Feminist movement in South Korea
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Feminist movement in South Korea
  • Michaela D'Mello
  • 승인 2016.11.29 16:15
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As a British international student in South Korea, one of the first things I noticed to be different in our societies was the position of women. In simple terms, feminism is a movement that has come about in response to female oppression and pressure from society. Yet, in saying this, feminism is difficult to define, as each individual will face different levels of oppression and pressure from their various communities. No story is ever the same; therefore no singular response can be the right choice for all individuals and communities to progress universally.
When looking at feminism in this light, it is understandable that South Korea has taken a different approach compared to the American feminist movement of the 1970s. South Korea’s movement has been significantly slower and concentrated within much smaller groups.
There are several ways in which this can be explained. Neo-Confucianism is a huge part of South Korean culture even if individuals don’t consider themselves to follow such teachings. Neo-Confucianism encourages females to be subordinate despite not having quite as strong sentiments as Confucianism itself. Whilst studying here I have noticed that this outlook on gender has gone as far as to be integrated into everyday language. In front of the nursery and primary schools near Ewha, I often see a number of mothers gather and converse. It struck me that many don’t address each other by their names but by their relationship to their child. This kind of casual enforcement of anonymity after having a child by  women themselves has stressed to me the difficulties of the feminist movement breaking out in South Korea as it brings into question the debate of “modern versus tradition” and “tradition versus oppression.” 
Another explanation for the differences in the feminist movement in South Korea and America could be linked to the tumultuous politics. In the 1970s when American feminists historically began protesting for their rights during a time of peace in their country, South Korea was a post-conflict society from the Korean War of the 1950s. The focus was on the economy and rebuilding a broken society, which creates an environment of hyper nationalism and rejects anything that disrupts such progress. This unfortunately meant that many social movements such as feminism as well as LGBT were significantly hindered.
Lastly, I would like to highlight the influence of technology on the feminist movement in South Korea. With modern culture encouraging the usage of the Internet, there has come to be quite a noticeable difference in ideology between generations. Although this has been happening worldwide, this generational gap seems to be especially apparent in South Korea. This is linked to Korea’s history of war and rapid re-growth into one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The younger generation has been born into a society that has been heavily influenced by America and western ideology. With this, there has been steady progress towards a more gender equal society. 
This can be shown by feminism recently becoming a hot topic in Korean media outlets that have been reporting on such issues quite liberally. Some examples include the controversial front cover of the Korean edition of Maxim magazine, which showed South Korean actor Kim Byeong-ok posing in a hyper masculine image such as smoking a cigarette. The shock-factor that prompted Maxim US to issue a formal apology was the image of a female’s bound legs coming out of the trunk of the car.
This media storm is one of many that prompted worldwide criticism of gender equality in South Korea and has encouraged many to rethink about how genders are portrayed in everyday media. There is still a way for South Korea to go, but the same can be said for America also. The only thing that can be hoped for is progression so that women everywhere can have the rights they deserve.


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