2015 Sejong Writing Competition
Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior second place
second place, junior essay division
A Man's World?
Women were made for housework. We were made for sewing, for cooking, for cleaning; for taking care of the children. Curiosity, intelligence, and leadership--all qualities stifled by strong men who believed that they were the providers. Our sanctuaries were our homes, because outside, it was a man’s world. This was just the way it was, no matter how wrong it may seem to us now. And then--despite oppression--women began to rise up against conventional beliefs. Susan B. Anthony, Hillary Clinton, and Malala Yousafzai are only a few of the many famous women who fought for their rights and became heroes. The message they sent was a controversial, powerful one, but it did not begin with them. No, this message was alive long before they were, and made a principal appearance in ancient Korea. Princess Pari, the Cast-Off Daughter is a story of gender discrimination created for oppressed Korean women to show the importance of keeping an open mind, rather than quickly closing it based upon an outward appearance.
The moral of this folktale is a bit of a warning: it advises against underestimating someone simply because of their gender, as they could exceed your expectations someday. Hints of this moral and of gender discrimination were tightly woven into many of the actions that make up the colorful tapestry of this folktale. For example: in the beginning of the story, Princess Pari, seventh daughter of ignorant King Ogu, is cast off because of her father's conventional belief that girls are less useful than boys. As Heinz Insu Fenkl writes, "The next child--the seventh--was also a daughter, and King Ogu, in his anger, disowned her and commanded that she be cast out to die." This quote proves that King Ogu is not only prejudiced against women, but also that he is passionate about his opinions--he's angry that he had a daughter instead of a son. In fact, only being able to birth girls was a punishment, a penalty purposefullyplaced upon King Ogu for marrying Queen Kildae too early. Another example of gender discrimination and the moral that cautions against it occurs at the end of the story, when the problem is resolved: King Ogu becomes sick and admits to needing his cast-off daughter to find the cure to his illness. All of his daughters have failed him, so pressure rests on Princess Pari's shoulders--she must prove her father's beliefs wrong. She accepts the challenge and embarks on a journey to a heavenly land, and, seven years later, she returns with the cure. This also led me to conclude that the moral warned against gender discrimination, because if King Ogu had stubbornly refused to give up his conventional beliefs and ask his daughter for help, he would have been punished with death.
King Ogu’s character may seem extreme--what father casts his child out to die? However, gender discrimination was a huge issue in ancient Korea. Women were expected to stay at home, clean the house, and take care of the children. And, ancient Korean families were very much patriarchies. “Fathers are responsible for their families and and must be obeyed and revered by everyone” (Hidden Korea, PBS). In other words, men--specifically fathers--were considered leaders, and everyone else by unspoken cultural rules was required to bow down to them. This included their wives, who should have been their equals but instead were their servants. So, eager ears certainly awaited folktales like Princess Pari, the Cast-Off Daughter, and those ears belonged to oppressed Korean women. For the women who longed to fight back, these folktales only added fuel to their fires. For the women reluctant to defy their husbands, these folktales provided a much-needed spark.
Many years later, gender discrimination still lives on--even in America, one of the most liberal countries in the world. That's the reason I believe that Princess Pari, the Cast-Off Daughter has the most important meaning, which encourages people to keep an open mind despite someone's outside appearance. I am not unconscious of discrimination and oppression, as someone who is very close to my heart has fought this famous battle: my grandfather. Though he has been in the United States for the majority of his life, he was born in India. Some people have openly told him to "go back to where he came from." Even airport security officers tend to double-check him more often than they do my American-born grandmother. I firmly believe that this shouldn't be happening, and this folktale echoes my thoughts loud and clear. I have also heard of Malala Yousafzai’s famous struggle with conventional beliefs that girls shouldn’t go to school, but instead stay at home and learn how to take care of children. If we, citizens of the world, put our gender discrimination aside, we would benefit not only women but also ourselves: why wouldn’t we want to have more people contributing to our economy, to our technology, to our education?
Women were not made for housework. We were not made simply for sewing, for cooking, for cleaning, and for taking care of the house. Princess Pari, the Cast-Off Daughter is a story of gender discrimination created for oppressed Korean women to show the importance of keeping an open mind, rather than quickly closing it based on outward appearances. It's truly amazing that such an ancient story could still apply to life today--who would have known that, hundreds of years later, obvious problems like discrimination still stand? Characters like Princess Pari still stand, too, and one well-known example is Martin Luther King Junior, whom we celebrated just last week. He fought for equality and and gave voice to the oppressed, just as Princess Pari did. That's why I think it's suitable to end with the words of Dr. King: "The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people."