Anti-femicide movementBizarre scenes have been panning out around the Exit 10 of Gangnam Station that leads to a bustling shopping and entertainment street for young people in southern Seoul ever since a 23-year-old woman became a random victim of a homeless schizophrenic man in a public unisex toilet near there. The area became a public memorial site for the victim and symbol against misogynistic behaviors and thoughts. Women and men flocked to the sanctuary to mourn the victim and leave their marks on the wall covered with Post-its and postings sharing their thoughts on the incident. Some waged sexist skirmishes while others intelligently talked over the issue. Males outnumbered female mourners with some engaging in nasty exchanges with the extreme rightist online community Ilbe, self-described as sexist and xenophobic.
Among the crowd on the scene last weekend, I came to conclude that the conflict did not stem from gender hostility. It was a public contest between people condemning the acts of femicide — all forms of violence against women from verbal harassment to more extreme abuse and assault — and those who still condone them. What I worry is simple labeling of the phenomenon as fallout from gender conflict.
I personally want to see it as Koreans’ waking up to the global anti-femicide movement. Any calls for awareness of the issue have so far been hollow and met with cold responses. Femicide is misogynous killing of women by men just because of their gender. In broader terms, it can also refer to various verbal and physical abuse and threats to women and stigmatized contempt or dislike for women. It is a global problem. The evils are deeply rooted in every civilization. Slaying of daughters who meet men their family oppose is deemed an act honorable to the family name in some Muslim societies. Cultures condoned and even encouraged femicide as chauvinistic acts to uphold patriarchy and masculinity. Sadly the legacy continues and is prevalent in 21st century. Police may be right to conclude that the murder of Gangnam Station was committed out of schizophrenic fit rather than women-hating motive. But the mind of a mentally ill man innately believed it was better to kill a woman than a man, as the suspect is said to have let several men pass by before he chose a female victim.
Men who commit crimes against women say they killed because their female counterpart had disrespected them or wanted to go separate ways. Their real motive for killing was that they could not tolerate the weaker party refusing to go along with their wishes.
Gender-motivated violence is committed more by familiar faces — boyfriends, husbands, or male members of the family — than strangers. Frequent violence at home and on dates in our society is also a part of the phenomenon. The global society has only recently realized that it is a common and universal problem. It was raised as a global issue in the western developed world in the 1990s.
The anti-femicide movement has spread in Latin America where female killings are more common. Some South American governments are revising criminal laws to be stricter on crimes against women. A slaying of a kindergarten teacher by her husband in Argentina sparked an anti-femicide movement last year. A similar movement took place in Mexico last month. The ripples have now reached Korean shores.
The phenomenon of Exit 10 of Gangnam Station is not a simple gender conflict, but a joint front against anti-civilization acts whose roots go back to ancient days. Fighting against deeply seated evils must go beyond verbal and physical confrontation. Social wisdom and intelligence must be mustered to combat it. Society cannot grow without pain. We must not shrug off the incident as a murder by a mentally ill person. Small incidents have often been the tipping point for historical evolutions.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 25, Page 30
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.