"You should behave more like a girl.” Any girl must have heard this comment more than once from somebody who tried to correct their behavior. In this context, to behave like a girl means to be quiet and calm. However, this type of statement is old-fashioned and it has been acknowledged that it is unfair to presume that being calm is a characteristic of a girl. Public cognition is changing.
Image of Girls in History
The image and role of women in Korea are deeply related to agriculture and Confucianism. In prehistoric times, women used to be worshiped for their ability to give birth. In addition, the fact that women continued to live even after bleeding on a monthly basis made them even more mysterious. However when agriculture and cultivation became available, the status of women plummeted.
In the Neolithic age, the surplus production of agriculture triggered an economy run by capital which made the labor of men more important than women. Because labor was directly connected to capital, women supported men on the sidelines and their role was to reproduce boys who would become the future breadwinners in the family.
Plus, a woman was considered as an object to a man in the Joseon Dynasty as reproduction was emphasized more than ever. The complete division of labor between women and men was deemed ideal. As a result, the society took on patriarchy and women were forced to play submissive roles. It is well known that the low birth rate in Korea nowadays reflects two factors: it costs too much to raise kids and it is unfair for women to have kids. Jung Hee-jin, a feminist writer wrote ‘Not giving birth is the least women can do to protest against the men-oriented system’ in her book called Challenge of Feminism. “Thinking about the struggle managing to work and raise babies at the same time, marriage seems scary to me,” said a Sophomore in the Department of German Language and Literature at Hanyang University(HYU) who was only indentified with her last name Lee.
Commercialism Makes Matters Worse
“It is easy to find that a lot of Korean girl groups perform wearing costumes similar to school uniforms. Some might say that it’s because the general concept of the girl groups is to be cute and innocent. However, it is more likely because of the remaining image of woman that was made in the past,” said Seo Sun-young, a Visiting Professor in Liberal Arts School at HYU. “Considering the lyrics of the songs and how sex-appealing the school uniforms are, the concept of Korean girl groups is focused on virginity. Emphasis on virginity goes back to the Joseon Dynasty when reproducing sons was almost synonymous to the wealth of a family. Back then virginity and the notion of sexual purity proved that the decent of property from father to son would be smoother due to lower chances of half brothers or sisters,” Professor Seo explained.
Girls Should Define ‘Girlish’
Even girls have thought that the word ‘girlish’ means something weak or fragile. In an advertisement by Whisper, a brand for female sanitary products, the director asked some people including both girls and boys to show what it looks like to run like a girl. They ran slowly focusing on their hair or appearance, not doing their best. However when the young girls were asked to run like a girl, they just ran as fast as they could, because they have no biased opinions of being a girl.
Simone de Beavoir, a French writer and philosopher, said “One is not born a woman, but becomes one.” Times have been changing and it is important that something like a girl or being girlish does not work as a humiliating insult. Lee Min-hyang, a junior in the Department of English Language and Literature at HYU said “I think that vocabulary related to gender should not be included when describing someone because that’s the beginning of discrimination. I personally believe that girlish is not really a good word and should fade away over time.”
You Are Just You
The Independence and rights of women have been limited socially and the glass ceiling still continues to exist. The first step would be to acknowledge that gender is simply a difference and should not work against someone. Women are women and girls are girls. Men are men and boys are boys. The characteristic of a girl or boy depends on the very person who is a girl or a boy, not anyone else.