In clarification of my previous post, sign UP, I thought I’d share this timely Facebook post by Jennifer Kwon Dobbs explaining the differences between single moms and unwed moms in Korea. I knew this when I wrote my previous post, yet despite the differences I still think social acceptance of one softens the reception of the other eventually. And the number of single moms is steadily growing here…
QUESTION: Why do the moms of KUMFA identify themselves as unwed? Doesn’t this identification risk entrenching discrimination against them for their unwed marital status? *** ANSWER: Since 2009, I’ve been a transnational ally to the unwed mothers of KUMFA with whom I’ve conducted research for a forthcoming book about their narratives. Moreover, I’ve reunited with my mother, who is unwed, and have personal insight into/experience with this issue. So speaking as an ally and as a daughter, let me share some observations. 1) Difference does not mean teleology. In other words, Korea is not *behind* western moms who no longer identify as unwed. Korea is not North America in the 1950s. Instead, the Korean situation has its own set of oppressions that require a localized intervention rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, which includes the same naming. Self-naming is a form of self-determination. 2) Before summer 2010, single mothers (hanbumo) differentiated themselves from unwed mothers (mihonmo) — a bracketing that might not make sense to foreigners. 12 years ago, the hanbumo, divorced and widowed mothers, organized the Single Mothers Association, which promoted single mother issues across Korea and lessened stigma against single moms receiving child custody after divorce. They’re now in solidarity with the KUMFA moms, but in the past, they discriminated against them. 3) Korean society’s stigma against unwed mothers is much stronger than against divorced or widowed mothers. To make oneself visible as unwed is to bring attention to this stigma in order to intervene in its dehumanizing consequences. The KUMFA moms are bravely identifying their real circumstances rather than pretending to be divorced or widowed even at great personal costs to themselves. Welfare support for hanbumo and mihonmo differs in Korea due to this stigma. For instance, the general stereotype for mihonmo is that she’s a teenage child giving birth to a child. Recently passed legislation intended to support unwed moms proceeds from this sense by giving education support to moms who are 25 years and younger; however, 3 out of 4 unwed mothers in institutional care are 25 years of age and older. If the moms took the U out of KUMFA, then they would not be able to advocate 100% against the oppressions harming their lives and to promote family difference, not discrimination.
In addition to support from single moms as allies, more and more unwed moms who don’t benefit from the limited assistance of the new programs and who clearly are mature and responsible will surely gain more audience as they become increasingly more organized. I think this is a clever way for the government to restrict their budget instead of their recognition of the social stigmas, personally. But there is still that stigma of turning anyone unmarried with children into a whore – even though it seems like everyone under 25 is sleeping around.
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