Is Park Geun-hye a presidential candidate who represents the Korean women? To leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party, the answer is a resounding yes. They say that if Park is elected as the nation’s first woman president, it would be a significant milestone in Korea’s arduous march toward political reform.
Yet many in the opposition camp do not agree. For instance, Rep. Jung Sung-ho, a spokesman of the main opposition Democratic United Party, asserted that the unmarried Saenuri candidate “is a woman only in the biological sense, but not in the political and social sense.”
The lawmaker further argued that Park lacked femininity because throughout her 60 years of life, she has never agonized about such things as childbirth, child care, education and rising prices of daily necessities.
Jung’s comments triggered a row. Saenuri lawmakers slammed him for insulting Park and all women who have chosen to stay single. Yet Park’s critics supported him, pointing out that she has never proposed a bill related to women as a lawmaker.
Then, a Yonsei University professor added fuel to the debate by stating that the Saenuri presidential hopeful “is a woman only in terms of genitals.” In a TV program, Hwang Sang-min claimed that Park could not be categorized as a woman because she has neither married nor given birth to a child.
It is obviously nonsensical to equate motherhood with femininity. To say that a woman acquires femininity only through the experience of childbirth and child care is tantamount to arguing that all single women are not truly women.
Having a woman president would be a great political milestone in itself for a country like Korea, where male dominance is deeply entrenched. In its Global Gender Gap report released last month, the World Economic Forum placed Korea 108th among the 135 countries surveyed.
Yet there is some point in the argument that Park has neither shown feminist leadership nor worked particularly hard to represent the interests of the socially disadvantaged and the poor, of whom women account for a majority.
There is nothing wrong in Park highlighting the fact that she is the nation’s first woman presidential candidate. As Moon Jae-in, her DUP rival, notes, it is desirable for a candidate to stop negative campaigning and to try to sell his or her strong points to voters.
But there is one thing Park should bear in mind: To be able to claim that she represents Korean women, she should have pursued the values that would justify it.