A small step toward gender equality
The television show “Couples” begins with female and male contestants arriving at Love Village carrying suitcases. When a woman appears down the road, one of the men runs out to help her with the luggage. The woman smiles coyly and lets the man take the bag.
By lending a helping hand, the man seems to want to make a good first impression. But the underlying psychology is the prejudice that men are stronger than women. Yet the women, who are not hesitant to give their bags to the men, are not free from gender bias. They probably don’t want to seem rude by declining the men’s hospitality, but they also might believe that men are better at carrying heavy luggage than women are. In Oslo once, I spotted a woman struggling with a heavy suitcase. I thought I would be chivalrous so I offered to help. She did not welcome my offer, but I insisted, only to have her refuse. Later I found out that in Northern Europe, a haven of gender equality, it is not courteous for a man to offer to help a woman with her luggage unless he is asked. If you insist on helping, women may think you have other motives.
Scandinavian women consider themselves equal to men. They don’t like to be treated as psychologically and physically weaker. There is no distinction between the genders when it comes to childcare and household chores in Northern Europe; everyone gets one year of childcare leave, and the kitchen is a space equally shared by men and women. Conventional gender roles are long gone, and no occupation is reserved for either gender. Half of all lawmakers and ministers are female, so it’s not news when a woman becomes president or prime minister.
Korea has changed drastically, though not at the level of Northern Europe. For instance, the household has been taken over by women for a long time. But parents provide the same opportunities and resources to their daughters and sons, and we now have many “alpha girls” who excel not only academically but physically, too. Many high-profile single women choose to postpone marriage. More women are selected as judges, prosecutors and diplomats than men are. Although the number of female lawmakers is still relatively small, major political parties, both ruling and opposition, are headed by women.
Soon enough, women will officiate weddings and mothers of grooms will walk their sons down the aisle and give them to their brides. It’s about time that the women on “Couples” helped the men with their luggage.
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok