Finding a home is a dream for many. Seoul – South Korea’s capital – is one of the world’s most population-dense cities, and like many major cities in the world, housing prices are soaring to record levels. For young people in South Korea, the high cost of housing – both renting and buying – causes a feeling of surging insecurities, as the cost is frequently coupled with difficulties in securing employment.
During every election season, politicians pledge to create better housing policies for young adults to sway voters. However, the results are dubious. Professor Jang Min-gi, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media and Communication at Kyung Nam University, explores the issue through gender by posing the question: “What does home mean to young women?” in her new book: Women Leave Home to Find Their Home.
In a series of interviews with young women in her book, Jang explores not only the world where women live, but also how they live. The ideas behind the book spawned from her own experience and previous dissertation, “Dwelling in the world of mobility: the meaning and process of placemaking of home for female youth migrants.”
“The first thing I considered when I first left home on my own was security,” Jang said. “Also, my friends were afraid that someone might break into their house once they started to live alone. Based on my continuous migration experiences, I thought the fear of social gazing, violence, and strange liberation were all related to gender. So, I started interviews to begin the conversation.”
Jang sees women remaining as general subjects in the discussion revolving around housing. From her own experiences and prior research, she understood the different conversations relating to women and housing in South Korea.
Jang’s book covers various forms of liberation women attain from many different social oppressions through finding their own homes. It also deals with complex socio-cultural situations where young women are still gender-oppressed, even in spaces that represent liberation like their own home. Jang argues that we, as a society, should put what we know into action to get rid of such oppression.
“By publishing my paper as a book, I learned that what we know and how the way the world changes are two different things,” Jang said. “To change the world, we must constantly visualize and put everything into action institutionally and politically. Also, we have to recognize that what we know may be different from what the other people know.”
In a novel way, Jang also draws connections between women’s residential space and new media practices of women. The connection between women in online communities, for example, can be a catalyst for solidarity that can lead to institutional and political change.
“Solidarity is really important,” Jang said. “And the media makes active solidarity possible. It allows individuals to realize ‘Oh, it was not something that I only feel, react sensitively, or feel uncomfortable with.’ With the media, women can communicate, feel solidarity, and further see opportunities to put words and thoughts into action.”
Throughout the pages of the book, the variety of emotions are evident from happiness to anger, sorrow, and pleasure. Jang said this came from stories that everyone wanted to tell and hear. There was, however, a certain sort of fear that the women in the book faced.
“Despite the interviews being conducted anonymously, several interviewees struggled with the fact that their private and intimate stories may be revealed through the book,” Jang said. “Society still has a two-fold view of women living alone, and women are in an environment where they have no choice but to censor themselves. I was able to reflect on this situation once again through the interview process.”
While the book primarily focuses on women, Jang was sensitive enough to expand the ideas to encompass not only women but all individuals living alone.
“In our modern society, migration has become more common and I do not think that the narrative of the book is something that only women can relate to,” Jang said. “Though we are discussing gender, generation, and residential issues, at its core it is fundamentally about people who live alone. I hope people can sympathize with or feel the difference from the interviewees as it is a research but at the same time are traces and stories of life.”
As Jang sees, the migration through society and life deeply affects individuals – especially women in South Korea. Various migrations, including physical migration away from home to a new home and social migration on online media platforms, play a role in forming identity. She cautions, however, that too much movement risks impacting people’s lives negatively.
“Our identity is something very fluid, but sometimes movement is what makes it difficult to see the boundaries of how it affects our identity,” Jang said. “I want people to know that it is not just you, as we are all anxious beings and we all want stability and anchorage inside. I think the most important lesson of the book is knowing that we are not alone.”