I think like most people, I grew up thinking women are inferior to men. Like most people, I was raised in an cultural environment that at best perpetuates traditional notions of gender differences and at worst encourages discrimination. I guess it didn't help that my dad is your typical conservative 아저씨 who was alarmed at female drivers and scoffed at the idea of female leaders in politics. He voiced these sentiments frequently when I was a child, as did my teachers in school.
My child brain couldn't wrap this idea of female inferiority simultaneously with the need to respect my mom. How can I respect my mother when people tell me women are beneath me, and my mom's a woman too? To the dismay of my family, I never really respected my mother (and sister) as a child growing up. I didn't think I had to since women were, after all, inferior to men.
It was quite ironic when my dad supported and voted for Park Geun-Hye. I wonder how he and all the other conservatives internally consolidated the idea of voting for a woman? I think my dad did it by becoming more lenient with his sexism. The gradually increasing trend towards equality was something my dad had to confront directly while he was teaching in military colleges and new crops of cadets also included women, with some of them training to be fighter pilots. According to the stories he has told me, some of the women seemed to have left a positive impression on them. They were not that bad after all. A woman is probably better than a pinko.
Personally, the process of growing up and thinking for myself made me shun my traditional sexist attitude a long time ago, although defining my stance on gender issues is hard to do clearly. I'm not sure I'd call myself a feminist per se. I'm more of a sympathizer of the feminist cause. And I'm talking about feminism that pushes gender equality. I've met feminists who seem to push female superiority and I cannot support that for obvious reasons. One of them being I have a penis. Albeit a small one, but a penis nonetheless.
A comment I have heard more than a few times from western guys here is that they prefer Korean women because they are more like "real women" than in the west. To some Koreans, that may sound like a compliment to their culture but I'm frankly repulsed by this sentiment. It's because "being a real woman" to most people mean that a female follows all the traditional norms of femininity. Norms decided by some people a long time ago and for some reason it's now established as the norm. I do think for the most part Korean women are less opinionated, dress in what is considered more feminine clothing (just like the men haha), they try to look pretty by current beauty standards, and just act more feminine in general.
Maybe many of these western men are turned off by western women who no longer conform to what is traditionally thought of as being "feminine." I can't really judge these guys since they are products of sexist indoctrination themselves and they must experience cognitive dissonance when women don't fit the mold of how women "should" behave. Many of the traditional notions and stereotypes of women in the west coincide with the east, and since the women here embody those notions better, they seem more attractive.
But what the hell does it mean to be "feminine?" Who decides these things? I was reading a paper titled Women's Life during the Choson Dynasty which asserts that women's rights were gradually restricted as Neo-Confucianism established a foothold in Chosun thinking and culture. The author Han Heesook highlights the fact that the codes of conduct imposed on women as virtues were not constant, but a product of the changing times. This paper (and a look at neo-confucianist attitudes in general) explain a lot of Korean views on gender today. But what I got from this is that our conservative ideals on how a women should act is completely arbitrary and made up. "Femininity" is a result of the times and it changes with the tides of history.
You can talk all you want about how women "should" act or "should" be like and I'll point to a time or place where the norm is completely different. Nobody "should" do or not do anything. We make this shit up. Our notions of traditional femininity are products of the agricultural revolution. Civilization led to property ownership, social stratification, and sexism. Matriarchal societies became patriarchal and men, especially men in certain classes, became much more important. You can see it with the evolution of the ancient Chinese deity Nuwa who is depicted as a warrior-goddess and creator in early sources but in later eras, she is depicted as a wife and sister of Fu Xi and her significance is reduced. Primitive tribal societies that exist today are far more egalitarian than ours.
A part of me thinks surely some notions of femininity are dictated by biology. While I believe in equal political, social and economic rights for women, we are not exactly the same. It's obvious in our physiology. The fact that women can bear babies played a tremendous role in cultures throughout history.
I've always thought this difference is manifested in how we think and communicate. Maybe its our hormones or maybe our brains are wired differently. How much this biological difference plays is the question, I guess, if it does at all. Except for the staunchest of feminists, I think the majority of people, men and women, agree we are different.
Traditionally, men are thought to be more logical, while woman are more emotional. Men generally have higher sex drives than women. Men are more violent and aggressive while women are more nurturing and empathetic. Men are considered physically stronger than women as well.
My personal experiences lead me to agree with almost all the above preconceived notions. Women do seem to be more emotion driven, or rather more concerned about their feelings than men are. But my one of my favorite books is Richard Wright's Native Son where the writer drills into the reader's head the idea that if you treat a group of people a certain way, those people will take on that image of themselves and adopt certain qualities. Tell black people that they are criminals long enough and they will think of themselves as criminals. Tell women that they are weak and emotional and maybe they will be weak and emotional. Unlike racial differences, however, the biological differences between the sexes are unquestionable. How much of gender difference is nature and how much of it nurture?
