From left: Kim Jung-hyun, You Ho-Jun, Ko Seon-do and Byun Hyeon-Jun (Lee Ji-min/The Korea Herald)
Last month, a group of men who identified themselves as feminists held a press conference in central Seoul. The move made headlines, bucking the trend in a country where young men, often characterized as anti-feminist, have emerged as an important voting bloc in the upcoming presidential election.
“Abolishing the Gender Equality Ministry or sending women to the military will not improve gender equality or solve the issues young men face,” the group, named Ordinary Guys Who Take Action, said in a statement.
“We know the problems we experience are not the fault of feminism.”
The group has called on fellow young men to take action to tackle gender discrimination and learn to coexist with people without attacking and competing with others.
Major political parties have pandered to growing anti-feminism sentiment. Presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party, the country’s main conservative party, has promised to abolish the Gender Equality Ministry, a policy that has been widely popular with young men, according to surveys.
The Korea Herald talked to four men who are part of the group about the country’s anti-feminism sentiment ahead of the election on March 9.
Byun Hyeon-Jun, 21, university student
Byun studies sociology at university.
Q: How was the group formed?
A: In about early January, feminist activist Lee Ga-hyun took to Facebook to look for men who could represent those who are not part of the so-called “men in their 20s” in this election cycle and push back on the narrative. So we first got together and our friends and acquaintances came along later, and it ended up becoming a group of 17 by the first press conference.
Q: What would you like to see from this election?
A: I hope the election ends in a way that shows that it’s not just young men but women in their 20s and 30s also exist as voters. A lot of women seem to feel they are left with no option this time. But I’m also optimistic that despite how the election is going and even if someone wins in this political climate, it won’t mean the changes in our society will stay that way forever. Whoever wins, I think people should unite and show that they exist here. I hope people don’t lose hope regardless of the outcome.
Ordinary Guys Who Take Action holds a press conference in central Seoul on Feb. 9 with a banner that reads, “Are we not men in their 20s?” (Yonhap)
You Ho-Jun, 27, office worker
You works at a construction company.
Q: What is the message the group is trying to convey?
A: There are men in their 20s who don’t fit the image that has been created (in this election cycle). Our message is that we are making our voices heard and we will continue to do so. We also wanted to call out the practice of stereotyping young men and how the portrayal is consumed in the media, which has been harmful.
Q: What do you think of the calls to abolish the Gender Equality Ministry?
A: I think everyone knows that abolishing the Gender Equality Ministry won’t solve the social issues that young men face but people are staying quiet. Dismantling the ministry will neither solve the housing shortage problem nor the lack of job security, or the lack of safety in the workplace.
I hope voters make a choice on the election day that could move this country closer toward gender equality.
Q: What did you think of candidate Yoon’s comment that “systematic gender discrimination no longer exists?”
A: I’ve had friends from university complain about their female peers getting a job and being promoted quicker than them. But then I ask them about the gender ratio among senior roles or whether the gender ratio when they start work continues down the path. These questions show systemic gender inequality still exists.
Kim Jung-hyun, 31, office worker
Kim is a transgender man who is out to his family and co-workers.
Q: How was the reaction to the press conference?
A: After the press conference, there was a great amount of reaction. The people who fall under the so called “men in their 20s” category were very critical of us. But instead of retreating, it motivated me to raise my voice even more. The reaction has strengthened my will power.
Q: Young men in South Korea have received international media coverage as a demographic that is largely anti-feminist. What do you think of this portrayal?
A: Despite the rise of anti-Asian crimes in other countries, I don’t believe everyone is like that. Similarly, not all young men in this country are anti-feminist.
Photo caption 2: Members of the group Ordinary Guys Who Take Action during an interview with The Korea Herald (Lee Ji-min/The Korea Herald)
Ko Seon-do, 23, office worker
Ko works at a manufacturing company.
Q: The press conference last month made headlines. How did you feel?
A: I knew the stereotyping of young men as a new voting bloc has become a hot potato but didn’t expect to see 30 media outlets present. On one had it was successful but on the other it was bittersweet in that this is something feminist women have talked about for a long time. But because we are young men, we received so much more attention.
Q: Do you think it is a new phenomenon that young men are anti-feminist, right-leaning?
A: The tendency has always been there among our generation. But as the recent stereotyping of young men in their 20s as “anti-feminist and right-leaning” became widespread, it seems to reinforce the sentiment, making it hard to push back.
Q: What do you expect from presidential candidates during this election?
A: In the previous election, the candidates except for Hong Joon-pyo (of the country’s main conservative party) all claimed to become a feminist president. But when you look back on the five years, they have not been acting like it much. During this election, they are coddling and pandering to men in their 20s but only to win votes, rather than actually understanding their problems or gender discrimination.
When elected, the lives of men in their 20s will not improve in my opinion. I hope politicians do actual work to improve the lives of young people.
By Yim Hyun-su (firstname.lastname@example.org