YouTuber Reveals 7 Basic Things Women In North Korea Aren’t Allowed To Do, And It Sounds Like A Horrible Life
If you’ve read/watched dystopian fiction like The Hunger Games or The Handmaid’s Tale, at some point, you’re bound to think we’re so lucky that these are not our realities. Can you imagine having to fight and kill for your survival while the others just watch it as a televised game? Or being a woman and used as a sex slave and a baby-churning machine, and a name that indicates you’re the property of a man? While we may dwell in relief that this is not the world we live in, there’s also that lingering fear that the way we are going, any of these scenarios could truly come to pass. In fact, if you look at North Korea right now, Kim Jong Un’s regime puts some terrible restrictions on personal freedom of its people, particularly the women. And if you listen to the revelations by YouTuber Yeonmi Park, a North Korean defector, you’ll be shook to the core.
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In a recently released video on YouTube, Yeonmi Park talked about how the regime in North Korea would like the world to think that the country is a paradise for women. However, the reality is harsher, almost hellish. From not being able to wear what they want, use makeup and leave their long hair open, to bearing the burden of breadwinning for their family and even being turned into sex slaves, the life of a woman in North Korea sounds nothing short of horrible.
What’s shocking though is the paradoxical nature of these rules that apply to the North Korean women. For example, while their agency in a lot of basic things has been taken away from them, they can actually keep their maiden name after they get married. In addition, they are also the breadwinners of their homes. The latter two things seem progressive on the surface, since most countries with patriarchal societies insist women take their husband’s last names and not step outside the house for work because they’ve got domestic responsibilities and child rearing. But one look at the overall position of women in the North Korean society, and you realise that even these two rules that seem progressive are, in fact, insidious and meant to oppress women.
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No wonder, so many men and women, like Yeonmi Park, have defected to South Korea and other parts of the world. Because can you imagine living in such a claustrophobic country? As Yeonmi put it, “[These rules] are a lot of unnecessary trouble for women. Because North Korean women have to constantly meet the standards of men for ‘What is womenly enough’.” And when you see the ridiculous rules, you’ll realise that they all seem to stem from this unwarranted need to make women adhere to some fantasy of the ideal woman, and even if it means punishment for them, so be it.
Here are some of the most basic things that women in North Korea cannot do because of ridiculous rules put in place by the regime.
1. There’s a ‘No Pants’ rule for women
When we use the term ‘fashion police’, it’s often in a casual context. But in North Korea, there’s a legit fashion police, called the ‘Gyuchaldae’ that makes rounds to ensure that women are following the norms of dressing imposed by the regime. And mind you, there are plenty. They cannot wear red lipstick, can only cut their hair to certain state-specified hairstyles. Oh and no pants for women either. Why? Because in the eyes of North Korean men, “It is not womanly enough”. So come cold winter or hot summer, women have on relief and have to stick to wearing skirts. While this rule is slightly less stricter in the country side, in the capital city of Pyongyang, it is very particularly followed.
As Yeonmi pointed out, and as we know from personal experience, skirts or dresses aren’t always comfortable, not even when you’re sitting in air-conditioned offices or travelling by public transport. Now imagine women who have to work in marketplaces, sit in uncomfortable positions or carry things up stairs! This rule sucks.
2. Sorry ladies, there’s no cycling for ya in North Korea either.
According to Yeonmi, the economic situation of people, especially in the countryside of North Korea, is so bad that if a household owns a cycle, the pride is as much as if they owned a fancy German car.
“My sister was able to learn how to ride a bicycle, but I wasn’t. Because by the time I could, we were too poor to afford one.”
However, for women, even that rarely acquired joy has been snatched away, because they are not allowed to ride a freaking bicycle in their country. And why? Take a wild guess. BECAUSE IT IS NOT WOMANLY ENOUGH.
*pauses to take several deep breaths*
Yeonmi pointed out that the rule, yet again, is stricter in the capital than in the countryside, because in the latter, women do have to engage in more physical labour than citygoers. But either way, it seems designed to cause women pain and suffering, because it takes hours and hours for them to get from one place to another, while the men can just cycle their way around.
3. Women can keep their own names after marriage. But their children only take the father’s name.
Oh now this one here makes you want to smack your forehead in disbelief. A woman changing her last name to her husband’s after marriage is characteristic of most patriarchal societies. A lot of them now have even begun accepting children using their mother’s name as middle name and her maiden last name as their last name on legal documents without much hassle. However, in Kim Jong Un’s North Korea, a woman doesn’t have to change her name post marriage.
This seems in huge contrast to the otherwise regressive rules for women. But don’t you get fooled. Because when the couple has children, they have to take their father’s last name only. No exceptions. As someone pointed out in the YouTube comments, it almost seems like the regime is trying to say that the woman is not considered a part of the family, because while her husband and her children will have the same last name, she won’t. When you factor in the sense of belonging and the emotion of a family, tell me, what do you think the women would choose to do?
