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Posts Tagged ‘drinking culture’

I read this editorial last week discussing (again!) the low birthrate and what to do about it. I like the fact that this article isn’t blaming the birthrate soely on education costs (which is often blamed on English education). Instead, the article talks about personal costs of having a child in relation to one’s career.

Women cannot be blamed for this trend be-cause Korean society asks too much of them, de-manding a superwoman-like competency both at work and at home. Korean women work the long-est hours in the world, are often brushed aside when promotions come up and tend to be the first to get sacked in times of restructuring [sic].

Very true Joongang Daily. The editorial goes on to give the solution to these woes:

The solution to tackling the declining birth rate should be creating an environment where women can devote themselves to their work and lives at home with less pressure. The nation’s average 12 daily working hours — the world’s highest — should be shortened. Korean women must be given the choice to take more time off when their children are small. More flexibility in working hours is also necessary.

That’s great except…why are we just talking about women? Why aren’t we talking about changes to the work environment that are family friendly for both mothers and fathers? Of course we need the government to be actually able to enforce legislation that protects women’s rights to maternity leave, pumping at work, and promotions after mat leave. These laws are foundational to making women feel safe in their careers as mothers. But I’m a SAHM until September (I have mat leave…I think…^^), and you know what is equally as important for family sanity? A father who comes home at a reasonable hour…and who is sober…and who has a bit of time to see his kid and give a full time mum a break. It’s about 8 o’clock when Dragon is starting his screaming portion of the night that I look at the clock and WILL my husband to get home. And he usually does come home sometime between 8 and 9. But he accomplishes this by putting his own career in  jeopardy by limiting the amount of drinking he does with his colleagues. He took paternity leave (a WHOLE THREE DAYS!) which would have been unheard of just a few years before. But really, a new family kind of needs a bit more than three days off together to bond (and we got ‘lucky’ as our son decided to start his slow entrance into the world on the Friday before the Lunar New Year holiday, thus giving Mr. Lee more time off while I was labouring). And of course, I would love it if my place of employment had a daycare on site but equally nice would be for us to have the same option at my husband’s place of employment…and for my husband to get off of work at a reasonable hour to pick up his son from daycare.

There’s this nice picture in the same paper today of a father reading his kid a book while camping. Yeah, it’s a promotional picture for the tent company (and don’t you love that mum brought a computer camping!), but I do think that many among this generation of Korean fathers want to be a part of their kids’ lives. They don’t always want to be the strict disciplinarians and ATMs of their father’s generation. They want to relax with their families and play an integral role in raising their children. But they can’t be that dad unless they are actually home. And for many Korean dads, they can’t be at home at a reasonable hour without risking their own careers let alone take paternity leave.

So yes, make a more family friendly environment for women but make it for men too. Because life doesn’t become more family friendly at home if the father is never able to be at home. And life doesn’t get any easier for the working mum unless she has a partner who can co-parent, take off time when the kid is sick, and/or work around daycare drop off and pick up schedules. The double burden doesn’t get any easier for the woman if the burden of childcare, however it is alleviated by the changing work environment, is still the woman’s burden to bear alone.

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We’re in the midst of some major home decisions right now. Our 2 year chonse contract is up in April, and we need to decide whether to stay in our current place for 2 more years or to move to a more family-friendly area of the city right now. Like any good Korean parents, our first priority is education, and specifically the daycare options for Dragon beginning in 2013. We’re discussing this issue with Part 1 still fresh in our minds, and with the added knowledge that there is, by both anecdotal accounts (um 60% of my female friends have had babies or are expecting babies this year) and statistical projections, 2012 is going to see a baby boom. In addition, since the government has decided to expand daycare subsidizes to more parents this year, we know there is going to be a shortage of spots in 2013.

In the middle of this discussion, we started considering options near work, and I said to Mr. Lee, ‘I know there’s no work daycare at my university, but what about at your company?’ He turned to me and said, ‘but we have so few women at my workplace – why would we have a daycare?’

