How South Korea’s Yoon Suk-yeol Capitalized on Anti-Feminist Backlash to Win the Presidency


The previous couple of weeks on the marketing campaign path have been a blur for Jang Hye-yeong, a lawmaker in South Korea’s progressive Justice Occasion. However amid the flurry of prepare rides and stump speeches to help her social gathering’s long-shot presidential candidate, Sim Sang-jung, Jang says one second stood out.

A former labor activist and the one lady from a mainstream social gathering who ran in South Korea’s presidential election, Sim addressed a crowd in Seoul final week. Jang watched a younger lady excitedly pull out her cellphone to movie. However a person, whom Jang believes was the girl’s boyfriend, snatched the cellphone out of her hand, and dragged her away by the wrist.
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Jang, 34, doesn’t know for positive what occurred between the couple, however as she anxious for the girl’s security. She may additionally not assist however see the second, and the presidential election, as emblematic of the state of gender equality in South Korea. Modest features by girls in recent times have sparked an anti-feminist backlash, by which disgruntled younger males have develop into vocally essential of feminism and girls who communicate out.

No candidate capitalized on the anti-feminist motion like Yoon Suk-yeol, who narrowly received Wednesday’s election and can develop into South Korea’s subsequent chief. The populist, from the conservative Individuals Energy Occasion (PPP), labored to attraction to males who’re anxious about dropping floor to girls, and helped flip a fringe on-line group into a serious political power.

Yoon referred to as for the Ministry of Gender Equality and Household to be abolished, and accused its officers of treating males like “potential intercourse criminals.” He has blamed the nation’s low delivery fee on feminism—saying that feminism prevents wholesome relationships between women and men. He additionally mentioned that he doesn’t assume systemic “structural discrimination primarily based on gender” exists in South Korea—regardless of Korean girls being at or close to the underside of the developed world in a number of financial and social indicators.

In keeping with an exit ballot performed by three South Korean broadcasters, some 59% of males of their twenties, and 53% of males of their thirties, voted for him. Simply 34% of girls of their 20s supported him.

“Anti-feminist sentiment was broadly used to achieve voters within the election,” says Lee Ye-eun, of the feminist group Haeil. “It was even the principle technique.”

Jung Yeon-je—AFP/Getty Pictures South Korean lawmaker Jang Hye-yeong at her workplace within the Nationwide Meeting in Seoul, July 2020

How anti-feminism turned a political power

Each main presidential candidates integrated not less than some anti-feminist rhetoric into their campaigns in an try to draw younger males.

Lee Jae-myung, who represented President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Occasion of Korea (DPK), campaigned on a platform of fixing social inequalities by means of progressive insurance policies like guaranteeing that not less than 30% of prime officers are girls. In a Mar. 1 interview with TIME, he criticized Yoon’s rivalry that gender equality wasn’t systemic. “I believe it’s essential to acknowledge the inequalities and problems with gender inequality that girls undergo structurally in our society,” he mentioned.

Chung Sung-jun—POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock South Korean presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Occasion admits defeat on the social gathering’s headquarters in Seoul, early March 10

However even Lee has mentioned that he opposes “discrimination” in opposition to males. Though he’s in opposition to Yoon’s plan to abolish the gender equality ministry, he has referred to as for the federal government company to be revamped.

Girls say they fear that the anti-feminist language utilized by such excessive profile figures will normalize the motion—and additional marginalize girls in South Korea.

A mix of rampant financial inequality, slowing development, and among the most patriarchal social dynamics within the developed world managed to show gender equality right into a polarizing election concern. “[The main candidates] are type of messaging their entire marketing campaign to talk to this very disgruntled inhabitants of younger males who really feel like they’re being left behind,” says Sharon Yoon, an assistant professor of Korean research on the College of Notre Dame.

