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Women and everyday life: domestication and objectification of women during the Chosŏn era.

This podcast discusses the role and status of women during the Choson era. It covers the academic article, "Priests, Entertainers, or Prostitutes: The three roles of the Female Performers (Sadang) in Chosun Korea" by Kim Sung Soon (translated by Ksenia Chizhova) and Encyclopedia of Everyday Life: A Woman's Guide to Living in Late-Chosŏn Korea, which is a translation of Kyuhap ch'ongsŏ (The Encyclopedia of Daily Life), written by Lady Yi (1759-1824)  accompanied by an introduction from Michael Pettid and Kil Cha. Using our perspective as women and our knowledge of Korea today, we will explore the domestication and objectification of women during the Chosŏn era.


Women and the everyday Podcast SCRIPT (Guideline, not exact transcript)   (Lydia) Hi everyone! My name is Lydia Jung, I’m a sociology major and (Eziekella) I’m Eziekella Okereke, a Human Biology and Society major   (Lydia) We are in Korean 180B, learning about the history of Korea between 1260 through 1876, with focus on the Choson era. As we are in group 3, focusing on women and society this is our final group project for the class as a podcast format.   Today we will be discussing the status of women during that time   We compared the academic article, Priests, Entertainers, or Prostitute: The three roles of the Female Performers (Sadang) in Chosun Korea by Kim Sung Soon(transated by Ksenia Chizhova) and a Korean Encyclopedia translation titled  “Encyclopedia of Everyday Life: A woman's guide to living in late-Choseon Korea” translated and annotated by Michael J Pettid and Kil Cha   (Eziekella) To give some background, With the rise of the new dynasty, Choson, there were relations of women and their freedom being taken away due to Confucian values. In the Choson society, it was the class of the yangban, holding a high power and hierarchy within society. The role of women was greatly influenced by the yangban class within the patriarchal order and like we said earlier, Confucian based society. Women were not held to the same value as men even though they were the backbone of the household. Throughout both readings, women are shown to be objects of sexual desire or the “caretakers” for their families.Women were expected to take care of their family's needs before tending to their own needs     (Lydia)   With ideals of proper behavior, moral conduct and womanly tasks, women were essentially an outsider with limited contact to certain areas within the home and the outside world.   Inequalities between women and different social classes were prominent and during the course, we learned through the two specific readings we are choosing to talk about, how important women were in everyday life yet given such roles of easily influenced performers and sexual objects.   (Eziekella) After giving some context, I'm kind of curious to know, What was your view or knowledge of women in the Choson period prior to the readings or in general before taking this class?               Well we both agreed and talked about how it's our first history class that we took at UCLA We had an idea of how women would be seen, obviously within a lower rank or had less power Also because we’ve seen historical Korean dramas and based on those visuals or media, it was easy to kind of assume But we definitely didn't know the extent of how women were really treated and divided socially, so it was interesting yet sad to learn how much they expected of women   (Lydia) What were your first initial thoughts on the first article?   When I read the title of the reading I found it weird to see the words priest and prostitute in the same sentence, going into the reading I wasn’t sure what to expect. The reading talks about how religious groups (Buddhists) began to turn to entertainment(performing) and later on, prostitution during the 17th century. The groups of entertainers, prostitutes, and priests were referred to as community leaders because they held a lot of influence on pop culture in Choson. The reading definitely gave a look into how women who were slaves or lower class may have lived during that time. Enslaved women were easily influenced into joining T It was off-putting to read how normalized it was for women to be displayed as sexual objects when, ironically, women were expected to behave a certain way in public. The reading really opened my eyes to how women of lower class experienced both the pressures of upholding a household as well as being objectified by men.   (Eziekella) What were some specific topics in the Encyclopedia that you didn’t know about before reading?   Well in the Encyclopedia, it was more of a handbook that consisted of information including things like specific recipes, food for the royalty or upper class, or how to even care for a wound or baby. Specifically, the use and labeling of all the different ingredients found in nature at the time and how they used that to make different medicine and treatment to cure or help certain illnesses or sickness was cool to see. Women were expected to basically know and experiment all of this at the time without actual guidelines or like today, the access to certain resources online or media. What we thought to be more of a doctor's work or job, the women were actually the ones creating this knowledge-based handbook or encyclopedia, specializing in a variety of different fields.   We also saw this standard when reading the Encyclopedia…..  The encyclopedia was a super interesting read. It wasn’t really a story or specific history   But we can see that basically, men did literally almost nothing at the time (in terms of typical housekeeping or daily “mother role” work). This whole book just continues to show every detail of how important women really were even though they were treated like nothing   Some interesting points I remember is how the encyclopedia was super specific like if it was a recipe about how to make mussels or honghap in korean, it said “the ones with red flesh are female and tasty, those with white flesh are male and not as good as the red ones. Those caught in the East Sea are smaller and darkish and are best for maintaining health, those caught in the North Sea are large and fleshy, but their taste is not as good as those from the East Sea. Stir fry raw, etc”   That we felt like takes a lot of trial and error to even know the differences which is pretty cool to see and learn about, wondering if that is still relevant or true today     (Eziekella) So then after learning and comparing these two readings,as someone who is Korean, do you think the view that women should be more domesticated is still prominent in Korea?     Yes but we can see it getting better, especially recently in the past few years. A lot of tv shows or movies now really emphasize leading women having a strong personality and vision instead of being pushed around without much power before. We also see any unrealistic beauty standards that women were usually held to even during the Choson start to be lowered. There's been a lot of change, especially with the spread and international viewership of media, music, and culture in general in South Korea. I myself as a Kdrama fan have seen a lot of these changes in how women are portrayed   Going into the specific media or shows we’ve seen recently…   (Lydia) Based on previous Korean media you’ve watched or seen, how similar or different was the information you read? (Kingdom, Moon Lovers, The Kings Affection)   One thing I would say was similar was how historical dramas show yangban women are meant to act in a proper way when in public. They also had to know how to sow, make soap, and other foods that yangban men would have eaten during that time period. There were some examples of performers and prostitution in these shows but not the same way that it was explained in the first article we talked about. The women in these roles were always shown as willing to be objectified as long as the man they were serving was of high status. I will say, these women did not seem to be of low status like the reading had said. Reading both of these definitely gave me a lot of context behind what I learned from historical dramas. I for sure shouldn’t take those shows in as pure fact     **Closing Thank You Statements** Creator: Lydia Jung and Eziekella Okereke Date: March 20th, 2022


Eziekella Nnenna Okereke (Human Biology and Society, UCLA '25) and Lydia Jung (Sociology, UCLA '23), “Women and everyday life: domestication and objectification of women during the Chosŏn era.,” UCLA Korean History and Culture Digital Museum, accessed July 12, 2024,