[Viewpoint] Highlighting masculinity in Korea?

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[Viewpoint] Highlighting masculinity in Korea?

Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, was the first woman speaker of the House. One day she was having a discussion with a fellow politician who brought up the issue of childbirth.

Not to be outdone, other men talked about their “delivery experiences.” One complained that when his first child was born, he was not allowed in the delivery room even when he was wearing standard-issue green scrubs.

Besides Pelosi two other women were in the room, and the three had given birth to a total of 11 children.

As the men related their “birth” experiences, the women were jostling each other with their elbows, trying not to laugh. And they were waiting for the men to inquire about their experiences.

However, the men never asked.

Pelosi had concluded long ago that she was in Congress to shape national policy, not change the attitudes of men. But when she became speaker, she said, she would ask questions and consult with fellow representatives, though she promised herself she would never ask male colleagues about experiences with childbirth.

Men can be pretty absurd and Korean men downright peculiar. Nowadays, they can suffer from existential inferiority complexes.

Psychologist Diane McGuiness suspects that education may be a conspiracy against boys considering their attitude and tendency.

Things don’t get much better when they get older. Many husbands don’t dare to look their wives straight in eye or ask where they are going or what they are up to. They are not welcome in the house if they eat more than one meal a day at home.

In his book, “The Male Thing,” psychology professor Kim Jung-un posited that the problem with Korean society is the anxiety of Korean men who cannot verify their own existence.

At this juncture, one man has proclaimed, bravely, that he is a “man of the Republic of Korea.” It is the slogan of a presidential candidate.

In 1978, a young man addressed the mayor of Boston to his face. “The people of Boston do not like you,” he said. “In fact they hate you. They view you as aloof, arrogant .?.. you don’t give a damn about people.” The mayor’s only hope of re-election, he added, was to admit his misery and adopt a suggested new slogan, “The loner in love with the city.”

The mayor, Kevin White, did as he was told and won the election.

However, it is masculinity rather than sensitivity that is highlighted for the presidential candidate. The professional copy writer, who is also a man, emphasized that he would like to accentuate a true masculinity that has been forgotten.

But he did not explain exactly what it takes to be a true man.

Lately, the presidential candidate put on a judo uniform and had a match. He was dressed in a Special Forces uniform for a footrace. The reason was clear: to emphasize that the candidate is a strong, healthy man who fulfilled his military duty.

In fact, he was conscripted into the Special Forces in 1975 after participating in a protest against Park Chung Hee’s October Restoration. The authoritarian administration made it a policy to give the student activists a hard time. So he earned the Special Forces label thanks to President Park.

Today, he is competing against the daughter of the former president.

The slogan is interesting for another reason. In the past, politics in Korea was purview of men. A man is referred to as prime minister, the minister of justice or the representative. A woman is designated female prime minister, the female minister of justice or female representative.

“Man of the Republic of Korea” broke the prejudice. We should not complain that the slogan is based on machismo or that he is accentuating his might and military background.

But we need to be clear about one thing.

He said at the presidential identity presentation, “I like to be called the shadow of Roh Moo-hyun. I would embrace this expression until the end. That’s what a man ought to do.”

If that’s justifiable, it shouldn’t matter whether he is a man or not.


*The author is the deputy editor of political and international news of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Ko Jung-ae
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