Korean women have indeed come a long way, succeeding in various fields like sports, science, medicine and in the arts! But what were the original women of Joseon like back in the day? Let’s take a walk through history on how Korean women of the past lived their lives.
During the Goryeo Dynasty, the women of Korea had considerable freedom. They could freely mingle with men, have their own possessions and even inherit land.
That changed drastically during the second half of the Joseon era after the Imjin War. The women’s situation became gradually worse.
Their life was regulated by Neo-Confucianism but in a much stricter way than in China.
1. Being Virtuous was a must!
Women had to conform to Confucian ideals. As children, they were subordinated to their fathers. When married, to their husbands and when they got old, to their firstborn son. Being virtuous, modest, obedient and faithful was required.
Virtuous women were rewarded by the state from 1434. By the end of the Joseon Dynasty, commoner women who had fulfilled their Confucian duties of bearing a son bared their breasts in public as a sign of pride. Noblewomen however were forbidden to do so.
2. Women had no rights for inheritance.
At the beginning of the Joseon era, women gradually lost their right to inheritance as well. The reason was that marrying daughters off required expensive dowry, resulting in calling daughters do-dok-nyeo 도둑녀, “thieves”.
According to the new Confucian ideals, women had to obey their in-laws after marriage so the birth family regarded it unnecessary to provide her inheritance. Women then had to obey their husbands and in-laws and had no right to apply for a divorce.
Men could divorce their wives based on the chil-geo-ji-ak 칠거지악, the “seven sins”: disobedience towards in-laws, inability to bear a son, adultery, jealousy, hereditary disease, talkativeness and theft.
3. Widows were not allowed to remarry.
Women were expected to be faithful to their husbands beyond death. Widows were not allowed to remarry. Such marriages still happened for families with financial reasons, marrying off th widows to men who could not afford to marry otherwise. While breaking this rule in lower classes was widely ignored by the authorities, yangban widows (noblewomen) were forbidden to remarry or their children would be cast out of the noble class.
Men however could have second wives and several concubines. Being a second wife or a concubine of a nobleman was considered a rise on the social ladder for commoner or slave women but their children were considered illegitimate and denied any yangban rights. First wives and legitimate children of noblemen often despised these women and their children. Society considered these children outcasts.
It is no doubt that Korea is a country that is filled with interesting history; from its people to the food and their traditions! Korea has definitely come a long way from where it first began. Today, there are many accomplished women who have greatly contributed to their country!
We hope that this blog gave you a more in depth knowledge on some of the lives of Korea’s society back in the Joseon Dynasty!