I’ve always been close with my mother. She’s always done everything she can for me, she checks in with me about how I’m doing every day, and she’s a feminist. The last aspect truly does mean a lot to me, as it’s often difficult to find feminist women in Korean societies. I’ve always considered myself a feminist, and I think I’ve been able to identify as such because my mom has set such a strong example for what it means to be a woman smashing societal standards. But, as times change, so do social norms, and the actions that were ground-breaking in my mother’s day are often considered more ordinary now. For example, my mother often had to assert that she deserved certain positions for clubs at school while nowadays there seems to be less of a bias in educational settings. Or at least, when there is, we can do more about it.
Since I’ve so often experienced a discrepancy within our views, I wanted to sit down and have an honest conversation about what feminism means to the two of us. In this article, I’ve pieced together bits from my informal interview with her, and my own analysis of what her views mean for feminism today.
Me (referred to as A in continuing dialogue): “Okay, are you ready?”
Mom (referred to as M): “Yes.”
Feminism for My Mother
A: Do you identify as a feminist?
M: Yes. I advocate for female rights.
A: Okay, and do you think that your definition of feminism is similar to the definition of feminism you see represented today, like in media or on TV?
M: No. My definition of feminism I feel is more conservative. Or older. Because I’m older, I think my views have formed from my personal experiences in society. But I didn’t experience the same things you guys are facing in this modern society. I think my views haven’t changed, so compared to current feminism, I am more conservative.
A: So what’s a personal experience that you had that shaped your idea of feminism when you were growing up?
M: Uh…. Back in the old days, women’s rights were suppressed and you could definitely tell. It was more evident back then, to the point where it was some sort of sensation when women wanted something. Women had to constantly prove that they were worthy of things like piano recitals or art exhibitions. For example, in school a lot of people would assume that the class president would be a male student. The best a girl could ever do what vice president.
A: So were you VP?
M: Yeah, I was VP for a long time, and then in sixth grade I became president. And I remember the teacher was making a point to say, “Oh, you really earned this. You were way better than the others.” There was a different kind of nuance when he said it.
A: So that was the kind of stuff that you fought for, right?
M: I guess back then I didn’t fight for it, but I felt like I deserved it. I didn’t feel like I had to struggle, but rather that I should be getting the recognition that I deserve. I would have been upset if I didn’t get it.
A: You said that you don’t really relate to feminism today. What is something that women today fight for that you don’t really understand?
M: Um…. Nowadays, feminism is a lot more complicated. Back then, feminism was “advocate for female rights.” It was a pretty simple concept: because our rights were suppressed, we wanted what we deserved. Now it’s evolved through the years, and you guys go into a lot more detail than “I deserve this.” Nowadays feminism is branched out.
Talking to my mom about feminism, I realized that her activism was, in some ways, simpler. Though she grew up in more oppressive times, it was almost easier for her in that she knew exactly what she wanted: the rights she deserved. While fights for better positions still exist, there are a lot more intricacies in intersectional feminism that I don’t think my mom really understands.
Pro-Choice or Pro-Life?
A: Are you pro-life or pro-choice
M: I am… pro-choice, for life.
A: What? What is that supposed to mean
M: So by religion, I am pro-life. But I want people to have choices. I want people to have the choice, and I hope that they pick life.
A: So because you’re Christian, you think that morally and religiously, it’s wrong, but if other people want to do it, you won’t stop it?
M: Yes, it’s their choice.
A: So what if I ever got into a situation in which I would want to get an abortion?
M: I would raise the baby.
A: No, but what if we just don’t want to go through labor?
M: I will pray for it and see. There must be a reason for the baby to be there.
A: I mean, there’s not really always a reason for everything.
M: But that could be a reason for something. That’s what my religion tells me. I can’t say have an abortion or have a baby because a person’s life - mine, yours, or the baby’s - I think doesn’t belong to any person. I think it belongs to God.
