Past and pa­tri­archy

The Korea Times - - OPINION - Deauwand My­ers

“Along his­tory, for­ever / some woman danc­ing, / mak­ing shapes on the air; / for­ever a man / rid­ing a good horse, /sit­ting the dark horse well / his pe­nis erect with fan­tasy”

— Muriel Rukeyser

I’ve never been that fond of men. Even some­one with a cur­sory un­der­stand­ing of his­tory can un­der­stand why. The list of despotic kings and dic­ta­tors is too long to enu­mer­ate here.

The prob­lem with pa­tri­archy is ob­vi­ous: It con­cen­trates power only among men, whilst rel­e­gat­ing women to sec­ond-class sta­tus. But far worse, it trun­cates the pool of tal­ent read­ily avail­able in the broader so­ci­ety: Ev­ery­thing from cor­po­rate stew­ard­ship to na­tional gov­er­nance.

But the worst, prob­a­bly, is the male ego, par­tic­u­larly in geopol­i­tics. “Mine is big­ger than yours.” Let’s tour some of the most glar­ing ex­am­ples in our cur­rent his­tor­i­cal mo­ment.


Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe and his con­ser­va­tive Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party (LDP) have been on a life­long quest to re­vise Im­pe­ri­al­ist Ja­pan’s bru­tal his­tory, all the way from the oc­cu­pa­tion of Korea to the many atroc­i­ties of World War II.

Im­pe­ri­al­ist Ja­pan enslaved, tor­tured, raped (sys­tem­i­cally, at that, with their in­ter­na­tional net­work of “com­fort women,” a eu­phemism for sex slaves, many of whom were Korean), per­formed many grue­some med­i­cal ex­per­i­ments on liv­ing hu­man be­ings with no anes­the­sia, and treated much of Asia as the Nazis did Europe.

Yet, Abe and his ilk say these things are ex­ag­ger­ated, and that Ja­pan’s de­feat in World War II and the sub­se­quent writ­ten Con­sti­tu­tion was a na­tional “cas­tra­tion.” Imag­ine a fe­male head of state us­ing such lan­guage. For sure, there are women in the LDP who sub­scribe to this non­sense, but em­pir­i­cally, we have found that more women in na­tional and lo­cal govern­ment leads to more com­pro­mise and bet­ter out­comes.

Abe and his bruised, male ego, go­ing on about Ja­pan’s “glo­ri­ous” and mis­un­der­stood his­tory dur­ing the 20th cen­tury is dan­ger­ous and hubris­tic. Ja­pan needs to have full mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence co­op­er­a­tion with all its demo­cratic neigh­bors, es­pe­cially Korea, as both share com­mon en­e­mies: North Korea and China.


Which leads us to China. Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s con­sol­i­da­tion of po­lit­i­cal power was so breath­tak­ing and com­plete, even I was sur­prised. The Chi­nese govern­ment, un­der the aus­pices of the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party (CCP), has gov­erned for most of its mod­ern his­tory as a “democ­racy of the few.” The Standing Com­mit­tee, the very high­est de­ci­sion-mak­ing body in China, made pol­icy through de­bate and con­sen­sus.

Not any­more. Now, Xi has ex­panded sur­veil­lance and se­cu­rity forces to the point that his coun­try is a po­lice state; placed an en­tire pop­u­la­tion of mi­nor­ity Mus­lims (Uyghurs) into re-ed­u­ca­tion con­cen­tra­tion camps, vi­o­lently clamped down on Hong Kong free­doms, claims most of the South China Sea, and has en­gaged in bloody bor­der bat­tles with In­dia.

Xi has the same per­cep­tion of his coun­try that Abe has. China’s long and glo­ri­ous his­tory, its cul­ture and in­ven­tions, were stolen or ap­pro­pri­ated, and China’s sovereignt­y was vi­o­lated time and again: by the Mon­gols, the Bri­tish, and the Ja­panese.

Xi’s male ego, mag­ni­fied by the CCP’s odd and ob­vi­ous push to cre­ate a cult of per­son­al­ity around him, go­ing so far as to pro­duce mas­sive posters of him ev­ery­where, and even abol­ish­ing the 10-year term limit for pres­i­dents, has led to dan­ger­ous and ex­pan­sion­ary do­mes­tic and for­eign poli­cies.

Xi will go to great lengths to achieve what­ever ver­sion of a new and pow­er­ful China he imag­ines: es­pe­cially ob­fus­ca­tion. The govern­ment says they do not prac­tice mil­i­tary and cor­po­rate es­pi­onage. A lie. They say they haven’t cre­ated con­cen­tra­tion camps for Mus­lims. A lie. They say they want a peace­ful rise for

China. A lie. On and on it goes.

Be­sides the many moral and geopo­lit­i­cal dilem­mas this presents to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, the scari­est may be Xi’s male ego it­self. To sud­denly at­tack In­dia at a dis­puted bor­der is highly provoca­tive, and con­sid­er­ing both In­dia and China have nu­clear weapons, fool­ish. Xi needs a les­son in hu­mil­ity, and none too soon.

The United States

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is a ma­lig­nant nar­cis­sist, and some­one with a very low self-es­teem mas­querad­ing as com­pe­tent pride. His en­tire Make Amer­ica Great Again cam­paign is a clar­ion call to white supremacy and griev­ance, one that can be sa­ti­ated with nos­tal­gia for “the good old days,” where mi­nori­ties were wholly sec­ond-class cit­i­zens and women stayed at home and baked bread.

The sim­plic­ity in “MAGA” is both its ge­nius and its weak­ness. Stok­ing white fears and xeno­pho­bia may feel good, but it doesn’t pro­vide food, shel­ter, or a com­pe­tent, co­or­di­nated federal re­sponse to COVID-19 rav­aging most of Amer­ica. Women, please get more in­volved in pol­i­tics. You bathe reg­u­larly and read books. We need you. Deauwand My­ers (deauwand@hot­ holds a mas­ter’s de­gree in English lit­er­a­ture and lit­er­ary the­ory, and is an English pro­fes­sor out­side Seoul. The views ex­pressed in the above ar­ti­cle are the au­thor’s own and do not re­flect the ed­i­to­rial di­rec­tion of The Korea Times.

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