"How dare, you woman!" No one would imagine saying such a thing now, but you could commonly hear it in 1980s. Innocent women could easily become guilty just because they were women. In 1988, in order to overcome gender discrimination and establish true democracy, 1,000 shareholders gathered and created “Women’s News (“WN”).” Since then, WN has treaded a thorny path, serving as an unwavering spokesperson for women. 25 years have passed. People’s perception changed from “women with issues” to “women’s issues,” and now WN is working to change it once again to “women’s perspective.” To mark the 25th anniversary, Women’s News will run “Reply Women’s News” series every Friday to introduce major issues reported by Women’s News from 1988 to 2013. [Editor]
In 1989, democratization movement which had been dormant since the Seoul Olympic Games was reignited after the questionable deaths of Lee Cheol-gyu, a Chosun University student, in may, and Lee Nae-chang, a Chung-ang University student, in August. The international society also reached a politically, socially, and culturally turbulent era with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen Square incident. That year, the Women’s News was busy delivering the voices of women fighting for gender equality. The paper was less than a year old, but it conveyed serious voices of the feminist circle calling for the creation of a ministry dedicated to women’s issues. It also argued for a need of a serious social discussion on beauty pageants which remind people of slave markets, through articles on the movement to abolish Miss Korea pageant.
One question from godmother of Korean feminism lays foundation for women’s ministry in 2001
At the ac-hoc session of the 146th National Assembly held in May 1989, Party for Peace and Democracy lawmaker Park Yeong-suk, who passed away last March, asked then Prime Minister Kang Yeong-hun whether the government is considering the creation of a women’s ministry. Prime Minister Kang indirectly answered that the government does not have such intention by saying, “Since the beginning of the Sixth Republic, the government has been actively promoting policies for women and appointed a woman as the Second Minister of State for Political Affairs. Moreover, it is working on solidifying the basis for the introduction of women’s policies and also conducting annual legal assessments to promote women’s rights.” The Women’s News supported Park with its coverage of the conversation (May 26, 1989, the 25th edition).
A month later, the Women’s News reported on the public opinion on this issue in its Controversy section. The article contained rich relevant information such as the fact that the three opposition parties (Democratic Party, Party for Peace and Democracy, and the New Democratic Republican Party) have pledged to create a women’s ministry for upcoming election, and the situation in other countries. The article reported about the World Conference on Women held in Mexico in 1975, and the creation of an independent women’s ministry in Canada, France, and Bangladesh encouraging more social participation of women and promoting gender equality.
Feminists had requested the government to establish a ministry for women’s issues since the 1970s. Based on their dedicated effort, the Korean Women’s Development Institute was established in 1983, and the Women’s Policy Committee under the Prime Minister was created in December of the same year. In 1988, the Women’s Policy Committee was changed to the Office of the Second Minister of State for Political Affairs under the Prime Minister’s Office, which meant the creation of a practical channel for women’s voices to be reflected in national policies. However, the office could not serve its purpose to the fullest because of the extremely tight budget of one billion won a year. As several similar public institutions followed suit, some feminists began to raise concerns that such moves may actually deter the establishment of the most important body, the women’s ministry.
Korean feminists also had disagreements among themselves regarding the creation of a women’s ministry (covered in the 30th edition, June 30, 1989). The Women’s News also featured the varying opinions of significant figures in feminism such as Kim Geum-rae, then Director General of the Korean National Council of Women who later served as the Minister of Gender Equality and Family, and Professor Jang Pil-hwa of Ewha Womans University about when would be the best time for the ministry’s establishment. Jang argued that the reason why women’s issues are not being addressed properly is because there is no government institution overseeing them. “The current government system has its limits in actively seeking solutions for women’s issues,” Jang pointed out arguing for a swift establishment of the ministry. On the other hand, Kim said, “While it is true that the Korean National Council of Women has been asking for the creation of a women’s ministry for a long time, it seems that more discussion on this matter is needed as the Office of the Second Minister of State for Political Affairs was just launched.“
The strenuous effort of many feminists led to the official establishment of the Ministry of Gender Equality (Now Ministry of Gender Equality and Family) in 2001 under the Kim Dae-jung administration dubbed as the “People’s Government.” The ministry’s establishment came after 30 years since the discussion began, and 10 years after the Women’s News and the feminists raised their voice on the issue.
Covering Anti-Miss Korea Movement In-depth
“Kick out the pageant treating women like slaves”
“Those who are concerned about the nation’s future say in chorus that the more terrifying consequence of the inflow of promiscuous Western sex ethics than AIDS is the “cultural AIDS.” The so called “Miss Korea” pageant is at the peak of the Cinderella complex, wrecking women’s mentality and systematically commercializing women’s appearance. (May 5th, 1989, the 22nd edition)”
The Women’s News took the lead in reporting about the anti-Miss Korea movement which feminists started in the 1980s. One Women’s News article wrote, “A news agency should lead the citizens into healthy and critical thinking and advance the country’s journalism, but one newspaper is instead making a big deal out of an event, insulting women’s dignity as if it is a national event to be celebrated especially in the festive month of May that should belong to the citizens. Many conscious women are outraged by the fact that the event is nothing more than a public scene of human selling.”
Some argued that the word “beauty” itself should be discarded since it is a vestige of a patriarchal society; others said that women’s beauty should not be judged by the standards set by the patriarchal society. Introducing such diverse voices in support of the abolishment of the pageant, the Women’s News took the lead in the anti-Miss Korea movement.
The Women’s News covered the Miss Seoul pageant and criticized the competition’s scoring process judging women with diverse criteria like slaves or cows on sale. Furthermore, it directly challenged the groundless that becoming a Miss Korea makes a woman socially successful, by saying that to believe so is to admit that women’s lives are determined by men’s choices, and called for a change of women’s minds belief et.
Moreover, the paper provided facts to prove that the pageant can cause social disharmony considering the economic status of the Korean society. The logic went that while the pageant’s tickets costing 10,000 to 20,000 won could be a great source of income for the host, it made ordinary women who had to work 12 hours a day to earn 100,000 won a month feel relatively deprived.
Thanks to the healthy criticism and effort from the feminism circle, the Miss Korea pageant was removed from major TV stations in 2002. A few years later, when KBS SKY, a cable channel and an affiliate of the national broadcasting network KBS, showed interest in airing the pageant, feminist groups responded swiftly and prevented such move. (covered in the 781st edition, June 11, 2004.) Moreover, relevant efforts resulted in the abolishment of public swim suit competition in the Miss Korea pageant since 2004.