At a polling station in Incheon, a metropolis of three million simply outdoors Seoul, Search engine optimisation Jae-sang, 28, informed TIME that gender equality was solely third or fourth on his record of political priorities. First was South Korea’s more and more unaffordable housing market—the common value of an residence in Seoul has greater than doubled within the final 5 years, to about $1 million. However he agrees with Yoon Suk-yeol that the gender equality ministry must be dismantled as a result of it’s “escalating gender points.”

READ MORE: The South Korean Presidential Hopeful Who Believes His Childhood Can Assist Him Heal His Nation

Some specialists warning in opposition to attributing an excessive amount of of Yoon’s victory to his anti-feminist marketing campaign guarantees, particularly given the razor skinny margins. Yoon claimed 48.6% of the vote, and Lee received 47.8%. The marketing campaign was additionally marked by mudslinging and misconduct. Lee’s spouse allegedly used his workers to run private errands, and Yoon has confronted questions over his unscientific beliefs, together with the usage of a shaman and an anal acupuncturist (which he has denied). Many citizens have been additionally pissed off with Moon, who’s barred from operating for a second time period by the structure, for failing to curb surging property costs. His time period was additionally beset by corruption scandals, together with native officers utilizing insider information to spend money on actual property.

The Notre Dame professor Yoon says that it seems from exit polls that each women and men of their twenties have been extra involved about selecting a candidate who would enhance their financial standing, than gender points. “The sharp divide amongst women and men of their twenties is putting,” she says. “It’s unclear whether or not males voted for Yoon as a result of they resonated along with his anti-feminist rhetoric, or as a result of they have been involved about the true property scandals which have tainted Moon’s legacy.”

Different political commentators say that the victor’s anti-feminist techniques backfired. “It looks as if girls who would have voted for Sim [a third-party candidate] may need voted for Lee,” closing the hole between Yoon and his closest rival, says Younger-Im Lee, who makes a speciality of gender and elections in East Asia at California State College (CSU), Sacramento.

Jung Yeon-je—AFP/Getty Pictures South Korean presidential candidate Sim Sang-jung, second from left, of the Justice Occasion talks with girls throughout an election marketing campaign in Seoul on March 6

The ‘feminism reboot’ has that challenged South Korea’s patriarchy

Though a document 57 girls have been elected to parliament within the final election in April 2020, they nonetheless make up a woeful 19% of lawmakers. (The U.S. Congress at present has 27%). Within the enterprise world, girls maintain few positions of energy on boards, and the nation has the best gender wage hole amongst rich international locations—with girls incomes 31.5% lower than males. Greater than half of murder victims in South Korea are girls—one of many highest gender ratios on the earth (the worldwide common is about 21%). Intercourse crimes are rife. Within the latest “Nth Room ” case, not less than 74 victims, together with underage women, have been blackmailed into importing express movies of themselves on Telegram by a person nicknamed “God God,” who then bought the pictures.

However, girls are more and more preventing again. The 2016 homicide of a 23-year-old lady within the ritzy Gangnam neighborhood—in a random assault by a person who mentioned “he hated girls for ignoring him”—sparked an outpouring of rage and the so-called “feminism reboot.” The surge of curiosity in gender equality for ladies set the stage, in 2018, for South Korea’s #MeToo motion, which introduced a wave of girls talking out in opposition to movie administrators, politicians, and actors. Beneath banners that learn: “My Life is Not Your Porn,” girls additionally took to the streets en masse to protest the usage of spycams prompting a crackdown on the usage of unlawful cameras in public locations.

Jean Chung—Getty Pictures South Korean girls protest in opposition to sexism and hidden digicam pornography in August 2018 in Seoul. Over 40,000 girls staged a protest to induce South Korean authorities to provide you with measures to sort out sexual abuse involving hidden cameras.

