SEOUL — They’ve proven up at any time when girls rallied in opposition to sexual violence and gender biases in South Korea. Dozens of younger males, largely wearing black, taunted the protesters, squealing and chanting, “Thud! Thud!” to mimic the noise they mentioned the “ugly feminist pigs” made once they walked.
“Out with man haters!” they shouted. “Feminism is a psychological sickness!”
On the streets, such rallies could be simple to dismiss as the acute rhetoric of a fringe group. However the anti-feminist sentiments are being amplified on-line, discovering an enormous viewers that’s more and more imposing its agenda on South Korean society and politics.
These male activists have focused something that smacks of feminism, forcing a college to cancel a lecture by a lady they accused of spreading misandry. They’ve vilified distinguished girls, criticizing An San, a three-time gold medalist within the Tokyo Olympics, for her quick haircut.
They’ve threatened companies with boycotts, prompting corporations to drag advertisements with the picture of pinching fingers they mentioned ridiculed the scale of male genitalia. They usually have taken purpose on the authorities for selling a feminist agenda, eliciting guarantees from rival presidential candidates to reform the nation’s 20-year-old Ministry of Gender Equality and Household.
South Korea is reckoning with a brand new kind of political correctness enforced by indignant younger males who bristle at any forces they see as undermining alternative — and feminists, of their thoughts, are enemy No. 1. Inequality is without doubt one of the most delicate points in South Korea, a nation with deepening financial uncertainty, fed by runaway housing prices, a scarcity of jobs and a widening income hole.
“We don’t hate girls, and we don’t oppose elevating their rights,” mentioned Bae In-kyu, 31, the pinnacle of Man on Solidarity, one of many nation’s most lively anti-feminist teams. “However feminists are a social evil.”
The group spearheads the road rallies and runs a YouTube channel with 450,000 subscribers. To its members, feminists equal man haters.
Its motto as soon as learn, “Until the day all feminists are exterminated!”
The backlash in opposition to feminism in South Korea could seem bewildering.
South Korea has the highest gender wage gap among the many rich international locations. Lower than one-fifth of its nationwide lawmakers are girls. Girls make up solely 5.2 p.c of the board members of publicly listed companies, in contrast with 28 percent in the USA.
And but, most younger males within the nation argue that it’s males, not girls, in South Korea who really feel threatened and marginalized. Amongst South Korean males of their 20s, almost 79 p.c mentioned they have been victims of great gender discrimination, in line with a poll in May.
“There’s a tradition of misogyny in male-dominant on-line communities, depicting feminists as radical misandrists and spreading worry of feminists,” mentioned Kim Ju-hee, 26, a nurse who has organized protests denouncing anti-feminists.
The wave of anti-feminism in South Korea shares most of the incendiary taglines with right-wing populist movements within the West that peddle such messages. Girls who argue for abortion rights are labeled “destroyers of household.” Feminists usually are not champions of gender equality, however “feminine supremacists.”
In South Korea, “girls” and “feminists” are two of the commonest targets of on-line hate speech, in line with the nation’s Nationwide Human Rights Fee.
The backlash represents a break up from earlier generations.
Older South Korean males acknowledge benefiting from a patriarchal tradition that had marginalized girls. Many years in the past, when South Korea lacked every little thing from meals to money, sons have been extra prone to be enrolled in greater schooling. In some households, girls weren’t allowed to eat from the identical desk as males and newly born women have been named Mal-ja, or “Final Daughter.” Intercourse-preference abortions have been frequent.
Because the nation has grown richer, such practices have change into a distant reminiscence. Households now dote on their daughters. Extra girls attend faculty than males, they usually have extra alternatives within the authorities and elsewhere, although a big glass ceiling persists.
“Males of their 20s are deeply sad, contemplating themselves victims of reverse discrimination, indignant that they needed to pay the worth for gender discriminations created below the sooner generations,” mentioned Oh Jae-ho, a researcher on the Gyeonggi Analysis Institute in South Korea.”
