Saturday, February 08, 2003

TOUGH AS NAILS; As this NYT story on Kim Kang-ja demonstrates, gender stereotypes are changing even in fiercely Confucian South Korea.
As she tells her story, it sometimes seems as if Ms. Kim's career in South Korea's national police is woven of nothing but firsts. She was the first woman to head a police task force, the first female inspector, the first woman to serve as precinct captain or superintendent, and the first, in December 1999, to attain the rank of chief.

For years, even as she rose to senior inspector, Ms. Kim says she was patronized whenever she showed up on assignment in this male-dominated society. "In 1995, I reported somewhere and all the junior officers refused to take orders from me," she said in her stout, confident voice. "They knew I was their superior, but to them, it was still unimaginable."

Not so nowadays. When Ms. Kim shows up on her old turf, popping in to visit her former precinct house late at night, the all-male world snaps to attention. Now, it is she who patronizes, playfully pinching the cheeks of a male officer.

Today she is a national heroine. For all her firsts, what propelled her to that status was her pioneering role in cleaning up the country's huge commercial sex trade involving minors, something that Korean law enforcement had never focused on before.
The more Kim Kang-ja's there are, the better.

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