Now you have to understand that Mr. Lee is a pretty hands on father. He comes home from his at least 12 hrs+/day workday or from driving all day on a business trip and gets down on the floor and starts squeaking Sophie la girafe in Dragon’s face and claps along to the tummy time playset music. He starts off the night time watch to give me a few hours of sleep, and he makes a verbal stink about changing dirty diapers, but he changes a hella lot of them. He’s involved. And he likes to be involved. And he doesn’t question that he should be involved. But that comment still came out of his mouth because that’s really the pervading feeling when it comes to having children and company life.

Every semester when we discuss parenting styles around the world in one of my classes, we examine Swedish SAHD and talk about how public policy might help to encourage Korean fathers to be more active parents in this land of extraordinarily long hours and mandatory drinking nights. I’ve often told my students that I believe that mandatory drinking would decrease sharply if there were more daycare facilities in companies. If the boss has to pick up his kid at 7 every night from the first floor daycare, he’s not going to take the kid home and then come back for a late night binge session. And if many men have their kids spending their days at the company centre, there’s a greater chance that the general workplace atmosphere will be more respectful of the relationship between fathers and children and the time that parents and children need to forge that bond.

But then I forgot the attitude regarding company daycares for many people: daycare centres in companies exist, but they exist for the female coworkers not the males. Now, I’m sure that this attitude is stronger at Mr. Lee’s work because his company is very conservative, and the nature of the work means that it is unfortunately more male-dominated (especially in his building). So I’m sure that there are men who have their children enrolled in company daycare centres, but this particular conversation made me realize that simply having a centre in an office is not enough if the attitudes toward who should be the primary clientele do not change as well. And I suppose, since men are expected to drink and work late to more extremes than women, perhaps the day when most Korean fathers are able to be the primary parental clientele at company daycares is still some ways off.

Of course, none of this helps us with our housing decisions.

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Okay boys and girls – a show of hands please.  What’s the best way for a girl to keep to her diet at night?

a) Starve

b) An hour on the elliptical after a day of teaching in heels

c) Being forced to walk by a middle aged suited man puking and retching (and gargling vomit – seriously) – over a grate by one’s house because he was out drinking too much at 8pm?

Yeah, I thought so.

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Hello dear blog…I’m back.  There’s been so much going on in Korea and the k-bloggosphere in general, but I’ve been overwhelmed with teaching, marking, prepping, friends visiting, and just general busyness that I haven’t had time to blog in AGES.  It makes me bitchy quite honestly not to get my bitch out online, so it’s really time to get back to this thing.

So what do I have to talk about tonight?  An interesting choice:  housewarming party?  or Mr. Lee’s team’s MT?

I think I should back up a bit since I tend to get more readers from outside Korea than inside.  When a couple gets married in Korea, many people – family, friends, and even sometimes coworkers – expect them to host a housewarming party. This is interesting in and of itself as most socialization in Korea tends to happen in public spaces (restaurants/bars) instead of in the home.  The official reason I always get is that Korean homes are too small, but I think the biggest reason is that people feel ‘uncomfortable.’  (The connotation being that because there is a bigger differentiation between public and private space in Korea than in Canada, ie. that having someone from the ‘outside’ inside your home seems like an invasion of privacy…that and cooking/cleaning etc is a lot harder for most than paying for a meal in a restaurant). 

Now, I’m not against house parties per se.  I quite like having friends over, and one of the interesting things about marrying a Korean man is how uncomfortable he feels about having friends over.  In fact, during the World Cup, he tentatively broached the subject of having his best friend come over just for the first game – no problem for me! His friend brings beer and snacks for all!  And, all I have to do is sit on the couch and watch the game with them!  But when I suggested he come back for the second game (he brings us beer and snacks! how hard is it to have him over??), Mr. Lee was incredibly surprised, and the friend’s mother admonished her son for going over ‘yet again’ because ‘Mr. Lee’s wife will feel uncomfortable.’

But anyway, back to the issue at hand, as I said before, his coworkers expect him to have a house warming party, and this is a totally different issue.  The guests will be men…ALL men…middle aged highly conservative men.  And I will be expected to serve them and wait on them…and be a proper cute little wife.  That’s not too bad…but then they will gamble…drink…and (if the boss decides everyone is going to do so), sleep overnight.  Now, I rarely impress my morality on others, but we don’t, with the exception of buying a raffle ticket or scratching a lottery card someone else bought us for a Christmas stocking stuffer, gamble.  And while it’s fine with me if you want to go off to a casino or play go-stop for 24 hours in your own home, it’s a whole different ball game when you want to gamble in my house. 

