All You Need to Know about Gender Conflict in South Korea 
This post covers recent changes in gender conflict in Korea.
It also includes:
- whether South Korea has gender equality (성평등)
- what gender roles (성역할) are
- why gender conflict is intensifying
- which incidents sparked gender conflicts
- and more
Let’s get started!
Does South Korea have gender equality (성평등)?
Unfortunately, no. The South Korean gender gap was ranked 102 out of 156 countries, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021. Gender inequality in South Korea has been around for a long time due to the male-dominated social system deeply entrenched in the country.
- Gender inequality (성불평등) in South Korea statistics: Ranked 102 out of 156 countries in 2021
- Gender pay gap (임금격차) in South Korea statistics: According to OECD statistics, the gender wage gap in South Korea in 2017 was 34.6%, one of the highest among OECD countries. Things have not improved much in 2019. (Source: BBC News Korea)
What are gender roles (성역할) in South Korea?
Despite rapid economic development, gender roles in South Korea are still traditional.
Korean men are expected to:
- Be masculine, even in their job selection. (Korean men get discriminated by society when choosing to get a fashion/beauty-related job or become a nurse, cabin crew member, etc.)
- Conceal their fondness for cute characters.
- Avoid going to cafés or nice restaurants with another man.
- Avoid going to the movies with another man, because that’s usually reserved for couples on a date.
- Not use paternity leave. (Even though the system allows men to apply for parental leave, it’s viewed as “feminine”.)
- Accept prejudice and embrace pressure, such as “men should work hard”, “men must endure unconditionally”, “men should never show weakness”, “a man becomes a real man only after joining the army.” etc.
- Be responsible for their family’s livelihood with a stable job.
- Carry everything, mostly heavy bottles or chairs, at school, work or workshops.
Korean women are expected to:
- Be responsible for housework and parenting, regardless of having a job.
- Avoid smoking in public. (Even though smoking is unhealthy regardless of gender, Korean Kkondae (꼰대) are not shy about criticizing them.)
- Required to be obedient and meek, accept it when someone says “why is a woman nagging man?”, “why is a woman so strong-minded (기가 센 as in strong chi)”, “women should be submissive”, “why is a girl talking so harshly?”, “girls should be feminine when they speak”.
- Get weird looks when playing violent games in a PC room (피씨방).
- Go home early and dress conservatively.
- Groom and put on makeup at all times, even when going to a convenience store in front of their house.
- Work/cook during holidays while men watch TV.
Gender roles shown in mass media:
K-dramas always show stereotypical gender roles. They haven’t escaped the “Cinderella complex” phase. Most synopses involve a poor, yet attractive woman who meets a rich, handsome man and gets rescued.
Since K-dramas depict the gender role of men needing to have economic power, most Korean men are not huge fans of K-dramas. These cliches are reproduced over and over due to viewer ratings. And this may indoctrinate young Korean women into having a Cinderella complex.
Why is gender conflict intensifying in South Korea?
Gender conflicts are intense, especially online, between Korean men and women in their 20s. Korean men in their 20s have a feeling of deprivation due to the unemployment crisis and mandatory 20-month military service. Women have fears of being targeted in random crimes.
Most Koreans in real life don’t dislike each other based on gender. This hatred is fierce between Ilbe and Womad, the two most representative radical online communities in relation to gender conflicts.
- Ilbe Storage (일베저장소 or Daily Best Archive) is an online community that contains misogyny, disparagement of the disabled or sexual minorities, and extreme right wing views.
- Womad (워마드) is a radical feminist community derived from Megalia (메갈리아) that advocates misandry (anti-male sentiment) and extreme female chauvinism.
Members of these groups do “mirroring (미러링)”, where they create derogatory terms in response to each other. For example, when misogynists started calling Korean women “된장녀 (doenjang girl, a woman who eats doenjang stew, but spends extravagantly on brand products)” or “김치녀 (kimchi girl, a Korean woman who wants her rights as a woman, but doesn’t want duties or responsibilities”; misandrists started calling Korean men “한남충 (Korean male insect)” in return.
In addition, the current administration has shown favoritism towards women, such as giving them extra points when screening for contests or jobs. Korean men in their 20s feel discriminated against since they no longer receive extra points for mandatory military service after “wasting their 2 years”.
Which incidents sparked gender conflicts in South Korea?
There have been numerous incidents, but the major ones are:
The Gangnam Station murder case in May 2016, where a woman was brutally murdered by a complete stranger in a bathroom in Seoul, which is uncommon in Korea. This crime was defined as “misogynistic”, and gender violence became an issue.
