One Small Step for a Woman, One Giant Leap Backward for the Nation

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Park Geun-hye as depicted by Hong Sung-dam
Park Geun-hye as depicted by Hong Sung-dam

Well, she’s done it. Park Geun-hye has been elected the next president of South Korea, narrowly beating Moon Jae-in, a human rights lawyer formerly imprisoned by Ms. Park’s father during his brutal dictatorship. (Everyone remember that? Her father’s brutal dictatorship? Just checking.)

As this news is being reported in worldwide media, everyone is quick to point out that she is the first female elected president in South Korea. This is true, but lest we think that this is somehow a significant indication of progress in gender relations in Korea, let me share this quote with you. During the campaign she made this promise: “I have no family to take care of. I have no child to inherit my properties. You, the people, are my only family, and to make you happy is the reason I do politics. And if elected, I would govern like a mother dedicated to her family.”

Notice that she would govern like a mother. Not like a politician, not like a leader, not like the most powerful person in South Korea. No, like a mother. She is, after all, a woman. And since she has not fulfilled her female duties of family and children, she has no choice but to occupy the role of Mother of the people. To dedicated herself to her nation-family in the same way a woman is expected to dedicate herself to her husband and children.

Male politicians can run with a wife and children and parents to take care of and there won’t be any real significance to a woman being elected president in South Korea until a woman can do the same. As I mentioned back in August, despite the fact that I do not think that her election (at the time it was potential election) will do anything to improve the status of women in South Korea, I do hope that at the very least it will plant the seed in little girls’ heads that perhaps they too one day could be president. It would be even better if they thought they could do this with the support of a loving partner and family.

The other issue at play here is that Park Geun-hye was elected in large part to the legacy of her father. There is a certain nostalgia, especially among the older generation, for the economic glory days of her father’s rule. Looking backwards, however, is not the best way to move forward. It is, in fact, nearly impossible.

Photo from the Korea Times.

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