Saturday, March 22, 2008

progressive options

Here is an interesting editorial from the Hankyoreh:

[Column] A politics for all 100%
Kim Yeong-ok, Research professor, Ewha Womans University Korean Women’s Institute

» Professor Kim Yeong-ok

I happened upon the blog of Choi Hyun-sook (, Korea’s first “sexual minority” candidate for the National Assembly, and lost myself for hours. I forgot about the passing of time as I looked through her entries and deep into where the tags led me, and it was a most enjoyable excursion. I happened upon a video, taken March 8, of Choi speaking at an International Women’s Day event in front of Seoul City Hall, full of delight and passion. As if trying to offset the heavy seriousness that comes with talking about turning minorities into a political force to reckon with, she ran all about the plaza with a smile on her face.

The reason it looked more powerful and refreshing was also because there are increasing concerns about feminism today. Some people say the movement shrank rapidly after the long goal of doing away with the hoju system, the “head of household system,” in 2005, or that there is resistance from a kind of “anti-feminism,” or that the “public base of operations” that was the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is being shrunk to being just the Ministry of Gender Equality, and the assessment is that it has become more difficult to do anything, even before we had the chance to do anything politically.

Diagnoses such as these show you how feminism is in a difficult position lately, but they are not surprising. Anti-feminist resistance and feminist pursuits have always been in a contentious relationship, and the fact the body of the movement has shrunk indicates that its agenda has diversified, and that there are separate movements according to goals particular to locale or issue. It is clearly a major event to have the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family shrunk in size and name, to be called the Ministry of Gender Equality. There are major concerns that the accomplishments of feminism could also be downsized or disappeared. (One example would be signs there might be a revival of the allowance for additional points for previous military service in the hiring of employees.)

Feminism tries to read the ways of thinking and behavior of the mainstream, from the perspective of being a minority. First and foremost, feminism’s efforts to disseminate a broad perspective of gender equality and sensibility are accomplished by building solidarity with like-minded people and engaging in sustained dialogue with those who think differently. As noted by Chantal Mouffe, that which is political speaks basically of a situation of conflict between opposing ideas that cannot be combined. It is important to, instead of stubbornly trying to erase the differences between opposing ideologies, agonize politically over ways to coexist by honest recognition of those differences.

It is with this view that the upcoming National Assembly election presents some very politically interesting points. It is very meaningful that Park Young-hee, who has spent the last decade campaigning for the rights of disabled women, will be a proportional representative candidate of the New Progressive Party, and that a woman from the Philippines will be a proportional representative candidate for the Creative Korea Party. I do not think of these women as strategic candidates, there for show or as assistants. It is a reflection of the fact that Korean society has changed, that the “alternative perspective” provided by feminism is winning approval from regular citizens whether people realize it or not, at least to the point where women such as these can stand on the center stage of politics. Park notes that, for feminists, the social movement and electoral politics perhaps can no longer be separate things. The more your group is a minority, the more important this philosophy becomes.

Park was a “good disabled girl” who never challenged anyone and became a “vicious and ferocious disabled feminist activist,” while Choi makes coming out a major part of her political agenda. Both stress the need for a sense of responsibility among their supporters. When this becomes political and evolves into a form of solidarity, it will mean a politics that goes beyond the limits of representative, elected politics. I am truly, very curious to see what it looks like when Choi, Park and the woman from the Philippines propose, and then implement, a politics that “is for 100 percent of the population instead of 1 percent.”

No comments:

Post a Comment