However the rising visibility of feminism and the struggle for gender equality has been met with a rising backlash from some males who assume the motion has precipitated “reverse discrimination” and that #MeToo is a witch hunt. In a June 2021 ballot, 84% of Korean males of their twenties, and 83% of their thirties, mentioned they’d skilled “critical gender-based discrimination.” (In a survey March 2019 U.S. survey by the Hill-HarrisX, 38% of Democrats and 56% of Republicans surveyed mentioned males confronted discrimination).

“The unemployment fee is excessive, housing costs are actually excessive. So, males of their twenties begin to really feel like ‘we’re the victims,’ says Lee at CSU. “They want one thing guilty these issues on and anti-feminism is a channel to vent their frustration.”

In an early signal of how polarized the controversy over gender equality was turning into, the 2019 film adaption of the bestselling e book Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982—which particulars the every single day gender discrimination confronted by a mean South Korean lady— led {couples} to argue, and a few to break-up, in line with media reviews.

The anti-feminist motion has incubated in on-line boards, the place some males have been radicalized. “Spy cam? It must be punished sternly by regulation. However the Republic of Korea is now going loopy, scrapping the precept of advantage of doubt by letting males be branded as intercourse criminals with none proof simply because girls say so, because of the feminist institution,” Bae In-gyu, a central determine of the anti-feminist group “New Males on Solidarity,” wrote final month on Fb, the place he has greater than 15,000 followers. (Bae didn’t reply to TIME’s request for an interview).

Woohae Cho—The New York Instances/ReduxBae In-kyu, head of “Man on Solidarity,” considered one of South Korea’s most lively anti-feminist teams, leads a rally in Seoul in December 2021. “Feminists are a social evil,” he has mentioned.

Jang, the South Korean lawmaker, faces vicious trolling on-line. She tries to not learn the net assaults in opposition to her, however “as a politician I can’t simply cherry-pick individuals’s reactions, so generally I’ve to learn this stuff. Typically it makes me want a drink,” she says, laughing.

However her smile fades as she talks about how the anti-feminist sentiment has develop into so excessive that she worries about her bodily security. She says the abuse has impacted her psychological well being. Bae’s group has held quite a few protests in opposition to feminists. A number of feminists TIME spoke to mentioned they obtain frequent threatening cellphone calls, and have been bodily attacked, together with having water thrown on them merely for having brief hair. “After anti-feminism gained traction, extra persons are starting to simply accept violence in opposition to feminists, like, ‘they’re feminists they usually deserve it.’ That is gravely harmful,” Jang says.

Anti-feminists have focused girls throughout South Korean society. Olympic archer An San received a number of medals at the Tokyo Olympics, however she obtained on-line abuse at house for her brief coiffure. “We didn’t prepare and feed you with tax cash as a way to commit feminist acts,” one man posted.

A suicide prevention web site aimed toward younger girls, whose suicide charges jumped by greater than 40% through the pandemic, even went down briefly due to assaults by hackers who mentioned it disregarded males’s lives.

In August 2021, Bae reportedly dressed because the Joker and harassed girls’s rights activists from the feminist group Haeil at a rally for a video for social media. “I heard that there have been f—king feminists right here; I’m going to homicide all of them,” he reportedly mentioned.

READ MORE: How #MeToo Is Taking over a Lifetime of Its Personal in Asia

‘A lonely time’ for feminist politicians

Though girls throughout South Korean public life have reported often being the goal of misogynistic assaults, feminine politicians are available in for among the worst abuse. The Justice Occasion’s Ryu Ho-jeong, 29, is South Korea’s youngest lawmaker, and a fierce advocate for employees rights. However she has additionally spoken out on gender equality points, and in August 2020 she wore an off-the-cuff summer time gown to the Nationwide Meeting, sparking nationwide media protection and drawing criticism from social media customers and even some politicians.

Ryu highlighted among the most vitriolic feedback she’s obtained with a Fb publish in Might 2021, the one 12 months anniversary of her time period, together with 18 full-page screenshots of on-line abuse.

