How The Swish Of A Skirt Is Changing South Korea's National Identity

South Korea is still deeply rooted in its patriarchal tradition
South Korea is still deeply rooted in its patriarchal tradition
Philippe Pons

SEOUL - North Korea recently attacked newly elected South Korean President Park Geun-hye, making a jibe at the “venomous swish of her skirt.”

The swish of South Korea’s long traditional silk skirts has long been used as a macho joke – if not an insult – targeted toward strong women. Aggressive women, women who do a man’s job, women who micromanage their children like “tiger mothers” – in other words, women who are the opposite of the traditional ideal of a shy and submissive housewife.

In modern South Korea, the expression is only used as a sexist insult anymore. Nonetheless, the country is still deeply rooted in its patriarchal tradition, just as is North Korea.

The 1946 law, which was incorporated to the 1948 Constitution, granted North Korean women more rights than in any other country of the region at the time. Liberal in theory, the North Korean regime was conservative in practice. The Korean “new woman” had to be a revolutionary – but she also had to be a good wife and a good mother. And a form of patriarchy endured, in spite of growing parallel economy that was managed in majority by women.

The situation of women worsened – they had more responsibilities on the outside (earning a bit of money), while continuing to take care of their families, says a defector from North Korea now living in Seoul, South Korea. “Men of the north have a very traditional attitude toward women. When we go to live in the south, we keep these values in us. The ‘swish of the skirt’ has a very negative connotation for us, it means a woman that wants to be above men,” she explains.

Despite the fact that young South Korean women have been emancipated for about 30 years now – and maybe because of that – many men in the south hope to find a more traditional wife. This quest explains the success of matchmaking agencies specialized in helping South Korean men find North Korean wives.

One of the first such agencies is Nam Nam Buk Nyo (southern man – northern woman). There is an old proverb that says that the ideal couple is a woman from the north – where women are beautiful – and a man from the south – where men are intelligent and strong.

Hong Seung-woo, who runs the agency, says he had the idea after he divorced a South Korean woman and married a woman from the north, a decision that has given him great happiness, he says. Friends asked him for advice on meeting women from the north, and he decided to make a business out of it.

Matchmaking challenges

“South Korean women are demanding – my ex-wife left me because I wasn’t making enough money and had no career prospects. Many South Korean men aged 30 to 40 and from all walks of life find women of their generation aggressive.” Nam Nam Buk Nyo, one of the five matchmaking agencies specialized in inter-Korean marriages, has matched 400 couples together since its creation in 2006 (including four that have already ended in divorce).

“South Korean men also want to be the ‘king’ of the house but they grew up in a society that is more respectful of gender equality,” says a North Korean defector married to a South Korean man. Many women from the south do not necessary agree… but North Koreans <>might be less demanding because they they are in a position of weakness and have difficulties adapting to live in the south.

The vast majority of the 21,000 defectors from the north who have arrived to South Korea after a long journey through China are women. Usually in their thirties, they are more numerous than men, because they believe they have a better chance of finding a job.

“Because they speak the same language and share the same culture, it is not hard for them to find a husband,” explains Hong. Marriages between foreigners and South Korean men are on the rise – one out of ten weddings.

Young women leave the countryside for the city, while young men often turn to agencies specialized in “dating trips” in South-East Asia or China. From 127,000 in 2007, marriages with foreign women have gone up to more than 250,000 in 2012. Is South Korea about to become a multiethnic society because of women?

Integration problems, which are common to all countries where there is immigration, are twice as difficult in this country, where there is a strong deep-rooted notion of “ethnical homogeneity”, and people believe you are “Korean by blood.”

For many, being Korean means being born to Korean parents and not just obtaining the nationality. Immigration, both legal (bound to increase, because of a fast-aging population and a decreased birth rate) and illegal (half a million Bengalis, Pakistanis or Filipinos work for small wages) remains low compared to some other countries, but it could compel Koreans to redefine their national identity. At least, with North Korean women, there is no problem of “blood purity.”

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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