“Please let me have a younger brother!”
At the age of 10, as soon as I heard my mother was pregnant, I began to pray before I went to sleep. My prayers were always the same. Having grown up in Jeju Island, a small island situated in southern South Korea, I was surrounded by neighbors that would commonly greet families with only daughters, such as mine, with a single piece of advice: “You should try having a son!”
Among my relatives, as my family was the only family without a male offspring, unspoken pressure permeated the atmosphere during family gatherings. From a tender age, my sister and I frequently witnessed and fully understood the stress my mother went through. Every night, I prayed for a male sibling so that my mother’s woes would fly away.
Yet, my mother remained strong. She concealed her stress by laughing off sexist remarks saying, “I actually would like having another daughter!” She refused to acknowledge any negative comments made by others about having only daughters. During my elementary years, whenever I received an award, my grandmother would lament, “What a pity…If you were a boy you would have become a great person.” To which my mother would retort, “Jooyeon will do greater things in the future than any boy!” Her resolute expression and tone will always remain in my heart.
As an avid reader and a literature teacher, my mother would always recant stories from her favorite books as if they were part of folklore. And it was her stories that inspired me to major in English Literature in university, where I came across A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. As I read and reread the book over the years, I now realize that my mother’s story was a very condensed version of the novel.
I distinctly remember her mentioning a specific character from the book, Shakespeare’s sister. Though bestowed with similar talents to her brother’s, Shakespeare’s sister was unable to go to school because she was female and was forced to lead a mundane existence. I remember the shock I felt when I first heard about her and promised myself I would live a life in which I would fulfill my potential.
A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.
The core of Woolf’s story does not only apply to aspiring female authors. “To write fiction” signifies enabling an individual to fulfill her potential. If writing fiction is prohibited for women merely because they are women, how can they live their lives? She stresses two elements—a certain amount of money and “a room of one’s own”—are essential ingredients for a woman wishing to express her talent and widen her activity range.
- Money. One cannot reject the fact that intellectual freedom, the freedom of contemplation and belief, are based on material things. One must earn a certain amount of money by doing work they enjoy.
- A room of her own. One must secure one’s own space to think freely and express one’s capabilities. Here, the room refers not only to a physical space, but also to a social-cultural capacity achievable through academic pursuit. Without sufficient education and social support, one’s room can never materialize.
I recently found out how my mother had to give up her dream of studying art so she could provide for her brother’s tuition. If my mother, herself having grown up in an era that demanded the sister’s sacrifice for her male siblings, had raised me differently from a son and had not allowed me “a room of my own,” where would I be now?
I would not be here to write this account, for sure. Here at BCG, I receive genuine support that enables me to continue constructing a room of my own so I can pursue my goals freely. Here, I am not prohibited from “writing fiction” because I am a woman, but rather encouraged to write my own story as a female.
Last month, my mother visited Finland, where I am currently working as an associate abroad. My mother smiled with pleasure when she saw me, saying “How proud I am of my daughter!” Yet, I could not be prouder of my mother, the woman who allowed me to build a room of my own. As my mother had raised me, I too would like to become a person that can support my daughters and many other girls in the world to build “a room of her own.”