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Friday, December 10, 2004

This one's for the girls

Okay, ladies, let me say one thing about my experience in Korea that I found, shall we say, “less than.” Our Asian counterparts are not quite with us when it comes to equal treatment of women.

My SPJ colleague and fellow freelancer, Sally Lehrman, warned me about this. She said it’s not necessarily an overt anti-female feeling, it’s found more in the subtleties. But since I was both American and a speaker at the conference, she guessed that I wouldn’t see it quite as much.

But see it I did. My first inclination was the first day we were in Korea. When I researched the hotel beforeheand I saw it had a fitness center and decided to bring my running gear along. Figured I was on a roll running about five miles a day in the month leading up to the trip. It would be nice to keep it going at least once or twice while in Korea.

However! When I visited the fitness center, two young Korean gentlemen, who barely spoke English, informed me, “No women. Men only.”

“You’re kidding!” I responded, laughing.

Oh no, they most certainly were not kidding. So when my friend Mac came to breakfast the next morning after his workout I snipped, “Hope you enjoyed it because some of us aren’t allowed in the fitness center.”

I was on a mission that first day to learn as much as I could about how women are treated. Our tour guide, Erin, informed me that most young Korean women today are more career-minded. So times they are a-changing, however slowly.

But when I was getting in an elevator in the Korea Press Center to return my camera to my hotel room, I was startled at how I was pushed aside by Korean men who sought to both enter and exit before me. Apparently holding the door, the elevator, etc. is not required or expected. In fact, it’s not unusual to get bumped about on the sidewalk as well.

While visiting a Hyundai Motors production facility, we walked into a state-of-the-art auto factory and found an elderly woman on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor. This in a factory that prides itself on being 90 percent robotic. There were hardly any women working in the facility. As our young male tour guide told us, they have to stay home with the family. Of course, he also pointed out a hot new red sports car Hyundai manufactures and said, “You can use it to pick up girls and get lucky.”

Sonya, Ann, Susan and I all looked at each other horrified and amazed!!! We had headsets on so we could hear him and not the noise from the plant.

“Did he just say get lucky?” I shouted to my journalistic sisters, my mouth hanging down to the cleanly scrubbed floor (no doubt by someone's Korean grandmother).

I must say, however, that there were times when I was included in the all the male fun and I think it’s because I was one of the only women to present at the conference. My colleague, Inday Espina-Varona, chairperson of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines was scheduled to speak about the wretched state of safety for journalists in her country, but was unable to attend due to the murder of another reporter.

And one member of the Vietnam delegation, whom Mr. Kang proclaimed the most beautiful woman at the conference, gave her country’s report because her English was better than the head of the delegation.

I, however, was called upon to give toasts, several of them. “And now we have a toast from Mees Wendy.” It was great fun and I’m delighted they included the women in the fun.

There’s no question that we left our Asian colleagues with a very positive glimpse into our brains, energy and enthusiasm for journalism, Korean culture and certain kitschy '70s tunes.

And that’s a pretty good thing. Upon returning home, my friend Ann Augherton and I both received e-mails from the Koreans addressed: Dear Wendy Beauty and Dear Ann Beauty.

On a completely unrelated note. I couldn’t pass up sending you here for Jon Friedman of CBS Marketwatch's best and worst of journalism 2004. Here are a couple of highlights to tempt you on:

“KEEPING THE FAITH: To Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker. His reporting about the Iraqi prison-abuse scandal at Abu Gharib represented the best work by any journalist this year. (Amen!)

CLASS WIT: To the creators of Their Bush-Kerry skit, to the tune of "This Land Is Your Land," is my favorite memory of the 2004 campaign. (Good for a few giggles, particularly the Hillary cameo at the end. Caution: You may find your 5-year-old singing, “You’re a right-wing nut job” in the wrong company.)

THE FUTURE - MAYBE: To you blessed bloggers everywhere. (You bet, baby!)

MURDERERS' ROW: To the columnists at the New York Times. To the disgust of the "red-state" mindset, I think there isn't a more gifted group anywhere in newspapers.” (Ditto!)

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