Having a glimpse of the lives of women in the past
Women under the social ambience in the male-centered society in which expressions such as 'man is the heaven and woman is the earth', ‘it goes ill with the house where the hen sings and the cock is silent’ and ‘a married daughter is no better than a stranger’ are prevalent, a country that demands chastity to women but tolerant towards concubines, and the chastity of women is more important than their lives are subordinate beings.
However, this is only a portion not the entirety of the facts that can explain the status of women during the Joseon Dynasty. Most importantly, the expression that a daughter is no better than a stranger appears to be erroneous based on various evidences of the status of women in the past. It can be seen that the society in general exercised substantial benefits and considerations for daughters and daughters-in-law who became widows.
During the Joseon Dynasty, the system of monogamy for marriage with higher authority of husband and father in the households. During the early years of Joseon Dynastic, daughters enjoyed substantial rights and were able to equally share the inheritance with their male siblings even after their marriage. Then, since the latter part of the 1700’s, the proportion endowed to the women began to dwindle increasingly. In addition, the tradition of men living with the parents of the wife after marriage disappeared and women began to live with the household of the parents-in-law, thereby becoming distanced from their natural parents’ household.
Instead, women managed to secure central status as the operator of the households. As such, although their rights as a daughter were reduced, their status as the lady of the house fortified. Women became the responsible person for the management of household economy and there even were women who accumulated and donated substantial wealth to the local society.
Most importantly, from the perspectives of women, Joseon Dynasty was greatly different from the Goryeo Dynasty in terms of the education for women that the government executed. The government published and distributed booklets with lessons written in Korean language in order to recommend various comportments that women ought to exercise. In the process, the government also fortified the norms for women based on the Confucian beliefs.
However, revolutions in history are always initiated by unintended events. This policy that the government pursued gave the written words (Hangeul) for Korean language to women. Hangeul, which is easy to learn and write, enabled women to free them from illiteracy. Reading books that began with the lesson booklets for women naturally progressed into writing of literatures by women to the extent of women learning to read and write Chinese characters as well. As such, the project aimed at educating and edification of women eventually led to enabling women to equip themselves with ‘knowledge’.