Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Boedeker: Interview

Worlds Apart

Gina Sue Wilson has lived in the United States from the past twenty-two years. Before moving here she was known as Hyangah in her native country of Korea. She was born in Korea where she lived her first twenty-one years of her life until she met her American husband. Gina has lived about half her life in two countries across the world from each other. She says being able to have lived in different parts of the world is a privilege because it has made her the individual she has grown to become. From this interview I got a lot of insight about her culture in Korea but also the issues she is faced with in America. I think that this is important with feminism because even though people come from different places and have their own experiences we are all women that strive for freedom of oppression.

Gina was born in 1964 in Korea by Kum-Sun Suk and Yung-Suk Yu. Gina is the middle child of three children. She is between an older brother, Jung-Ho, by two years and younger brother, Jung-Min, by six years. Living in Korea her family did not have very much money and she grew up poor for most of her childhood. When she was twenty-one she met an American man from the Army. They soon became married and she set off for her new life in America. Shortly after marriage, her and her husband had two children a daughter and son. About a year ago her husband passed away and she became a widow. Her twelve year old son lives with her at home, while her daughter is away at college.

After getting some background information of Gina’s life the first thing I asked her was what she thought a feminist was and does she consider herself one? After thinking for a minute she replied that she believes a feminist is a woman that wants to have equal status to men. However, when thinking if she considers herself a feminist she was hesitant with her “yes”. I can understand where she is coming from because before I took this class I also was skeptical of the label of feminist like many other people still are today. People are skeptical of this label because when many think of feminists they think of the radical ideals such as burning bras and protests. Although, in class we discussed that there are many definitions of feminism whether it be the value of being equal or the ability to define oneself. These definitions are constantly evolving and I think it is important for women to be comfortable with identifying as feminist.

As a child in Korea beauty standards are held consistently high throughout their society. When I asked Gina about differences of beauty standards in Korea and U.S. she told me why she thinks Korea is more critical of what is considered “pretty” than in U.S. Growing up she was made fun by peers because they considered her to be “big” and “tall” when she is only 5’5. She told me when moving to the U.S. people considered her to be average height and petite. She explained how in Korea sameness is defined as beautiful. Everyone wants to have a certain type of eye shape, eye color, hair, etc. where in the United States people respect individuality more. I thought this was interesting because many people say that the beauty standards in the United States are also very high and negative such as being skinny, nice hair, big boobs, etc. I think this is similar with many issues of the 3rd wave movement such as being able to define yourself in the way you choose. It also deals with Baumgardner and Richards’ agenda in the 3rd wave of rejecting the sexual double standard and reclaiming female visibility. In the United States more women are rejecting the double bind by reclaiming their sexuality without facing the repercussions which is progress for the future. I can only hope other countries will begin to question some of their cultural values that oppress women so women everywhere can begin to define themselves.

In Korea Gina has felt the resentment from men since her beginning of remembrance. Living with two brothers her parents expected much more from them than her such as getting a degree and job. Later when she got into high school there were only 75 girls in her class and 3000 boys! When moving to America she got a job in a mostly male industry with Bellsouth. So for all of her life men have been dominate in many aspects of her life. She gives this dominance credit for becoming an individual and always has considered herself equal to man. She stated, “It was not easy and there is always that resentment from the men”. From this resentment Gina has found herself always proving herself to her colleagues. In school she kept up with them by making good grades, and playing sports. With her job she did not just have to prove emotionally that she could handle the work but mostly physically to show she was capable of the work. Her first position with Bellsouth was to climb the wooden cable towers outside. This took much physical exertion and many of the men were surprised that being herself as a women could perform these tasks. The problem with the constant proving of oneself is similar to Susan Faludi’s idea of backlash. Gina could never say she was tired or needed a break first because they might accuse her of not being capable of this “man” job even though she is fighting for her equality in the workplace.

While I talked to Gina about her expectations as a female in Korea I found many correlations of Simone de Beauvoir writing the “Second Sex”. This is the idea where men are considered to be the subject and women are the object. In Korea there is a school women can go to after high school where they will learn to become good housewives, behave properly, and other housekeeping ideas. She told me that it is really good if women go here after high school because then they will definitely be seen as a good wife and get married. This reinforces the idea of the other when women do not get to pursue their own life or liberty and stagnation occurs.

When discussing with Gina about values she was taught in Korea I started to think about my own values taught by my parents. She grew up in a large city in Korea and when moving here she had to make the transition of moving into the country. She had expected a more difficult transition, however, having strong values instilled from her own family made it smoother. Values she finds important is being honest, working hard, trying your best, and having a vision for your life. She continued to tell me how from these high expectations she has been taught has persisted to encourage the same values in her own children.

Before Gina moved to the United States she knew very little English. I asked her what she thought the importance of learning English was when coming to the U.S. She explained to me that learning English was very important to her because she wanted to be able to express what she was thinking and how she felt to others. I think this shows another barrier women are faced with today. Many people come to the United States from all around the world and struggle speaking English. It makes me sad to think about women in this country not being able to express how they feel because of this language barrier.

Upon moving here Gina began to raise her family. One year after marriage she had her daughter Michelle, and six years later she had her son Sean. While taking care of her two children she began to work and also went to the Technical College in her town. With school, work, and family I asked her what issues she had dealt with. She told me the only problem she ever had was time, sometimes she felt like there was not enough time to get everything done. Even though time was a constraint at times she assures me that she does not regret any of her decisions with her lifestyle. After talking with Gina for a while I began to identify her as a second wave feminist. I think that she is a 2nd wave feminist because she made her own choices to have both a career and a family.

At the end of discussion Gina talks about how the roles of women are changing in Korea since she has traveled back today. She thinks that today in Korea is starting to become more open about women and their ideas such as being able to work and act outgoing in public. She describes that her and her friends from Korea are all very independent and strongly believes it is because of the high school they went to with all boys. Making a statement and standing out was a difficult task with predominate males but they felt they had to prove themselves as individuals and not just as girls. She stated, “So I guess my friends and I our feminists”. I thought this to be important because after discussing many issues she began to identify herself as a feminist. I think many women can relate to this because most women want to have equality or would not disagree with equality they just do not want the label as a feminist. Even though her and her friends are very independent she has told me that there are still many traditional roles of women in Korea. She talked about her sister-in-law who is the typical middle class women in Korea. She lives at home where she cares for the house, kids, and husband. She takes the kids to all their activities and school while her husband works. She does hobbies such as paint and takes interest classes in her spare time. When I asked if her sister-in-law ever decided to work would her husband mind. She told me that her sister-in-law would not think to do that because that is not expected of her especially of her generation. So even though ideas are becoming more open about women in Korea there is still many traditional roles that are projected of women in society.

To me Gina is an ideal feminist that has paved her own path for life and looks back with no regrets. Reflecting about our interview I found myself understanding how consciousness raising has really help lead feminism. Hearing Gina story showed me that people from all types of backgrounds and generations are faced with the issues of feminism. Even though issues are changing throughout generations women still face challenges in all types of ways whether it be at the workplace or with healthcare. With all these thoughts I concluded that even though one may not identify as a feminist we all want change.

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