Korean Men: A Culture of Misogyny

PSY’s ‘Gentleman’ MV: A highlight reel of Korean Male Misogyny

In Korea, we live by a powerful creed; Woori ( Us/We )

A symbolic anthem that has allowed a geographically small nation to triumph in the harshest of historical conditions. A pride, marked by the deep recognition that as one, we are invincible. But apart, vulnerable.

Yet, as we push beyond the expectations of our global neighbors, we seem to have forgotten this everlasting creed that has guided us to this peak.

We have forgotten that this hymn represents All Koreans, because the current state of affairs for over 50% of our population in no way represents the unified spirit that has made Korea so special.

Korea is failing half of its nation. Suppressing half of its people. And systematically discriminating against the very majority that makes up its country.

Korean Women.

Simply stated, the women of Korea do not live in an equal opportunity, fair, and ‘Woori’ based nation, and there is one group that has played a distinct role in developing and maintaining the current uneven playing field for women in Korea.

Korean Men.

JYP: A Misogynistic Korean Ahjussi (Old Man)

The Brutal Stats of Misogyny

There is little argument over the fact that women in Korea do not observe the same opportunities and career advancement options as their male peers.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report produced by the World Economic Forum, an index that measures gender equality, Korea ranked 116 out of 145 countries. ( Below Liberia, the Maldives, and just above Zambia.. )

Further, of OECD Countries, Korean women faced the highest gender wage gap in the world, making nearly 40% less than their male counterparts.

The top 3 conglomerates ( Samsung, Hyundai & LG ) do not have a single female on their board, and a measly 2.6% of CEOs of Korean corporations are women.

For a country that is 50.3% female, the above figures highlight a disproportionate advantage for a gender that is in no way more apt to succeed than women. Especially when the number of women now outnumber men in terms of University entrance by 7%.

How is it then, that an educated workforce receives 40% less than their equivalent peers, and silenced when it comes to high level decision making in the nation’s most prominent corporations?

While various reasons abound, we can not deny, that there is a systematic suppression of women, and this institutionalized discrimination is led mainly by one group: Korean men.

Korean women certainly did not develop this ecosystem of disadvantage.

The chasm of opportunity between men and women in Korea makes the Mariana Trench look like a golf divot.

Yet, despite the glaring vastness of the gap, it is at the same time dashingly camouflaged in a dark cloak of cultural acceptance. The discrimination, while prevalent, thrashes in the form of tiny cuts.

It is in the viciousness of it’s re-occurrence that bleeds the women of Korea dry of their fullest potential and life.

These cuts:

  • Asking a women her age during interviews and when first meeting
  • Requiring a photo on her resume
  • Asking when she plans to have kids in a job interview
  • Being interviewed by an all male panel of recruiters
  • Asking “Did you gain weight?”
  • Asking her to use more ‘Aegyo’ at work ( cute talk )
  • Forcing only the females to wear company uniforms while the male equivalents don’t (banks)
  • Objectifying them as sex objects rather than an actual human
  • Having the females clean the table/room after a meeting
  • Asking her to take the lunch order when the male equivalent never does
  • Asking if she’s single at work ( team meetings, lunches, dinners, events )
  • Joking that the second round should be at a ‘room salon’ or ‘ten pro’
  • Having an executive team that is 100% male
  • Having a board that is 100% male
  • TV shows where an all male cast judge female contestants on singing/dancing/acting etc
  • Expecting your wife to make breakfast
  • Texting a girlfriend, “Did you get home safe?” when you really mean “Are you with another guy?”
  • Telling her what time she needs to be home
  • Expecting your wife to stay at home once you have kids
  • Music videos like JYP’sWho’s Your Mama’ or Psy’s ‘Gentleman
  • Shaming a woman for maternity leave
  • Failing to give mothers full time status and relegating them to only part time/short term contracts

( Above responses are real and were all sent in by women residing in Korea for this article )

Panel of all male ‘Ahjussis’ ogling at IU (KPop Singer) while demanding she perform for them — A common TV Theme

The most ironic part of the current structure of inequality in Korea, is that it’s most profound architects are men that serve their country for 2 years with the sole mission of protecting the very people they suppress.

Maxim Korea: Disgusting cover with Korean actor, Kim Byeong-ok, posing with a dead woman

It is of vital importance, that when we discuss the issue of women’s equality in Korea we have an honest understanding of the role Korean men have played.

Far too often the specific outputs of discrimination are highlighted ( gender wage gap, lack of promotions, etc ) but the root cause of these issues are rarely touched upon.

While formulating the correct prescription to the myriad of issues women face in this country is critically important, let us also address the preventative measures of how to remove the misogynistic culture ingrained into the men of Korea who see a cultural sore as a norm.

Let me be clear, this is not a “Korean Women’s Issue.” This is a “Korean issue”, and as long as we reside under one flag, it is of utmost urgency that we reverse the tide of inequality in Korea and bring up the majority of this country.

No group has played a more significant role in the unequal treatment of women in the past few decades than Korean men.

TV show in Korea with only male full time cast that judge, mock and play shenanigans on Kpop stars (Show: Knowing Bros)

And if Korea is going to even the playing field, it’s men must recognize the role they need to play to ensure the women of Korea are treated as equals, not 2nd class citizens.

While certainly not all Korean men are misogynistic, and a rising generation with more contemporary views have (and should) take part in the fight for gender equality, the traditional constructs of Confucianism are deeply rooted within the home, office and social lives of modern Koreans.

Culture doesn’t change by new laws and regulations. It occurs in small moments, human moments, when one with power recognizes that there is an imbalance, and rather than fall forward with the ‘natural’ flow of society, he stands against the current, no matter how faint and small, and steps up for those that can’t.

The cuts women face on a daily basis stem from traditional norms, but the base of these acts are rooted in a vulnerability that Korean men face when women succeed or simply receive the same life offerings as they do.

The greatest threat to women’s equality in Korea is the insecurity of Korean men.

Korean men enjoy the comforts of systematic entitlements, and only when these men start to recognize the unequal nature of these benefits will the country begin to move towards a gender equal community.

It is critical that Korean men recognize the sharpness of their misogynistic blade, and if and when, they can maintain a stable level of confidence with the breaking of traditional gender roles will Korean women begin to live the life they have been destined to; As Equals.

This tide of discrimination won’t break in one fell swoop, but rather with the recognition of inequality by Korean men when women are cut. And standing in silence when observing other men discriminate against women is also another form of cutting.

So to combat the tiny cuts, Korean men can heal the wounds of gender discrimination with tiny acts of human recognition.

They can start by feeling comfortable, happy and proud when Korean women:

  • Succeed at the office
  • Test better at school
  • Earn promotions
  • Deliver a better idea and the company goes with it
  • Drive the conversation
  • Manage the same number of teams as men
  • Earn more
  • Live alone
  • Say ‘No’ to the second round
  • Refuse to wear what you tell them to
  • Come home when they want to
  • Eat with who they want to ( males friends are ok )
  • Ask you to clean the table after a meeting
  • Apply for jobs without a headshot
  • Want a career after having kids

While a modest list ( could go on for days.. ) it’s a start, and a baseline for where Korean men can begin to break the cultural tide of misogyny in Korea.

What should have started yesterday, can/must begin today.

Time to stop the cuts. Time to heal the wounds.

Time to raise up, Woori.

For those Korean men who read this article and feel discriminated against, well, welcome to what Korean women face daily. Sucks huh?