And then, not to mention….oh not to mention! the male-female dynamic that will be at play. 

Despite this rapidly changing society, men and women – at least middle aged men and women – still often inhabit very different social realms.  When I go out with Mr. Lee’s friends, I’m often the only woman there.  This is changing with one group of friends – I think because I started coming out – but it’s still an issue.  And when it is with his friends, it’s not bad, but it’s different with his coworkers.  Suddenly, because I’m at a ‘male bonding’ sort of session, where copious amounts of alcohol is being drunk and there’s a highly stratified group of people based on superiors and subordinates….…AND where I stand out as the ‘exotic’ foreign woman, it tends to get a bit room salonish regardless of the men’s intentions.  And no, I won’t be wearing a bikini pouring drinks for the men in my home, but it’s going to damn well feel like that’s what it is. 

And did I mention that we have cats?  And we know how many middle aged men feel about cats….the sleeping arrangements with cats crawling over the coworkers is going to be interesting….

The whole complicated gender role/uncomfortable/cat situation is what has probably prevented us from having the house party despite being married (officially) for 6 months.  That, and the fact that Mr. Lee knows that me serving older men in this fashion is going to put me in a not so good mood for quite some time.

So then last night, at dinner, he suddenly burst out (out of nowhere) with…’why don’t you come to my team’s MT?’

MT (membership training) is kind of Konglish for a retreat.  It’s usually at a cabin, cottage, or pension (house available for rent in a holiday-ish area for such events) and means that you spend the entire time away eating with, drinking with, hiking with, and sleeping on the floor with other MTers.  I know some expats who love MTs.  And yes, I’m a social person – but I’m not a hyper-social, spend every minute with fellow MTers so we can bond sort of person.  MT for me is a special kind of hell…and MT with team members I barely know but have to show deference to because they are my husband’s superiors is a whole other level of hell. 

Mr. Lee fully knows this…and goodness knows some Koreans dread MT (depending on who the group is comprised of, and their personal feelings about copious amounts of alcohol/hiking etc). But the reason he feels I should come on his MT is that a) if I do this, we won’t have to have a house warming party because I’ve been ‘properly introduced’ and spent a ‘proper’ amount of bonding time with the team b) another co-worker is (strangely for this team), bringing his wife and a non-Korean Asian friend who is staying with them – supposedly she has lived in Australia which I gather is supposed to mean that she speaks some English?  C) If I go, Mr. Lee might get to share a separate room with me (although I think the more likely arrangement is that the women will have one room and the men another).

I’m torn by this proposal.  Really really torn.  I try to avoid MT type situations at all cost.  They’re not me.  They make me bitchy beyond measure, and they are not my favourite way to experience Korean culture.  Plus…at least with a house warming party I could sleep in my own bed…Then again, there would be a better gender balance than me and a bunch of men at home…and with another expat woman there – I wouldn’t be so ‘exotic’ and thus the object of stares.   

So back to the original questions…housewarming party vs. MT. Any thoughts?

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Gendered Expectations in Korea

I’ve already talked a bit about the gender expectations with regards to economic provisions (and I will discuss those later), but now I want to turn to a few other expectations which make it much harder for white Western women to form long term relationships with Korean men.  Korea is a neo-Confucius society which means a lot of things, but for our purposes here, it means that the eldest son – and sons in general have much more long-term responsibility to their parents than daughters.  When I first announced my engagement to a few older Korean women, one of the first questions they asked (with a look of anguish on their faces) was, ‘Is he the eldest son?’  No, thankfully he is the youngest of three with one older brother, but eldest sons, even in less traditional families, have way more responsibility…and this duty is transferable to the eldest son’s wife. 

