Why sons?

You learn about gender inequality early in your life in Korea. The idea of male superiority infuses into your life, almost as you are born…as people questioned my mother why after having a second daughter and the last child she will be able to have, my mother was still happy to have me.

My father was the 5th first son of the generation of first sons, carrying on supposedly an important noble lineage (although not as famous as my mother’s ancestors). That meant he needed to have a son, and if he did not, adopt a son of one of his brother’s children as his own. Even at a very early age, I was aware of these questions. When I was very young, I remember my sister telling me I have to be like a son to my father because he did not have one. As though not having a son is such a bad thing. A message received…being born as a girl is something to be unhappy about.

Thankfully my father never adopted any of my uncle’s sons and he did at least send a message to his daughters that women are equal to men, at least his daughters I guess. Of course, what he preached never really showed in his behavior toward my mother. So the next message received…wives were indeed not equal to husbands.

Then there are messages from your schoolmates in the elementary school, those who will tell you that boys are superior to girls. Sadly so many girls truly believe that by then, since that is how they grew up. If a girl has a brother, the treatment toward the younger or older brother is so obviously better that it is hard to ignore. When girls receive top marks, which I have done often, it is often because they are lucky or they are still young so when they grow up, things will change. Another message received…boys are indeed superior to girls.

I have received so many messages in my life, and not just as I was growing up in Korea. I am glad that I escaped to a country with more equality although I have experienced rampant sexism in the U.S. as well. At least my life is not all about getting skinny and finding a husband, a pattern which even very accomplished and smart ladies of Korea seem to fall into.

What is strange is that, at many points in Korean history, there were queens, and women of extraordinary abilities who were never forgotten. What has happened to our society to change that?

I am still waiting to receive that message…

Pigeons in the bathrooms

I don’t have many stories of my dad’s younger years as he has never been a talkative man. The only stories I have heard repeatedly are mostly stories from the three mandatory years he served in the military. Korea had and still has a compulsory military system. In my father’s days, they had to serve three years. Now I believe it is closer to two. So there are just a few stories that I know about my father besides the ones about his military years; one of which is the story about the pigeons.

My father hates pigeons. He generally likes animals and I thought he had a fairly fond spot for birds. I mean I had a veritable zoo of birds when I was young which I had to feed and maintain so I assume he liked birds. I figured he just didn’t like pigeons for some reason. I don’t like them either since they are a bit like rats with wings. So I didn’t really think much of my father’s reason for disliking them. Then one day out of the blue he told me the reason why he hates pigeons.

My father was around nine when the Korean war started and he had to flee his home with his family. I am not totally sure where exactly his home had been nor where they had to flee to. I think his home was somewhere near Daejeon (mid-ish part of South Korea) and he had to flee to somewhere near Pusan (only area not at one point taken by the North). As there was not many places to put so many refugees, he and his family had to spend their “refugee period” at a temporary shelter, which was a public school. That made sense since public schools tend to have lots of rooms and bathrooms.

He told me that there were so many corpses from the war that they could not bury them fast enough, which meant they had to be put somewhere until the burial. Unlike now, there were really no morgues or cold houses so the place people piled up corpses ended up being the bathrooms (coldest place I guess) of these temporary shelters. My father remembers having to go to the bathroom at night, alongside these piles of corpses and the only sounds he had heard had been the sounds of pigeons. So to this day, the sound of pigeons gives him the creeps (literal translation). Some experiences stays with us forever it seems.

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