I personally think if there is a difference, it should be acknowledged but not discriminated against. Every individual is different from everybody else to some degree. The problem with sexism is that it dichotomies and stratifies one difference between people. Some people obviously don't agree with established stereotypical differences. Some think our minds aren't that different. Others goes against conventional wisdom and claim women desire sex more than people think.
My own stereotypes are challenged when I read something like this: When Women Wanted Sex Much More Than Men. Apparently women were thought to be have higher sex drives in older times of human history. Notions of how people are change with the times. What we think is a perpetual truth is actually in motion.
The U.S. military is intending to place women in combat roles now and there are people who are resisting this idea for various reasons, including the assertion that women aren't as capable in combat. The idea women can't be warlike and competent warriors are challenged by the Amazons. Nobody knows if the Amazons existed as Herodotus described, but archaeological evidence points to the existence of female warriors in the Scythian-Sarmatian sphere. We aren't talking about a few exceptional individuals who went against the grain, we're talking entire units. The Scythians called them "man-killers" and Herodotus said women in their culture weren't allowed to marry until they have slain an enemy in battle. So at one point in history being a "real woman" meant you had to kill somebody in a fight. The Smartians weren't the only ones who employed female combatants; in Japan, a class of female warriors called the Onna Bugeisha existed.
You also have numerous instances of strong female political and military leaders. Some of them were quite ruthless. People like Wu Zetian and Cleopatra were straight up gangster. So can we say women are inherently prone to peace or are they products of their environment? Are women supposedly more peaceful because it's the role they have been taught to play for centuries? Will we see less of these gender differences in the future as gender roles become amalgamated?
Or maybe we won't. As much as we try to blur the lines between genders, some of it has to be inherent. From my observations, young boys tend to gravitate towards "boy stuff" like cars and guns while girls do the same toward "girly" toys like dolls without anyone really telling them to. My little cousin when he was four, made guns with his building blocks even though his mother did all she could do from exposing him to any kind of violence. Or...maybe they are getting hints of acceptable gender identity and being nudged indirectly someway. Boys tend to look up and copy their dads and since most dads are going to follow the traditional modes of masculinity, boys pick up on said modes through their role-model rather than via biology. Who knows?
I even question the conventional truth of men's superior physical strength. Yeah, as a whole the average man is stronger than the average woman. The best female boxers aren't going to beat the best male boxers in the world. But most of us aren't world class boxers. When it comes to individuals, it's presumptuous to assume things about someone based on what you see superficially. For example, the below video is a girl dead-lifting more than any other guy in my fitness center I've seen lift.
The girl above weighs about 25 pounds less than I and yet my record dead-lift is only about 80 pounds more than in the video. The most I've seen anybody else at my fitness center dead-lift was this guy who I saw lifting 60kg (about 132lbs). There are only a handful of Korean men I know personally who can out lift this 125lb female. In my particular gym, I out-lift everybody (and I don't consider myself strong) else by far and there are plenty of women out there who are stronger than me. I'm sure if everybody took exercise seriously, men would be collectively stronger than women, but the thing is most people don't exercise seriously today. You can talk about how women are weak, but a woman who dead-lifts and squats regularly is much stronger than your average guy. You can talk about how women are poor fighters but I've met plenty of female martial artists who can kick the shit out of the average guy. Your average modern man is a weak pussy. A lot of tough guys would reevaluate their manliness once they step in the ring with a female fighter.
Collectively, women may be weaker than men, but why does that matter? How is this applicable? It's not like we're ever going to have a mass men vs women brawl. People talk about how women can't keep up with the training in the military, then wouldn't that problem be solved simply by not accepting individuals who can't pass the requirements? A male officer in the Army told me how there are women in Special Operations who out march half the guys in their units, much to the embarrassment of the men. Just as you wouldn't accept men who are weak, the military should use the women who are tough, duh.
When it comes to boxing, a lot of men often comment on how boring women's boxing is or how they don't like seeing women get beat up. I think it's an asinine opinion by people who don't know shit about boxing. If women's boxing is boring because women aren't as physically fit and as good as the best male boxers would that mean the lower tiers of male boxing aren't worth watching either? If you would change the channel during a female world title fight, would you do the same for a 8 or 10 round match between males? By the that logic, shouldn't Olympic boxing also not be worth watching? And if you are somehow disturbed by women beating each other up, shouldn't you also turn away from a man getting beat up? Why is it okay for a guy to get his ass kicked but not a woman?
Maybe it's because I come from a boxing environment. I'm used to seeing fights and the sweat and toil involved in the process. When I see a boxer, I see a boxer first and foremost. A fighter is more than what's between one's legs. A fighter is a fighter. These sexist attitudes on women's boxing offend me because it's insulting to the fighters who have worked their asses off to become what they are. It's disrespectful to the art and sport itself.
