Women rally against sexual abuse in downtown Seoul. Photo: Andrew Salmon
Women rally against sexual abuse in downtown Seoul. Photo: Andrew Salmon

In October 2016, a best-selling novel, Kim Ji-young, Born 1982, fueled a controversy in South Korean society. The novel revealed discrimination against women: from preference of sons over daughters, to sexual harassment, the glass ceiling, and women’s ending their careers after having a baby. Women said the book showed what many of them experience in stubbornly patriarchal South Korea.

Some men, however, claimed that the book stirred up misandry. And now a film based on the novel and with the same name is being screened across South Korea, and on the Internet, some men are leaving malicious comments even against the actress, Jung Yu-mi, who plays the title character. Thus the film has provoked gender-based conflict – and not for the first time.

In May 2016, Koreans were shocked by the murder of a woman near Gangnam Station in Seoul. The murderer said his motive was his hatred of women for looking down on him. Many women shuddered at the idea of being killed by a man simply because of their sex. Since then, gender-based conflicts have been occurring in Korean society.

Women have organized protests, criticizing the increase in crimes targeting women, and the discrimination against women that is entrenched in South Korean society. Some have cited data from The Economist pointing out that the country had recorded the lowest score in its glass ceiling index, while having the biggest gender pay gap among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But members of Ilbe, an online community for conservative men, have claimed that women’s protests against misogyny dismiss all men as potential murderers. They deny that misogyny had anything to do with the murder at Gangnam Station, even mocking the victim.

Incensed by members of Ilbe, some radicalized women have voiced their anger at men. Megalia, an online forum for self-proclaimed feminists, has become widely known. On the site, some women have started to post material that just expresses their abhorrence against men.

With the rise of the #MeToo movement in 2018, gender-based conflicts became more serious. Women complained that they are subjected to sexual harassment in their daily lives. Feminist groups have staged demonstrations against sex crimes, saying that women have to resist gender inequality.

Some men, however, have booed the #MeToo movement, absurdly saying that women are taking advantage of it to portray all men as potential perpetrators of sex crimes. Amid the escalation of the #MeToo movement, an increasing number of male office workers have stopped interacting with their female co-workers. Some men have claimed that they tried to avoid any risk of being accused of sexual abuse by observing the “Pence rule.” But such men have misinterpreted the meaning of the #MeToo movement, which aims to tackle sexual abuse in Korean society, instead seeing its aim as stigmatizing them as potential sex criminals.

In Korea, gender-based conflicts are getting worse. Some radicalized men claim that men are also being discriminated against: Males are subject by law to military conscription, while women are not required to serve in the army. After marriage, men are obligated to earn money as the family breadwinner, while women just stay at home, wasting money that their husbands have earned. Some men have started crowdfunding to publish a novel, “Kim Ji-hoon, Born 1990,” that would describe how men are discriminated against in Korean society.

Along with misogyny, misandry has indeed become a big problem in recent years. Lee Jun-seok, a lawmaker from the Bareunmirae Party, has denounced Womad, another online forum for radicalized feminists, for inciting misandry. Many users of the forum routinely express hatred of men: Some have even posted material to ridicule the tragic death of a 22-year-old man while serving in the army.

It has been three years since the Gangnam Station murder, and gender-based conflicts have shown no sign of abating, with the spread of hatred between the sexes. And on the Internet, some phrases related to gender-based hatred have been newly coined. Such attitudes cannot settle conflicts, let alone achieve gender equality. A lack of respect between the sexes can only make conflicts even worse.

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