By CHOE SANG-HUN, New York Times – SEOUL, South Korea — 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.
“North Korea is taunting and testing her,” said Choi Jin, head of the Institute of Presidential Leadership in Seoul. “It’s an important test for her at home, too. People supported her for being a strong leader, but they also have a lingering doubt about whether their first female president will be as good in national security as she sounds.”
The sexist barb is one small piece of the early challenge the North has posed for Ms. Park, who came into office just after Pyongyang detonated its third nuclear test and has spent her first three weeks in office managing increasingly fraught relations between the two countries. Amid a torrent of threats, the North this week said it nullified the armistice that has helped keep the peace since the Korean War ended in a stalemate in 1953. On Thursday, the North Korean news media reported that its leader, Kim Jong-un, supervised a live artillery drill near the disputed western sea border, the site of recent skirmishes.
So far, Ms. Park has been steely, meeting one verbal volley from the North about a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Seoul with her own government’s threat to wipe the North Korean leadership “off the face of the earth,” an unusually blunt warning from Seoul targeting Mr. Kim by name.
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.