A recent assault case involving three men and two women at a bar near Isu Subway Station in Seoul -- better known as the “Isu Station assault” case -- has triggered an unexpected gender war online, after the women said they were attacked by men for their feminist choices, while others accused them of fabricating the account.
More than 350,000 Koreans signed an online petition asking for the presidential office to punish the three men after one of the two women claimed online that she and her sister were physically attacked for “not wearing makeup” and “having short hair.”
The woman, who is in her early 20s, said she deliberately chose the look -- no makeup with short hair -- as part of the “escape the corset” movement, a Korean feminist movement that rejects makeup and the rigid standards of beauty imposed particularly on young women in Korean society.
Following her online post, however, the police announced that the women had not mentioned the link between their appearance and the fight during the first investigation session. Police added that the physical conflict was initiated after one of the women lightly hit one of the men’s hands.
Meanwhile, a YouTube clip of the incident shows the women taunting the men by mocking the size of their genitals, among other things. “We want to stress that this particular case is a two-way assault,” police said.
After the police announcement, another online petition, this time asking for the women to be punished for their behavior during the incident, was filed with the Blue House online petition site. More than 129,500 people had signed it as of Sunday afternoon.
The person who filed the petition said “radical feminists” -- those who belong to the extremist feminist communities, including Womad and Megalia -- should be differentiated from women in general.
“We understand and respect that you are making efforts to improve and guarantee women’s rights in this country,” the person wrote in the petition.
“But there should be a different set of measures when dealing with women who belong to Megalia and Womad. I ask you to make it clear that you do not acknowledge their opinion as all women’s opinion in this country.”
The case has led to yet another controversy in the entertainment sector, with a rapper named San E publishing a song titled “Feminist” on Friday, a day after the incident near Isu Station took place.
The song, which directly attacks women who claim to be feminists, says: “If you really want equality, why don’t you serve the military service? Why do I always pay when we are on dates? You say ‘girls don’t’ need a prince.’ Then why do you not pay half the housing costs?”
After the lyrics received a wave of criticism, the rapper’s concert, which had been scheduled for Saturday, was abruptly canceled.
South Korea has been witnessing heated public debates on the country’s entrenched misogyny and gender-based violence, after the murder of a young woman in Seoul in 2016.
Tens of thousands of Korean women took part in multiple public protests in Seoul this year, demanding harsher legal punishment for men who produce and watch spycam porn. Although often criticized for their “extremist” agendas, Megalia and Womad are acknowledged for their contributions to the movement against cyber-sex crimes against women.
According to the police, more than 26,000 victims of spycam porn-related crimes were identified from 2012-2016. Among the victims, more than 80 percent were female.
The ongoing feminist movement has been challenged and criticized by some men, who claim young Korean women in fact have advantages over men when it comes to employment and housing.
The men say it's "easier" for young Korean women to get a job after college as they do not have to serve the mandatory military service in their 20s, and women also often "benefit" from a tradition where the groom’s family still provides a large portion of the housing costs for newly married couples.