The country with the developed world's biggest income gender gap now has its first female president, but Park Geun-hye already has South Koreans wondering whether she will improve the status of women in a society still dominated by men.
Wearing a traditional Korean dress of red and gold silk, Ms Park strode up the steps of the presidential Blue House after her inauguration on Monday. So far, she has chosen only two women to join her in top positions - two fewer than a male liberal predecessor.
Ms Park faces expectations that she will do something about pervasive sexism, and many other issues. Those include authoritarian rival North Korea, which conducted a nuclear test two weeks ago and warned of a fiery death for Seoul and its ally Washington.
South Korea also struggles with deep societal rifts which many trace back to the 18-year dictatorship of Ms Park's father. With a stagnant economy and job worries, there is pressure for Ms Park, a member of the conservative ruling party, to live up to campaign vows to return to the strong economic growth her father oversaw - the so-called Miracle on the Han River.
Ms Park's election in December was an important moment for women in South Korea, who on average earn nearly 40% less than men, the largest gap among the 26 member nations of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development. South Korean women are often paid less for doing the same work as men and seldom rise to the top of high-profile industries.
During her presidential campaign, Ms Park criticised "traditionally male-centred politics" for corruption and power struggles, saying that "South Korean society accepting a female president could be the start of a big change".
Critics, however, have noted that Ms Park has nominated women for only two of 18 Cabinet posts - and that one of those positions, the minister responsible for gender equality, has not been held by a man since being launched in 2001. Ms Park's conservative predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, also nominated two women to start his term, while former president Roh Moo-hyun, Mr Lee's liberal predecessor, named four.
In her inauguration speech, Ms Park mentioned North Korea's recent nuclear test, its third since 2006, calling it "a challenge to the survival and future of the Korean people" and saying Pyongyang should abandon its nuclear ambitions and work for peace. "There should be no mistake that the biggest victim will be none other than North Korea itself," she said.
As Ms Park was sworn in, North Korea's state media, referring to the North as a "full-fledged nuclear weapons state", criticised Seoul and Washington over annual military drills which Pyongyang calls an invasion rehearsal, warning that the allies would "die in flames" if they attack.
Pyongyang, Washington, Beijing and Tokyo are all watching to see if Ms Park pursues an ambitious engagement policy meant to ease five years of animosity on the divided peninsula, or if she sticks with the tough stance of former president Lee Myung-bak. Ms Park's decision is likely to set the tone of the larger diplomatic approach that Washington and others take in stalled efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.