Introduction | Woosung Kang

by Critical Asia

by Woosung Kang, June 2022】

Over the past ten years, South Korea witnessed an unprecedented upheaval of gender antagonisms. While a lot of social minorities, including women, sexual minorities, refugees, and immigrant workers, are still suffering from structural discriminations and disadvantages, young women feel particularly vulnerable to the social injustice of the male-oriented culture. For them, glass ceiling seems unbreakable, and masculine backlash against self-proclaimed “feminists” frequently results in the literal threat to their lives. Here feminism has become a derogatory word in South Korea, a concept which stigmatizes a group of “selfish” young women who insist on their right as a social minority while taking the most of benefit of affirmative actions. Young men of twenty-something years old are particularly fierce about the “unfair” advantages that these feminists take for granted. And populist politicians often utilize the gendered antagonism for their own benefit, deliberately diverting public attention from social problems to gender issues.

Judith Butler has been a symbolic figure among the South Korean feminists and queer activists. Most of her books were quickly translated and widely circulated, but her political ideas are often misunderstood either as a proposal of queer “identity politics” or as an anti-patriarchal claim of immorality. While most of conservatives blame her for toxic “gender ideology,” a few radical feminists take her queer politics to be detrimental to feminist cause. Those who experienced various masculine antagonisms against women, including blind murder, sexual violence, and gender discrimination, argue that women in South Korea are the most vulnerable to gender hostility and hatred. Their sense of vulnerability to gender violence gets worsened so hysterically as to exclude anyone whose gender identity looks suspicious: student union at a women’s university openly opposed to the admission of a transgender student. Gender trouble in South Korea knows no clear division.

Speedy digitalization and easy access to social network services also contribute to the worsening of the situation. Digital crimes against young women tremendously increased in recent years. A shocking case of digital sexual exploitation was divulged when several young men threatened young girls to upload their explicit pictures and footages on a closed online network. As it was manifest in recent upsurge of #MeToo protest, while more and more women feel literally threatened and ask for strong protective measures, young men seem nonchalant to these gender crimes and complain, instead, about the social unfairness of the very protective measures solely for women. What really went wrong? As a way of searching for the answers to these complex issues, I have collected three voices of prominent feminist scholars in South Korea, hoping that gender trouble here in South Korea gives some significant suggestions to other Asian cultures.

Woosung Kang, Seoul National University, South Korea

You may also like

Leave a Comment