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Feminism, Meninism and Moon

By David Tizzard

Every Friday morning I teach a 3-hour Politics class to 70 undergrad students at one of Seoul's top universities. Despite the early start, the young 20-something Korean men and women, as well as the international students joining them, take to the topics with a frightening enthusiasm ― whether it be nationalism, political behaviour, post-materialism, elite theory, or otherwise.

This week, however, despite remaining fairly confident in my ability to keep things on an even academic keel, and building on our theoretical study of political identity, I threw a potential bomb into the room: Feminism in South Korea and the reported resultant backlash from young men.

A Realmeter poll in 2018 declared that 76% of men here in their 20s opposed feminism ― for comparison only 9.5% of South Korea men in their 50s said they were anti-feminist. Truly staggering numbers, particularly for the Europeans in the class ― of which, all things Brexit aside, I remain one.

And yet that is not all that young Korean men are apparently in opposition to: in December it was reported that less than 30% of men in their 20s supported President Moon while, conversely, 63.5% of women favoured the incumbent chief.

And so while the ruling (Double-o) Minjoo Party of Korea attracts the political support of a great many of the nation's women, the young men of the nation are turning elsewhere. And currently that elsewhere is the Bareun Mirae Party, and more specifically the work of Lee Jun-seok.

Lee is Harvard-educated and the youngest ever politician to hold a leadership position in the South Korean conservative party. In the wake of ex-President Park's impeachment, he left the main opposition for new pastures and a new angle.

In a story that sounds all too Shapiro-y or Peterson-esque (which makes it important because it suggests that such political phenomena might not be specific to a particular culture or nation but rather a broader consequence of post-material values shaping new political identities and social behvaiour that should be better understood), Youtube videos of Lee 'destroying' feminists have attracted viewers in the millions.

The men are going one way while the women another with the twains seemingly never to meet. But does the politics remain the same?

It seems, on support numbers alone, President Moon is living up to his pre-election pledges in which he called himself a "feminist president". This was matched by his promise to bolster the presence of the Ministry of Gender Equality, work towards greater female representation in politics, and address one of the OECD's biggest pay gaps.

I have previously written about the current administration's silence on LGBTQI+ issues ― unlike a great many of the international embassies here, it has not visibly supported any of the pride events nor has it seemingly been willing to address the fact that homosexuality remains prohibited in the military.

Perhaps the now near omnipresent "justice reform" being discussed will bring this about…but despite having quit cigarettes and my lungs being better than ever, I shan't hold my breath.

All the above considered and more, the challenge was for these university students to then try and explain the great disparity in reported gender and political attitudes in South Korea based on what they had learned of the formation of political identity, behavior, and values without falling into the reductive trap of internet speech or ideology.

Pleasingly for the future of the nation, not only were the discussions cordial, they were well-informed, critical, and predominantly free of reductionism and solely normative statements.

But then came the challenging questions.

Democracies are run by a small minority of people elected by the masses, and that small minority ― regardless of political allegiance ― will often have more in common with each other than the average citizen.

That is never more evident and shocking for people than when they see supposed erstwhile enemies such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama chumming it up at events. This week, gay icon Ellen Degeneres has also had to defend herself for having "a friend" in the very same George W. Bush

People here often refer to themselves on the internet as the 99% "kae-dwejji" (dogs and pigs) living under their masters ― aping the infamous comment made by government official Na Hyang-wook in 2016.

But what if these political parties and groups actively seek ― or at least do not mind ― the creation of such cleavages in society, like the gender one, because it supports their own position.
In other words, "Is it possible for a political party to promote a good cause for a bad reason?"

Could political parties be pushing, creating, and manipulating a division between the genders to reinforce their own positions and maintain power? And, more broadly, to ensure that the current political system remains intact and reproduces itself?

Wouldn't they be foolish not to?

Many of the students said that not only was this possible, it also reflected their own life experiences.

OECD figures demonstrate that there are serious, likely deep-rooted, cultural issues that need to be reflected on in Korean society ― particularly in workplace attitudes ― and a more equal and liberal environment for women (and men) to thrive and achieve their potentials needs to be fostered.

And there is no doubt that this country needed a great reshaping and that happened almost overnight following the tragic murder of a young lady in Gangnam with tens of millions of women finding solidarity in their political identity not as Koreans but rather as women in support of each other.

It is also not to discount or discredit the great many challenges faced by women in society here which are very real and ― with the demonstrable huge number of molka cases ― very disturbing.

The men are also facing economic challenges, a near two years of national service, and political alienation as their worldviews (a product perhaps more of their environment than their own free will) are now not being represented by the major political parties but rather splinters and off-shoots.

But I can't help forever be struck by the notion that there remains a glaring chasm between the chaotic din of the internet's hashtags and the "real world" ― particularly when discussing such issues with those who it directly involves.

Maybe the educational environment I reside in changes the language. Maybe they are working on Timur Kuran's "preference falsification" and hiding their real feelings. Maybe I'm just lucky in that the young educated youth are generally rational and progressive in equal measure…

But I'm still left curious as to whether these cleavages aren't being used, to some degree, for political purposes.

What do you think?


David Tizzard (datizzard@swu.ac.kr) is an assistant professor at Seoul Women's University. He also presents economic and cultural issues on Business Now on TBS eFM (101.3FM) live every Wednesday evening from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.


