Friday, March 15, 2013

Perhaps Women Can't "Have It All" in South Korea Either

Okay, so perhaps that title is a bit misleading - what I'm referring to is not a successful professional female struggling to balance her work with her personal life, but rather a nascent leader of one of the most strategically important countries in the world right now struggling to strike a balance between complacency and bellicosity. If this sounds difficult to do, it's because it is, especially when the country I am referring to is South Korea, and their bizarre, infamous neighbors to the north have been instigating more and more in recent weeks.

Ms. Park Geun-hye

The most recent antagonistic move by North Korea's leader, Mr. Kim Jong-un, was to essentially refer to South Korea's new leader, Ms. Park Geun-hye as a prostitute (although equally hilarious/outlandish, don't let me get started on Mr. Kim's propaganda video claiming that starving Americans have been eating birds). Ms. Park, the daughter of a famous dictator and the most popular former leader of South Korea, has been leading South Korea for just under a month now, so this poses an interesting test for her.

North Korea has clearly been on the offensive lately, as we have written about in the past few months. They conducted their third nuclear test just several weeks ago, right around the time of Ms. Park taking office, and have since then been issuing belligerently aggressive statements towards the U.S. and South Korea virtually every week. It remains unclear exactly what North Korea is capable of militarily, although President Obama has stated that the United States would be able to disarm a nuclear weapon directed towards us if necessary, assuaging American fears of such an event occurring. Furthermore, the aggression is somewhat confusing and disillusioning, as Mr. Kim was optimistically viewed as a marked improvement for North Korea from his father when he took office late in 2011. Obviously this is not the case, as Mr. Kim has ramped up the name-calling and outrageous statements, such as saying last week that he would inflict total destruction on South Korea (Ms. Park responded by saying South Korea would wipe North Korean leadership "off the face of the Earth," referring to Mr. Kim by name).

That Ms. Park is a female presents North Korea with a whole new angle from which to insult their southern neighbors though. North Korea is traditionally a very patriarchal society, with the common perception being that women are incompetent and incapable of holding positions of power or responsibility. While it was not at all a bold move electing Ms. Park (she was by far the favorite over her opponents in the election), the gender-based repercussions regarding the North-South relationship maybe be more severe than initially perceived. How does Ms. Park assert her dominance in the relationship if she is not taken seriously by Mr. Kim, purely based on the fact that she is a woman? It is a question that remains to be answered, as Ms. Park has tried her best thus far to remain silent and not engage North Korea too much in what amounts to sophomoric and useless dialogue.

Furthermore, it will be nothing short of a great feat for Ms. Park to succeed in getting Mr. Kim to agree to constructive and productive talks at the negotiating table. It is by now very apparent that the two have umpteen reasons to be amicable, but in the case of North Korea, logic is very rarely the foundation of decision-making. If there is not mutual respect between the two leaders, it will be difficult to see any improvement in an ever-crumbling relationship.

However, Ms. Park deserves to be given a chance. I personally have great faith that she will be nothing short of an excellent leader for South Korea. The U.S. is committed to working with her in order to prevent violence in the region and to work towards preventing any North Korean aggression. In a modernized and globalized world, female leadership is nothing new and there is no difference in assertiveness or good leadership between male and female leaders (look at De Kirchner in Argentina - she honestly terrifies me). North Korea has typically lagged behind the modern world in everything from human rights to basic infrastructure, so it should be no surprise that a female leader would not be respected. But if Ms. Park plays her cards right, and does not give in to Mr. Kim's juvenile behavior, perhaps she will be the leader to change the North Korean mindset on women once and for all.

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