A Korean #MeToo?Late 2017 to 2018 will be recorded as an important moment in feminist history. The #MeToo campaign exposing sexual assault started on social media in October 2017, as allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced. Top actresses like Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Uma Thurman also came forward about sexual abuse.
As social media is a medium of sharing and empathy, celebrities have a special impact. The awareness spread not just in the film industry but also in sports, politics and the IT industry. Many powerful men were accused and ousted from their jobs. Earlier this month, actors and actresses dressed in black in support of the #MeToo campaign.
Some say things are going too far. After some men accused of sexual harassment denied the claims, some women joined their side. As French actress Catherine Deneuve said, “The liberty to seduce and importune is essential,” Bridget Bardot joined the chorus by calling some victims “hypocritical and ridiculous.” She argued, “Lots of actresses try to play the tease with producers to get a role.” When Deneuve’s defense on “men’s right to hit on women” backfired, she apologized and said she was also a feminist and supports abortion. Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” also faced a backlash.
The mixed views show that women can have a different understanding of feminism depending on their culture and generation. Deneuve’s “freedom to hit on women” sounds like the sexual liberation that feminists in the 1960s and ’70s promoted. While Deneuve and Bardot warned of a witch hunt, they failed to cite specific examples. Also, they are blamed for generalizing victims’ experiences based on their successful acting careers.
As the latest feminist movement is not just about women but about gender equality and human rights, it makes sense to be wary of an extreme witch hunt.
While Deneuve is under criticism, French author Agnes Poirier wrote, “What began as freeing women up to speak has today turned into the opposite. We intimidate people into speaking ‘correctly’, shout down those who don’t fall into line . . . As women, we do not recognize ourselves in this feminism, which beyond denouncing the abuse of power takes on a hatred of men and of sexuality.”
#MeToo and the resistance against it may seem like a crisis to feminism, but it should be perceived as an evolution of feminism. One of the noteworthy moments was when James Franco, one of the accused, defended himself from allegations, and Ashley Judd, one of the victims of Harvey Weinstein, supported him. In an interview with the BBC, Judd said, “This is about men and women being all together and having a more equitable and just workplace, home life, social spaces . . . And it takes that kind of individual accountability to collectively make the change on a large scale.”
Can a #MeToo campaign spread to Korea? Chungmuro shouldn’t be much different from Hollywood, but can Korean celebrities come forward and expose sexual misconduct?
When “chastity ideology” is still strong, actresses may fear losing their public image and career by stepping out as a sexual assault victim.
If a #MeToo campaign begins in Korea, can anyone oppose or protest it? In Korea, the majority has a special authority, and those with different opinions are harshly criticized.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 20, Page 26
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.