Past and patriarchy
“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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.