One of my Korean friends who married a Canadian man told me that one of the greatest perks of having a Canadian husband was that she did not have a demanding mother-in-law.  They are legendary in Korea.  Whether or not all mother-in-laws are as evil as they are sometimes portrayed, in general it is safe to say that they are somewhat more demanding, and the cultural expectations of a daughter-in-law are greater than in the mainstream Canadian context.  My friend loves that during family gatherings she is a guest in her mother-in-law’s house instead of a worker serving men who do nothing but socialize and drink. She loves that she is not responsible for cleaning her mother-in-law’s house and does not have to prepare the enormous amount of food necessary for ancestral memorial rituals (and then be excluded from the ceremony because she is a woman). For her, marriage to her husband is about her relationship with her husband and not duty toward her mother-in-law.  Again, whether or not these duties are always required by Korean in-laws, and whether or not white Western women are part of this system are issues for another forthcoming post, but the point is that many Korean women that I know at the very least appreciate the fact that they have avoided these duties when they married Western men while white Western women know that at the very least there is a greater possibility that this is what they are setting themselves up for when they marry into a Korean family.

Additionally, while white Western men report more problems in society accepting their relationships to Korean women, I do think there is a certain factor within Confucianism which makes this partnership easier.  When women marry, they are taken off their family’s registry and added to their husband’s family registry.  And traditionally, when women married, they were no longer the responsibility of their family – or even part of it – which is the whole premise for the paebek ceremony when the new daughter-in-law bows to her husband’s family and shows her obedience and loyalty to them.  In the past women did not even visit their family members on holidays because they were expected to be helping out at their husband’s family’s house. 

On the other hand, a son is always part of the family and thus has responsibility to his family.  While this situation has changed dramatically in recent years, so that couples often visit both sides of the family, and bow to both families at the paebek ceremony, there is still a feeling that when a woman marries she leaves her family while when a man marries he stays. After greeting my mother for the first time, the very next thing my father-in-law said to my mother was to thank her for ‘sending her daughter to his family’ – the expression referring back to the time when women left their families and joined a new one – but in my case having the double meaning of actually flying to another country to be with Mr. Lee. 

What does this mean for international marriages?  Well, a contemporary role for Korean women is to be in charge of the children’s education.  So if a Western man wants to return to his home country, and he is married to a Korean woman, while the family might be very upset at her leaving, the fact that there is a tradition of the woman leaving means that there is some precedent.  But even more importantly, as there is a contemporary practice of sending children overseas to learn English, or for mothers and children to move abroad for ‘better’ education means that it is often easier for women to go to their husband’s home country in order to ensure the best possible education for their children.  I know many Korean women who are pushing/did push their Western spouse to move abroad for this very reason, and in most cases, it was not only accepted but actively encouraged by their Korean family members.   

Employment

At this point you may be asking, “Well why can’t Korean men move abroad if it means a ‘better education’ for their children?”  That’s a good question and it has to do with life stages, gender roles, and employment which makes my separation of each topic problematic, but I do think it is necessary to have some kind of organization for this lengthy topic.  We’ve already established the fact that there is an age and life stage gap between white Western women and Korean males.  If you are interested in dating a younger guy, you run into the problem of being at different life stages.  However, if you are interested in dating an older guy you run into a whole other set of issues.  The salaryman factor.

Getting into a top company and/or a stable job is no easy matter in Korea, and if you have made it that far, you are going to be either a younger guy from a well-connected and wealthy family or a later-20s guy because it took so long with your military service + studying for tests + taking tests to actually get to that job.  And by that time, if you have actually achieved that position, you are not going to easily give up that position to move abroad where you may or may not find a position and where you are probably not ‘qualified’ because in Western countries ‘qualified’ means more long-term employment than taking a lot of tests which is what it means in Korea.  Since there is an even stronger cultural expectation in Korea than in Canada that a man will provide for his family and wife in an economic sense, it’s very difficult for a Korean man in this situation to even be open to the possibility of giving up his life here and going abroad. 

My dear friend met her then boyfriend when she was already planning on leaving Korea, but the fact that he was mid-20s without gainful employment – or even a clear vision of what he wanted in life was a further problem in their relationship.  She encouraged him to do a program abroad which would have given him a practical skill and 100% chance at a job upon completion of the program, but his parents vetoed him going abroad.  There were other reasons for them breaking up, but his life stage and inability to go abroad to become employed were definitely factors which discouraged them from being able to continue with their relationship. 

