[VIEWPOINT]Time for first ladies to speak up

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[VIEWPOINT]Time for first ladies to speak up

"I would rather be president."

That comment was the response of 18 female university students when asked if they wanted to become the first lady. A weekly magazine surveyed 100 students and found that 83 did not covet being first lady. The survey showed that most young women here do not consider Korea's first lady to be a role model.

A television broadcasting company conducted an interesting survey. The wives of lawmaker candidates, who had campaigned hard, barely influenced voter sentiment.

Public opinion surveys do not reflect 100 percent of the country. But this survey implies that fixed images, reinforced by the mainstream media and politicians, that first ladies should be pleasant and forever shadow their husbands, have failed to strike the fancy of contemporary women.

The media, which still present Yuk Young-soo, who quietly assisted her husband, President Park Chung Hee, as an ideal first lady, fail to read most Korean women who would like to become civil servants with their own talents.

But as the election day approached, broadcasting companies went further. They invited wives of presidential candidates to appear and asked them about their favorite songs and whether they were good cooks. The shows queried the women about fashion, shopping and their courtship days. This type of approach never distinguishes between women who have their own ideas and those who have focused all their efforts on caring for family members.

To be frank, these television programs seem like performances that do nothing more than preserve the patriarchal system.

It is ridiculous for a society that educates women to survive on their own and envisions the equality of the sexes, to downplay the wives of presidential candidates in such a way. It is deceptive to demand that candidates' wives do their utmost during electioneering, but exercise circumspection as a good wife should at other times.

Some people might remark that Hillary Clinton, known for her brains, worked hard for her husband to be elected to the White House. That's true. In fact, the former first lady prompted her husband's campaign strategists to engineer slogans that said if the United States elected Bill, then they would get Hillary as an extra.

Korean first ladies have been influenced by their U.S. counterparts. Indeed, we should take a look at other countries. As far as I know, there is no stereotype for first ladies in France, as there is here in Korea. Daily routines of first ladies do not change when their husbands are elected president. Cherie Blair, wife of Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair and a human rights lawyer, is respected for standing up against the Blair cabinet's human rights policies. Mr. Blair has gained popularity as a fair and cool husband who respects his wife's independence. In Asia, the number of women elected president or prime minister is increasing, although many still bask in the radiance of their fathers and husbands.

Kwon Yang-sook, the wife of President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, worked hard for his victory. However, I wish Ms. Kwon had overcome the stereotypical first lady image as presented by the media. I'd like her to read the minds of young woman voters who selected Mr. Roh, and to become the first lady in Korea to follow her own line of thinking. I'd like Ms. Kwon to continue her own path, even after Mr. Roh's term in office expires.

For such a thing to happen, the media must change its attitude of presenting stereotyped first ladies. The 21st century has been called the era of women, and I firmly believe this country will advance only when women here stand on their own.

The media should not deprive the first lady of her independence as a woman and limit her duties to preserve the patriarchal system. Such a degenerative and vicious cycle should be eliminated.

* The writer is a professor of film studies at Dongguk University.

by Yu Gi-na

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