On July 28, dozens of South Korean men posted hundreds of complaints on the Korean Archery Association’s online bulletin board. They were asking the organization to revoke the two Olympic gold medals 20-year-old archer An San had won so far at the Tokyo Games. Why? She would have looked like a feminist. As one man complained, “She has short hair and attends a female-only college, she stinks of feminism.”
Shortly after her first appearance on Olympic TV, young men on 4chan’s web forums and YouTube channels launched a smear campaign against An. Their tactics were familiar in Korea: accuse the target of “misandry,” prop up asserting them with ridiculous evidence and pressuring them until the target apologizes. These men bombarded An’s Instagram account, insisting that she specify if she is a feminist. They also claimed that she was using internet slang allegedly associated with radical feminists to ridicule men.
The two words that apparently proved his misandry – “ung aeng ung” and “5.5 trillion” – are harmless and widely used. The first is an onomatopoeia which describes unintelligible or absurd language, such as “mumble mumble”; the second is generally used to quantify an innumerable quantity for the purpose of exaggeration.
The accusations were absurd, but a movement of young Korean men had invented a narrative that anyone who says or types these words must be a male-hating feminist, as some “feminazis have been caught using the terms.” These men organized online to “reverse feminist-friendly coverage” on An. The New Men’s Solidarity Network, for example, ran slideshows on An and directed its 336,000 subscribers to the comment sections of the articles.
The witch hunt against An is part of a larger anti-feminist backlash. Since 2015, a powerful new feminist movement has raised awareness of the gender-based violence that permeates Korean society. The women drew attention to the country’s digital sex crimes industry, the extraordinarily light sentences for sexual violations, the female homicide rate and the gender pay gap, which is the highest in the OECD.
In the midst of this rapid social change, however, chauvinistic men sought to undermine Korean feminism. And they have unfortunately succeeded in demonizing the women’s movement by claiming that feminism is inherently misandrist and radical. The toxic counter-movement was supported by conservative politicians – such as Lee Jun-seok, leader of the opposition People Power Party – who legitimized and capitalized on the hostility of young Korean men against women for their political gain. . Comparing radical feminists to “terrorists” who aim to destroy men and vowing to stand by young men against “reverse discrimination,” Lee has garnered significant support from men in their twenties and twenties. thirty, which fueled his rapid political rise.
The smear campaign against An is similar to previous ones, but there is one key difference: An is an Olympian – and a multiple gold medalist, moreover – which turned this incident into an international scandal.
An won her third gold medal on July 30 as misogynistic slurs still flooded her social media and after global media began covering the attacks. In a final shootout that played out on the final arrow, An held on, hitting the center circle and winning the hearts of audiences across the world. It was a victory that honored his determination: “Like the ‘San’ [mountain in Korean] in my name, I will maintain a strong mentality throughout my games, ”she shared before the start of the Olympics.
Its triumph and international attention have led many Koreans to view sexist abuse as a “national embarrassment.” This, in turn, opened a moment of reflection: much of the Korean public is starting to reckon with the regressive discourse on feminism. People realize that a few fragile Korean men are not solely responsible for the attacks on An and others. The media, private companies, public institutions and politicians have all tolerated, amplified and sometimes exploited misogynistic abuses.
Allegations of hatred of An’s men, however unsubstantiated, have been picked up and published with irresponsible headlines like
In a July 29 statement, the Gender Equality Commission of the National Union of Media Workers condemned such journalistic practices: hate online. It is a serious violation of human rights and journalistic ethics to capitalize on provocative feelings of hatred and discrimination to amass opinions and profits. The commission also urged the media to remove articles containing baseless allegations about An.
Consumers are also revisiting business responses to macho demands. On July 30, netizens began sharing a list of companies that have apologized in response to false accusations of misandry. Users are now encouraging boycott of these companies to capitulate and embolden misogynist men. People are particularly critical of convenience store chain GS25, as the company was among the first to officially apologize to men who complained about oppression. In May, the company released a poster advertising camping gear with an illustration of a hand about to pick up a sausage. In response, the men harassed the company with boycott threats, claiming the design was an insult about the size of their genitals. While a radical feminist group had used a hand pinch symbol to mock men and reflect men’s sexual objectification of women, that was not the intent of the ad, as the designer herself. same clarified. GS25’s apology sparked a series of similar hand-pinching accusations against companies and institutions across Korea, many of whom followed GS25’s lead and expressed regret.
But now it’s the feminists asking the GS25 to apologize. A person who goes by the pseudonym of addy **** commented under an article published by the newspaper Money on consumer criticism of the firm: “GS25 must recognize its heavy share of responsibility for having yielded to the senseless complaints of a minority of men and for having given them public recognition that they did not deserve. Look where their misjudgment has taken us, we’ve come to a point where fragile men are unleashing sexist abuse online against our Olympian. Face your responsibility and apologize.
The public has also started to ask politicians to face their role in the sexist movement. A few days after the initial attacks on An, politicians joined them in defending the allegedly victimized young men. Yang Joon-woo, spokesperson for PPP, wrote on Facebook that “the focal point [of this controversy] lies in “the use of misandrist terms” and radical feminism, “effectively asserting the far-fetched accusations. He added that “someone who expresses ‘radical feminist’ ideas in public can naturally become the target of criticism and controversy.”
Many Korean women remain outraged at Yang not only for raising baseless allegations about An, but also for blaming An for inciting cyber abuse.
Jang Hye-young, member of the Left Justice Party, highlighted the similarity between the logic of McCarthyism and Yang’s suggestion that attacks on someone with radical feminist behavior are expected or even justified. The fear around the word ‘feminist,’ she said, ‘signals a threat to our democracy, as we have created a hostile atmosphere that requires women to show courage in order to openly use the words feminism. and feminist, while those words were central. describe their experiences of sexism.
Indeed, Korean women recently launched an online campaign to de-stigmatize these words. Amid ongoing internet abuse and ‘fear of feminists’ tactics, variations of the hashtag #I_Am_Feminist (# 나는 페미니스트 다 and # 내가 페미 다) have appeared on Korean Twitter, with over 35,000 tweets. published on July 31. The response to the attacks on An has proven one thing: Korean women will not be silenced in their pursuit of gender equality.