In South Korea, child-rearing still remains first and foremost the responsibility of mothers. Pressures from society – and frequently their own families – create expectations as to what children ought to do, eat, and learn. In opposition to these social constraints, mothers employ different strategies and rationales to give their children the best life possible.
To learn more about how women steer the childhood and aspirations of their offspring, a well as their own self-development, we had the pleasure of interviewing Professor Bonnie Tilland. We discussed the relations women maintain across generations, with their parents and parents in law, but also with their own children, how women contest the narrative of “national strength” and other social constructs through their mothering, and how they conceive the future of their children as they grow up.
Bonnie Tilland is Professor at the EASTASIA International College (EIC) of Yonsei University’s Wonju campus. She obtained her PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from the University of Washington. She also completed a graduate certificate in Feminist Studies and a Master’s in International Studies (Korea Studies) from the same institution, as well as a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures from Lawrence University.
For the people I talked to [in the city of Jeonju], I guess the two things women talked the most about in terms of feeling pressure, in terms of being that ideal daughter in law, were: food, food was a very big one. That they felt like they couldn’t just serve their husbands – the son of their parents in law – just some toast for breakfast. They felt like they had the responsibility to have the full meal all ready to go even if that’s not what their husband wanted, even if that’s not what they wanted. […] They talked about that as being something which would make you an ideal daughter in law or not; and then education was the other one. The pressure to really stay on top of all of the changes in the education system, know different kinds of preparations one should be doing for the university entrance exam, the kind of hakwon you should be sending your children to.
The interview was recorded on May 9th, 2016 in Seoul.