Girls’ night out: No blood, no tears and no menThe organizers of “No Blood, No Tears Night” didn’t expect to receive hate mail and threatening phone calls telling them to stay quietly at home.
But Korean male chauvinism runs deep, so when the feminist magazine “If” decided to hold a women-only party on Seonyu Island, a public park in Seoul, even the park officials were wary.
"Apparently, some people were upset to hear that a group of feminists were holding a party of their own," said Ko Joo-young, one of the organizers.
Although it’s billed as just a girls’ night out ― with live music, snacks and a magic show ― the title of the event is an adamant cry protesting violence against women in a country where many such crimes occur in the evening in public places.
The sponsoring magazine is known for more controversial events, such as their annual “Anti-Miss Korea” beauty pageant, and a conference on female-sensitive pornography. The name of the magazine “If” signifies the question, “What if there was a world where men and women could both be happy despite gender differences?”
Founded in 1997 as Korea’s first feminist publication, “If” and its staff writers have more than their share of gripes. In one issue, writer Ryu Hye-jin described how a 52-year-old man had cursed at her for smoking in front of her office. He was furious that she dared to smoke in sight of a man who could be as old as her father. When she protested, the man punched Ms. Ryu in the face. She called the police, and he was arrested.
“Some say that Korean society has liberalized,” Ms. Ryu wrote. “But a woman can still be beaten for smoking. It is not the right to smoke in peace that women want, but equality. Many people in Korea still believe that only grandmothers and prostitutes can smoke outside.”
When the group planned its all-girl party on the island, park officials received numerous protests from men who wanted to prohibit the event. Some asked why feminists challenge men, when men exist to protect women.
“I think [the protesters] were just intrigued or even feel intimidated by the fact that we are excluding the men from the fun,” said Um Eul-soon, president of If.
The event is not an ordinary girls’ night out, but is part of a long campaign against sexual harassment and gender bias. “No Blood, No Tears Night," will mix music, performances and all-you-can-drink beer with counseling from experts on domestic and social problems.
Park officials, mostly middle-aged men, were reluctant to approve the gathering. “Do you girls have to gather on a public island to drink until late at night?” one asked. “It doesn’t look right.”
Ms. Um fired back, “What’s so wrong with a simple outdoor party? Men always go to sealed up room salons to drink all night. Who knows what’s going on in there?”
The organizers say the event is a form of defiant protest in response to a recent National Police Agency report stating that more than half of the sexual violence cases from 2001 to 2005 occurred between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. The report also showed that more than 30 percent of the cases have occurred in public places or outdoors.
Another incident that provoked the organizers was the trial last year of Yoo Yeong-cheol, a man who committed 21 rapes and murders. In court, Yoo said he was sorry for his crimes, but not sorry that the women he killed were “easy girls who usually hung around at night.” In June, he was sentenced to death.
Previous events organized by the magazine include annual “Anti-Miss Korea” pageants since 1999. Last year, If attracted a lot of attention by planning an event called “Porno, Porna,” a roundtable discussion on designing pornography that reflects the desires of women. It was a sort of extension of the Anti-Miss Korea pageants, but much more provocative.
“Porno, Porna” also used one-act plays, dance performances and fashion shows ― all about sex ― to deal with sensitive issues such as sexual acts between physically disabled people and homosexual relationships.
“No Blood, No Tears Night” will be held from 7p.m. to 10p.m. on Friday, October 7 at Seonyu Island, a public park that straddles the Yanghwa bridge in western Seoul. The nearest subway station is Hapjeong on the number 2 line. Although billed as a female-only event, men dressed as women are also welcome, say organizers.
Diplomatic and dogged ― carrying the feminist torch
Meeting the president of Korea’s first feminist magazine is enough to make some men squirm.
Lesser women might enjoy this reaction as sweet revenge for injustice they have suffered in Korea’s male-dominated society. But Um Eul-soon takes a more practical attitude.
It’s “boorish” to offend the counterpart and claim “we are equal,” says Um. “There are various ways of persuading others that a different world is possible. Why make needless enemies when you can solve everything through a softer approach?”
Her track record is impressive. Um’s magazine “If” was one of the first to raise many sensitive gender issues including abortion, single motherhood and homosexuality. Meanwhile, support for activism like the “Anti-Miss Korea” pageant that began in 1999 led Korea’s major broadcasters to cancel their decade-long tradition of airing the Miss Korea pageants two years later in 2001.
Her accomplishments can intimidate people. But after receiving her warm welcome and a cup of coffee, sitting right next to her on the couch, most are at a loss for words. Until they find themselves stupidly saying, “Wow, you are not like what I had imagined at all.”
Wearing a pair of long black boots and a pink scarf, her answer on a recent day was, “Oh, that’s what everyone says when they first see me.”
“Did you expect someone hostile and ugly- looking as well?” she asked in a straightforward manner.
She said she knows that many Koreans regard feminists as “bunch of unattractive girls getting involved in reckless collective actions to make up for what they don’t have.”
“So I dress up, I want to look attractive,” she said. “But not so I will look nice for others to look at, but so I can be proud of myself.”
The 49-year-old is a chirpy jolly person. A former freelance photographer and a doctoral fellow in business administration, Ms. Um did not have an academic background in women’s studies nor was she ever a radical student activist. It was simply her life as a Korean woman that gradually turned her into someone who wanted change and helped others to find solutions.
She was concerned about many issues: married Korean women who could not stand up to conservative in-laws, divorced women who are often subject to moral stereotypes, pressure for women to meet the standards of beauty set by men. (As a photographer, she protested the latter point with close-up pictures of a chubby-faced wrinkled woman, a photo that was turned down by a male boss for being ugly.)
The South Korean feminist movement has evolved over the years.
In the 1970s, female workers at production lines joined the women’s advocacy movement. They also opposed government-led sex tours marketed to foreigners. In the 1980s, the movement became more organized, sometimes involving violent clashes with the police. In the 1990s, activists began approaching more personal issues such as marriage and dating.
by Lee Min-a