Obstinate old boys resist modernityAn alert reader sent me an interesting news item about a female in her 30s, a washing machine and a cigarette. Weaving these elements into an interesting story might lead to serious writers’ block, but fate has it that the story unfolded naturally, like this: The 36-year-old female would give in to nicotine cravings in the early morning hours and go out to the veranda to sit on the washing machine and light up. Everything was just perfect until the moment she lost her balance and fell inside the washing machine with her body bent into a “V” shape that would make any yoga guru proud.
Luckily, wondering why his wife wasn’t getting back to bed, her husband discovered her and called 119. The emergency team arrived on the scene, and though the washing machine had to be disassembled, it was the only casualty. The woman wasn’t even seriously hurt. End of story.
Now, an incident that might be a good laugh in any other country has sparked reactions from the public here that reflect just how deep-rooted Korea’s Confucian values still are. Some might call it a double standard.
Here are some of the messages posted on Nate.com, an Internet portal site, about the news, which was one of the most viewed items from last week.
“Must be embarrassing for her.”
“What is the connection between smoking and the washing machine?” (Messages along these lines suggested the reporter who wrote the story was biased.)
“If I was the husband I would have taken a picture and used it as leverage.”
Granted, the Web is not exactly a bastion of the intellectual and polite in any country, but I still took these knee-jerk reactions as a telltale sign of what goes on in some of the minds of average citizens here.
When an incident involving a female behaving in ways that are perceived to be outside the social norms of what is acceptable for women, often males might say something starting with the phrase, “Yeojaga...” Here “yeoja” means female and the sentence often would suggest that the female stepped out of line and isn’t supposed to act that way.
This type of complaint arises when a woman does anything from laughing too loud to getting into an argument with her husband. You may not hear this kind of nonsense as often among the younger generation nowadays, but up the ladder it’s still there. Make no mistake, it’s this toxic social sludge that is preventing society in this country from going to the next level. The largest income wage gap between female and male workers among OECD member countries, a gaping absence of female managers among the boys at top conglomerates and the media, a reluctance to rehire highly educated females after they have children and limiting female government officials to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family are self-inflicted wounds that won’t heal until there is a wake-up call.
In a society that has a record-low birthrate and is one of the fastest aging nations on Earth this type of arrogant gender stereotyping is unacceptable and a challenge that the country needs to face in order to address its emerging socioeconomic problems. It’s a long road that involves at a minimum concerted efforts led by the government. When a female can smoke in downtown Seoul in public without getting evil looks, that will be a sure sign that the country has finally gotten rid of the feudalistic ideas that have stood in the way of its becoming a true modern country.
*The gwangdae were entertainers in ancient Korea who wandered the land in search of their next joke or adventure