South Korea, erstwhile seat of Confucian patriarchy, took a radical turn when it elected Park Geun-hye to the country’s presidential office. The daughter of the strongman Park Chung-hee who ruled as President for 18 years from 1961-79, and later assassinated by his own intelligence director, Park Geun-hye’s second attempt at the presidential office finally succeeded.
Reportedly conservative compared to opponent Moon Jae-in, she nevertheless hold the support of the powerful U.S. commercial and military presence in the peninsula. (We note that the U.S. also is redefining itself when it elected African-American President Barrack Obama to a second term.)
A cursory glance at the parade of female government heads of state shows us Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, PM Julia of Australia, President Delma Rousseff of Brazil, PM Yingluck Shinawatra of Thailand, to name a few. Other countries with current elected and appointed female heads of state include Liberia, India, Bangladesh, Iceland, Lithuania, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Slovakia, Kosovo, Denmark, Switzerland, Jamaica, Mauritius, Serbia, and Malawi.
Korea’s President-elect Park Geun-hye in September issued an apology for the human rights abuses committed under her father’s regime, an unprecedented act in a country where many revere dictatorial antics like that of her father. Elected to the National Assembly in 1998, her first attempt at the presidential office in 2007 was thwarted by a party mate, the current President Lee Myung-bak.
An engineer by training, the 60-year-old lady is single and seen by family-oriented Korean society as a very private individual. Her campaign mirrored some of her more progressive opponent’s program, to hold “national reconciliation” as a high priority, something that will be a daunting task in a culture thick with enshrined Hanggul machismo. Economic democracy and social welfare puts her in the same league as the new leaders of places like China, Japan, and the democracies of the Western world.
Redistributing wealth will not come easy as the country’s huge conglomerates actually hold real power over and against the ritualized political rites parties periodically go through in the facades of public governance.
We first visited Korea in 1972 when Suwon was still an agricultural site of orchards and wheat an hour by freeway south of Seoul rather than the suburban bedroom of the current metropolis. The industrial transformation of the country is one of the heralded economic miracles of Asia, and the emergence of a self-sufficient, self-reliant, and self-confident domestic middle class has been the aim of its progressive forces. The global conglomerates had not always been party to this effort.
China’s Mao Zedong, whose 119th birthday is remembered the day after Christmas, popularized the old, saying that “women hold half of the sky.” Better known as a woman’s liberation slogan, it nevertheless goes against the grain of a society that prefers the male to the female in its progeny. The last census found 53 males to every 47 females in the country, and though there are female members of the Politburo and the ruling CPC’s Central Committee, the Gong Chang Dang leadership remains predominantly male. The elite seven of the Standing Committee that implements the country’s policies and runs its daily operation is decidedly all male!
In our Oral English class, we let students listen and repeat English words, including those committed to music. Melanie Munch of the German band Groove Coverage sings a light tune chronicling God is a Girl, a popular choice among both male and female students. A time within the 16-session semester is allotted for a group of four to decide on an English song they would sing in class. Mell’s song always comes as a popular choice.
The choice does not come as an extension of the Western penchant for the battle of the sexes. It is rather an invitation to humanity’s union. Though some read the traditional symbol of taiji as having the light side (yang=male) positioned clearly above the dark side (yin=female) to mean that the male of the specie lords it over the female, embedded in the tradition of naming offspring only from the father’s clan rather than inclusive of the mother, the practice is being challenged by the less than docile posture of the newly empowered Chinese females.
As declared by outgoing President Wen Jiabao in his speech to the Royal Society of Britain in 2011, echoed by Premier Hu Jintao in his address to the CPC’s founding anniversary a month later, China will be an “open and inclusive” society. That openness and inclusiveness tend to move further under the female watch more than that of the male.
We had earlier commented about the two new female senators of the chrysanthemum touch from my home State of Hawaii. We also carry fond memories of the famous Cory Aquino and challenging ones from the infamous Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, former Presidents of the land of our birth. In all, we welcome the growing ascendancy of the female “holding half of the sky.”
Congratulations Ms. Park Geun-hye!
Jaime R. Vergara (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a former PSS teacher and is currently writing from the campus of Shenyang Aerospace University in China.