With the recent election of Park Geun-hye as the new president of South Korea, gender has seen more column inches in the local press than usual.
In the weeks following her election, every time her name was mentioned, it was followed (or preceded) by the clause “South Korea’s first female president.” Or something to that effect.
Gender became big news once she was elected … well, at least the gender of Park Geun-hye, with some criticism rightly targeting the anti-feminist rhetoric she employed during her campaign. But the frequent references to gender made this commentator more aware of other recent stories that highlighted the gender of their actresses.
One example, in particular, broke while Park was still campaigning (and involving her campaign). A National Intelligence Service (NIS) employee was apprehended and questioned over allegations of using more than 120 false IDs to post politically sensitive writings online that favored Park Geun-hye’s campaign. What is striking about this story (other than the NIS allegedly tried to influence the election to crown a dictator’s daughter as South Korea’s president) is that the stories paid lede space to highlight the gender of the employee: female.
“A female national intelligence agent appeared for questioning by police Friday,” reads one story. Not a “national intelligence agent,” but a female one. Every article on this story spends pixels to point out her gender.
Another story which grabbed headlines earlier this month was about three American soldiers who were shooting a BB gun into a crowd in a popular Seoul nightlife district, before taking police on a high-speed car chase.
Here is an excerpt from a story about two of the American soldiers involved:
“South Korean police identified two of them questioned on Monday only as a 26-year-old staff sergeant and a 22-year-old female specialist.”
A female specialist and a staff sergeant, who is male of course. Goes without saying. Literally. By both the media and the police.
And not that it should be mentioned that he is male, but concerning these stories, how relevant to the reader’s understanding is it that two of the people involved are women?
That is why writers include particular information and leave others out; the reader only needs as much information as to understand what happened.
So, why go out of the way to mention that the NIS agent is female? This example appears the most striking of the two.
She is the only actor involved. It is not similar to the story of the American soldiers where there are several people of mixed gender. Here, it is just the NIS agent.
The story could have been: An NIS agent was apprehended Friday on allegations of electioneering by posting anti-opposition party writings on the Internet, police said.
The agent protests her innocence.
“I didn’t do it,” she said.
(quote was made up as an example on how to subtly reveal gender)
Would the gentle pronoun not have sufficed? In the story excerpt at the top of this post, female is the second word of the story.
Is it such a rarity for women to be involved with either of these two situations that it is necessary to point out that they are not men?
How significant to the readers’ understanding of the events is it to know that the main actors were woman?
I prefer the use of the pronoun in this case for its economical, ethical, and artistic merits.
Was your understanding of the stories increased because you were specifically told that women were the main actors?
Think about it. I’d like to know.