Written by and designed by: Jo Yeoul (19-A2)
“I don’t like the women at my workplace,” my mother told me. “I don’t like feminism; it’s affecting society and women,” was what she later added on.
A Personal Paradox
As a young girl, I felt extremely wronged and upset when I brought up the feminism movement to my own mother and brother. Spending four years in an all-girls school truly fueled my passion and interest towards this social movement. This did not just apply to me, but to many of my friends too.
So I did not think much when I first mentioned feminism to my family and I told them that I was a feminist. The replies from them were not at all what I have imagined.
“I don’t like the women at my workplace,” my mother told me. “I don’t like feminism; it’s affecting society and women,” was what she later added on. The comments from my brother was not kind either, but to hear such words fall out of my mother’s mouth – an adult woman living in the same society I am living in, made a part of me crumble and disintegrate as the words sunk deep beneath my skin and started eating me from the inside. I felt betrayed as I tried to hold onto my beliefs.
But I knew that my grasp had loosened somehow.
How is it different?
Although feminism is a widely-supported movement all around the world, it is slowly becoming a “pain in the neck” in my native society. It is a taboo topic that cannot be freely brought up during brunch. Those who openly state that they are feminists are criticised and bashed by the public. In contrast, women who criticise feminism are praised to be mature, intelligent, and respectable. It is very ironic to see this movement which started out to empower women is being torn down by the very group of people who are supposed to benefit from it.
So, what exactly is the problem at hand?
What’s the issue?
With the feminist movement being largely related to the patriarchy (a system whereby men are the more dominant population than the women), some people started associating the term “patriarchy” with men hating on women. This is when things took a turn.
A movement which was meant to spread awareness about gender discrimination and inequality soon turned into a massive, hatred-filled platform for certain people to project their hatred towards the general male population. They criticised their society and blamed most of their personal issues on all men. As the voices of this specific group of women grew louder, others who have had similar encounters started joining them. With that, instead of fighting for their rights and treatment which they should be receiving, they started spreading hate and their own interpretation of feminism.
These communities grew exponentially in a short duration of time. They made websites where members could upload their own stories and opinions on men in their society (they use the term “Han-Nam” (한남) to generalize the entire male population in South Korea; it has negative connotations and is normally used as an insult). These uploads are only meant to upset the readers and fuel their rage towards men, which further exacerbates the problem. The content uploaded is offensive and often seems too detached from reality. Yet, the more offensive the text, the more the members share it, and the more popularity these posts gain.
As the communities grew, so did the public’s attention on their actions and trouble which they were causing. With members of these specific groups referring to them as ‘feminists’ and playing the victim card, the true meaning of feminism became warped in the public’s eye. Misconceptions sounded like truths and no one questioned the credibility or looked up the facts.
What is happening now?
As mentioned above, new terms are being created among the people to describe certain people and situations. Apart from Han-Nam, there are other terms such as “Ggol-Femi” (꼴페미) or “Megal” (메갈) to refer to the members of this specific group of radical feminists. People who support feminism are immediately associated with these terms even if they disapprove of radical feminism.
For the radical feminists, they seem to be more aggressive. A movement referred to as “tal-corset” (탈코르셋) gained a lot of attention in Korea a few years ago. “tal” refers to the action of someone removing something. Hence, the term was meant to encourage women to no longer feel obliged to conform to societal expectations. This movement resulted in many women not putting makeup, wearing comfortable clothes and cutting their hair. However, these radical feminists aggravated the issue by calling those who still liked putting on makeup and wearing pretty outfits “fake feminists”, even going as far to blame these “fake feminists” for being the reason why our society is running like that. As this persisted, the women who were being targeted soon got worn out by the constant harassment, and removed themselves from the feminist movement as a whole.
Feminism is no longer seen as a movement meant to ensure equality between both genders. In fact, the public acknowledges it as a case where a woman feels that she deserves a better treatment not because she is being discriminated for her gender, but because women are more superior than men. Although the radical feminists do not account for the majority of feminists in the country, their aggressive and vocal nature garner public attention, hence leading an uninformed citizen to believe that the actions of these radical feminists represent feminism as a whole in South Korea.
Who are they?
Now that we are done with the explanations, let us look at some of the biggest groups of these radical feminists.
The Megalians are the most notorious radical feminist group in South Korea. When someone thinks of feminism, they are most likely to associate it with this community. They are known for attacking the entire male population, even their own family. The Megalian website were filled with reports of women stating that they “began hating the male gender because of this website” and other malicious remarks before being forcefully shut down in 2017. They also actively participated in “mirroring”, harassing men in order to reflect the supposed behaviour of the entire male population in South Korea towards women. Although their website was shut down, it seems like they are continuing with their activities through other means, such as Twitter.
Writer’s note: The person who designed their logo mentioned that the hand sign was meant to represent the “=” sign, as in, equality between men and women. But she did mention that there may be other meanings behind this gesture.
The Womads are the second largest and notorious community after Megalians. After the closure of the Megalian website, some of the radical feminists decided to create an alternate website. The website is still up and running, and in order to become a member, you have to be biologically female. Unlike the Megalians who did at least had a shallow understanding of feminism (although not reflected in their actions), the Womads actively claim that men are the inferior population and are not quiet in expressing their hatred towards the opposite gender. They also shun the LGBTQ+ community, which the Megalians did not stand for.
Writer’s note: They seem to be the most threatening and offensive group of radical feminists at the moment, judging by some of the posts which I have read. Their website contains offensive images, and just reading some of the posts gave me a major headache.
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According to sources online, this community boasts an astounding 1.7 million members, and it is currently has the largest number of members joining the site. Although the website was created for women and teenage girls to talk about fashion trends, celebrity gossip and beauty surgery tips in the past, this all took a turn when members of the Megalians started infiltrating the community and influencing others there. Any posts related to makeup or fashion are now largely disapproved (going back to “tal-corset”) and are hardly seen nowadays. In fact, most of the recent posts talk about hating men, and no one seems to be disagreeing with such ideas.
Writer’s note: As I was looking through the website, there were still posts related to makeup and fashion being uploaded there. They had many different chat rooms which were dedicated to different topics such as plastic surgery, celebrities and beauty tips, and I could not find any negative posts on the homepage. However, when I clicked on a post to read it in detail, the website did not allow me to as I had to be a member to view the entire website. I could not examine the website any further after that.
With all this in mind, it does not seem like it is enough. To know more about this issue, learning about various people’s opinions and thoughts is crucial. That, sadly, would be discussed in the second part of this series, where actual blog posts and responses towards radical feminism in Korea will be translated as we seek to hear from the people themselves.