On the other hand, I met Mr. Lee when he was 33.  He had a degree, had finished military service, had traveled and done all of his tests…but he had also been working in a safe and secure job for five years.  And this means that at both that time and now, he is not in a position to go abroad at least for many years.  I’ll deal with this issue and how we have negotiated around it in a subsequent post, but for now let me say that the fact that our future for the next decade or more is in Korea with no flexibility to move was a huge issue for me to overcome for many years. 

So why this push to go abroad in the first place?  Why is this even an issue? Isn’t Korea a good enough place to live?  Well…yes and no.

I’m not even going to into the stats and the facts right now, but a short search will show you the numbers for Korean women in the workplace and the rather low place Korea occupies on international gender indexes.  Often Canadians will ask me ‘Are Korean women allowed to get an education?’ which is a hilarious question if you live here.  As I’ve mentioned so many times here, the regular things feminists worry about like domestic control of money and education are not proper ways to evaluate the real social gains for women in Korea.  Girls are educated to the same extent as boys, and they are excelling far beyond boys in many subjects and areas.  Women can get jobs, and they sometimes become managers and CEOs.  However, the extent to how good of jobs women can get … and how stable their jobs are is another issue. 

Except for a few fields, the glass ceiling is still rather low in many many companies, women are still routinely fired/pushed out/encouraged to quit when they give birth or sometimes when they even become pregnant, and the childcare options are such that it is sometimes impossible for women to continue working because there is simply nobody to take care of the children.  I do know of women who have left Korea because of these kinds of issues and lack of opportunities in the workplace, and it is one reason why again, I think it is easier for many Korean women to marry an expat and move abroad.  For the white Western woman who is staying here, she has to worry about gender discrimination in the workplace plus the added issue that she does not have her own family here to support and help her during pregnancy, childbirth, and child care issues.  People often move to a country to ‘start a better life’ – and for some people, especially those from South East Asian countries and China, Korea is a better life in terms of standard of living.  That is a contributing factor to the number of immigrant brides from these countries.  Whether or not they find happiness and opportunity in Korea, there is a strong perception amoung these women that they will have a better life here. 

Conversely, when I talk to my friends who have an 18 month mostly-paid maternity leave in Canada, who can go back to their jobs with no questions asked/no promotions derailed, when their husbands come home at supper time every night and have an opportunity to take paternal leave (and take it!), I have to wonder if my options are such that I have a ‘better life here.’  I don’t know the answer to this yet. It is a constant and sincere struggle that I am working through. It’s also a factor of how involved a Korean husband can be in his family life.  So many Korean female friends have told me that they love it that the Western boyfriend/fiancé/husband comes home at a reasonable hour every night, doesn’t have to drink with his boss, and has enough time to be a child care partner.  I’ve discussed the salaryman ‘work’ culture at length here, and I do believe that when white Western women look ahead to their futures, and they think about the husband who regularly comes home at 2am drunk…or maybe not at all, that it is a serious issue in determining future happiness and marital stability simply because this kind of husband is not the ideal or even reality for most Western middle class women.  Really, when you look at the reality of the salaryman in Korea, you have to ask yourself – ‘Is my life really better here?’

In addition, as a foreigner there are fewer employment opportunities unless you are in particular fields.  Yes, if you are a white somewhat normal English-speaker, finding a teaching job is the easiest thing in the world here with a spousal (F2) visa.  In some cases entrepreneurs can be very successful with the right niche market or contacts, and some professionals like lawyers or consultants can find good work.  However, the breadth of opportunities is severely severely limited outside of these spheres to foreign women, in part because of language, Confucian culture, gender discrimination, and the fact that many companies are industries are not prepared to have a foreigner – and especially a foreign woman – in their workplace.  Yes, it can be hard for a white Western male trying to break into a ‘real’ job in journalism, advertising, etc. but this situation is magnified as a woman unless you come here with a multinational corporation.  Some of these issues (language for example), are ‘our fault,’ but others will take a great social shift to rectify.  One Korean friend for example, works in Canada at a clothing retailer.  While it is not the best job in the world, and certainly not a high level position, the fact that Canadian companies routinely hire people from different ethnic backgrounds without batting an eye means that she has a wide range of options while she studies/works toward higher level work (while in a field she actually likes).  In Korea, a white Western woman can secure a well-paying teaching job, but if she has an interest in a different field (outside of entertainment but only if she is a petite blonde), her opportunities will probably be much more limited. 

