In Korea, Daughters Now in Demand

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As a mother of two girls, Oh-Han Suk-hee used to have to constantly cope with neighbors, from a grandma next door to her close friends, who all said she needed a son to carry on the family’s bloodline and had to give it one more try.

“One of the common oriental medicines you could easily get from nearby clinics was pouches of a concoction that supposedly helped you conceive a son and abort a girl,” recalls Oh-Han, who has a Ph.D. in women’s studies and is an advocate for women’s rights.

Park Hye-ran, who also has a Ph.D. in feminist studies, experienced an emotional roller coaster ride in a somewhat different way than Oh-Han. Park told the International Herald Tribune years ago that she was often seen as an exemplary woman who fulfilled her foremost duty: providing her husband win not only one son, but three.

But things have changed. Today, says the 53-year-old Oh-Han, “a mother of two daughters or more is the envy of every woman.” And Park, who is 66, says she has gone from “the luckiest woman to a pitiful mother” in just a generation.

Historically, Korea was a rigid male-dominated society on par with China. One of the seven faults of women during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) was not bearing a son, which was ground for divorce. In extreme cases, women were deserted by their husbands or mothers-in-law for not conceiving a son.

In the 1970s and 1980s, women often received underwear worn by women who had delivered sons from their mothers-in-law hoping for grandsons.

But figures and statistics support a drastic social shift: a majority of parents today want girls.

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