“You piece of s— b—…reside stream your t—s, you soiled feminist b—,” learn one remark. “Is that this a lawmaker or somebody working at a bar, LOL,” one other wrote, in response to a photograph of Ryu carrying a gown that might be thought-about completely respectable in most different international locations. Others referred to as her a “name lady.”

“The trolling, the assaults—in fact, it doesn’t make me really feel good, however there are lots of girls I symbolize that undergo worse harassment or discrimination than I do. There are individuals who I ought to rise up for. That’s what makes me maintain going,Ryu tells TIME, whereas on a prepare from town of Daejeon to Daegu. She’s additionally been campaigning continuous for the previous few weeks for the Justice Occasion’s Sim.

Woohae Cho—The New York Instances/Redux Anti-feminists maintain indicators that learn “Condemn feminism” and “Cease male hatred” throughout a rally in Seoul, Dec. 12, 2021.

Jang additionally faces vicious on-line trolling. Though she’s greatest recognized for her work on incapacity rights, she publicly identifies as a feminist. She says that as the results of the backlash in opposition to feminism, it’s arduous to search out different politicians who will discuss feminist points or label themselves as a feminist. “It’s a quite lonely time,” she says. “A buddy of mine informed me that I’ve to face like a bulwark. ‘Irrespective of the climate or what number of harsh waves hit you and attempt to tear you down, it is advisable to stand sturdy in opposition to this backlash.’”

However she worries that anti-feminism might have critical implications for her political profession. She cares deeply about issues like rights for disabled individuals and local weather change, however she fears that being positioned as a feminist politician in a “male-centric and deeply patriarchal political atmosphere” is the “new glass ceiling in politics.” “No matter you say is taken into account to be simply one other feminist plot,” she says.

A president who espouses anti-feminist sentiments

Even earlier than the election, the opportunity of a Yoon presidency had some girls anxious about what their future may appear to be. Kim Ju-hee, one of many co-founders of Haeil, thinks Yoon’s techniques are just like these utilized by former U.S. president Donald Trump, who stoked hatred to win voters—besides that Yoon is concentrating on girls as an alternative of immigrants. She worries that assaults on feminists will worsen like assaults on minorities did within the U.S.

“After Trump’s election, immigrants have been in additional hazard. I fear the identical will occur [to women] in South Korea after a conservative victory,” she says.

SeongJoon Cho—Bloomberg/Getty Pictures Yoon, South Korea’s president-elect and holding a bouquet, speaks at his marketing campaign workplace within the Nationwide Meeting. The previous prime prosecutor received the election as South Korea’s president, returning the conservative opposition to energy after 5 years

One lady in her early thirties, who requested to not be named as a result of she didn’t wish to publicly share her voting preferences, tells TIME after Lee conceded the election Thursday, she was “tremendous devastated.”

She had stayed up all evening watching the election outcomes roll in with a bunch of associates. “[Yoon] is the definition of hatred and it’s not solely about gender equality. He received this election primarily based on hatred in opposition to every kind of minorities, not simply girls.”

She informed TIME that gender equality was the primary concern for her heading into the polls. She loves the Justice Occasion’s candidate Sim and initially deliberate to vote for her even supposing Sim had no shot at victory. (Just like the U.S., presidential politics in South Korea is dominated by two predominant political events, and third-party candidates don’t stand an opportunity of profitable the election).

However the lady had seen that Lee has been extra vocal about girls’s points just lately, and she or he wished to do what she may to maintain Yoon from getting elected. “I can’t reside on this nation with a president that doesn’t assume structural discrimination exists.”

Irrespective of the outcome, many ladies say that the anti-feminist rhetoric that has outlined this election marketing campaign has made South Korea a worse place for them. “It’s actually detrimental to South Korean politics,” says Jang. “I consider that the residents’ lives are worsening as anti-feminist rhetoric is being explicitly accepted within the public sphere, together with politics.”

—With reporting by Subin Kim/Incheon, South Korea and Charlie Campbell/London


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