So what I want to say here is that there are innumerous reasons why people meet, date, and decide to marry.  However, there are many external factors which make it harder or easier for these relationships to develop and progress, and I think that some of these larger ‘life’ factors are stacked against the white Western female/Korean male couples.  Yes, society is generally against the idea of a white Western male/Korean female couple, but the other social factors are much more difficult for the opposite paired couple to overcome.  It’s not the ‘fault’ of any particular culture or practice, but it’s a combination which tends to discourage or limit white Western women and Korean men en masse from entering into long-term relationships leading to marriage.

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Mr. Lee arrived at my house the other night, as he has so many nights before, reeking of my least favourite alcohol in the entire world: soju. He had not been partying it up with his friends, nor had he been celebrating anything. He had been ‘working hard.’

When you say someone is a ‘good worker’ in Canada, it usually means they are hardworking, efficient, and dedicated to their work. In Korea, a good worker is not only loyal to the company, but also to the boss (which is demonstrated by frequently spending long hours drinking and socializing with the team and boss).

Koreans regularly place high in terms of working hours around the globe, but these kinds of studies do not usually ask what constitutes work in each country. ‘Work’ in Korea obviously means long hours at the computer, or in meetings, or working on projects just as in my home country, but it also means long communal lunches, hanging around the office playing video games long after your kids have gone to bed because the boss is still in the office trying avoid going home, and finishing off a few bottles of hard liquor with the boys before going back to the office to finish up the projects due the next day. Oh – and spending weekends away on mandatory team bonding sessions with one week’s notice because the weekly late night sessions are not nearly enough to solidify interpersonal relationships.

It’s difficult for me to discuss this issue with most people who do not live here. The concept of having to binge drink with your boss at the expense of spending time with your family in order to keep your job is so far removed from what is legally and culturally acceptable in Canada that most people (understandably) think I am engaged to an addict who is denying a problem by blaming his work situation. It’s a difficult line to walk between expressing my frustration with the system and the way it damages men, women, families, and health, without making people fear for my wellbeing. It’s also hard to express the inequality of the system and the injustice of the system with other feminists without them thinking I have lost my mind for staying. But we all, no matter which country or system we live under, have to make compromises for something else we want (love, marriage, a truly great partner, a career in a field I love). I have yet to figure out how to express my frustrations with Canadians about this situation in a way where I will receive positive advice and comforting words instead of getting looks of (understandable) horror.

Alternatively, bringing up the situation with Koreans usually leads to a conversation starting out as, ‘You see…the problem is YOU don’t understand Korean culture.’

It’s not true that I don’t understand the culture. I work in a Korean workplace, and I’ve worked with enough businesspeople in a variety of fields that I ‘get’ the dynamics and expectations, and I’ve lived the life of a partner of a conglomerate worker for over 4 years. I understand that the interpretation of Confucianism in contemporary Korean business culture means that it is nearly impossible for younger people or subordinates to express their emotions or give their opinions. Drinking unloosens tongues, and a great deal of anger, frustration, and lamentations can be later blamed on drinking one too many bottles of soju. I also realize that in this pressure-cooker of a cut throat competitive society, there is little time or few venues for people to unleash their stress in more positive and effective ways.

However, ‘understanding’ (comprehending) does not equal acceptance, and I do not accept that it is okay for men to be forced to stay out late or spend their weekends with their team in order to socialize when they have a baby at home (it’s okay – the mother or the grandmother or the aunt will raise the baby). I do not accept that with the knowledge we have about the effects of long term and frequent binge drinking, that it’s still okay for workplaces to force their workers to regularly engage in unhealthy activities which also decrease productivity in the long term. And I most certainly do not accept that a person’s capacity to pack away hard liquor and grilled meat is in any way related to positive personality characteristics or a raise.

In my early days in Korea, my housewife students used to tell me that they pushed their midlevel office working husbands to work longer in order to make more money. At first I thought that they were confusing hourly wage with salary. But no, they were trying to tell me that a person is often given bonuses (and even yearly wages or deductions) based on ‘how hard they work.’ And I’ve already told you what that means here.

