With Park, gender is always an issue
Is Park Geun-hye a male or a female? Obviously, the former head of the Saenuri Party’s emergency council is a woman, and the question not only is foolish but could also be very rude. However, I am not talking about her gender. Rather, I want to discuss femininity and masculinity. Moreover, the new leadership of the Saenuri Party is made up of pro-Park members, and Ms. Park has secured solid and extensive influence. According to the JoongAng Ilbo, Park’s approval rating, 51.9 percent, has surpassed that of Professor Ahn Cheol-soo, thanks to the quagmire the Unified Progressive Party has created. I wonder how her femininity, or masculinity, will be displayed in the presidential campaign.
Interestingly, neither the media nor feminist groups link Park Geun-hye with gender issues. Ten years ago in 2002, when Park’s influence was considerably weaker, the feminist circles and civil groups made a big deal out of Park Geun-hye as a woman. A progressive female journalist ignited controversy by openly declaring her support for Park. She raised a provocative question, “Why don’t the feminist groups exercise their voting rights based on the interests of women?” The discussion was heated, as others followed with support and criticism. However, it did not develop any further.
Park frequently mentioned former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the past. Thatcher was the first female to become the Prime Minister of Great Britain and served for 11 years. When Thatcher was leading Britain, children asked, “Dad, can a man also become the Prime Minister?” Thatcher rose to the top in the thoroughly male-driven politics by displaying both femininity and masculinity as necessary. She was attacked by both patriarchal men and feminists. She wished to be thought of as a politician who was more capable than her male counterparts. French President Francois Mitterrand described Thatcher as having “the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe.” She did not include a female member in her cabinet and remained the only woman in the government.
My guess is that people don’t want to measure Park in terms of mere femininity as she is very powerful and there are many serious issues. However, it is regrettable that the gender issue and gender policy of the presidential hopeful is treated lightly. If female and male candidates battle in the upcoming presidential election, there should be more active and extensive debate over gender issues.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun