Some people insist the aboliton of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family as it incites the gender inequlity.
/Photography by Hwang Chae-yeon
The archer, An San, made an achievement of winning three gold medals in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics that was held from July 23rd to August 8th. While the whole nation was cheering and celebrating her achievement, some anti-feminism online community members slandered An San. They said that as she is enrolled to a women’s university, has short hair, and used misandry words in her Social Network Service (SNS) before, she is a feminist. Against this claim, the voice to protect and encourage the athlete from the groundless condemnation got louder and the argument has started. Likewise, the gender conflicts that occur because one is male or female, feminist or anti-feminist, have become one of the serious problems in Korean society. Overheated gender conflict goes beyond individuals complaining of an injustice and solving several problems, and makes people have antipathy towards a specific person or group for gender reasons.
Many gender conflicts have occurred in Korean society
According to the Korean standard dictionary of the National Institute of the Korean Language, “Feminism” is the view that insists political, economic, social, and cultural discrimination which happens due to the gender, should be removed. From 1980s, women’s organization started to carry forward feminist movements by trying to expand women rights and resolve sexual discriminations. Throughout the 1990s to 2000s, the young feminists appeared in society. Under the influence of young feminists, the Ministry of Gender Equality was founded. Moreover, the veterans’ extra point system and patriarchal family system were abolished, and the special act about sexual violence, preventive act of prostitution, and the gender quota system were legislated. In 2015, the feminism reboot rose around online services. The rebooted feminists prescribed the statements and behaviors about women discrimination, degradation, contempt, and hatred as misogyny, and spread feminism to break it down.
However, some claimed that since the feminists only emphasize women’s rights, they bring reverse discrimination for men. The two sides talking about gender inequality started to confront each other. These days, gender equality is one of the most important agendas among the generation 2030. According to the survey of National Human Rights Commission of Korea, 48.9% of the respondents claimed that they have experienced discrimination due to their sex. Feminists who are extreme, called as radical feminist, also started to appear and problems such as female chauvinism and misandry occurred in Korean society. The prejudice that feminist is a sexist is made due to the radical feminism culture. If a celebrity or influencer introduces oneself as a feminist, he/she frequently becomes the focus of public censure.
In the past, there were several incidents that showed serious gender conflicts. On May 17th, 2016, a case known as “Gangnam Station Toilet Murder” happened. The criminal murdered an unspecified woman and stated that as many women usually disregarded him, he could not suppress his anger and committed a crime. There was a remembrance of the victim in Gangnam station. Many people visited and expressed their sorrow. There were some notes that criticize the misogyny problems in the remembrance, and the social controversy about it became an issue. One side said that the cause of the crime was misogyny. Meanwhile, the other side said that the cause was just the criminal’s personal mental disease. In addition, there were also other incidents like the “Me Too” campaign in 2018, the enactment of the fundamental law of female violence prevention in 2018, and the Nth Room case in 2020. These indicated that there is still gender inequality in our society and some of these cases showed that male can also be a victim. However, there were problems like making stereotype of female sufferers and male attackers. Moreover, the cases expanded the fear and hatred of specific gender.
Nowadays, there still are several gender related issues. The first is the female conscription system. Every Korean male is responsible for obligatory military service. According to clause 39 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea, and clause three of the Military Service Act, Korean men above 18 years old should keep obligatory military service. The whole nation has a duty to protect the country, but only men spend at least 18 months for military service. Moreover, there are only few benefits for it. The controversy over gender discrimination continued in this issue. From April 19th to May 18th in the Cheong Wa Dae’s national website, one petition said that women should also fulfill the military service since the birth rate is dropping and the military strength is still insufficient even though 90% of men are fulfilling the military service. More than 290,000 people agreed to the petition. Cheong Wa Dae responded that the female conscription requires social consensus, preparation, and enough discussion.
The second is the abolition of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family was organized on March 19th, 2010, to promote women’s rights and interests, foster youth, and protect them. However, there are conflicting opinions. Some people say that the ministry lacks a role while wasting a huge budget, and it worsens the gender inequality problem. Others say that there should be an administration that improves women’s rights, spreads gender equality values, and promotes youth and vulnerable people. From July 9th to August 8th, more than 207,000 people agreed with the Cheong Wa Dae petition claiming maintenance and strengthening the authority of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. On the other hand, more than 263,000 people agreed with the petition asserting that the ministry should be abolished.
