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.


  1. says

    In the early eighties, my wife and I were in a small village in south China (I don’t recall its name), but we had missed the bus to ZhongShan City and the next one was about three hours later. We found a traditional Chinese tea house. At the time, although I could get around in Mandarin, I only knew a few polite greetings in Cantonese, the local language. The waitress who served us couldn’t have been older than 17 or 18, which means that she had spent her whole life in post-revolutionary China. She would have learned songs at school about how after the revolution men and women were equal. Nevertheless she insisted on talking only to me, the man, even though my wife was doing all the talking for me. It felt really weird.

    After a while this sort of thing no longer surprised me. But I found later that many women in China would act submissively but say that they were equal to men in Chinese society. However when you got to know them better, and they trusted you not to report them to the authorities, you heard a different story.

  2. sawells says

    For some reason “venomous swish of skirt” sounds like a really badly translated kung fu movie subtitle – Supreme Death Palm Strike, Venomous Swish of Skirt, Flying Tarantula Kick….

  3. says

    It sounds kind of 40s Noir-ish to me.

    “I knew I was in trouble the moment she walked into the room. A venomous swish of skirt, in her hands she held a .38 like she knew how to use it and her hands were steadier than a bomb-squad veteran. Her blue eyes shone like the police were trying to pull me over.”

    I want to be a venomous swish of skirt.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *