Popular culture can amplify a country’s soft power – and much has been made about K-pop’s contributions to South Korea’s ability to reach a global audience. However, these cultural assets are often constrained and cut down to size by the country’s own toxic political discourse. In Korea, anti-feminist ideology may become the breakwater to the Korean Wave.
Antifeminist groups recently targeted a K-pop singer after she spoke out against dating violence in a public announcement video produced by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Detractors argued that her participation in this video was a “feminist act” – something that an increasing number of young men associate not as advocacy for gender equality but misandry. This comes after a string of similar events, including the harassment of an Olympic athlete for wearing her hair short.
These anti-feminist groups are vocal and becoming increasingly influential, creating stigma around the label “feminism.” The appointment of Lee Jun-seok – who hinted that the abolition of the Ministry of Gender Equality might become a campaign platform in the 2022 presidential election – as the leader of the opposition People Power Party further emboldened this toxic discourse.
The social consequences of anti-feminist ideology will be unambiguously damaging. Suffocation of the creative arts represents one aspect of the potentially wide-ranging fallout. Given the history of past governments unofficially censoring artists who were critical of the status quo, the embrace of anti-feminism as an acceptable political identity by a major party could have a chilling effect on the entertainment industry pending the outcome of upcoming elections. Even if there is no formal government directive against advocacy of gender equality, the arbitrary harassment of artists and public figures for perceived slights will stifle the freedom of expression – the very bedrock of the creative arts.
This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.
Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Janet Hong, Yubin Huh, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the public service announcement produced by the ROK Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.