[Letter to the editor]Women of Korea: work for real equality
Coming from a progressive country that has been dramatically and positively affected by feminism, I am shocked by the situation of women in Korea. Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of this is the way in which women accept their inferior status, believing that their inferior status is natural, normal, just the way things are.
I come from New Zealand, where the prime minister is a woman. The chief executive of our largest company, Telecom, is a woman. The editors of the country’s most widely respected newspaper and current affairs magazine are women. I grew up with posters boldly stating “Girls Can Do Anything!” taped to the classroom walls of my high school.
Having only been in Korea for several months, I am not an expert on gender relations in this country. However, I have had many telling experiences which lead me to believe that women here are getting a raw deal.
A Korean acquaintance of mine spent her summer vacation wrapped in bandages after receiving very expensive and painful plastic surgery, including breast enlargement, “to get a boyfriend.” My colleague’s husband is a full-time student. She supports him financially and at the end of each working day, mutters about having to go home to do all of the cooking and cleaning. A good friend, a very talented and experienced yoga teacher, cannot find work because she is not a 25-year-old ex-ballerina. Her experience means nothing here. The wife of another friend, who was once a successful journalist but took time off to raise their child, cannot re-enter the workforce because she is deemed too old (and she hasn’t yet reached 40). All her years of experience and expertise are wasted on a society that does not value it.
Korean society has voiced that it wants change in the area of gender relations, exemplified by the law preventing domestic violence and making it punishable by law in 1998 and by the fact that last year the “family headship” system was deemed illegal. The women’s movement, while still young here, has had some victories ― for example, ensuring that the Korean beauty pageant is not televised and, more recently, with the controversy over “Sexpo.” However, in order for a full-scale feminist movement to take place, more women need to get involved. More women need to understand that their lower status in society and the oppression and discrimination they face is neither normal nor natural. Achieving equality requires that women take action. Domestic violence, discrimination and harassment in the workplace, low wages and inferior working conditions for women used to be the status quo in New Zealand. However, thanks to a generation of women who desired positive change and fought hard for it, that has changed and continues to change. This means that it can happen here too.
Given my observations here, I was not surprised to learn that, in the political arena, women make up only 13% of National Assembly members, well below the world average. The majority of Korean women seem to be involved in politics only as an audience. If more women became deeply interested in politics, especially as a career path, then no doubt issues affecting the status of women would be more of a priority. Get involved, if not for yourself, then at least for your daughters.