SEOUL – You have appeared whenever women in South Korea have protested sexual violence and gender bias. Dozens of young men, mostly dressed in black, mocked the demonstrators, screeching and singing: “Thud! Thud! ”To imitate the noise the“ ugly feminist pigs ”made when they left.
“Out with man haters!” They shouted. “Feminism is a mental illness!”
Such rallies on the streets would be easy to dismiss as extreme rhetoric of a fringe group. But anti-feminist sentiments are heightened online and are finding huge audiences increasingly imposing their agenda on South Korean society and politics.
Targeting anything that smells like feminism, these male activists forced a university to cancel a lecture by a woman they accused of spreading misandism. They vilified prominent women and criticized An San, a three-time gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, for her short haircut.
They threatened companies with boycotts, which led companies to run ads with the image of finger-pinching that they believed ridiculed the size of the male genitalia. And they have targeted the government promoting a feminist agenda by promising rival presidential candidates to reform the country’s 20-year-old Department of Gender Equality and Family.
South Korea is anticipating a new kind of political correctness being enforced by angry young men who stand up against whatever forces they see as undermining opportunities – and feminists, they believe, are the number one enemy. Inequality is one of the most sensitive issues in South Korea Korea, a nation with growing economic insecurity, nourished by skyrocketing property prices, a lack of jobs and a growing income gap.
“We don’t hate women and we are not against raising their rights,” said Bae In-kyu, 31, head of Man on Solidarity, one of the country’s most active anti-feminist groups. “But feminists are a social evil.”
The group leads the street rallies and operates a YouTube channel with 450,000 subscribers. For their members, feminists are men-haters.
His motto was once: “Except for the day all feminists are exterminated!”
The backlash against feminism in South Korea may seem confusing.
South Korea has the largest gender pay gap among affluent countries. Less than a fifth of national lawmakers are women. Women make up just 5.2 percent of board members in publicly traded companies, compared to 28 percent in the United States.
Yet most of the young men in the country argue that in South Korea it is not women but men who feel threatened and marginalized. Among South Korean men in their twenties, almost 79 percent said they were victims of severe gender discrimination, according to a survey in May.
“There is a culture of misogyny in male-dominated online communities that portrays feminists as radical misandists and instills fear of feminists,” said Kim Ju-hee, 26, a nurse who organized protests against anti-feminists.
The wave of anti-feminism in South Korea shares many of the inflammatory slogans with right-wing populist movements in the West that are spreading such messages. Women who advocate the right to abortion are known as “family destroyers”. Feminists are not advocates of gender equality, but rather “female domination”.
In South Korea, “women” and “feminists” are two of the most common online hate speech targets, according to the country’s National Human Rights Commission.
The game represents a split from previous generations.
Older South Korean men acknowledge benefiting from a patriarchal culture that has marginalized women. Decades ago, when South Korea ran out of everything from food to cash, sons were more likely to be enrolled in college. In some families, women were not allowed to eat at the same table as men, and newborn girls were called Mal-ja, or “last daughter”. Gender preference abortions were common.
As the country got richer, such practices have become a distant memory. Families are now fond of their daughters. More women attend college than men and they have more opportunities in government and elsewhere, although there is still a substantial glass ceiling.
“Men in their twenties are deeply unhappy because they see themselves as victims of reverse discrimination, angry at having to pay the price of gender discrimination created among previous generations,” said Oh Jae-ho, a researcher at the Gyeonggi Research Institute in South Korea.
If older men saw women as vulnerable, younger men saw them as competitors in a grueling job market.
Anti-feminists often point out that men are disadvantaged because they have to postpone job hunting in order to fulfill their conscription. But many women drop out of work after giving birth and many of the domestic chores fall upon them.
“What else do you want? We gave you your own place in the subway, bus, parking lot,” writes rapper San E in his 2018 song “Feminist”, which has cult status among young anti-feminists. “Oh girls don’t need a prince Then you pay half for the house when we get married. “
The gender wars have shaped the South Korean presidential race, viewed primarily as a competition for young voters. Given the virulent anti-feminist voice, no significant candidate is speaking out for women’s rights, once so popular that President Moon Jae-himself referred to himself as a “feminist” when campaigning about five years ago.
Yoon Suk-yeol, the candidate of the conservative opposition People Power Party, sided with the anti-feminist movement when he accused the Ministry of Gender Equality of treating men like “potential sex criminals”. He promised tougher penalties if men were wrongly accused of sex crimes, although he fears that doing so would discourage women from speaking up.
But Mr Yoon also recruited a prominent 31-year-old leader of a feminist group as senior campaign advisor last month, a move designed to allay concerns that his party has alienated young women voters.
According to the law, Mr. Moon cannot run for re-election. The candidate of his Democratic Party, Lee Jae-myung, has also tried to address young men: “Just as women should never be discriminated against because of their gender, neither should men be discriminated against because they are men.”
Lee sees the gender conflict mainly as a problem of dwindling job opportunities and compares young South Koreans to “chicks struggling not to fall out of an overcrowded nest”. “We have to make the nest bigger by restoring growth,” he said.
It’s hard to say how many young men support the extremely provocative and often theatrical activism advocated by groups like Man on Solidarity. The leader of the fire, Mr. Bae, recently appeared at a feminist rally as the Joker from the “Batman” comics, carrying a toy water pistol. He followed female demonstrators and pretended, as he put it, to “kill flies”.
Tens of thousands of fans have streamed his stunts live online and sent cash donations. During an online talk festival in August, Mr. Bae raised nine million won ($ 7,580) in three minutes.
Women’s rights activists fear that the rise in anti-feminism could undo or even reverse South Korea’s hard-won progress in expanding women’s rights. For the past few decades, they have fought for abortion legalization and launched one of the most powerful #MeToo campaigns in Asia.
Lee Hyo-lin, 29, said that “feminist” has become such a dirty word that women who wear their hair short or wear a novel by a feminist author risk marginalization. When she was a member of a K-pop group, she said male colleagues routinely commented on her body, mocking her for “giving up being a woman” when she gained weight.
“The #MeToo problem is part of being a woman in South Korea,” she said. “Now we want to raise our voices, but they want us to shut up. It’s so frustrating. “
On the other side of the culture war, young men face a litany of complaints – worries that are endlessly regurgitated in male-dominated forums. In particular, they have focused on limited cases of false accusations to add credibility to a broader anti-feminist agenda.
Son Sol-bin, a used furniture seller, was 29 years old when his former girlfriend accused him of rape and kidnapping in 2018. Online trolls requested his castration, he said. His mother found footage from the video surveillance system, which proved the allegations never took place.
“Feminist influence has caused the system to be so biased against men that the police took a woman’s testimony and a drop of her tears as sufficient evidence to send an innocent man to jail,” said Son, who previously eight Having spent months in jail, he was evicted. “I think the country has gone crazy.”
When Mr. Son was fighting back tears at an anti-feminist rally recently, other young men sang, “Be strong! We are with you!”