Sometimes I shock people by telling them that I actively encourage my fiancé to ‘work’ just as many times a week as he has to in order to maintain his position. I don’t need a top ranked husband raking in the cash if that means he is never home or ensuring he will have alcohol-induced diseases in the future. I’ve had women look at me wide-eyed and say ‘wow – that’s unusual.’

The strength and the demands of Korean companies on Korean husbands and fathers is the hardest thing for me to adapt to because I am completely powerless. Am I miserable? No – I have become accustomed to living with the intrusions of the workplace on free time, relationship time, and family time. I also recognize that it is not Mr. Lee’s fault. Perhaps, in the absence of children, he is more inconvenienced than me because it is his free time and liver which suffers the most. One of the most important processes I have gone through in our relationship is to learn how not to transfer my feelings of anxiety and anguish about the situation onto Mr. Lee. He can’t be blamed for what he must do. However, it is difficult to know where to place these feelings – on the company? On the Korean mindset? On the interpretation of Confucianism? On the patriarchy? On women, including myself, for not demanding better for our relationships and our families? I don’t know. Those feelings exist in an in-between land which is neither healthy nor helpful. I fear that when we have kids, these feelings will turn into resentment and grudge-holding. How can they not when I am struggling with the double burden while my husband drinks with his team? I don’t want to pass negative feelings about Korea, Mr. Lee’s situation, or the realities of marriage in Korea onto my children, but I don’t want to deny what I believe to be legitimate concerns and feelings, especially when they impact my life so directly.

I try to end my posts on a positive note – to take the worries and concerns in my life and see the good in them, but it would be a lie to say that I have fully dealt with my feelings about drinking culture in Korean companies. I think this is my long term cross to bear and the thing I will have to work on the most in Korea. It doesn’t have to be a lonely struggle – Mr. Lee is obviously just as affected as I am, and we need to work together to create a healthy relationship despite the odds. But it is a struggle that most Western women, with our assumptions about marriage as partnership, are not going through, and thus it will be something I must work through without the help of a community of similarly-struggling women.

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Every now and then, there comes a time when each culture is confronted with a story so horrific that it causes a great cultural reckoning. It appears that Korea has reached one such moment.

Recently, the horrific details of an 8 year old who was raped and mutilated have been splashed through the media. The little girl was abducted on her way to school by a repeat sexual offender, raped in a public washroom, and then permanently disfigured when the perpetrator tried to ‘clean up the evidence.’ She will use a colostomy bag for the rest of her life.

Sexual violence is making the news more frequently in Korea, causing more people to be aware of the prevalence of sexual crimes. However, the greatest outcry in this case comes because the perpetrator not only received a sentence many consider too lenient (12 years), but he returned to court to petition for an even lighter sentence. The reason? He claims he should be granted a more lenient sentence because he was mentally incapacitated due to being drunk. The court had already reduced his sentence based on his claim of incapacity.

This is a defence often used in Korea. People are given lighter sentences for sexual assault, harassment, violence, and traffic accidents if they can show they were drunk. It seems defence lawyers regularly cite the mentally incapacitated clause in the criminal code to request commuted sentences…and until now…this has not created a public uproar. Since drinking is routinely used in work group teams and between feuding friends and family members to provide a culturally-sanctioned space to both let go and vent frustrations, many people try to ‘understand’ the situation of the perpetrator rather than the victim. However, with the increase of child abductions and rape making the news, the assumption that the victim must have held some role in the outcome has come under scrutiny.

One can only hope that this introspection and desire to make changes to this legal custom continue until a new concept of responsibility is routinely acknowledged. Alcohol consumption is an incredibly important part of Korean life. Drinking is the way people mend and maintain relationships, build team spirit, and solidify allegiances. This culture is not going away any time soon, but there needs to be an understanding of responsibility attached to this custom – especially in the case of sexual violence. When a person takes a drink they are responsible for choosing to take that drink. And if they choose to drink, they must also be responsible for their actions. Sexual violence is never an accident – whether it is perpetrated with or without alcohol. But it takes the public consciousness and will to prevent sexual abuse and harassment from being justified. I hope that this is the moment people refuse to continue to justify.

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