Venomous swish of skirt

Huh. Even North Korea goes in for sexist insults. Who knew?

When North Korea blamed President Park Geun-hye’s “venomous swish of skirt” this week for tensions on the Korean Peninsula, it brought up an issue that had been mainly unremarked upon in South Korea: Would their leader’s gender color the latest confrontation between the Koreas?

The North Koreans, masters of outrageous propaganda, no doubt picked their phrase carefully for the South’s first female president. “Swish of skirt” was long an insult in Korean culture, directed at women deemed too aggressive, far from the traditional ideal of docile and coy.

The old damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Either you’re too aggressive and undocile, or you’re a feeble little nothing. So sorry, those are your only choices.

For many in South Korea, Ms. Park’s gender has long been a secondary concern, even as vestiges of the country’s patriarchal past remain. She was elected in good part because she is the daughter of a dictator who is rated South Korea’s most popular former president.

Oh, well that’s different. If she’s there because she’s an important man’s relative, then she’ll be exempt from the usual rules. Until she’s not, of course.

Several analysts said that the North Koreans — who have held on to their patriarchal traditions even as the South has rapidly become more egalitarian — are aware of Ms. Park’s reputation. The North got a direct glimpse of her in 2002, when she traveled to meet Kim Jong-il.

“I don’t think her gender is a disadvantage,” said Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korea specialist at Korea University. “The North Koreans know that she is not an easy woman, or an easy female leader, to deal with.”

But Andrei Lankov, a North Korea scholar at Kookmin University in Seoul, is less convinced. He called the North “a deeply patriarchal culture where women are believed to be generally unsuitable for any position of power and influence.”

“Hence,” he said, “they might assume that President Park is weak and irrational.”

Or too aggressive, far from the traditional ideal of docile and coy. Or both.