The gender equality myth
This topic may disturb both men and women, but it needs to be addressed. Turning a blind eye to it, just because it is a sensitive topic, we will never be able to escape from the swamp of pretentious foppery.
These days, Korean men are demoralized. Women are dominating the top score lists of major civil servants’ exams. And the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps of Sookmyung Women’s University won the top prizes in this year’s summer and winter military exercises, while male teams fell behind. Men complain, “Is there anything that Korean women cannot do these days?” After Kim Sung-joo, a co-chairwoman of the presidential election committee of the Saenuri Party, said she liked a younger man, people talk about the reversal of gender power.
Amidst such a situation, the World Economic Forum issued a shocking announcement last week that Korea was ranked 108 in gender equality of 135 countries around the world. Women are going so strong in Korean society, but Korea is still labeled with gender discrimination. It led me to telephone Kim Tae-hong, director of research at the Korea Women’s Development Institute.
When asked if the World Economic Forum’s report was wrong, Kim responded that it wasn’t.
“The World Economic Forum statistics look at the gaps between men and women,” Kim said. “For example, let’s say that both men and women each have 20 percent economic participation in a developing country. For Korea, the average economic participation rate could be high, but the gap between men and women could be large and it would be ranked low on the list.”
(In 2011, 73.1 percent of Korean men were economically active while 49.7 percent of Korean women participated in economic activities.)
Asked if it means anything to look at the gaps only, Kim said it actually was meaningful.
“That means Korea has the largest gender gap among the countries that have a similar status,” Kim said.
Kim pointed out that recent complaints from Korean men that women are enjoying an elevated status in Korea is crybaby talk. A similar report was announced by the Asia Society, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, in April.
Korean women are receiving wages amounting to 51 percent of those of men, and that gap is the largest in Asia. In the corporate sector, women executives make up only 1.9 percent and that is also the lowest figure in the region.
In government, legal and media communities, women are making progress because there is a possibility that those fields are providing fairer treatment to women than other jobs.
Then, what evaluations are women receiving at workplaces? In most companies, women work for male executives. And they said female employees enter companies with great applications and scores, but their job performances are lower than expectations. The male executives also said men show abilities somewhere in the middle, while women’s performances largely vary.
If we end the observation with the conclusion that women must work harder to make up for the shortcomings, that will also be a distortion of our reality. Let’s look deeper into how men and women work together.
“Frankly, it’s more convenient to work with men,” said a male executive in his 40s. “I can yell at the male employees, but we get over it with a drink after work. But I don’t even know how to begin talking to female employees.”
“I am more than ready to complete a difficult task. It is nonsense for my boss to say that I cannot do this because I am a woman and he cannot yell at me because I am a woman,” a female office worker in her 30s said. “Do we really need to have the conservation at a drinking gathering after work?”
And timid executives often try to handle the situation by using other female workers to deal with it. They often make senior female employees do their jobs of pointing out mistakes of junior female employees. But without a boss’s direct coaching, mistakes won’t be fixed. It just takes a second for an alpha girl to become a selfish woman.
And when female workers get married, they face a worse situation. No matter how hard they work, it feels uncomfortable for them to make a personal phone call to check on their children. For a working mother to break the glass ceiling and rise, someone needs to sacrifice, whether it is her mother, her mother-in-law or children.
Korea’s gender equality is ranked as 108th in the world, and it is at a very serious turning point. It can move forward, or it can retreat because of the distorted structure. To increase the growth potential of the Korean economy, women must continue entering the labor market. And the precondition will be women’s will, fair treatment and a manual to improve connections between male and female workers.
Now is the time to start drafting that manual, if we want our children - whom we raised carefully - to live in a world where they can use their abilities without discrimination.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Suk-chun