The Choson philosophy of 내외법 law governing inner and outer, or private and public life introduced new regulation of women’s movement, dress and social life in the mid and late Choson Dynasty. These changes were brought about in connection with the ranking of officials and families into a class hierarchy:
“초기에 법제적 신부은 양인과 천인으로 규정되었지만 현실적으로 분화되어 16세기경에는 양반, 중인, 평민, 천인으로 계층이 형성되었다.” “중인은 대체로 고려말 조선초에서부터 양반에서 돼되거나 양인에서 상승한 자들로서 형성되기 시작하여 조선시대 중엽에 이르러 하나의 계층으로서 확연히 모습을 드러낸 중간신분층이었다. 정3품까지 승진할 수 있는 역관, 의관, 산원, 율관 등 상급 기술관과 정7품이 한품인 천문관, 도류, 화원, 등의 하급 기술관, 그리고 녹사, 서리들이 이에 속했다 (한국고문서학회, 208).”
This post presents two issues for analysis: the regulation of women’s bodies in the public sphere, and the increasingly politically-oriented responsibilities assigned to women in the private sphere.
First, the laws regulating women’s public sphere participation increasingly limited the roles of women in the public, and even affected the visual representation of women. According to Lee, upper-class women were required to wear a hood when they left home, while middle or lower class women should don a shawl in public:“조선후기로 오면서 여자들은 외출할 때 남자들과 내외하기 위해 서울윗대의 양반들은 장옷을 쓰게 되었는데 중인 이하는 치마를 대신 쓰게 되었다 (한국고문서학회, 210).”
The practice of wearing a hood (yangban women) or shawl (middle class) held some women from public view, and also restricted their choices in dress. This also clearly delineated the socio-economic status of women and their husband’s political position, “조선시대 의식주와 여로 격식은 신분과 직업에 따라서 다르게 규정되었다 (한국고문서학회, 210).”
In addition,“yangban women were forced to get around on horseback or in a palanquin and assure that their faces were never exposed to passersby. Such palanquins were also used by female entertainers whenever they left the house and palace women when the king would set out on a journey or get married (Han, 117).”
The regulation and demarcation of class, marriage status and gender has been a feature of many societies throughout history, always requiring the internalization of and conformity to a hierarchy. Thus, these laws not only regulate what is outside or inside the home, but also what is inside and outside the body or one’s mindset.
Second, due to the philosophical link between a harmonious home life and public prosperity, the everyday life and responsibilities of yangban and some countryside posts or lower level official’s mothers, wives and daughters transformed to conform to high expectations of morality and hospitality for the social advancement of the family. Within the home, hosting guests and performing with skill in culinary preparation and overseeing entertainment held symbolism beyond merely rubbing elbows with high ranking officials, but represented the harmony and success of the household. Outside the home, strict conformity to one’s class status was demanded, with transgressions bringing shame to one’s family if not appropriately attired:
여자들은 남편의 벼슬이나 본가의 신부에 따라 역시 복장을 달리했다. 또한 양반여자들은 치마를 왼쪽으로 여며 입었는데 만일상민이 그렇게 입으면 망신을 당하고 쫓겨났다고 한다 (한국고문서학회, 210).
“Women who preserved their chastity were rewarded in many different ways. For example, while women from the yangban class saw their families designated as honorable families, commoner families found themselves exempt from corvée labor. Meanwhile, in the case of the lowborn women, these were given the opportunity to gain commoner status (myŏnchŏn). Such awards placed extra pressure on women to maintain their virtue and to obey their parents and parents-in-law (Han, 118).”
Thus, women’s virtue could affect family prosperity, and a woman highly skilled in household management might project a powerful image of her spouse and family, extending into the public sphere by hosting guests.
The legacies of private-public division of men and women still resonate in politics today, in Korea and around the world. For example, how does the symbolism of the First Lady in America compare with the Choson philosophy toward inside-outside representation of the household head in political affairs? How (or rather, why) do Michelle Obama and Ann Romney reflect on their husband’s image, campaign success and leadership?
한국고문서학회 엮음. 조선시대 생활사, 역사비평사 [3부 신분별 생활상], 1995.
Han, Hee-sook. Women’s Life during the Chosŏn Dynasty. International Journal of Korean History (Vol.6, Dec. 2004)
Susan W. Schneider, Jewish and Female (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984) p. 237.
Sherif Abdel Azim, Ph.D. - Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, posted at http://www.islamicity.com/mosque/w_islam/veil.htm
얌전한 옛사진속의 조선 미녀, http://blog.joinsmsn.com/media/folderlistslide.asp?uid=eskang&folder=1&list_id=12568176