The last is misandry and misogyny expressions. According to the second clause of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, discrimination, hostility, and the incitement should be banned by law. However, the societal agreement about the loathing expressions is not prescribed clearly, and the regulations are uncertain. As a result, there are a lot of misandry and misogyny expressions, especially in online communities or SNS. According to an in-house survey with 86 university students, the most respondents (44%) answered that they witness misandry or misogyny expressions frequently in online world. The following response (33%) was that they witness those expressions every time when they get on the Internet. From 2010, the online community called “Ilbe” has deepened gender conflicts by using misogyny expressions involving the prejudice that women are passive, sexual harassment, and ridicule. Moreover, recently, one specific hand gesture that is known as misandry from another online community called “Megalia” was brought up. However, many companies like GS25, Kyobo Life Insurance, Kakao Bank, Starbucks RTD inserted the similar image of the issued gesture in their advertisement or promotion poster. There was an argument between those who insist that the image is misandry, and others who insist that it is just a coincidence.
Many people think that gender conflict in Korea is serious.
/Extracted from the Dongguk post's survey about gender conflict in Korea
Gender conflict is not simply the result of one gender being wrong
There are several causes of gender conflicts in Korea. The lack of understanding of the opposite gender is the first reason. The Dongguk Post conducted a survey of 86 men and women about this issue. As a result, in the case of women, the possibility of exposure to crime (38.5%), physical phenomena such as menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth (33.3%), and gender discrimination (12.8%) were cited as the difficulties due to gender. In addition, a wage gap between men and women was also answered as a gender distress. According to the Kyunghyang Shinmun’s analysis of the wages of men and women of the top 100 Korean companies (selected by the Korea Enterprises Federation, analyzed 91 companies subject to business report submissions) based on sales in 2020, women received 57 million won, which is only 64.3% of men’s wage (88.6 million won.) A wage gap can happen due to various factors such as working hours, occupations, educational backgrounds, age, etc. However, the proportion of women employees and years of service are not absolute factors in the wage gap. Kyunghyang Shinmun analyzed that Asiana Airline and GS Retail, which have more women employees, have a gender wage gap of 58% and 45.3% respectively. In addition, LX International, GS Global, and POSCO International, which have longer years of service for women, showed a wage gap of 40 to 50%.
As for men, according to the Dongguk Post’s survey results, military service (64.7%) and gender discrimination (26.5%) were cited as the difficulties due to gender. Since military service obligations apply only to men, they must serve in the military even though there is no practical benefit. Also, there are cases where men are subject to reverse discrimination, as there are currently many policies and facilities only for women. For example, in January, Happy House in Seonbu-dong, Ansan-si, Gyeonggi-do was criticized for reverse discrimination against men for its announcement that only women can move in. In response to this, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea concluded in May, that it appears to be a gender-based discrimination for no proper reason.
In the case of gender discrimination, both men and women have problems. Although the current generation 2030 received gender equality education, they are directly or indirectly sexually discriminated at home, school, or workplaces from the older generations who are less conscious of gender equality, or some young people influenced by the older generation’s gender discrimination. According to the survey conducted by an opinion polling agency at the request of Seoul Shinmun on July 18th, 2021, of the 400 men and women aged 18 to 39 who responded to the survey, 73.4% of women said that discrimination against women was still serious, and 69.1% of men said that reverse discrimination against men was serious. Thus, both of them are suffering from gender distress.
However, some people tend to care only about their gender and ignore the issues of the opposite gender. This phenomenon is more extreme in online spaces and worsens gender conflicts. As a result of the survey conducted by the Dongguk Post, 95.3% of respondents said that they had witnessed or experienced gender hatred and conflict in the online space. In particular, male and female online communities use certain gender-hating expressions, scorn the opposite gender, and create a structure of conflict between men and women when gender-related issues arise. Kim Yun-kyung, assistant professor of Dongguk University, who teaches Understanding Contemporary Feminism, said that gender discourse of the generation 2030 is mainly formed and spread through online communities. She said, “Due to the nature of online media, various perspectives tend to be polarized into separation and exclusion without interaction. Moreover, I think the media causes emotional reactions by reporting gender issues in online spaces with provocative expressions rather than focusing on the nature of the problem intensifies the conflict.” Professor Kim also added, “People of various gender identities should empathize each other’s positions and situations, and more dialogues should take place. In other words, I believe that the absence of an open discussion culture, extreme camp logic, and the daily routine of hate/exclusion are the reasons why gender conflict cannot lead to productive discussion.”
