Anti-feminist anger drowns out demands for equality in South Korean election

By Andres Sanchez Braun

Seoul, Mar 5 (EFE).- Expressions of hatred towards the feminist movement have reached new heights in South Korea, where gender politics have barely been brought up in the presidential election campaign at a time when many women are demanding more protection and rights.

They dress in white, hide their faces behind the masks and banners they carry and, except for a few men, all are women aged in their twenties.

They’re demonstrating in central Seoul against what they consider is a major omission by the politicians who are running in the Mar. 9 presidential election.

For most of the campaign, the two main candidates who are practically tied in the polls, conservative Yoon Suk-yeol and liberal Lee Jae-myung, have tried to ignore the country’s dismal indicators in terms of equality.

Among other things, South Korea, where only 56.2 percent of women receive a salary, has the worst wage gap in the entire OECD, with women earning an average 37 percent less than men.

On top of this exists a normalization of violence and sexual harassment, with phenomena such as “molka” (the placement of hidden cameras in order to circulate intimate footage of women) or cases such as the network dismantled in 2020 that operated through Telegram to extort, abuse and rape women, many of them minors, with experts criticizing the laxity of court rulings and the absence of an equality subject in classrooms.

“I think the most pressing issue right now is violence against women in this patriarchal-based society,” says a 22-year-old university student who attended the demonstration.

“Don’t be afraid of what men think! We are citizens too!” one of the organizers chants.

But that fear exists: the demonstration had to its change venue at the last minute due to boycott threats, and the university student agreed to be interviewed only if she doesn’t have to look directly at the camera or give her name because she’s scared of retaliation, just like the rest of those attending.

“I’m afraid to show my face because anti-feminists can identify me and cyberbully me,” the young woman says.

On top of these things, there’s now a rise in anti-feminism – or often outright misogyny – being promoted by groups of men who say they feel discriminated against by egalitarian movements.

These groups feel empowered by the messages being sent out by politicians such as Lee Jun-seok, chairman of the conservative People Power Party (PPP), which is represented by candidate Yoon in the election.

With only days to go before the election, liberal candidate Lee, who had initially said that addressing the issue of gender equality during the campaign was as delicate as “cooking a puffer fish,” opted to openly strengthen his position in the last TV debate.

Among other things, he attacked Yoon for his proposal to shut down the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which Yoon said promotes “reverse discrimination.”

A recent survey points to men in their twenties and thirties as those mostly in favor of eliminating this ministry, precisely the group that Lee Jun-seok and Yoon have appealed to the most, something that, given the tight polling, has put Lee Jae-myung on the wire.

Journalist and documentary filmmaker Kang Hae-ryung highlights that “men between 20 and 30 are swing voters” and that in an election as tight as this, they will be key.

“They’re financially frustrated for structural reasons, and even though women suffer even more from this economic reality, they are being convinced by the message that feminism is evil and will take away their rights,” she adds.

Seungsook Moon, a professor of sociology at Vassar College in New York, United States, warns that factors behind this anti-feminism “are very complex.”

But she points out that “just like in most industrialized societies, both men and women in their twenties are more educated than their parents and have prepared a lot for adult life, but the result of global economic restructuring and globalization has undermined their job security.”

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