Truly dirty laundryThe Korean equivalent of the “Me Too” campaign is exposing the dirty laundry of the cultural establishment in our society. On Thursday, accusations of sexual misconduct by a movie director, whose film is now in theaters, shocked the public. We are surprised to see a cascade of revelations of such shameful behavior that is obviously deeply embedded in our cultural sector. It turns out that highly respected artists, who wield strong influence in their realms, have long been engaged in sexual misdeeds without any sense of guilt. Their colleagues were accomplices as they turned blind eyes to their seniors’ sexual harassment of vulnerable female artists in what amounted to a vow of silence.
As public outrage spreads, political parties are reacting speedily. The police have kicked off investigations into the sexual misconduct of 67-year-old playwright and theatrical director Lee Yoon-taek, actor Jo Min-ki, and Ha Yong-bu, a traditional dancer certified by the government as one of the so-called Holders of Important Intangible Cultural Properties. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the National Human Rights Commission also promised to come up with measures to confront the ugliness. Korea’s largest writers association Thursday announced it will deprive Ko Un — arguably Korea’s most famous poet — and Lee Yoon-taek of their memberships.
In the meantime, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is under attack for not trying to tackle the problem. A cultural figure who joined the local “Me Too” campaign complained about the lack of systems to sue for compensation for physical and mental suffering. “What is the ministry doing anyway?” she asked in anger. The Korean Women’s Association United, a liberal umbrella group championing women’s rights, released a statement Wednesday calling for the punishment of playwright Lee. But suspicions arose over the group’s belated reaction in sharp contrast with its prompt response to a female prosecutor’s revelation of sexual misconduct committed by a senior prosecutor.
The local “Me Too” movement must go beyond the downfall of a few influential male artists and help improve the fundamentals of our society. The campaign must aim to find our society’s structural problems originating with deep-rooted patriarchal systems rather than treating sexual harrasment as an individual aberration. The ministry of gender equality should become a center for putting together all relevant policies from other ministries. Unless there’s a change to the entrenched patriarchal system, “Me Too” will go nowhere.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 23, Page 30