Discrimination versus distinction

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Discrimination versus distinction


How do people feel when they hear the following list of words?

A female writer, a female student, a female teacher, a female doctor, a female police officer, a female prosecutor and a female military officer. As the list goes on, the percentage of women in the workforce for each respective profession gets smaller. A female student and a female teacher are used more to distinguish from a male student and a male teacher. So the gender modifier is more for “distinction” than “discrimination.”

However, the latter words have a somewhat different connotation. They suggest a mixed nuance of discrimination and distinction. An easy way to tell the difference is to replace “female” with “male” and see if it makes sense. A male professor, a male doctor, a male police officer, a male prosecutor and a male military officer sound very strange in Korean.

Here, the simple distinction turns into gender discrimination and objectification. I must not be the only one who feels uncomfortable by the gender biased terms. Let’s remind ourselves of the gender discrimination bordering violence contained in the phrase “Mercedes-driving female prosecutor,” which made headlines not so long ago.

Last week, inspector Lee Ji-eun, a member of the investigation reform group at the National Police Agency, held a solo protest in front of the west office of the Daegu Prosecutors’ Office. She urged prosecutor Park Dae-beom, who is allegedly involved in the “Milyang case,” to respond to a police summons.

Dressed in a short dress and fashionable sunglasses, inspector Lee’s photo was featured in the media the next day. The protest of a police officer may seem inappropriate, but it is not uncommon in other countries. I am more interested in the protest because it is based on the complicated discord between the prosecutors and the police as well as encompassing gender and media issues.

Inspector Lee said that she took the KTX train to Daegu on her day off, and because the west office was located in a residential area, there was little traffic. As she began the protest, someone who is presumed to be a detective at the local police station took a picture and asked her what she was doing. When she said she was a police officer from Seoul, the report was made immediately, and the main office in Seoul was also stirred. At any rate, her protest certainly had a tremendous PR effect.

The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun
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