South Korea is again confronting its outdated attitudes towards women in the workplace after a female MP was criticised for attending a parliamentary session in a colourful dress.
Ryu Ho-jeong, who at 28 is the youngest member of the country’s national assembly, drew condemnation and praise after she was photographed in the national assembly chamber in what local media described as a red minidress earlier this week.
Her choice of clothes – a vivid contrast to the dark suits and ties worn by most male MPs – triggered a flood of misogynistic comments online.
One, which appeared on a Facebook forum for supporters of the governing Democratic party, said Ryu – a member of the small, progressive Justice party – “looked as if she had come to the assembly chamber to collect payment for alcoholic drinks”, according to the Yonhap news agency.
Some lawmakers came to Ryu’s defence, with fellow party members joining other female MPs in condemning the attacks as sexist.
In a Facebook post, Ko Min-jung, a member of the ruling party, thanked Ryu for “shattering the excessive rigour and authoritarianism” of the national assembly.
Ryu said her choice of clothes was designed to challenge male dominance in the 300-seat assembly, which has a record 57 female MPs after April’s election.
“In every plenary session, most lawmakers, male and middle-aged, show up in a suit and a tie, so I wanted to shatter that tradition,” she told Yonhap. “The authority of the national assembly is not built on those suits.”
Ryu is part of a growing movement of South Korean women who are challenging outdated expectations of how they should appear in public.
The “escape the corset” campaign is being driven by a backlash against exacting beauty standards that call for women to spend hours applying makeup and performing skincare regimes, as well as achieve a certain look by undergoing cosmetic surgery.