After a certain age, women become invisible to society. In Asian countries, it can be hard living as a divorced woman, or someone dealing with a grown-up child refusing to move out. Graphic artist Yeong-shin Ma delivers an honest portrayal of four Korean women in their mid-fifties in his first publication, Moms, largely based on his own mother’s tales about her own real-life friends. Their sorrow around finding true love creates an underlying melancholy pall throughout the comic that results in big yawns; these stories have been told ad nauseum already – mix it up!
Lee Soyeon, who serves as our main guide, is a cleaning lady working with friends at a company where they’re treated horribly. Their lecherous boss controls everything – down to how much water they can drink so they don’t use the bathroom during their shift. Life is hard as she married in her early twenties, eventually leaving her husband after he ran up gambling debts and drove their family into bankruptcy. After twenty years, her jobless grown-up son still lives with her though she wants to capture her youth, going out to dance and drink with her girlfriends.
One night, she meets Jongseok, a callous waiter who uses Soyeon for her money and company. He teaches her a move called the ‘Sucker Punch’, where she lures men to sit with her in Jongseok’s section, orders drinks, and leaves them with a huge bill. It’s thrilling for her to play these games. She believes she loves Jongseok, despite him treating her horribly, bragging about his sexual exploits or having Soyeon bail him out of jail. Even worse, when Soyeon finally confronts Jongseok’s other girlfriend, they get into a back-alley fistfight.
Yeonsun is a wealthy restaurant owner who falls for toxic men easily, letting them use her to satisfy their lust and as a human ATM. But they all eventually get bored with her and move on. Yeonjeong is married to a man who doesn’t pay attention to her. When she tries to seek satisfaction in the arms of another man who compliments her at the gym, she discovers he’s gay. Myeong-ok is having an illicit affair with a younger man who eventually leaves her. These women have spent their youth pleasing elders, only to find themselves at a loss of who they really are.
It’s fascinating yet not surprising to see the perspective of middle-aged women in an Asian country where they’re predominantly ignored, sexually harassed, used as a placeholder or as a money machine. All of these women have worked hard throughout their lives to achieve the status of marriage and children, only to find their idyllic life isn’t real. They’re divorced or seeking affairs with more interesting men, dealing with harassment at work, and doing their best to toss conventional societal norms out the window.
It was disappointing and sad to see how these women were portrayed – being taken advantage of and never valued for who they are. What’s missing for me was the relationship these women had with their parents, which would explain their behavior. Sadly, many of the chapters have sweet-sounding titles which belies the reality these women are living. ‘Pillow Talk’ speaks to Soyeon’s complicated relationship with Jongseok. And ‘The Second Letter’ talks about love, yet Soyeon discovers a deep betrayal from a close friend.
Society enjoys looking to the younger or oldest generations as vignettes for how life should look. But everyone seems to forget the middle-aged years where you’re stuck between those two bookends. Yeong-shin Ma’s Moms takes a hard but boring look at life after being married, then divorced, and how women struggle through this period in silence. Sadly, these stories are so common, it’s a shame Ma couldn’t bring a different perspective to this underserved group of people, especially in a society where looks and money reign supreme.