The social position of Korean WOMEN is deplorable. They have been rigidly secluded for ages; they are the slaves of their masters, the men, and they are kept down by a tyrannical oppression that would scarcely be credited in the West. Silence is regarded as a woman's first duty; her husband addresses her by the word yabu, signifying 'Look here,' which is significant of her relations to him. From a young girl she is kept carefully shut up and is not allowed to be seen or spoken to by a man. She has no voice in the matter of her marriage, as her husband is selected for her by her father. She may never have seen her husband before the wedding-day, and even then etiquette does not permit her, throughout all the festivities, to exchange a word with him. If a man speaks to a girl before she is married, she is considered as disgraced; if a malevolent ravisher penetrates to her apartment at night undiscovered, it is safer for her to permit him to work his will rather than to call for help, for thus the world would know that a man had spoken to her, and she would be dishonored! Despite the fact that the Koreans are an intensely passionate people, a man is supposed never to glance at a woman. Marriage at an early age is commom among them, and immorality is commoner.
Korean women have always borne the yoke. They accept inferiority as their natural lot, and they do not look for affection in marriage. The wife has recognized duties to her husband, but he has few, if any, to her. It is correct for a man to treat his wife with external marks of respect, but he would be an object for scorn and ridicule if he showed her affection or treated her as a companion. On her marriage-day the bride must be as mute as a graven image. This silence must remain unbroken even in her own room. From the moment she enters the nuptial chamber with her stranger husband (who often-times attempts to make her break her silence by coaxing, taunts, or jeers), she is spied upon by all the female servants of the house, who hang about the doors and chinks waiting for such a breach of etiquette as speech. A single utterance would cause her to lose caste forever in her circle. As it is, whatever the newly wedded couple do is told by the servants to all the neighborhood, which evolves choice bits of scandal in order to make the pair a laughing-stock among their friends. The custom of silence is observed with great rigidity among people of the so-called upper classes. It may be a week, or many weeks, before the husband knows the sound of his wife's voice; even then she speaks only when absolutely necessary. The daughter-in-law often passes years without raising her eyes to those of her father-in-law, or addressing him. Among the highest class, a bridegroom, after passing three or four days with his wife, leaves her for a considerable time to show his indifference; to act otherwise would be bad form. -- When the girl becomes a mother her position is somewhat improved. She rarely goes out by daylight except in closed hairs. If she leaves the house at night it must be with her husband's consent, and she must be accompanied by some one to bring back proof of where she has been. Korean babies have no cradles, and are put to sleep by being tapped lightly on the stomach. Widows are not permitted to marry again, and the inevitable consequence is that many become the concubines of married men. Concubinage is very common. Phyong An is said to have formerly produced the most beautiful women in Korea, and from that region came the Gesang for the Royal Court at Seoul.
Somewhat different social regulations apply to the women of the lower class, who share in the toil of daily life and must in consequence make their appearance by day in the streets. As a rule they are ill-bred and unmannerly, for removed from the gracefulness and charm of the same clss in Japan. The wearing of white clothes by the men puts severe and almost incessant work on the women's shoulders, and they are the national drudges. They have few if any pleasures, and they try to get even with fate by singeing their compatriots with the lash of their pungent and scarifying vocabulary. The average low-class women possess a fund of invective that usually sends the men scattering to the four points of the compass; it is as inelegant as it is complete, and it seems to be both dreaded and effective. Age treats these poor creatures shockingly; at 30 they look 50, and at 60 the stranger wishes he hadn't seen them. Their vixenish dispositions indubitable add to their extraordinary unattractiveness. On pities them for the style of dress evidently forced upon them. As the feminine waistline is supposed to be at the arm-pits, and as tight swathing of the bust does not permit the mothers to respond readily to the baby's hungry and imperious clamor, the twin maternal founts are worn, as it were, on the outside. Thus the firm buds of youth and the flapping rags of age are displayed to the world -- exposing to all Korea what antipodal women strive to conceal. The bulging trousers of the women are the acme of unpicturesqueness, and they render them devoid of all grace and charm. One is often astonished in Korea at the patrician beauty of the girl children; some of their faces are unusually fine, and it is a pity that age does not in their case fulfill the promises of youth. The present humane government is striving to ameliorate the condition of Korean women, and the closer observation by them of Western ways and manners, aided by the uplifting work of the missionaries, is having a beneficent effect.