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‘#MeToo’ pushes social change in Korea

The phrase “#metoo” was born Oct. 17, 2017, in a now-viral tweet by actress Alyssa Milano. In the tweet, Milano encourages other women to use the hashtag as a vehicle to voice their own stories of sexual harassment and persecution. As we approach nearly a year since the “#metoo” origin, the slogan has left fallout not only in the U.S. but on a global scale as well.

Across oceans and continents stands the divided peninsula of Korea. While most Americans tend to keep their thoughts fixated on the northern half, South Korea is where anyone with an interest in women’s rights should focus. South Korea is often thought of as a mirror of the U.S. It’s a country that after decades of colonialization and poverty, picked itself up by its bootstraps and built one of the world’s largest economies.

Despite South Korea’s innovative and futuristic approach to its entertainment and business, it currently holds the record for having the widest gender wage gap among all 28 OCED countries. As of their 2018 report, Korean women make 40 percent less than their male counterparts.

This means for every $100 a man makes doing the same work for the same time, a woman is only paid $61. While you’d think this deficit might make up for a reasonable amount of anger that has been brewing in South Korea’s women lately, you’d be wrong.

In January 2018, an interview with a woman named Seo Ji-Hyun was aired on JTBC Newsroom, one of the largest newscasts in South Korea. In this interview, Seo Ji-Hyun, who worked as a public prosecutor, accused former South Korean Ministry of Justice’s senior prosecutor, Ahn Tae-geun, of inappropriate groping at a funeral in 2010. When she reported this incident to her boss, she was subsequently condemned for work in her past and transferred to a junior position in a remote village.

This story stirred up women because, in Korean society, prosecutors are considered to be the elite, upper-class. So, if something as disgusting as this could happen to her, then what did it mean for the rest of the over 24 million women in South Korea?

Just as Seo Ji-Hyun claims she was inspired by the western “#metoo” movement to speak her truth, other women saw Seo Ji-Hyun as inspiration and began to come out with their own horror stories. And like we’ve seen in America, the more women raise their voices, the more men fall.

Over the past year, a possible presidential hopeful, Governor Ahn Hee-jung, resigned after he was accused of raping his secretary; Ko Un, a famous poet, and likely future Nobel Prize winner, has had all of his works removed from South Korean textbooks since he was outed for sexually harassing up-and-coming female writers; finally, director Kim Ki-duk, a former winner of the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film Festival, has been halted from releasing his latest feature due to recent allegations of attempted rape from actresses.

On May 19, about 12,000 women took to central Seoul to hold the first Women March for Justice rally. Then, on June 9th, around 22,000 came out to hold signs reading, “#metoo” and “My Life Isn’t Your Porn.” This is in reference to the recent epidemic of spycam porn that has been terrorizing South Korean women.

Better known as “molka,” spycam porn can happen anywhere from bathrooms to buses. The cameras are built to appear as everyday objects such as pens but instead of writing, they take illicit photos of unsuspecting women. It was found by The Korean National Police Agency that an average of 18 cases of “molka” was reported each day, with 98 percent of the perpetrators being men. As these number of cases rise, so does the suicide rate of women who feel they have no other option after being humiliated in these videos.

This is stated as the main cause by the leaders of the Women March for Justice rallies, which has become a monthly event in Seoul. As they told “The Telegraph,” “Women have come out onto the streets to survive and to guarantee their own the right to life. We don’t want any more deaths.”

South Korea is still a largely patriarchal and conservative society, where women at such protests must fully cover their faces to protect themselves from men taking photos, posting them online, and trying to ruin the women’s lives or even worse, get them attacked. Recently, a hugely popular K-Pop star from the girl group “Red Velvet” named Irene shared at a fan meeting she was reading “Kim Ji Young, Born 1982,” a book known to be a “feminist novel.”

Irene’s statement set off her hundreds of male fans, leading them to burn her photos and start petitions online calling for her to be removed from the group. This is just one such case of female Korean celebrities being bashed and disgraced for supporting feminism.

While these stories might seem far-away and distant to us in the West, they may be more relevant than ever. In our current political times, it is important to remember that America sets the tone, especially on topics like human rights and feminism.

The more we tell women that their stories deserve to be heard and give them a platform to speak, the more normal this becomes around the world. When we tear them down and call them liars without due process, we let down the billions of women who look to us for hope.

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