Women are often invisible in the narrative of history, not that they weren’t there, but their stories weren’t told, or their contributions downplayed or outright stolen. Women in many different societies have been forced to take the back seat, to be pushed out of society and erased from history, gender has always been a way of division among societies and like any other Korea was no exception. Women of Korea of late Joseon were invisible they had no name, no identity. The rules of society confined them.
Korean women had no names in the late Joseon empire they were often “called by their kin relation, mother auntie, grandmother, etc.” (Kim 274) “Blanks” mother, “blanks” wife, etc. this was how they were identified, Joseon women were not their own person, but a property or possession of another. A name is an identity and Korean women at this time period had no identity. This namelessness was so ingrained into Joseon society that even men did not understand the need and value of a woman’s name, creating a woman’s identity and individualism. “If you ask a Korean man the name of his wife he will not understand you at all.” (Kim 274) Individualism is a foreign topic to Asian societies that are driven by Confucianism, where it is the collective that is important not the individual.
Neo Confucianism made a hierarchy that became the formal and the informal law of the land. Women were inferior to their father as children are under their parents in the hierarchy and when a woman was married off, she becomes inferior to her husband as husbands were higher up on the hierarchy than wives. This hierarchy formed a subordinate mindset and custom, Women had to serve their father or husband, be obedient, supportive, to give birth to a son to continue the line, and not have a voice, this, in turn, lead them to not having a name. “By late Choson women became “nameless entitles” being referred to as “the wife of” or as the “mother of (sons name)” (Seth 162)
The neo Confucianism ideals made it so that women were second-class citizens no matter their class status they would always be inferior to the men in their lives, “The Korean woman is a slave in the full sense of this word…. who does not have her own name!” (Kim 274) Men and women were segregated in almost all aspects of life, they were subjected to harsh laws that only applied to women, chastity, virtue, obedience, and faithfulness were all expected of women along with avoidance of the seven sins or seven grounds of divorce. Where women could not get a divorce by males could, also women were not allowed to take another husband after being widowed but many could remarry as many times as they wanted and even take second wives. (Seth)
The taking away of a name can strip a person of their identity and culture and maybe even their humanity it turns a person into a thing, an object one that can be used and abused and one that does not have a voice, are seen as lesser as not human but as other. Women in many societies and the Joseon society were seen as other and lesser, gender used as means to segregate and suppress, and restrict the female population, to shape women in the way, men, though they ought to be, not seen, not heard, objects, invisible.
Kim, Sun Joo. The Northern Region of Korea: History, Identity & Culture. 2010.
Seth, Michael J. A History of Korea: From Antiquity to the Present. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011.