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Feminism and anti-feminism movements in South Korea and what we can learn about this

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South Korea is about to start its elections. With different candidates and their ideologies,
we can note the importance of feminism when it comes to their discourse and the problems and
solutions they provide.

To start talking about feminism in South Korea’s society we have to talk about how it
started. During the Japanese colonization in the mid-twenties existed an all-women group called
“Rose of Sharon” where women could gather together and expose their ideas, create their
journals and contemplate education for all women. Two of the most noticeable women that were
part of this group was Kim Hwallan known as Helen Kim, who was a pioneer in the fight for
women education, she was the first female Korean to earn a Ph.D., and later became the
President of Ewha Women’s University, and Ho Chongsuk, who became the Democratic
People´s Republic of Korea’s first culture minister, clarifying that she was de first Culture
Minister in North Korea. In the mid-thirties because of the Japanese occupation, the first steps
of women's emancipation had to be paused. (Barraclough, 2021)

In the past decades, an increase in women interested in improving their life’s quality has
been noted, not only in their professional life but also within Korean society itself.
South Korea scored in the 2020 World Economic Forum´s Gender Gap 127 th out of 153
countries in terms of economic participation and opportunity for women, raking worse than Sri
Lanka and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is important to keep in mind because the
discussion of women's equality in politics has made a lot of controversy in these elections. (Kim,
2022)

On 17 May 2016, a man killed a woman in the public toilets at the Gangnam Station, this
fired up a public controversy. Many women started using the hashtags #ISurvive and #MeToo to
demonstrate their discomfort and experiences related to this incident. On the other hand, many
people were arguing that the incident was not because of a misogynist action, but because the
man that committed the crime was mentally ill.

Regardless of the main intention of the criminal, this caused a lot of reactions between
women that were feminists and men that considered themselves anti-feminists.
Another important fact was the spy-cams in public women’s bathrooms, and because of
this many women protested against it in the streets, and demanded safe places for women and
the government to take action against the men that were perpetuating this.

At this time websites like Ilbe Storage or Ilbe Storehouse were showing a more
misogynist point of view concerning feminism and women in general. The far-right young men
that were involved in this website made misogynist, racist, and homophobic comments. To fight
back a website was created by the name Megalia, where women, most often, radical feminists,
could air derogatory comments toward men. The same idea, but vice-versa.

As a consequence of this many women began to consider themselves radical feminists.
The most militant radical feminists vowed to never marry, separate themselves from men, never
have children or have sexual intercourse with men. Many broke their make-up products against
the beauty standards that South Korea has for women. (France 24, 2021)

In these past few years, the word “feminist” or “feminism” has had a derogatory meaning
in South Korean society. Many women argue that this is a tactic to decrease the feminism wave
in the country. Others consider that all women that consider themselves as feminists are radical
feminists as the ones shown in the Megalia website, with misandrists thoughts of men.

Haneul Ssem Research Blog

Because of all of these situations, politicians have taken part and have taken sides
towards feminism. Conservative politicians have remarked a wider anti-feminist sentiment, for
example, two presidential contenders have pledged to abolish the gender ministry. Another
example would be one of the most popular politicians among young men, Lee Jun-Seok, the
People’s Power Party (PPP) leader. In his discourses has repeatedly stated that he is against
gender quotas and radical feminism, he also said that the gender equality and family ministry
needs to be eliminated. He insists that women no longer face discrimination in spaces like
education and work. (France 24, 2021)

Korean men indeed face different struggles, as being the only ones to go to compulsory
military service. Many young men feel that they are asked to compensate unfairly the sexist
privileges that the men in older generations had. So it is not a surprise they feel represented by
this party and these politicians, as they may feel they are “victims of feminism” because in
feminism policies don’t address issues that affect men.

On the other hand, some people say that this is a backlash to all the progress that
feminist movements have done in South Korea in the past decades, towards gender equality.
Women in South Korea’s society are looking for gender equality in terms of life with the
same opportunities in terms of education, jobs, and security. Men are looking for a better
representation in the public policies, to talk about the issues that they face, and don’t leave them
behind in important decisions that concern the whole society.

The importance of learning from this is that men and women intrinsically are born
different. Face different issues and the way of resolving those issues are different. But in the
separation, there is no gain. Both sides have bad representations, but also good
representations showing what harmony of genders can lead. Populist politicians tend to use this
type of problem in their speeches to gain voters, but at the end of the day, no change is made.
In this order of ideas, it is important to find a way to harmonize our differences and make a
change for a better society, where we all have a better representation and a better quality of life.

References
Barraclough, R. (10 de 03 de 2021). Australian Institute of International Affairs.
Recuperado el 14 de 02 de 2022, de
https://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australianoutlook/the-feminist-renaissance-in-south-
korea/

France 24. (12 de 08 de 2021). Recuperado el 14 de 02 de 2022, de Anti-feminism
backlash on the rise in South Korea: https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210812-anti-
feminism-backlash-on-the-rise-in-south-korea
Kim, K. (06 de 01 de 2022). EASTASIAFORUM. Recuperado el 14 de 02 de 2022, de
South Korea’s anti-feminism surge offers political gain, but long-term pain:
https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2022/01/06/south-koreas-anti-feminism-surge-offers-political-
gain-but-long-term-pain/

Written by: Eliska Andrea Reyes Villagrán

Words from the author: Abogada, Notaria, Licenciada en Ciencias Jurídicas y Sociales. Interesada en temas sociales, comercio internacional, culturas e idiomas.

Editted by: Angie Páez

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the WTO or its members. Las opiniones expresadas en esta publicación son de los autores, no necesariamente reflejan el pensamiento de Haneul Ssem.

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