[FORUM]More awareness, less sheltering

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[FORUM]More awareness, less sheltering

An eye-catching newspaper article was carried recently by the Times of London concerning former British Prime Minister John Major's affair with Edwina Currie, who served as health minister in his cabinet.

Mrs. Currie, in an interview with the Times and in excerpts from her diary printed in the newspaper, said the four-year affair began when Mr. Major was the government's parliament whip and she was a backbench MP.

What was interesting was not only that both were famous people; it was also that the two persons involved had such contrasting things to say about the affair when looking back at it.

Mr. Major said he was "most ashamed," while Mrs. Currie said, "My love for him persisted, dominating my life." It is not known what led her to reveal the affair after 14 years; Mrs. Major had known about the affair and forgiven her husband for it, and Mrs. Currie could have taken the secret to her grave.

I had some conversations with acquaintances here about what her motivation for going to the newspapers might have been. Was it anger about the contrasting emotions of "love" and "shame" or differences in how men and women feel about sexual relationships? How might news of an affair like this one have been treated here in Korea?

Just as Mrs. Major did, the woman here would have forgiven her husband and that would have been that.

But the Mrs. Currie of Korea would have been sued by her husband for adultery, and that would have been the end of a life of decency for her. A new start in life? Extremely unlikely.

What if Mr. Major had promised to marry Mrs. Curie? Even in this society with its special generosity to men, he would not have escaped punishment, because there is a law here on "seduction on the pretext of marriage."

The way of going after that particular crime here has been so tightly knit by law that it would nab almost any man who lured a woman into sexual intercourse with the slightest hint of a promise of marriage.

There is no shortage of debate here on whether it is appropriate to regulate what is perhaps the most personal of personal affairs, sex, as a criminal matter and not as an ethical one. I believe that human beings should be responsible for their acts that are results of their own decisions. I think that sexual mores should be a private matter as long as no coercion is involved.

Today, women are hard at work trying to gain back social rights that they have been denied for centuries because they are women. A lot of progress is being made despite the difficulty in tackling laws, systems and customs that were established over centuries. But have we looked at the flip side? Is there discrimination only against women? What about excessive protection of women? If there is a tendency to overprotect women, a tendency that is probably not in tune with the realities of today, should that tradition be changed as well?

I believe that seduction on the pretext of marriage is a key example of inconsistency with reality. In the days when Confucianism forbade women to be educated and when chastity in women was the highest of womanly virtue, women often found it difficult to perceive reality.

Women were, in those days, social infants even as adults. In those days, the loss of her virginity was a deadly shame for the woman and for her whole family. When a woman was excluded from marriage because of her loss of chastity, chastity needed social protection.

But times are different today. Except in very rare cases, women have the same opportunity for education as men, and the equation, virginity = marriage = a woman's life, has long been untrue, and society already punishes rape and sexual assault.

There is also a greater consensus that sexual coercion between married partners should also be considered rape. Thus there is a heightened awareness among women about their identity. Because of this greater awareness, I would like to see women lead a move to scrap the obsolete law on seduction with the pretext of marriage.


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Hong Eun-hee

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