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Single Motherhood Continues To Be A Taboo In Korea

BY Adrienne Stanley | May 11, 2015 02:33 PM EDT


On May 11, the American news outlet National Public Radio (NPR) delivered a report which focused on the plight of single mother's in Korea.May 11 is recognized as Single Mother's Day in Korea, a date which has been designated to raise awareness of discrimination against single mothers. Single Mother's Day also draws attention to children who were either removed from or placed into adoption by unwed mothers.

The NPR report focused on the struggles faced by Korea's unwed mothers. The segment was included in the program "Morning Edition." NPR visited a May 11 single mothers rally, which was attended by 70 supporters. "We want the society to accept that unwed mothers are just women as well, they're members of society, and they have a right to be happy," said rally organizer Choi Hyun Sook.

Unwed mothers are generally depicted in Korean dramas as pitiful women who are ostracized from society. In the 2014 drama "Modern Farmer," Lee Ha Nui (Honey Lee) is portrayed as a downtrodden girl whose youth was stolen away by an unwanted pregnancy. Her character, Kang Yoon Hee, is the first love of Lee Min Ki (Lee Hong Ki). Throughout the 20 episode series, Min Ki expresses pity for Yeon Hee and her son. Her son is repeatedly bullied by his classmates and reminded of his illegitimate status in society. The series concludes with the marriage of Min Ki and Yoon He, which is easily welcomed by her son. 

"Modern Farmer" aired simultaneously with "The Greatest Marriage." Park Si Yeon starred as Cha Gi Young, a young newscaster whose career was ruined by her unwed pregnancy. Her situation belies the title of the drama, after Gi Young refuses to marry the child's father, Park Tae Yeon (No Min Woo). Gi Young experiences various hardships throughout the course of the drama and is forced to relinquish custody of her son. "The Greatest Marriage" concluded with a lukewarm ending for Gi Young, belying the sentiment that single mothers should not be happy. 

Recent dramas which explore the plight of single mothers include the tvN series "Fool's Love,"  "Super Daddy Yeol" and the teen drama, "Who Are You: School 2015." 

After School's UEE tackled the role of Do Do Hee, an award-winning swimmer who is faced with an unwanted pregnancy. She hides her pregnancy and struggles to raise her baby, as an unwed mother. She is aided by Kang Ho Gu (Choi Woo Sik), who is repeatedly berated as a fool for readily accepting another man's child. 

"Super Daddy Yeol" approached single motherhood from a different angle. Lee Yu Ri portrayed Cha Mi Rae, a successful doctor, who is diagnosed with inoperable cancer. She seeks out her first love, Han Yul (Lee Dong Gun) and attempts to shape him into a suitable father for her daughter, Cha Sa Rang (Lee Re). Sa Rang yearns for a father figure and is ostracized by her classmates, prior to the introduction of Han Yul. 

"Who Are You: School 2015" has provided a nuanced perspective on single parenthood. Jeon Mi Sun portrays Song Mi Kyung, a single adoptive mother, who willingly accepts Go Eun Bi (Kim So Hyun) in the absence of her missing daughter. 

Korean dramas commonly feature single fathers, who are either portrayed as loving paragons of morality or vicious men who are shaping their sons into monstrous teenagers. In "Who Are You: School 2015," Gong Tae Kwang (Yook Sungjae) deals with an abusive father and neglective mother. The same paradigm was featured in "Angry Mom," as Hong Sang Tae (Baro) struggled to live with his father. Another glaring example of poor father-son relations is the fractured situation exhibited in the 2013 hit drama, "The Heirs." Choi Young Do (Kim Woo Bin) lived within the shadow of  an abusive father while struggling to come to grips with the absence of his mother. 

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