Slave to the Blog: International Women’s Day in Our Own Style

March 8, 2016 3:00 PM

Leave it to North Korea to celebrate International Women’s Day with a rampage of misogynistic insults. As reported by JH Ahn at NK News, North Korea observed IWD by characterizing South Korean President Park Geun-hye as “the Blue House’s bitch” and a “political prostitute” who has made her people suffer under her political “nymphomania.”

By contrast “[North Korean] Women, especially the young women who are educated with Juche-ideology are highly faithful in carrying out tasks as ordered…Our great women are pouring all of their love into raise their children, even by going through all hardships … to support the Songun revolution.”

These remarks produced sadly predictable commentary. The characterization of Park elicited a discussion of whether the North Koreans were trying to be uniquely sexist, or were they just trying to be matchlessly insulting, along the lines of calling President Barrack Obama a “black monkey” or Justice Michael Kirby “a disgusting old lecher with a 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality.” The description the ideal North Korean woman, provoked understandable annoyance about “subordinate agents” and “pre-modern roles.”

I wonder what the Women Crossing the DMZ crew make of all of this? Steph Haggard’s blow-by-blow, including the deafening silences, is here.

I know what Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton, who has been in the forefront of these issues, thinks.

Regrettably, there really is an issue here, as MP Bruce eloquently elucidates. As Steph Haggard and I documented in our paper, “Gender in Transition: the Case of North Korea,” the country’s haphazard economic transition has had significant implications for women and family relations. As women have been disproportionately shed from employment in the core institutions of the country (the state, the Party, and the state-owned enterprises), they have come to dominate the market, at least at the retail end. The upshot, given high levels of corruption, is that an increasingly male-dominated state preys on a female-dominated market. To make matters worse, for many non-elite urban households, those female-conducted market activities are now generating most of household income, overturning traditional gender relations within the family. The result is angry frustrated men and a rise in spousal abuse.

How about South Korea? The country has a reputation for chauvinism, but in a recent large-scale global survey done with Barbara Kotschwar and Tyler Moran, we found that in terms of female participation in corporate leadership, South Korea, while not good, was not that far off the world average either, with 14 percent female board members and 15 percent female C-suite executives among the publicly listed companies in our sample. The South Korean results come with an asterisk, however: the South Korean sample is small (only 28 firms) because Korean names are unusually gender-neutral, creating difficulties in assigning the gender of corporate leaders.

If only other aspects of gender relations were similarly even-handed.

Add new comment