In all honesty, if all pro-lifers treated the subject of abortion the way my mother did, I think we could have more productive discussions on the reasons why women might need abortions. I appreciate the fact that she doesn’t try to exert control over other women’s bodies. Though I don’t know how much I agree with her reasoning, as the main support she has for her ideas is her religion, I know that she at least leaves it up to a greater force, rather than herself. I’m pro-choice, but I think I haven’t clashed with my mother as much as I’d expect because she respects other women’s bodies. She knows that you can’t just rule out the option of an abortion based solely on her wishes or her morals.
A: Since you’re very religious —
M: I’m not.
A: You are! At least, compared to young people nowadays.
M: Okay, okay.
A: I have to ask, how do you feel about the LGBTQ+ community? Or LGBT community as you know it.
M: Um…. It’s there.
A: Do you support it? Like for example, a couple years ago, gay marriage became legal. How did you feel when that happened?
M: I didn’t like it. Like I told you, I think people should have choices, but I think making it legal makes a lot of people think it’s okay.
A: You’re saying that making it legal makes it seem like it’s ethically okay? When you believe that it’s not?
M: Yeah, you could say that. I didn’t like it because it might sway people or confuse them into thinking it’s okay
A: Well, I don’t think sexuality is something that people decide based on a law.
M: No, but they might be confused. Or, in this age, I think it’s become more cool or something to be gay or to try it, so some young people might just do it.
A: Regardless of the possibility of that, there are many people who have been gay forever, since ancient times. It’s not like a law will change the fact that homosexuality exists.
I’ve had a difficult time talking to my mother about the LGBTQ+ community. She sees it as a sin, given her Christian beliefs, and I see it as love. Even the way she talks about coming out or discovering your sexuality is outdated to me. But again, she leaves it up to others. Though she might not agree with it, she at least doesn’t disrespect or discriminate against members of the queer community. Her attitude isn’t ideal, but I’ve found that oftentimes, with my older Asian relatives, it’s the most I can ask for.
Talking to my mom often prompts me to wonder if I should try to change the views of my more conservative family. I wonder if I’m not being strong enough activist by not trying harder to explain intersectional feminism, or refusing to fight with my mom on why homosexuality isn’t a sin. But I also realize that I can’t change everyone’s views, and that my mom has already come quite far in accepting something as radical as gay marriage, or the idea of our church supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
Helping My Mom with Modern Feminism
A: Is there anything you’re uncertain about with modern feminism that maybe I could try to clear up for you?
M: Yeah, where are you guys going with this?
A: What do you mean?
M: I mean, what are your goals or what are you trying to do? In my day, it was more straightforward, like I said.
A: Our point is to keep the rights that you fought to get for us and to make sure they don’t get taken away.
M: They’re not going to get taken away.
A: Mom, under more conversative rule, anything can happen. The moment Trump stepped into office, a lot of things that we said would never happen have been happening.
M: Hmm. So I have a question for you. Do you think women in STEM and those women who work are a good representation of feminism? Versus the woman who raises the kids right and lives as a housewife?
A: It’s not an either or. A huge part of feminism is acknowledging how much mothers do. Feminists nowadays don’t put down either choice. It’s also about advocating for stay-at-home dads, too.
I’m glad I was able to show my mom that my idea of feminism is not all just far left propaganda. In a lot of ways, we’re still fighting for the same things she fought for when she was in sixth grade, trying to become class president. But there are a lot of other awesome developments that have come about because of the more modern waves of feminism. Movies like Ocean’s Eight, for example, which center around an all female cast, would never have been possible just a few decades ago. The proliferation of changing tables in male bathrooms is another huge win for men and women. Overall, I think we’re all working towards the same, or at least similar goals, and that my conversation with my mom really just shows that we can never stop working.
It was great to speak to my mom openly about these issues, and for anyone who has a close relationship with their parents, or who wishes they had a closer one, I would recommend just taking the time to openly discuss each others’ views.
After our conversation, my mother was nervous about how the interview would present her to a more liberal audience like Make Muse’s readership. She even asked me what parts I would be including. The very fact that she was nervous about it, however, shows that she opened up and was honest. Those are some traits we need in order to have productive conversations between different generations. I learned a lot from my mother; most of my values began from her. And I hope that as time goes on, we can continue to learn from each other, about feminism, about intersectionality, and about how two generations can bridge the gap together.