Saying you can't spar and hit a female fighter is a huge insult. In the same vein, I don't quite get the western tendency of freaking out when a man hits a woman. This is where I think I diverge from most feminists. I view feminism through the lenses of individuality and since women are individuals, and I don't see the seemingly bigger deal of a man hitting a women in comparison to a man hitting a man or a woman hitting a man. People are appalled by domestic violence only when the husband is beating his wife but not the other way around. I don't like how violence against woman is considered such a big deal as if implying violence against men is somehow not as important. If violence is the enemy, why are we not focusing on the act of violence itself instead of on the sex of the people involved. In an ideal world, a woman would get punched out for the same reason a man would.
Most people would consider Korean to be a more sexist society than in the west, or at least the United States. But in some odd ways, it isn't. I think the lack of a chivalric tradition here in some ways makes it less sexist. It seems in the west, there has been this notion that women are to be protected and respected because they are fragile. I think being protective and respective of a woman only because she's a woman is sexist. In the east, or at least in Korea, this concept isn't as strongly ingrained. This manifests as a problem in some ways and in others, it makes gender relations more egalitarian.
In some areas, Korea has beat the the United States in gender equality. While the U.S. is just recently considering using women as combat troops, the ROK military already has been for a while. Few in number they may be, there are female fighter pilots and special forces operatives in the ranks of ROK officers and NCOs. While I don't play the Korean dating game much, but based on observations, dating culture here seems more egalitarian as well. There's less pressure on the men to make the first move and to pay on the first date, as the power dynamic is based more on age here.
Certain stereotypes don't have as strong of a footing because Korean men share certain qualities westerners may associate with femininity. Whenever I find myself complaining about women, I always stop and remember that a lot of guys do the same exact shit. Men complain about how women gossip a lot, but I've witnessed more gossiping and rumor-spreading, petty politicking and cliquishness among men in the Army than I've seen in women. In the west, I've always had this ideal that men are supposed to be logical and able to suppress their emotions. In Korea being emotional isn't seen as a bad thing. When I see the lines of guys in public washrooms playing with their hair in front of the mirror instead of washing their hands, I wonder if men and women really are as different as we purport.
In spite of all that, I feel in Korea the difference between the sexes gets played out too much. Depending on who you talk to, sexism in the west is pretty bad but it seems worse in a lot of ways in Korea. There is so much pressure to be a certain way in Korea and this holds truer for women. The idea that women are weak, unassertive, should be modest and be at home are pervasive here in stronger ways. You almost never see women play basketball or soccer with their guy friends as one would see in the States. In the US, it was pretty normal for me to see a soccer match between friends where a bunch of girls were mixed in, but in Korea the guys play a sport and all the women watch. I've seen so many times where women just watch from the sidelines.
Women get married and are pressured to quit or simply fired when pregnant because of the pervasive view that women belong at home to raise the child. So much for all the schooling. There's an old saying that goes, "The man gives birth and the woman raises the child." Doesn't make sense but that's how the saying goes and it conveniently attributes the most important biological significance of parenthood to the man while dumping all the actual responsibilities on the woman. There were times my dad came home and blamed my mom for my acting up instead of pursuing a more active role in parenting.
I see it during family holidays where the women toil in the kitchen while the men chill before eating the fruits of the women's labor. I even saw it in the military where female officers were basically coffee fetchers when there weren't enough conscripts to order around. A woman who doesn't get married before a certain age is judged, as are the women who are divorced. Whenever a female Korean friend expresses concern over her eccentric qualities and the possibility of not being married in a timely manner, I try to make her feel better by saying, "Hey, I'm weird too and I'm probably never going to get married either." The answer I always get is, "It's different because you're a guy."
I haven't gotten why it's different because I'm a guy. Well, in a way I do. I know they mean guys aren't judged as harshly for being different or marrying late. Korea is a judgmental society where you get judged for all sorts of things, and women have a longer list of criteria to satisfy. What I want for my friends is that they can go, "Fuck it" and be who they want to be. But that's easier said than done.
What all of this feminist philosophizing comes down to is ultimately my aforementioned, small penis. It all leads to how I conceptualize the ideal woman and who I'm attracted to. I like smart, interesting people who are comfortable in their own skin, at least try to be brutally honest with themselves about their insecurities. I like girls who have something to say. I don't like how so many Korean girls I see just sit there and try to look pretty. A lot of Korean women are pretty but do the contents of their brain compliment their physical looks? I wouldn't know because so many of them don't express their thoughts, leading me to assume they don't think much at all. I guess some guys like women who keep quiet when the men talk, but I don't.
I prefer women, and people, who have their own ideas about stuff and don't try so hard to fit into the mold other people have set up for them. I don't like weak women who can't express themselves because they're so afraid of being judged. I don't need a woman who needs a knight in shining armor to come and save her. Maybe I need to meet a Sarmatian woman. As long as she doesn't chop my head off.