4. If selected, women have to be a part of a ‘Pleasure Squad’.
This is perhaps the worst rule of them all, and not just because of what women are subjected through. Imagine being a teenager who gets handpicked out of school because men sexualise your body and deem you to be the perfect candidate to bring pleasure to the elite men of North Korea. According to another video that Yeonmi Park made on the subject, these women have to undergo a bunch of background checks and medical examinations to finally end up in the Pleasure Squad. They should be virgins and not have any scars on their body. As for the family check, it is to ensure that the girl’s family has no connections to any defectors or people in South Korea. This was the reason Yeonmi, who herself was picked preliminarily for the Squad, was then dropped and not made to go.
Most of these women end up in different kinds of jobs as part of the Pleasure Squad—massage girls, entertainers who sing and dance, and the most niche and obvious category, girls who provide sexual pleasure to Kim Jong Un and his posse of high officials.
Many people in the comments wondered why families would send their daughters off to be chosen in the Pleasure Squad. And the answer to that is something worse. The situation in the country is bad, the poverty so dire, that simply the assurance of their daughters being healthy and fed is enough for the parents to send their daughters to this dark future….
5. Women are the ones bringing the bread home, and getting sexually exploited in the process.
In India, when parents are looking for ‘a suitable boy’ for their daughter’s marriage, the general conception is if the boy is a doctor or an engineer, he earns well. Therefore, “Beti raaj karegi, raaj!”. In fact, in most patriarchal societies, the notion that a man is living off a woman’s earnings is considering ridiculous and often emasculating for them. But in North Korea, Yeonmi explains that even if your husband is a doctor or a factory worker, he gets paid such little money (around $1) as salary. This leaves the women with no option but to sell stuff at the black markets across the country to feed their families.
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If I didn’t escape and succeeded at it, this would’ve been me in the best scenario, or most likely I wouldn’t be even alive on this earth today. I would have been dead a decade ago from starvation or disease. In North Korea, 27 years old is not considered to be young. I have passed my prime age already. That is how quickly a person’s potential gets crushed. Let us not take life for granted. Let us not take this freedom for granted. We all must pursue meaningful life that is beyond ourselves. Grateful you are in this journey with me to spread the words of freedom and human rights. I am more and more convinced everyday that we can liberate North Korea when we raise our voices together for the voiceless people of North Korea. Thank you for your humanity!
What’s even more shocking is that not only are these women not respected despite being sole breadwinners for their families, but the authorities who police these black markets often sexually harass and rape these women for working in these markets. The women have no option but to bear it because there’s no laws for sexual harassment in North Korea. And their families’ lives are at stake.
6. Women do all the domestic work with no help from men.
It’s been seven months since my ‘Auntie’, the house help, has stopped coming to work because of the coronavirus pandemic. And Mom and I have been struggling to manage domestic chores as well as our jobs. With no going out and spending the entire day shifting from office work to domestic work, the frustration has taken a massive toll on our mental health, making us irritated and snappy. Even our weekends are not the escape they used to be. While most of us have been experiencing this for some months, the women in North Korea have it so bad, I feel ridiculous about my privilege.
These women have to do every darn domestic chore on their own, including raising children and cooking from scratch. As Yeonmi reveals, these households don’t have a gas cylinder and stove, and the Korean meals aren’t instant or easy to make. So the women have to do all the other work, look after the children, go out and earn money and along with all that make three full meals a day—chopping vegetables, boiling the grains and all of that on a fire they have to build from wood.
If you’re wondering what the men do, since they barely earn anything, well, they drink, smoke, gamble and chill the f**k out. But they don’t lift a finger to help the women.
7. North Korean women sell their bodies in China to sustain their families.
Despite all that they do, sometimes, it is not enough. And the women of North Korea, helpless that they are, have to make the most difficult decision of their lives—going to China and getting into prostitution, cybersex and forced marriages to earn a living. They get exploited and raped, and even lured into marriages with these men, but they endure it all just so they can fend for their families back home.
In fact, Yeonmi talked about how, no matter where people like her defect to—South Korea, China or the United States—they continue to keep in contact with their families back home through black market channels. They have to send money home and for that they seek all sorts of employment, from waitressing to driving taxis and so on.
Watching this video made me sick to the stomach. And I wasn’t alone, Yeonmi’s comments were overflowing with shocked viewers who couldn’t imagine how people were living in a hellish place like that.
In the aftermath of this video, I’m not thinking about taking the freedom that I have for granted because that’s not the right away to approach this. We cannot be saying, “Oh we’re lucky our country at least lets us make choices” because by doing that we might be absolving the society of everything it should be held accountable for. Instead, we ought to be thinking about how we may empower ourselves as much as we can, so that we can help these women who need it. One of the ways that we can do this is by amplifying the voices of women like Yeonmi Park, who continue to spread awareness about what’s happening back home. Under Kim Jong Un’s regime, North Korea and its ongoings are strictly under wraps, with most of the world being clueless about it. And yet, through one way or the other, these people are finding a way to seek our help. We gotta be ready, right?