By David Tizzard

Every Friday morning I teach a 3-hour Politics class to 70 undergrad students at one of Seoul's top universities. Despite the early start, the young 20-something Korean men and women, as well as the international students joining them, take to the topics with a frightening enthusiasm ― whether it be nationalism, political behaviour, post-materialism, elite theory, or otherwise.

This week, however, despite remaining fairly confident in my ability to keep things on an even academic keel, and building on our theoretical study of political identity, I threw a potential bomb into the room: Feminism in South Korea and the reported resultant backlash from young men.

A Realmeter poll in 2018 declared that 76% of men here in their 20s opposed feminism ― for comparison only 9.5% of South Korea men in their 50s said they were anti-feminist. Truly staggering numbers, particularly for the Europeans in the class ― of which, all things Brexit aside, I remain one.

And yet that is not all that young Korean men are apparently in opposition to: in December it was reported that less than 30% of men in their 20s supported President Moon while, conversely, 63.5% of women favoured the incumbent chief.

And so while the ruling (Double-o) Minjoo Party of Korea attracts the political support of a great many of the nation's women, the young men of the nation are turning elsewhere. And currently that elsewhere is the Bareun Mirae Party, and more specifically the work of Lee Jun-seok.

Lee is Harvard-educated and the youngest ever politician to hold a leadership position in the South Korean conservative party. In the wake of ex-President Park's impeachment, he left the main opposition for new pastures and a new angle.

In a story that sounds all too Shapiro-y or Peterson-esque (which makes it important because it suggests that such political phenomena might not be specific to a particular culture or nation but rather a broader consequence of post-material values shaping new political identities and social behvaiour that should be better understood), Youtube videos of Lee 'destroying' feminists have attracted viewers in the millions.

The men are going one way while the women another with the twains seemingly never to meet. But does the politics remain the same?

It seems, on support numbers alone, President Moon is living up to his pre-election pledges in which he called himself a "feminist president". This was matched by his promise to bolster the presence of the Ministry of Gender Equality, work towards greater female representation in politics, and address one of the OECD's biggest pay gaps.

I have previously written about the current administration's silence on LGBTQI+ issues ― unlike a great many of the international embassies here, it has not visibly supported any of the pride events nor has it seemingly been willing to address the fact that homosexuality remains prohibited in the military.

Perhaps the now near omnipresent "justice reform" being discussed will bring this about…but despite having quit cigarettes and my lungs being better than ever, I shan't hold my breath.

All the above considered and more, the challenge was for these university students to then try and explain the great disparity in reported gender and political attitudes in South Korea based on what they had learned of the formation of political identity, behavior, and values without falling into the reductive trap of internet speech or ideology.

Pleasingly for the future of the nation, not only were the discussions cordial, they were well-informed, critical, and predominantly free of reductionism and solely normative statements.

But then came the challenging questions.

Democracies are run by a small minority of people elected by the masses, and that small minority ― regardless of political allegiance ― will often have more in common with each other than the average citizen.

That is never more evident and shocking for people than when they see supposed erstwhile enemies such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama chumming it up at events. This week, gay icon Ellen Degeneres has also had to defend herself for having "a friend" in the very same George W. Bush

People here often refer to themselves on the internet as the 99% "kae-dwejji" (dogs and pigs) living under their masters ― aping the infamous comment made by government official Na Hyang-wook in 2016.

But what if these political parties and groups actively seek ― or at least do not mind ― the creation of such cleavages in society, like the gender one, because it supports their own position.
In other words, "Is it possible for a political party to promote a good cause for a bad reason?"

Could political parties be pushing, creating, and manipulating a division between the genders to reinforce their own positions and maintain power? And, more broadly, to ensure that the current political system remains intact and reproduces itself?

Wouldn't they be foolish not to?

Many of the students said that not only was this possible, it also reflected their own life experiences.

OECD figures demonstrate that there are serious, likely deep-rooted, cultural issues that need to be reflected on in Korean society ― particularly in workplace attitudes ― and a more equal and liberal environment for women (and men) to thrive and achieve their potentials needs to be fostered.

And there is no doubt that this country needed a great reshaping and that happened almost overnight following the tragic murder of a young lady in Gangnam with tens of millions of women finding solidarity in their political identity not as Koreans but rather as women in support of each other.

It is also not to discount or discredit the great many challenges faced by women in society here which are very real and ― with the demonstrable huge number of molka cases ― very disturbing.

The men are also facing economic challenges, a near two years of national service, and political alienation as their worldviews (a product perhaps more of their environment than their own free will) are now not being represented by the major political parties but rather splinters and off-shoots.

But I can't help forever be struck by the notion that there remains a glaring chasm between the chaotic din of the internet's hashtags and the "real world" ― particularly when discussing such issues with those who it directly involves.

Maybe the educational environment I reside in changes the language. Maybe they are working on Timur Kuran's "preference falsification" and hiding their real feelings. Maybe I'm just lucky in that the young educated youth are generally rational and progressive in equal measure…

But I'm still left curious as to whether these cleavages aren't being used, to some degree, for political purposes.

What do you think?


David Tizzard (datizzard@swu.ac.kr) is an assistant professor at Seoul Women's University. He also presents economic and cultural issues on Business Now on TBS eFM (101.3FM) live every Wednesday evening from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.




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