On all-women colleges and lawsuits

It would have been easy to let this story slip us by, but apparently two men are fighting to get into Ewha Law. Yes, this is Ewha Womans University (spelling and lack of apostrophe, for the record, are both intentional and kept for historic reasons, according to Wikipedia) we're talking about here. A clip from the Joongang Daily story:

According to the court, the men said that “Unless the result of the court’s review of the petition we made earlier comes out before applications currently open for 2010 close, male law school applicants will have their right to equal education infringed upon.” They say Ewha is involved in “outright sexual discrimination.”

Ewha is one of 25 universities nationwide that obtained approval by the Education Ministry in August of last year to run law school programs in graduate schools. The first recruiting took place late last year and the first class of students is currently enrolled.

Korea had long relied on a uniform national bar exam to pick judges, prosecutors and lawyers, but the law schools as graduate course option has been introduced to diversify the selection process. Some 2,000 students enrolled at the 25 schools for the 2010 year, with Ewha recruiting 100 of them. The petitioners argue that while female law school applicants have 2,000 chances to land in a law school, their male counterparts have only 1,900 chances.
Makes sense to me - reverse discrimination is just as bad as gender / racial discrimination in the first place. Then again, I'm sure this is not the school's first gender discrimination lawsuit (although a cursory Google search revealed nothing). It's not disputed that Ewha has offered many notable women an excellent education, and is currently considered one of the finest schools in Korea. I can't say I blame the guys for trying to get in, if only because of the reputation the school has within the country. While the idea of a guy going to - and graduating from - the university sounds a bit like the Jamaican bobsled team, it could happen.

Legally, the case seems straightforward; one where the order would go forth, and the door would be opened to men. It probably wouldn't rock the nation in the same way the "Little Rock Nine" did in 1957, but it certainly be a change. While I have no personal connection to the university, the policy of having men on the college campus would have to re-examined (as I understand it, men are currently not allowed anywhere on the campus unless they are a foreign student, a teacher, or staff). Would boyfriends of Ewha students be allowed on-campus, or would they have some form of ID check to keep non-students, non-teachers, and non-staff people out? The rule originally was created to prevent fathers from dragging their daughters back home to keep the house in order and/or to prevent them from getting an education.

But do women still need a women-only school? Here it is 100 years after Ewha's institutional founding, and the Korean society has made some strides towards progress - academically, legally, and socially speaking, women have far more opportunities than they did back then. What seems somewhat intolerent is the treatment of women in an everyday setting. An ajumma will almost go out of her way to AVOID giving me one of her fliers, but cross the stairs pushing people out of the way to give one to the twentysomething woman behind me. On more than one occasion, I've seen salespeople at a certain cell phone store in Gangnam grab a Korean woman's wrists while she walks by to get her to listen to his canned sales pitch. That a Western woman would either A: punch his lights out and walk away, B: struggle away and get annoyed by it, or C: give the guy a piece of her mind means the Korean man doesn't try the same tactic with them.

There are plenty of stories about the gender gap - the percentage of money women make compared to men (31.5% less according to this story) - and gender discrimination being reported in the Korean news, so this issue thankfully gets brought up every now and then. But where is the real change? Mr. Pizza's 'love for women' advertising slogan seems patronizing at best - what do they do for them that's any different? That sexism may indeed 'pay off' indicates the cultural acceptedness of such beliefs, with any 'penalty' of unequal treatment being a slap on the wrist at worst.

Do women still need a 'protected' environment to study at the university level and above? As long as the same culture thinks they need parking spots for women only (not necessarily pregnant women, for which a different need exists), the answer is likely to be 'yes'. But let's see how the courts respond to the claim of discrimination.

Readers, what do you think? Should Ewha Womans University be forced to accept men into their school?

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe - 2009