The “Me Too” movement triggered by Prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun in January 2018. The true intention of the “Me Too” movement to give victims a way to get justice against the powerful deteriorated in Korea over time. There were several cases where innocent men were accused of sexual harassment and their lives were destroyed. However, the current government suspended investigation of false accusations until the end of sex crime trials. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (여성가족부) even attempted to get rid of penalties for false accusations regarding sex crimes.
The Hongik University nude croquis drawing class spy cam case in 2018. A student, a member of Womad, leaked a photo of a male model posing at a croquis drawing class. After police captured the culprit, Womad claimed that, “the case was handled quickly because the victim was male and a female was the perpetrator” in their defense. They filed a petition demanding a more rigorous investigation of hidden cameras targeting women.
Hyehwa Station rally by Womad, criticizing “biased investigation on illegal photography” in response to the previous spy cam case.
The Isu Station assault case in November 2018. Two women argued with a couple at a pub. As soon as the couple left, they started fighting with men at another table. A woman who claimed to be a victim posted this incident online, and it became a gender confrontation.
Daerim-dong female police case in 2019, where a female cop was shown as “useless” in a video. She was unable to control a drunk man and asked a civilian man to help her handcuff the assaulter. Police tend to use less force in Korea, so it’s common for intoxicated people to be handled with a lot of patience. Nevertheless, Korean men blame this incident on lax physical examination standards for female officers.
In March 2020, the Nth Room Crime case involving blackmail, cybersex trafficking, producing and distributing sexually exploitative videos. In addition to the severity of the case, a gender dispute arose regarding the number of users (perpetrators) of Nth Room via the Telegram app who were not apprehended.
“Language of gender discrimination or hatred expresses a feeling of exclusivity toward a specific group in a social structure. As Koreans are going through financially hard times and the inequality structure deepens, there is a tendency to resolve individual anxiety and dissatisfaction by attacking easy target groups.”– Professor Hee Jung Han, Kookmin University
“Language War” in South Korea between Misogynist and Misandrist
Recently, GS25 convenience store promoted its “Let’s go camping (캠핑가자)” poster. And the poster became an issue as it shows a Megalian hand sign with “Megal” written upside down.
Koreans got upset since it represents man-hating, and the CEO of GS Retail had to apologize in public.
“As the controversy began over the backlash against the government favoring one side too much, the government should be held responsible for encouraging the creation of new terms related to gender discrimination.”– Professor Myung Ho Lim, Department of Psychology and Psychotherapy, Dankook University
The gender conflict words below should be avoided as a person or business in Korea:
- 여혐 (yeo-hyeom): Misogyny
- 남혐 (nam-hyeom): Misandry
- 맘충 (mom-chung): Literally means a mom bug, who is an insensitive mother without consideration for others, such as letting their children make a fuss in public or changing diapers on a cafe table.
- 허수애비 (heo-su-ae-bi): Means a scarecrow/puppet dad. A father who neglects parenting their children and makes excuses such as being too busy because of work.
- 힘죠 (him-jyo): Originated from LGBTQ revenge pornography, but used by radical feminist online communities to promote misandry.
- 오조오억 (o-jo-o-eok): Literally means five trillion and five hundred million, but radical feminist groups in Korea use this expression to harass men for the high number of reproductive material they produce.
- 웅앵웅 (ung-aeng-ung): Literally means mumbling, but refers to a man who only talks about his time in military over and over.
- 허버허버 (hubba-hubba): An expression for someone eating something in a hurry, but refers to a man who eats ravenously. After the controversy over hubba-hubba, Kakao stopped selling emoticons including this word.
- 보이루 (bo-ee-ru): Bo-ee-ru (Bogyeom + Hi) used by a game YouTuber, “Bogyeom”. Radical feminist community claimed it’s a misogynistic expression since it sounds similar to a prominent part of female anatomy.
- 한남 (han-nam): Claimed that it’s an abbreviation for “Korean men (한국 남자)”, but it belittles them to refer to “한남충 (Korean male insect)”. Some radicals even call children “한남 유충 (han-nam yu-chung or Korean male insect larva)”.
- 오또케 (o-tto-ke): Literally means “어떡해 (Oh no, what should I do?)” in an aegyo way. But it’s used as a misogynistic word to disparage policewomen who don’t know what to do at a crime scene. See the Daerim-dong case above.
- 개저씨 (gae-jeo-ssi): A combination of dog + ajeossi, that refers to ignorant middle-aged men by Megalia.
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Did we miss anything?
Korea is progressing rapidly with some turmoil.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!