Brace Fellow Yerin Pak ‘11 Shares Research on Working Korean Mothers

Yerin Pak ’11 presented her research on South Korean working mothers as a Brace Center Fellow this past Monday. The presentation was one of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day workshops offered for upperclassmen. Pak’s presentation was third in a series of five Brace Center Fellow Presentations this year. In the presentation, entitled, “South Korean Working Mothers: Entangled in a Web of Confucian and Modern Values,” Pak explained that deep-rooted Confucian traditional values and modern values is in conflict, forcing women to choose between a career and motherhood in South Korea. Pak said, “My inspiration to research the plight of Korean working mothers came from the fact that my mother and all of her friends, and basically all the women around me in Korea, have faced this problem.” Pak began her presentation by explaining how corporations in Korea are male-dominated and based on Confucian values such as “respect for the old, loyalty to superiors, harmonious relations and filial piety.” Due to the cutthroat nature of the Korean business world, working mothers are often forced to leave their children in the care of another, typically a mother-in-law. Relying on elders rather than giving them deference goes against many traditional Confucian values. According to Pak, Confucianism dictates that if a woman fails at being a wife, mother or daughter, she is deemed a failure. As a result, many women in Korea are choosing not to marry in order to pursue a career without the distraction of family responsibilities. As a result of this aversion to childbearing, South Korea currently has the lowest birth rate of any country in the world. Pak said that the decreased birth rate will result in a smaller labor force and therefore harm the South Korean economy. Pak suggested that the Korean government work with the private business sector to solve the dilemma facing working mothers and improve their working conditions. She suggested the institution of policies guaranteeing job security, securing generous leaves and promoting the hiring of working mothers. “I knew that it was unfortunate that these Korean working mothers had to choose between having a job and being a mother, but I never realized to what extent this problem affected these working mothers before conducting my research,” she said. Over the summer, Pak traveled to Korea and conducted interviews with working mothers. All of her research went into a final paper, which was presented on Monday. Matthew Hession, Instructor in History, served as Pak’s faculty advisor for the project. “Yerin put in a lot of hours, not only doing a lot of background research and getting a sense of the issue, but also looking at the issue from a lot of different angles. By virtue of looking at it from a lot of different angles, I think she was able to reach a pretty significant conclusion,” he said. “The presentation was well researched and insightful. It provided a good background into the ethical and the moral dilemma of South Korean mothers. I thought she did a really good job,” said Tommy Kramer ’11. Edith Young ’11 said, “Yerin conducted herself in a very professional and articulate manner and the presentation really showed how much work she put into the paper over the summer.” Anthony Rotundo, Instructor in History and Social Sciences and Co-Head of the Brace Center, said, “Yerin’s presentation really raised questions about issues of justice, and those are the kind of issues that Dr. King raised and that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day should raise.” This is the second year that a Brace Fellow presentation was offered as a workshop for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Rotundo said, “Having a Brace Fellow presentation as a MLK day workshop opens up the possibility for some people who are interested in the topic but might not otherwise be able to make it down to the Brace Center, so it’s a nice way to extend ourselves.” Midori Ishizuka ’11 will be giving a Brace presentation on date rape entitled, “More than Just a Women’s Issue” on January 25.