[Letter to the editor]The first lady as her own woman“The closest adviser” (Lee Hoon-beom, Feb. 6) was very interesting. I even recommended it to some French friends. To be honest, few of us agree with the author and our discussion turned out to be a version of the so-called culture shock.
First, let’s make it clear: In Asia, the woman’s role is often linked with “family responsibility,” “devotion” and “sacrifice.” In Europe, where societies are much more individualistic, a woman is, above all, after her own emancipation, not only in her social life but also in her emotional life. This may make you frown, but it’s true. I’ll take the liberty of sharing with you a different way of looking at things.
The article was about the role of a first lady, which means relations between a couple ― a wife and husband. The article never mentions the word love. But this word does matter to an Occidental couple, even if it concerns a presidential couple. If Hillary Clinton had tolerated ― “gracefully,” as the article described ― the sexual affairs of her husband, it’s because “I never doubted Bill’s love for me,” as she admitted recently. If the ex-first lady of France, Cecilia Ciganer-Albeniz, divorced her freshly elected president of a husband, it is not because being first lady was too stressful for her, as suggested in the article. [Did the author really not know?] Ciganer-Albeniz is not the kind of woman who surrenders to stress; for years, she had been the best supporter of her husband. She gave back the title of first lady of France simply because she fell in love with another man. Neither she nor her husband tried to deny this embarrassing reality. When the love has gone, a woman, especially a sentimental woman, has no better option but turn and walk away. The ex-first lady of France may seem egocentric to you, but that was what did happen. If a woman listens to her heart, should we blame her?
According to the article, a first lady should also keep a low profile. Paradoxically, none of the three first ladies cited conforms to this rule. Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the most active first ladies in American history. Both Ciganer-Albeniz and Clinton ran their own offices and their own staff. Curiously, the article praised Roosevelt and criticized Clinton for the same reason ― being active. Besides, why should a first lady give up her own private life? Sonsoles Zapatero, the wife of the Spanish prime minister, obviously never thinks of abandoning her career as a soprano and her busy husband even tries to take time out to hear his wife at the opera!
Without doubt, Empress Zhangsun of the Tang Dynasty was one of history’s most intelligent spouses. But is it wise to compare her with a first lady these days? If Empress Zhangsun was a perfect wife, was Taizong a perfect husband, with his innumerable spouses and concubines ― 3,000, according to the Chinese royal custom? Because of her plain speech, Taizong, once losing his temper, almost considered deposing her. That’s to say, Zhangsun could be replaced at any time. If she could not even guarantee her place as a wife, how could she feel confident with a function as “the closest advisor”? I wonder if Taizong merits such a bright wife as Zhangsun. The Greek dramatist Sophocles said, “Once a woman is made equal to a man she becomes his superior.” These words, pronounced more than 2,000 years ago, still sound plausible. Fifty years after the death of Empress Zhangsun, one of the most obscure concubines of Taizong, Wu Zetian, was declared emperor of China, the only such female in Chinese history. In short, it’s difficult to say which first lady is better than another. Different countries, different minds.
Adele Freville, Sacheon, South Gyeongsang