The look in question? A red and white shirt dress.
Shortly after MK Ryu Ho-jeong wore the dress to South Korea’s legislature on Tuesday, social media was inundated with misogynistic comments about her outfit, demonstrating something of the sexism to which the country’s female politicians can cope.
Some posters said her appearance was not appropriate for parliament, where 19 percent of representatives are women – the highest proportion of female parliamentarians ever in the South Korean legislature, but still low by international standards. Others wondered why she deserved to be in parliament in the first place.
“Soon she will come to work in a bikini,” wrote one. “Is it a bar?” wrote another on a Facebook page for supporters of President Moon Jae-in’s left-wing Democratic Party. Some have also questioned her age – at 27, Ryu is the youngest member of the National Assembly.
But while Ryu’s outfit has sparked controversy online, it has garnered support from his party and the ruling Democratic Party.
Ryu is a member of the Left Minority Justice Party, which said she was attacked with vitriolic and sexist comments.
“We cannot agree at all with the voice that portrays a woman politician as lacking in qualification in assessing her appearance and image rather than her legislative work,” the party said in a statement.
“Women parliamentarians are always becoming targets of discussion for wearing pants or choosing a brightly colored outfit. We regret the reality today in the National Assembly where yelling excessively at each other has become natural, while wearing a dress is seen as a problem.
“We declare that today is the year 2020.”
Ko Min-jung – a Democratic Party MP – said that while she did not approve of Ryu’s choice of outfit, she did not agree that she was receiving excessive criticism for what ‘she wore.
“I express my gratitude to him for shattering the excessively solemn and authoritarian atmosphere of the National Assembly,” Ko wrote in a Facebook post.
Although South Korea is a developed economy, many feminists still view the country as a difficult place to be a woman.
In recent years, South Korea has had to contend with its deeply patriarchal culture. Women pushed back against discrimination in the workplace, sexual violence and harassment, and unreasonable beauty standards. The country continues to rank poorly globally for women’s representation in government and equal pay.
Nonetheless, even high profile women continue to face sexism. Last year, a senior economics professor who studied at Harvard and served on government committees was told by a right-wing politician to “contribute to the development of the country” by giving birth.