Chapter 6 Park Geun-hye and Tsai Ing-wen

The First Female Presidents of South Korea and Taiwan

In: Assessing the Landscape of Taiwan and Korean Studies in Comparison
Author: Young-Im Lee

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This chapter analyzes the first female presidents of South Korea and Taiwan, Park Geun-hye and Tsai Ing-wen, focusing on each one’s biographical background, term as party chairperson, presidential bid, and election results. While acknowledging that candidates’ gender is not the most decisive factor for the voters, this analysis shows that gender was relevant to how each woman received her party’s nomination and framed her campaign. Neither Park nor Tsai identifies herself as a feminist even though they were both trailblazers in the male-dominated field of politics. Both candidates still used the “positive” gender stereotypes about women to curry support when their parties were suffering from declining popularity. For better or worse, the fact that they were women opened up a window of opportunity for them to rise through the ranks in their party when there seemed to be no viable alternatives. They earned credibility and legitimacy by successfully turning things around as their respective party’s chair. The fact that both were subject to misogynistic comments and that their campaigns even attempted to use the “first woman” frame to appeal to voters shows that their gender was not invisible.