A woman in a man’s world

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A woman in a man’s world

One of my friends, K, has spent years in the political arena. She appeared to be fine on the surface, but her psychological state was very troubling. She had no energy and she was depressed. Furthermore, she began to avoid meetings with other women. She felt uncomfortable with their laughter and chatting. She graduated from a girls’ high school and is used to the chatting but still felt uncomfortable.

People said K was strange, but she didn’t care. She had to work everyday with men - male politicians anyway. She had to survive in a world of men, and suddenly, she realized that she had a problem. She recently attended a meeting with both men and women, and she could not interact properly because she became uncomfortable about meeting other female companions.

She fell into a dilemma and sought professional help. After a long counseling session, the doctor made a diagnosis. “You are under too much tension consistently,” the doctor said. “You oppressed your femininity too much to adapt to male-oriented society.”

Does that mean K became a man? “I am a woman,” K snapped back. “Does that mean I have become a man?”

And then, she had her first epiphany. “I recently began working out, and I was struggling to exercise as much as a man could do,” she said. “I was mistaking myself for a man.”

Her second epiphany was during the confirmation hearing for Chang Sang, the first female prime minister nominee, in 2002 during the Kim Dae-jung administration.

“The men around me never say anything like Chang,” K said. “Although many said Chang’s nomination was voted down because she had ethical flaws, her feminine way of speaking contributed greatly to her failure. It’s something that men will hate. But then again, it’s a women’s opinion. So, I must be a woman, not a man.”

It was odd logic, but it made sense. At the time, Chang said she didn’t know much about her wealth because her mother-in-law was in charge of managing the money. If it were a man, he would have apologized first by saying, “This is the outcome of my lack of virtue.”

Women think truth will set them free. During the confirmation hearing, Chang said “it is a discourtesy to speak courageously here.” If it were a man, he wouldn’t need courage and he wouldn’t commit discourtesy.

Men attacked her as if it were a sports game, but Chang appeared to believe that “they must have hated me and intended to harm me, or they attacked me because they were villains” and launched strong counterattacks. From the perspective of men, Chang handled the situation incorrectly.

K needed to become a man and Chang had to fail because politics is truly male territory. Some even call it the territory of machos. And a woman who tries to enter the territory must know clearly that she is entering a foreign world.

Furthermore, rules were not fair. They are strict and sometimes cruel. When women praise a woman leader for having the ability to separate emotions and reason, capability and creativity, men say she is a cold-hearted, deceptive and easily influenced, according to the book “Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide.”

And at the recent confirmation hearing for Yoon Jin-sook, a nominee to head the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, I once again remembered the reality of the political arena.

If she were a man, the lawmakers wouldn’t have asked her if she feels nervous about the confirmation hearing. If it were a man, the nominee wouldn’t answer like Yoon, who said “I feel less nervous than others because I have made presentations so many times.”

If it were a man, he would not have repeated “I don’t know” so many times with a smile. And if it were a man, he would not have asked lawmakers to approve him because of his gender. Both men and women watching the confirmation process felt sad and disturbed.

There is still one consolation. Since President Park Geun-hye took office, men are asking themselves whether they understand a woman president. Although the leadership of Park is not particularly feminine, men are contemplating femininity. It is funny because until now, it was a job for women to adapt.

And here is the truth. Some readers with good sense probably know by now that K is not my friend, but actually me. My story may be personal, but many women can relate. I just hope it won’t become the story of my junior reporters.

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Ko Jung-ae
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