While the Me Too movement has definitely brought some walls down, it has received its share of criticism. Why is it so, and how might it be worse in Korea? Closer examination of the issue reveals that division between the genders arises from a core misunderstanding of how sexism and feminism operate.

The Me Too movement has taken Korea by storm, but its debris is doing serious damage. While largely hailed as a sweeping progressive movement that has broken many long-held silences, its faults cannot be ignored, and the movement is facing especially strong criticism in Korea. In striving to propel the momentum into a positive direction, we must examine all perspectives— while promoting gender equality and eradicating sexual assault is a goal that the vast majority can agree on, specific movements and methods of taking action are a different issue.

The first major criticism is that the movement has the potential to become somewhat of a witch hunt. The inherent nature of sexual assault allegations is that it is extremely difficult to prove either side of the issue. Thus, opinions have surfaced that the Me Too movement has turned the “innocent until proven guilty” tenet of the democratic justice system into “guilty until proven innocent”.

This has reached an extreme effect in Korea following Jo Min-Ki’s suicide, an actor who faced multiple sexual assault allegations, setting off the Me Too movement in Korea. Some people think it problematic that a single allegation can be enough to destroy someone’s public career, although this seems disproportionate when compared to the destruction of a victim’s dignity and happiness following sexual assault.

The true problem is that amidst torrents of voices genuinely sharing their stories and exposing perpetrators, there have been a couple of false accusations. This has completely muddled the positive energy of the movement and thrown dirt into its values. Even in KIS and other international schools in Korea, some male students have expressed concerns about this aspect of the movement.

This leads to victims facing backlash once they take the courage to speak up, in addition to the rampant victim-blaming. Girls are often asked what they were wearing when it happened, or whether they’d been drinking, as if to imply that some of the incident was their fault. If women receive less empathy and solidarity than questioning and finger-pointing, what happens to the power of speaking the words “me too”?

Another way in which the movement has backfired in Korea is that it has led not to unity between the genders, but an increased divide. Korean women in workplaces have reported being separated from their male colleagues; the problem is that the movement has inspired more fear in many men than empathy. In the male-dominated corporate sphere of Korea, then, the movement has had a negative effect on some women who are being left out of office gatherings, business trips, and social and networking opportunities [2]. (It must be noted that the news outlet that initially reported this as an issue, Chosun Ilbo, has been criticized for reporting an occasional instance as a widespread trend. Readers are advised to note that this occurrence is not universal.)

The value of the Me Too movement certainly lies in that it gives victims courage and builds momentum to eradicate a vicious culture. But the fact that it is dividing the population and not uniting is the core of the problem. Feminism is about unity, because it’s about eliminating sexism, and closing the chasm between the genders. It’s all interconnected— sexism, victim-blaming, and the misinterpretation of the Me Too movement as misandry. There is a crucial distinction to be made here: feminism promotes equality of the genders, while misandry is prejudice against men.

Why is the male perspective often left out when discussing sexism? They make up half the population, and contrary to popular belief, are also negatively affected by sexism. This is because, first of all, gender stereotypes are harmful at either end of the spectrum. Just as girls are categorized as weak, delicate, and over-emotional, boys are also expected to be aggressive, extroverted, and detached. Although sexism affects women more, since they are the belittled and marginalized group, the other end of the spectrum also suffers as a consequence. It is emotionally damaging for a boy to be told that he cannot cry, or that it is abnormal for him to be sensitive or emotionally expressive, when none of these supposedly “feminine” qualities are negative at all. Sexism breaks the heart of a girl who dreams of becoming a firefighter, but it does the same to a boy who yearns to be a nurse, and it does so unseen. This is the concept of “toxic masculinity”, and is definitely a product of sexism, although a lesser visible one.

So what does this have to do with the Me Too movement?

Lots. The reason why the movement should not imply a divide between the genders is because male victims exist, and so do female perpetrators. This is not a fight of man versus woman. It is victim versus perpetrator. That is why there is only one right side in this conflict, and it is against the criminals, the abusers of power, the damagers of human rights.

One in ten rape victims is male. But we never hear about this, and we never talk about this. Male victims can sometimes feel more pressure to stay silent. They are asked: “why couldn’t you fight back?” They are told: “didn’t you enjoy it?” Every aspect of this stems from sexism— the presupposed notion that the male is always stronger than the female and should have dominance over her, as well as the misguided stereotype that men are supposed to always crave (heterosexual) sex, because that is what society has defined “masculine” as. This undoubtedly connects back to why some male perpetrators are celebrated instead of corrected.

What’s more, a recent scientific study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology concluded that holding sexist principles actually harms men’s mental health [1]. A meta-analysis involving almost 20,000 men concluded that men who adhere to harmful gender norms exhibited significantly worse social and psychological health. Sexism is not only a social injustice, it is also inherently damaging for everyone.

So how must we press forward with a movement that ends up malfunctioning when combined with the poisonous culture of victim-blaming, gender-dividing and sexist stereotyping? We must hold true to the core of what the movement is about, and the invariable truth that it is trying to express— sexual harassment and assault exist. They exist everywhere. They harm women. They harm men. Silence is no longer okay. And those of us standing on the right side of history must stand together, instead of turning on each other, because in the end, we share a common goal. The right side of history will press to achieve justice for victims and the falsely accused. The right side of history will strive to empower the female voice and ensure that the male voice is not erased from the conversation. Somewhere down this long and winded road, we will find that the fight has been worth it, and that it has raised humanity up as a whole, not just a ragged portion of it.

-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)

Sources:

  • [1]: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/sexism-sucks-everybody-science-confirms-180961178/
  • [2]: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/08/south-korean-women-shunned-work-men-fear-metoo-movement/
  • http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20180311000279https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence