Anti-feminism backlash on the rise in South Korea

Seoul (AFP)

Condemnation of women’s quotas, defamation of a short-haired Olympic champion and calls for the abolition of the gender ministry itself: a backlash against feminism is increasing in South Korea – even presidential candidates are joining in.

Although South Korea is the world’s 12th largest economy and a technology leader, it remains a male-dominated society with a poor record of women’s rights.

This has been called into question in recent years as young women campaigned for abortion legalization and organized a widespread #MeToo and anti-spycam movement that led to the largest women’s rights demonstrations in Korean history.

In their most militant form, some activists have vowed never to marry, have children, or even have sex with men, while others videotaped their makeup products in protest of the country’s high standards of beauty.

– Wild Online Campaigns –

Now there is a violent reaction on the internet.

Members of anti-feminist groups, often right-wing, even bullied three-time Olympic champion An San during the Tokyo Games for having short hair and asked her to return her medals and apologize.

One such group’s YouTube channel has drawn more than 300,000 subscribers since it was founded in February, and their online campaigns can be fierce.

Women shave their heads in protest against spycam crime
Women shave their heads in protest against spycam crime Jung Hawon AFP / file

They have apologized from corporations – and even a government department – for advertising their finger-pinching images using “extreme, misandristic feminists” to symbolize small penises.

And mainstream conservative leaders – including two presidential candidates – have picked up on the general anti-feminist sentiment and pledged to abolish the gender ministry.

Critics accuse the department of “exacerbating” social tensions in the country and young men claim that gender equality policies fail to address issues affecting men.

It is particularly unreasonable that only South Korean men have to do almost two years of military service, which delays their career start in a highly competitive society, while women are exempt.

Lawmaker Ha Tae-keung, who is campaigning for the presidential run of the conservative opposition People’s Power Party (PPP), says the ministry is out of date and told AFP it needs to be resolved to deal with the “enormous social costs of conflict over gender issues” caused to reduce. .

In a previous television appearance, he told MBC, “It’s like a zombie – the Ministry is still there even though it’s already dead, so it’s only creating negative effects.”

– ‘Setback to progress’ –

Sharon Yoon, Professor of Korean Studies at the University of Notre Dame in the US, said, “What we are seeing now is a very strong backlash to all the advances that feminist movements in Korea have made in recent years.”

Lee Jun-seok, the 36-year-old leader of the PPP, has established himself as one of the most popular politicians among the country’s young men.

Conservative politician Lee Jun-seok has been compared to Donald Trump
Conservative politician Lee Jun-seok has been compared to Donald Trump KIM Min-Hee POOL / AFP / FILE

He has repeatedly said that he is against gender quotas and “radical feminism” and that the Ministry of Equality and Family must be abolished.

Lee, who has been compared by some to former US President Donald Trump for his sometimes divisive rhetoric, insists that young women in the country should not be discriminated against in education or in the entry-level labor market.

“Through novels and movies, women in their twenties and thirties have developed an unfounded victim mentality that discriminates against them,” Lee told the Korea Economic Daily.

Jinsook Kim, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, said politicians would take advantage of frustrated men’s resentments to secure their votes.

Nowadays, she added, “some of these men see themselves as victims of feminism,” partly because of affirmative action.

– loss of privileges –

The reaction comes against a backdrop of stuttering economic growth, rising inequality, and soaring house prices that make many Koreans desperate ever to buy a home.

Oh Jae-ho of the Gyeonggi Research Institute pointed out that women’s participation in the labor force – and therefore competition – has increased in recent decades, while military service is only performed by men.

“Young men feel wrongly called upon to compensate for the sexist privileges of the older generation.”

These privileges have long existed: the south has the highest gender wage gap in the OECD developed countries club, while women do 2.6 times as much unpaid housework as men. Only 5.2 percent of the board members of Korean conglomerates are women.

South Korea has the highest gender wage gap in the OECD developed countries club
South Korea has the highest gender wage gap in the OECD developed countries club Jung Yeon-je AFP / file

– Spycams, revenge porn –

The country has also seen a worrying surge in spycam and revenge porn crime.

However, women activist Ahn So-jung said that politicians “deny institutional discrimination against women”.

“And they are firing women who raise concerns about women’s rights as a source of gender conflict,” she added.

The Ministry of Gender, established in 2001, has played a role in the abolition of the discriminatory Hoju system of the South, in which children were registered exclusively according to the patriarchal line.

It has also set up an agency to help single mothers raise child support and run programs for working mothers and immigrant wives.

Minister Chung Young-ai called for it to continue: “The improvement in women’s rights so far was possible because our ministry existed.”

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