though, is that this kind of thinking is seriously devalued, if not outright ignored, by most so-called “serious” thinkers about China and the West (many of whom are in such relationships).

So today, Valentine’s Day, Shanghai Scrap is going to strike a blow in favor of changing that. Enter Christine H. Tan [above], author of the relatively new but already much celebrated Shanghai Shiok! blog to discuss East-West relation(ship) blogs…

Meanwhile, I know of and have linked to many Korean-Western relationship blogs here, but I confess I’ve lost track since writing this magazine article on the subject last year. Does anybody know of a convenient list of them somewhere?