▲ A trailblazer on Jeju, Lee Sunhwa was appointed as one of five female council members and hopes to give back to the community by focusing on women’s issues, among other things. Photo courtesy Lee Sunhwa
“I never meant to be ground-breaking,” Councilwoman Lee Sunhwa began, “but to live my life passionately.”
As the first female television producer in Jeju, she has been a trailblazer despite her intentions. Scholars of women’s studies have written about Lee’s career.
“I had to fight many battles,” she continued, “and encounter too many unpleasant people in the process.”
She describes herself as a problem-solver – “I try to think of the solution and its productivity” – and as both a pioneer and a warrior. It is this latter theme that Lee returns to again and again.
Recounting the tale of how, while on a film shoot for a documentary about haenyeo (diving women) in her final month of pregnancy, she carried her own camera equipment and chased wind-blown scripts at the seashore – she acknowledged that her actions shocked others.
As the first married female in a major broadcasting studio, Lee found that her colleagues turned away and wouldn’t meet her eye when she returned to work after childbirth.
“When I came back from maternity leave,” she recounted, “my desk was no longer there; it had been removed.”
She told the not-uncommon story of her mother-in-law, a haenyeo who continued diving through her final month of pregnancy and returned to the waters soon after childbirth.
Referring to the legendary strength of the Jeju woman and local folklore about this characteristic being “written in the DNA,” she places herself firmly in the same matrix.
Lee worked for many years as a producer at MBC and also for a time at Arirang. She was educated as a journalist.
She makes it clear that she was not appointed to the position of producer but recruited – that is, having passed the requisite tests, she became a producer based on skill and knowledge rather than nepotism.
In addition to the haenyeo documentary, she is especially proud of a book she helped publish and for which she was chief editor. A weighty tome, it documents the lives of Jeju women.
She also speaks fondly of a radio program she hosted. When she inherited the program, it was entitled “Jeju Now” and focused on current events. She changed the title to “Jeju Future” and invited foreign correspondents to participate.
After 25 years in broadcasting, Lee left the business 5 years ago.
When asked why, she acknowledged that the work had become “boring” and “routine” for her, that she had reached a “golden age” of opportunities and by nature seeks out change over stability.
Recently, she was asked to serve as one of five female council members appointed by the governor’s office. She began her term approximately 8 months ago and describes herself as still a “newbie.” She says she is not a “woman politician” but simply someone who wants to help build a better future for Jeju.
She expresses a desire to “give back to the community” and is keenly focused on women’s issues, planning to publish a book or two on the stories of elder women “before they are gone.”
“Jeju women today want softer lives than their mothers had,” she explained, “and they want to be the same as others, not to stand out. They must remain in the workforce,” she continued, “to learn to value themselves more, and to ask themselves: ‘What is my competitive power?’”
This, she proposes, is organic feminism: self-love to balance self-sacrifice. While acknowledging that Jeju women’s legendary strength may have been born of necessity and hardship, she suggests that it can now take a new form.
She is also interested in presenting Jeju to the world through publication, media, and presentation. She will speak about Jeju at this year’s Business and Professional Women’s International Conference in Helsinki; the next BPW conference will be held on Jeju in 2014, thanks in no small part to her influence.
Lee is equally interested in the integration of foreign and native communities on Jeju. With the support of the council, she is sponsoring a new committee to act as a liaison between the foreign community and Jeju Provincial Government.
When asked about her future goals, she cites “self-maturation and completion,” and of working for Jeju’s people, in particular its women, youth, and those in need.
“I just live my life with passion,” she reiterated, “and make a difference, motivating and inspiring others wherever possible.”
(Interpretation by Song Jung Hee)
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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