South Koreans think sex is bad

Why a «gender war» suddenly broke out in South Korea

Nowhere do women have fewer children than in South Korea. Because the women there have had enough of their husbands.

An evening in a noisy restaurant in the hip Gangnam district of Seoul. At a table there is a group of men cracking jokes. One of them shouts in an amused tone: "She's not pretty!" Another replies: "Oh, it works!"

Seok Jae Yeon, a 30-year-old call center employee, met her friend Jeong Su Mi in the same restaurant and said: "I've lost my desire for men." She kept asking her boss why he didn't have a boyfriend. "I'm pretty and I have to find someone," he says. Jeong Su Mi nods: “I know. Recently they asked me at work: 'Is that why you don't have a boyfriend because you're a feminist?' I would have liked to say to them: 'No. Because I am not interested in men like you. ›»

The mood that evening is bad. And it is quite possible that similar conversations will take place in various other places in South Korea at the same time. In the East Asian country, there has been talk of a “gender war” for some time. The term, which emerged on the Internet, describes an increasingly harsh argument about images of women and men.

The South Korean? A hangukman!

The conflict is mainly carried out in social networks, but it has its origin in the very real structures of everyday life. Hardly any other liberal industrial country discriminates against women as strongly as South Korea; In the “Gender Gap Report” of the World Economic Forum, which measures gender equality in the labor market, politics, education and health, the country ranks 108th out of 152. South Korea does particularly poorly on the labor market. And then, earlier this year, South Korea hit the headlines with another record: With 0.92 children per woman, it has the lowest reproductive rate in the world. If it stays that way, the country's population will shrink from 2027.

If one hears the complaints of the two young women, one is directly related to the other. “Most men hate self-confident women,” says Jeong Su Mi. The research assistant at a think tank enumerates: “They don't want you to have your own opinion, nor do they want you to be well educated. You're only supposed to be a housewife. But no modern woman wants such a life today. " “That's why they abuse us as feminists,” says Seok Jae Yeon. “And we scold them 'hangukman'”, Jeong Su Mi laughs, not without malice. Hangukman can be easily translated as "Korean man". And that is tantamount to a reactionary attitude towards women. After a short silence, Jeong Su Mi says: “If today's men don't want today's women, then they won't get any. I prefer to concentrate on my job. "

This makes it trendy. According to a survey by a job agency among a good 1,000 people, almost seven out of ten South Koreans simply have no time for dates, partnerships or marriage. Many employees cannot afford to go home early. Because a third of the population does not have a permanent job; Social benefits and job security are missing. The result: In almost no other industrialized country do you spend more time at work. In South Korea there are an average of 630 hours more per year than in Germany and 432 more than in Switzerland.

Love is gone

In addition, women earn less than men even with the same qualifications. That was accepted for a long time. Young Na, wearing a gray hoodie, short hair and rimless glasses, is standing in an office on the northern outskirts of Seoul. She is the chair of Share, an NGO that fights against inequalities of all kinds. Young Na says that in Korea it was taken for granted that women do not have to earn the same amount as men because they can marry a man who earns well. But in today's difficult job market, men with good incomes have become in short supply. And many South Koreans also wanted to be independent today. "What else did you go to university for?"

Young Na opens a folder with studies and looks at a series of numbers. These paint the picture of a country that no longer loves. Only four in ten young adults are still in some kind of love affair. Three quarters of women between 25 and 29 are unmarried; 56 percent of 30 and 34 year olds are single. Young Na says: "The problem is pretty serious."

The origin of the gender war in South Korea dates back to before the Metoo era. A year before the #MeToo movement took off worldwide in autumn 2017, a man in South Korea who apparently felt rejected by women had stabbed a stranger to death in a public toilet. Women took to the streets and demonstrated against the discrimination they experience every day. Government statistics made the rounds that a woman is murdered in the country every two to three days. That in turn provoked a countermovement. All of a sudden, groups of men complained about the pressure that was on them to find a good job in the labor market. They regarded the feminist movement as polemical, and their supporters described them as social arsonists.

In early 2019, speed skating gold medalist Shim Suk Hee accused her trainer of multiple rape. Numerous other cases of abuse in sports soon came to light. In the same year, it was discovered that Korean pop stars had secretly filmed women having sex and sent videos around. And the pop stars were by no means the only ones. Cameras were found in hotels and toilets across the country and large amounts of money had been paid for voyeuristic recordings online.

Sexual abuse is also ubiquitous in the workplace, where South Koreans spend most of their lives. According to a government survey, eight out of ten female workers have experienced sexual harassment, with young and irregularly employed women particularly affected. “Most of the time they don't defend themselves,” says Young Na, looking a little perplexed. "You are afraid of losing your job or not having a career afterwards." After all, the job is a priority for many women today, despite patriarchal structures. Highly qualified women are particularly often childless.

The solution? Emigrate

“How can it be any different?” Jeong Su Mi asks himself in the restaurant in the evening. «I have a master’s degree from a top university and still no permanent position. I have to concentrate on my career to have some kind of security. " Having children in South Korea is particularly expensive in international comparison because the costs of a good education are high. Before she could even think about children, Jeong Su Mi needed a man who would support her in her life. “There are almost no men like that here. I'm considering moving to Europe and doing my doctorate there. "

The government has now recognized the problem that love is waning between the younger South Koreans. It has increased parental allowances, improved conditions for paternity leave, and President Moon Jae In, who describes himself as feminist, said that women urgently need to be shown more respect.

Jeong Su Mi is not yet impressed. «I want equal treatment. And I don't want to be afraid of being stabbed to death by a stranger in a toilet. And I don't want to be seen as a sex object. " She looks around. The group of men laughs again. And you can't help but assume that it's about something sexist.