When I was in third grade, my teacher asked who among us wanted to run for class president. I raised my hand along with a few boys, and the teacher told me to come to the front of the class. He turned me around to face the class and slapped my hands with a ruler, hard, and said, “That’s for thinking that a girl can be president of anything.”
That was almost 40 years ago in Seoul, South Korea, a few years before my parents and I moved to Baltimore. I’ve told that story often, as an example of the ingrained sexism in Korean patriarchal culture that I thought I had escaped when we immigrated to America.
After I became a naturalized United States citizen in high school, I wrote college admissions essays about this experience, about how lucky I felt to have officially joined a nation that valued egalitarianism. In my 20s, when I became president of a company I co-founded, I gave speeches that began with this story, and I spoke about how grateful I was that my parents had brought me to a country where girls can dare to become president of whatever they want.