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[Us and Them] Misguided anger fans growing gender conflict

(123rf)
(123rf)
The conflict between the sexes -- more pronounced between feminists and anti-feminists online -- is growing, and spilling out into the real world, affecting corporate activities and even election results.

The battle appears mostly limited to extreme ends of the spectrum with radical anti-feminists branding feminists as obese, socially inadequate women throwing tantrums.

Those at the other end of the spectrum are just as antagonistic, with members of “feminist” online groups referring to all men as potential sex criminals, and even encouraging violence against men.

The “anti-feminists” claim that men are victims of reverse discrimination, and that they have been stereotyped as powerful and potentially dangerous to women. Policies, court rulings and investments all favor women’s rights, while men’s rights are overlooked, anti-feminists argue.

“What is it that men have more of than women in today’s society?” asked a 29-year-old male, wishing to remain anonymous in fear of being “terrorized for criticizing radical feminists.”

“I graduate the same college as them, and I take the same tests and interviews for schools and jobs. Where is this so-called privilege that I have?”

Anti-feminists like him believe today’s women are privileged, and that only older women faced systemic discrimination. For that reason, they argue, young women today have no personal basis to claim they have been subjected to discrimination, and affirmative action for women is based on outdated views.

While the conflict is more pronounced among those at extreme ends of the spectrum, “ordinary” young people are also involved, with male and female students clashing over issues such as military service.

Whatever the reality may be, the feeling of facing systemic disadvantages appears common for both men and women.

According to a survey from the Gender Equality Ministry, which targeted Koreans between the ages of 15 and 39, 74.6 percent of the female respondents considered Korean society unequal and unfair for women. In the same survey, 51.7 percent of the male respondents said they felt discriminated against.

It has been pointed out that economic difficulties have added fuel to the conflict, with each side denouncing the other for the lack of jobs and insufficient funds to secure property. Some experts say the blame should be directed toward older generations or policymakers who effectively created the unfair society of today.

According to Kim Yun-tae, a sociology professor at Korea University, young men’s anger at their female peers is misdirected.

Citing difficulties such as the job market, skyrocketing housing prices and compulsory military service -- for which many young men feel there is no reward -- Kim says that young men in today’s Korean society feel overwhelmed. Their frustration is being directed at their competitors: young women, who they feel are gaining an unfair advantage.

Some experts say that the growing divide between feminists and dissenters is a global trend, and that it is inevitable. The problem may seem greater in Korea than in other countries, but the divide occurs when women’s rights expand over time, they say.

“We can’t single out one thing as the cause of the divide between feminists and those against them growing, but we need to understand that Korea is not alone in experiencing this divide,” said Sohn Hee-jeong, a researcher at the Kyunghee University Center for Cross-Cultural Studies.

“Young women have become more vocal about this issue and publicly express their problems of living in male-centered society, and the other side who don’t approve of their notions also raised their voice as a means to fight.”

Sohn said the conflict is definitely going to continue for the time being and bridging the divide will be a difficult challenge, adding that it isn’t easy to forecast how the problem will be concluded.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)

The concept of “us” is a strong force in Korean culture, and to be counted as “one of us” in any group comes with privileges big and small within its boundaries. However, for those who fall outside the boundaries of “normal,” life in Korea can be riddled with hurdles and sometimes open hatred. In a series of articles, we take a closer look at the biases that exist in Korea, and the lives of those branded as “them” by mainstream society. -- Ed.
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