[Letter to the editor]A note on political correctnessJoan Dawson’s Nov. 14 letter addresses [the next United Nations secretary general Ban Ki Moon], a family man from an undisclosed “home” country, but then identifies that particular country anyway with “prostitution, sexual trafficking, prenatal sex selection and pornography,” mentioning in the same breath that “serial killings targeting women are on the rise.”
In 2000, then-president Kim Dae-jung’s government announced the appointment of tough police chief Kim Kang-ja to Seoul’s Miari district, home to one of the capital’s oldest red light areas. In 2004, Lee Kum-hyung, director of the women’s and juvenile affairs division at the National Police Agency, was put in charge of yet another anti-brothel dragnet.
The U.S. State Department’s 2004 Trafficking in Persons Report had stigmatized South Korea, along with Sudan and Myanmar, as a “source, destination and transit” country for women trafficked for sexual exploitation.
A report issued by the Korean Institute of Criminology estimated that $21 billion was involved in the hidden trade in 2003 alone: That was more than 4% of the nation’s gross domestic product, said an official of the Ministry of Gender Equality, who added that 500,000 women and girls were so enslaved.
Civic groups believe that prostitution is a form of violence against women, and that no woman would engage in prostitution voluntarily. Yet those groups were abashed when the female sex workers themselves took the issue to the streets, declaring in a petition: “We feel only forsaken by the good-for-show policy of the Ministry of Gender Equality that has no correspondence with our realities. Those who are wealthy and lack for nothing seem to have no interest in how difficult and urgent our immediate realities are. They are drowned in their own illusion, thinking that they are helping us but in effect they have pushed us to this cold and bleak place.”
The debate concerning erotica and pornography in Europe, Japan, North, South, and Central America is now dominated by feminist theory which focuses on representations of sexual violence and by theories of “political correctness,” especially regarding language. Self-identified ESL textbook editor Dawson wrote in her Nov. 6 letter: “For decades, as feminists pleaded for recognition of these brutal forms of violence, we were scorned as male-bashers.”
Anti-pornographers like Andrea Dworkin have lobbied for outlawing all forms of language in periodicals, books and films that any woman considers has harmed her.
In a another national English-language newspaper published in Seoul, not The Joongang Daily, Ms. Dawson reported that most letters that came to her desk during her tenure at a prestigious research institution were addressed, “Dear Sir.” That time-honored salutation becomes a mere appelative when it has been rendered a neuter, thus: “Dear Sir or Madam.” Ms. Dawson also reported that in the 1800s, contracts and legal documents “could be interpreted as referring to both sexes even when using masculine language.”
“A taxpayer must check his return” is common usage from most of the last century, too (sigh). Traditionally, an English physician was called Doctor, while a surgeon was called Mister.
A Roman Catholic cardinal places his title between his first and last name, e.g., Nicholas Cardinal Cheong Jin-suk. And “someone who enters a nunnery must sacrifice everything from her former life” is indubitably proper English.
You should say or write actor and actress when referring to Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz, respectively. Common usage recognizes separate terms for male and female performers in that particular profession. Waiters and waitresses aren’t waitpersons, notwithstanding the efforts of ESL textbook editors worldwide.
When pet beliefs or partisan feelings are involved, it is easy to fall into the rut of being a censor.
Richard Thompson, Qingdao, China
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