Thursday, February 4, 2010

Domestic Life

Ian was talking to to his Fluent 3 class about chores today.  None of them do any chores except occasionally taking out the garbage.  And, in Korea, that usually just means setting it outside your door until someone is heading out and can take it down with them.  Ian's class also believes that women are naturally better at household chores than men are.  The young women share this opinion.  Ian asked them why they believe that and they linked the historical role of women to their now natural ability.  Strangely, that's partly true because any group of people who is consistently told they have a particular skill set and are pointed in that direction (as far as life skills go) will be better suited to it than someone who isn't.  More often than not, Korea reminds Ian and me of 1950s America. 

Domestic (gender) roles are very important in this society.  Terry, Julia's son who occasionally helps out at Yoon's, is obsessed with gender roles.  In fact, I've never had a conversation with him that didn't somehow lead to gendering.  He's lived in Australia for many years, but his concept of self is as Westernized as kimchi.  Sometimes his need to gender something is very obvious, like when he expressed amazement and disbelief at Ian doing most (read: all) of the cooking for us.  For us, it's a little strange, or at least different than how we expected things to go, but it started out that way when we got here and the kitchen is so small; it's impossible for two people to collaborate.  But, Terry acted as though Ian was lying or somehow surely mistaken.  Another interesting assertion came from Terry on the night of Yoon's banquet.  I decided to wait for Ian to get food because he was running late and I didn't want him to be put in an awkward situation and to have to eat alone.  Terry told me that I was "cool" and a "good wife" for waiting for my husband.  I still don't know how to process the intended compliment.  Sometimes his gendering is more subtle, like when he and I were discussing whether or not it's common for Americans to say, "Bless you," when someone sneezes.  I asked about Australians and he initially said yes, but then modified his answer by asserting that women do, but men don't as often.

Terry is the only person of our generation that speaks enough English for us to know anything about, so I can't say he is the norm here.  Gene certainly doesn't seem to think this way.  He always talks to me exactly the same way he talks to Ian; and his expectations of us are the same.  We met his wife once in E-Mart, and she was mousey, but very friendly.  It's likely that she was so quiet because she is insecure about her English.  I hope to meet her again and I wonder if she shares Gene's feelings about Korea and wanting to live abroad.

Yoon's is an expensive academy, so many of our students come from very affluent backgrounds.  Obviously, Terry has had a privileged life.  Usually, society's upper socio-economic tier hold on to the traditions of the past for longer than their more blue collar bretheren.  This could be one of the reasons our students' ideas on familial and societal roles seem so antiquated.  Ian's class also told him that it's not uncommon for the grandmother in a family to come over and cook and clean for a wage.  I wish there was a class I could take on Korean sociology, but I think we'll just have to keep learning through emersion; which is nearly impossible with our lack of a cultural link.

Misappropriately gendered Ian.

Good night!


  1. Very very interesting.
    Dominic does all of the cooking for us. For a very gender specific reason: I am bad at math. I can neither measure flour or time appropriately. He, on the other hand, is a genius in the kitchen. It is backwards and forward at the same time!

  2. That is very interesting, and the more you explain these types of things, I too think "Father knows best", or the cleaver family of the 50's.

    The apron looks nice on Ian. I like the little kitties and ruffles. i will not have to by him a man apron after all.

  3. Casey only lets me use the apron part time... I NEEDS ONE. Kitties or not.

  4. I will look for a manly one for you, Ian

  5. LOL Ian could definitely use a manly apron I mean the kitties and flowers are cute and all but... and its little short. Secretly I think he picked it our himself.