The problem of fairness is another reason for gender conflict. Currently, the Korean government is implementing numerous gender equality policies to resolve the inequality caused by gender discrimination. Most of these policies are women-centered, such as the women quota system. These focus on enhancing women’s status, considering that their position was low due to the old generation’s androcentrism, overcoming the “uneven playing field,” and making a “fair society.” However, the current female-centered gender equality policies may seem unfair to others. Professor Kim said, “As there is a long history of discrimination against women, I think the movement to institutionalize the search for women’s rights socially and economically is encouraging. However, the current gender equality policy is limited to hetero-centrism and has a fatal limitation in that it cannot systematically protect citizens with various gender identities.” In particular, young people are bound to be more sensitive to policies related to employment, such as the women quota system and women’s additional points system, since employment is the most important issue for them. According to the “May 2021 economic active population survey-additional survey of young people” announced by Statistics Korea, among the population of 8,799,000 young people, 1,548,000 were not employed after graduating or dropping out of school. In this severe employment crisis, the female-centered gender equality policies can be perceived as an unfair system that gives women more advantage in the job market. In addition, the current gender equality policies can seem unfair, since they make the generation 2030, who grew up experiencing gender equality, take on responsibility for the faults of the older generation who discriminated against women. Professor Kim said, “Gender equality policies should be expanded to seek rights not only for women, but also for citizens who have been subjected to social discrimination and exclusion due to their gender identity in a heterosexual society.”
Not only gender equality policies, but also the duties demanded by society make people feel that they are being treated unfairly. For example, there is the problem of military service obligation. In South Korea, only men serve in the military, and they have more military obligations. Such difference in duty can feel like a contradiction to the generation 2030, as they have experienced gender equality and learned that women and men have equal rights.
Politicians using the gender conflict as a tool for winning competitions is one of the causes of gender conflicts. Politicians have come up with various policies in the name of gender equality, but in the end, they are using them as a tool to gain support from voters rather than trying to resolve gender conflicts in generation 2030. For example, congressman Park Yong-jin, a member of The Minjoo Party, pledged a “gender-equal service system,” which requires both men and women to receive 40 to 100 days of compulsory basic military training, and the volunteer military system. Congressman Ha Tae-keung, a member of the People Power Party, also pledged a “one-year gender-equal service system,” which makes military service compulsory for both men and women while reducing the period of service to one year and combining the conscription system and volunteer military system. However, there is criticism that these pledges only use gender conflict to gain support from young people. Kim Eun-ju, executive director of the Center for Korean Women & Politics, criticized, saying, “The current pledges under the name of gender equality are aimed at encouraging gender conflicts that are currently rampant, no matter how they say it is not.” Also, when Yoo Seoung-min, a former congressman, and Ha Tae-keung questioned the performance of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which failed to resolve the ever-growing gender conflict, and pledged to abolish it, there was criticism that it is populism targeting a specific gender.
Are there any ways to resolve gender conflict?
Although it is challenging to completely resolve gender conflicts in Korea, there are ways to create a better situation than now. Firstly, problems directly related to the survival of the young generation must be solved. There may be some people who are unhappy about men and women becoming equal, but we cannot say that gender conflicts among the young generation mainly occurs because of them. Currently, as complaints about social phenomena that threaten young people’s future, such as unemployment and housing problems, arising toward the opposite gender is the main reason for gender conflict. Especially, in a situation where competition for jobs is intensifying, a policy that favors one over the other is a big problem for the youth, even for gender equality purposes. It is necessary to wisely solve the problems faced by the young generation, such as difficulties in employment and housing, to prevent the dissatisfaction of young people from spreading into gender conflicts.
Secondly, gender equality policies must be shifted toward improving the fairness of the entire society. Current female-centered policies are a zero-sum game where one’s advantage is taken and given to the other. As a result, those whose advantage is taken away can be dissatisfied even though the purpose of policies is to achieve gender equality. Gender equality policies should be implemented with a structure in which everyone can be the beneficiaries, rather than a structure that makes one side concede excessively and separates men and women.
Thirdly, we need an independent awareness of the problem. According to Professor Kim, rather than believing that a reliable and competent representative would ideally solve social problems, we need to think of ourselves as the arbiter of conflict resolution. “The more silent the majority, the more likely the social conflict will be used covertly for someone’s benefit. I want people to remember that society will never change unless they make a choice in the dimension of their life.”
Lastly, we must try to understand each other. If men and women continue to take sides and raise their voices as nowadays, the gender conflicts among the young generation in Korea will deepen. It is necessary to stop unconditional hatred, and to understand and consider other people.
Gender conflict in generation 2030 is not a problem caused by one side’s fault, but rather caused by dissatisfaction with society erupting into the wrong place. Therefore, if men and women keep fighting, we will never be able to properly resolve each other’s dissatisfaction. Rather than continuing meaningless conflicts, we must face the essence of the problem and find a solution together. Professor Kim said, “I believe that a solution to the gender conflict will come out when we understand the differences of opinion with respect for others and continue to have serious discussions to resolve the problem.”
Kang Da-hyun, Hwang Chae-yeon firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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