Being unmarried and not having kids, however, could make it harder for many South Korean women to identify with her. ‘‘She hasn’t figured out how to both raise a family and fulfill all the obligations, which are so heavy, particularly here, of what a wife and mother should be, and at the same time have a very successful career,’’ Delury said.
Park’s camp says that since entering parliament in 1998, she has sponsored or co-sponsored bills that fight sexual discrimination, set up harsher penalties for sex crimes, boost social welfare programs for working mothers and ensure workplace equality. The 15 bills that she wrote, however, didn’t focus on gender discrimination or improving women’s lives.
‘‘We need strong female leadership and someone willing to sacrifice as a mother does — someone who can give their all for the livelihood of the people,’’ Park said recently.
Park’s political base is an older generation of conservative voters who respect her father’s firm economic guidance and staunch opposition to a belligerent North Korea. But the prospect of a woman leading South Korea has also won her younger admirers.
‘‘Our country is male-centric wherever you go. Politics is especially tough for women, and I applaud her struggle to lead,’’ said Sohn Hye-mi, 32.
Others criticize the other side of her father’s legacy — widespread claims of torture and execution of opponents and the scrapping of the constitution to give him dictatorial powers.
Park is ‘‘typical of the imperial leadership of a bygone era,’’ said Lee Jung-hee, a former presidential candidate from a small opposition party — and a woman — during a recent debate. ‘‘We need a female president, but we can’t have a queen.’’
While Park would make women a focus, Han Chung-ja, a retired professor of women’s studies at Duksung Women’s University in Seoul, warned against expecting a President Park to drastically raise gender equality during her five years in office.
‘‘Like Margaret Thatcher, Park would try to prove herself in areas that men have traditionally dominated,’’ such as security and economics, Han said.
Associated Press writers Youkyung Lee and Sam Kim contributed to this report. Follow Klug on Twitter: (at)APklug.