If older males noticed girls as needing safety, youthful males thought-about them opponents in a cutthroat job market.
Anti-feminists typically notice that males are put at a drawback as a result of they should delay getting jobs to finish their mandatory military service. However many ladies drop out of the work pressure after giving delivery, and far of the home duties fall to them.
“What extra would you like? We gave you your personal house within the subway, bus, parking zone,” the male rapper San E writes in his 2018 music “Feminist,” which has a cult following amongst younger anti-feminists. “Oh women don’t want a prince! Then pay half for the home once we marry.”
The gender wars have infused the South Korean presidential race, largely seen as a contest for younger voters. With the virulent anti-feminist voice surging, no main candidate is talking out for ladies’s rights, as soon as such a preferred trigger that President Moon Jae-in known as himself a “feminist” when he campaigned about 5 years in the past.
Yoon Suk-yeol, the candidate of the conservative opposition Folks Energy Celebration, sided with the anti-feminist motion when he accused the ministry of gender equality of treating males like “potential intercourse criminals.” He promised harsher penalties for wrongfully accusing males of intercourse crimes, regardless of issues it could discourage girls from talking out.
However Mr. Yoon additionally recruited a distinguished 31-year-old chief of a feminist group as a senior marketing campaign adviser final month, a transfer meant to assuage worries that his social gathering has alienated younger feminine voters.
By regulation, Mr. Moon can’t search re-election. His Democratic Celebration’s candidate, Lee Jae-myung, has additionally tried to attraction to younger males, saying: “Simply as girls ought to by no means be discriminated in opposition to due to their gender, nor ought to males endure discrimination as a result of they’re males.”
Mr. Lee sees the gender battle largely as an issue of dwindling job alternatives, evaluating younger South Koreans to “chicks struggling to not fall off a crowded nest.” “We should make the nest greater by recovering progress,” he has said.
It’s exhausting to inform what number of younger males help the type of extraordinarily provocative and infrequently theatrical activism championed by teams like Man on Solidarity. Its firebrand chief, Mr. Bae, confirmed up at a current feminist rally dressed because the Joker from “Batman” comics and toting a toy water gun. He adopted feminine protesters round, pretending to, as he put it, “kill flies.”
Tens of hundreds of followers have watched his stunts livestreamed on-line, sending in money donations. Throughout one on-line talk-fest in August, Mr. Bae raised 9 million gained ($7,580) in three minutes.
Girls’s rights advocates worry is that rise of anti-feminism may stymie, and even roll again, the hard-won progress South Korea has made in increasing girls’s rights. In current a long time, they fought to legalize abortion and began some of the highly effective #MeToo campaigns in Asia.
Lee Hyo-lin, 29, mentioned that “feminist” has change into such a unclean phrase that ladies who put on their hair quick or carry a novel by a feminist author danger ostracism. When she was a member of a Ok-pop group, she mentioned that male colleagues routinely commented on her physique, jeering that she “gave up being a lady” when she gained weight.
“The #MeToo downside is a part of being a lady in South Korea,” she mentioned. “Now we need to converse out, however they need us to close up. It’s so irritating.”
On the opposite aspect of the tradition battle are younger males with a litany of grievances — issues which are endlessly regurgitated by male-dominated boards. They’ve fixated, particularly, on restricted circumstances of false accusations, as a option to give credence to a broader anti-feminist agenda.
Son Sol-bin, a used-furniture vendor, was 29 when his former girlfriend accused him of rape and kidnapping in 2018. On-line trolls known as for his castration, he mentioned. His mom discovered closed-circuit TV footage proving the accusations by no means occurred.
“The feminist affect has left the system so biased in opposition to males that the police took a lady’s testimony and a mere drop of her tears as sufficient proof to land an harmless man in jail,” mentioned Mr. Son, who spent eight months in jail earlier than he was cleared. “I believe the nation has gone loopy.”
As Mr. Son fought again tears throughout a current anti-feminist rally, different younger males chanted: “Be sturdy! We’re with you!”