Liberté, égalité, fraternité
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#MeToo in South Korean Politics: An Update.

Cover photo by 불편한용기 via Sisa Journal

In 2018, I talked to Arte’s “Tous les Internets (French) | Alle Internetze” (German) about the current state of affairs in South Korea: The spycam crimes, social hierarchy, Soranet, and much more. (You can read about that more in detail here).

In 2018, Ahn Hee-Jung, then governor of South Chungcheong Province and presidential hopeful, was accused, eventually found guilty, and sentenced to 3 years and 6 months for rape and sexual harassment (BBC Korean). The similarities between Ahn and Park are uncanny: Both governors and presidential hopefuls endorsed by their “progressive” party. Both seen as supporters of women’s rights. Both ousted for their hypocrisy from their secretaries, who had been sexually harassed and/or raped while they put on their façade and championed women’s rights outside.

Ahn, now a convicted rapist, made the news again this week when it surfaced that President Moon Jae-In sent flower to Ahn’s late mother’s funeral – the flowers bearing Moon’s title as President (The Hankyoreh). The accusations made by Kim Ji-Eun, his then secretary, particularly shocked the media, as he raped her the same day he spoke on national television endorsing the #MeToo movement.

The memoir “I am Kim Ji-Eun”, details her two-year ordeal
since denouncing Ahn Hee-Jungfor his rape and sexual harassment

South Korean women are newly angry at the news of Park Won-soon having harassed his secretary for years and lament the state of affairs – Adding on to the other headline news this week: The 18-month sentence given to Son Jeong-Woo, the man behind the world’s largest child sexual abuse website. The Seoul High Court denied the US’s request for extradition (BBC), where Americans who downloaded videos from Son’s website have been sentenced to between five and fifteen years (BBC Korean). Son and his father thanked the Court and Judges Kang Yeong-soo, Jeong Moon-gyeon, and Lee Jae-chan’s “wise decision”to deny extradition (DongA Daily).

Yes, really.

But while things are still pretty much terrible for South Korea’s gender inequality and there’s a long way ahead, much has happened since 2018.

  • On March 14, 2020, South Korea’s first feminist party was launched and took 0.74% of the votes (about 200,000 – It did not win any seats)
    While I do not personally support this party, I find its establishment and political activity meaningful
  • It did climb up the World Economic Forum’s Gender Equality Index, coming in at 108th in 2019, from 115th in 2018, out of a total of 152 countries surveyed. South Korea comes behind Russia, Nepal, and China.
    To illustrate, China only defined sexual harassment in law this year albeit with no enforcement mechanism (Reuters), nearly 40% of girls marry before they turn 18 in Nepal (Human Rights Watch), and Russia voted to decriminalise “domestic violence that does not cause serious bodily harm” in 2017 (AP).
  • On April 11, 2019, the Constitutional Court ruled that the abortion ban, in place since 1953, must be lifted by 2020 (BBC).
  • In 2018, books on feminism topped the charts throughout the year (Women News), including “Egalia’s Daughters” by Gerd Brantenberg (1977, Norway), “We Need a Language” (우리에겐 언어가 필요하다) by Lee Min-kyung (2016, South Korea), “Bad Feminist” by Roxanne Gay (2016, US) and Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982 (82년생 김지영) by Jo Nam-Joo (2016, South Korea).
Yes, that really is my thesis. Full text via ResearchGate:

What has changed most drastically between when I left Seoul in 2014 and now is the widespread understanding that the problem of gender inequality exists and is embedded in South Korean society. And once the women have taken to the streets, there is no going back.

South Korea has a gender inequality problem – And if there’s one thing we are good at, as proven by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s how fast we adapt to crises. The hard part has been toiled – that of defining the problem in the status quo. Movements such as Megalia changed South Korean society, regardless of the criticism they faced (see this article I published at Korea Exposé). Just to name a few changes, among the many:

  • Media: Now words like “misogyny”, “date rape” “feminism” are part of the mainstream – As you can see in my research cited in ARTE’s Tous les Internets, the appearance of the very words “feminism” and “misogyny” jumped sixfold in the South Korean media between 2014 and 2017 (Data source: Naver News).
  • Labour: Researchers like Sejin Um at NYU are currently writing about how young women and men leave South Korean conglomerates due to gender inequality and social hierarchy (NYU | UBC).
  • Marriage: Cartoonist Mikkang explores why young women reject marriage and the demands imposed upon women through it in her oeuvre Marriage, Is It That Great? (하면 좋습니까?).
  • Fashion: FUSE Seoul rejects the pink tax and creates a line of unisex clothing which put women’s comfort at the forefront (FUSE Seoul).
  • Entertainment: Rapper Sleeq, late k-pop idol Sulli (may she rest in peace), and k-pop group AOA brought feminism to the forefront in the k-pop scene, most notably with this performance by AOA:
AOA performs “Egoistic” at MNET’s Queendom Competition
12 Sept 2019

This performance is largely seen as the first gender-swapping performance in contemporary South Korean pop history, with the girl group donning suits and strutting, while male dancers are sexualised in a fashion usually reserved for female performers – A fine example of “mirroring” which defined Megalia, all those years back.

* * *

The ARTE video ended with this sentence:

“Les sud-coréennes ne lacheront rien”.
“Die Südkoreanerinnen werden nicht locker lassen.”
South Korean women will not let things go.

* * *

French: Les femmes à l’avant garde de #MeToo
(Women at the Forefront of #MeToo)
German: Südkorea und seine Vorkämpferinnen der #MeToo-Bewegung
(South Korea and it’s forefront women of the MeToo Movement)


Seoul Mayor Is Found Dead After Harassment Complaint Is Filed
July 9, 2020

‘웰컴투비디오’ 사용자들은 어떤 처벌을 받았나
8 July 2020

South Korea rejects US extradition request over child abuse website
6 July 2020

손정우 부자 ‘美송환 불허’에 눈물터져…父 “현명한 판단 감사”
6 July 2020

In nod to #MeToo, China codifies sexual harassment by law
2 June 2020

20만명이 선택한 ‘여성의당’… “여성정치 역사의 진보”
16 April 2020

South Korea’s first feminist party holds out hope of election miracle
14 April 2020

안희정: ‘비서 성폭력’ 징역 3년 6개월 확정
9 September 2019

South Korea must end abortion ban by 2020, says court
11 April 2019

Sex abuse scandal hits South Korea’s elite skating scene
22 January 2019

서점가는 페미니즘 열풍… 2018년을 달군 페미니즘 도서는?
18 Dec 2018

This entry was posted in: Liberté, égalité, fraternité


Internationally lost since 2000, Emily was born in Seoul, raised in India, and has been living and studying in France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands since 2014. A translator and interpreter by profession, she enjoys talking and debating just about anything.

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