The Exception that Tests the Rule

Fun fact courtesy of author Philipe Yaffe:

In old English the term “prove” meant to test, not to confirm as it does today. So the adage really means: “It is the exception that tests the rule.” If there is an exception, then there is no rule, or at least the rule is not total.


It would be intellectually dishonest of me not to address the most obvious rebuttal to my charges against Korea on the gender equality front: that the new president Park Geun-Hye is a woman.

Now I’m gonna say right up front that I’m coming from a position of ignorance – all I know about her is what I’ve read on Wikipedia, which should therefore be taken with a grain of salt.  About as much as I’m willing to conclude is the following:

  • she is the first female president of Korea
  • she is the daughter of the 3rd president
  • in congress she proved to be an effective coalition leader

This suggests that she’s something along the lines of Hillary Clinton: yes family connections may have gotten her a foot in the door, but subsequently she’s demonstrated capabilities in her own right.


What remains to be seen is whether her tenure augurs the start of a deeper movement that entails structural change.  Maybe all the specific reform proposals I’ve put forward in the preceding posts are things she’s already working on, or at least would be amenable to if the idea reached her ears.  Then again, maybe she considers the symbolism of her achievement enough by itself.

If so, then that will prove to be a real lost opportunity.

Because yes, Korea has indisputably liberalized enough that there is no ceiling to what a woman can achieve in Korea if she has adequate background, connections, resources, and talent.

But the other side of the equation is how low the floor is for a woman who lacks any or all of the above.


Only thing to be done now is wait for this exception to prove itself…

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2 Responses to The Exception that Tests the Rule

  1. Tom says:

    Ahem, Benazir Bhutto. If your goal is to argue that having a female head of state is a signal that gender roles are better, then there’s that. Striking parallels too.

    What you want to know is % women parliamentarians, which is both (1) a continuous measure and (2) probably closer to the reasonable ceiling on career/power for everyday citizens. so let’s look On this, Korea isn’t TERRIBLE. But I wouldn’t write home about it either. And they have a legal gender quota for nominations, so these numbers are probably higher than their “natural” rate.

    • Man I love having well-informed friends.
      Thank you, Tommy Tom.

      Interesting points about quotas. I’d considered suggesting quotas (but for corporate board membership rather than public office nominations), but I don’t like quotas on general principle.

      Though it could be an interesting thought experiment to imagine a reverse-cap-and-trade system for female board membership.

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