Still much to be doneKorea’s Me Too movement, triggered by revelations of sexual misconduct in the prosecutors’ ranks, has touched other parts of society, hitting the realms of art, entertainment, sports and education.
Once revered cultural figures have been shamed for abusing their power. Progressive activists and Catholic priests have been no exception. Professors at universities must be dreading the start of the spring semester in March. Any of them could be named for past transgressions.
The next wave of shame could sweep the bureaucratic, police, military, corporate and medical establishments. Korean society is finally facing a reality check.
The Me Too accusations have revealed that power and hierarchy are behind the misconduct. Directors and actors have committed crimes through their dominant positions, and others have chosen to turn a blind eye to their excesses in compliance with the established hierarchy. Female victims have had to hide their shame and pain in order to survive in male-dominated spaces. They have gained the courage to come forward 10, sometimes 20, years later.
Some perpetrators have apologized, but their sincerity is questionable. They may have bowed their heads to avoid negative publicity and lawsuits. Prominent playwright Lee Yoon-taek rehearsed a teary press conference, and renowned poet Ko Eun remains silent even as he faces expulsion from the literary community.
The Catholic diocese in Suwon, Gyeonggi, where Han Man-sam, a priest, has been accused of trying to rape a female volunteer during a mission in Sudan in 2011, sparked public outcry after sending a message to followers that things would settle down after three days or so if there was no follow-up news.
The political circle’s response has been more appalling. Progressive critic Kim O-jun claimed the Me Too movement could be a scheme to undermine progressive activists supporting the Moon Jae-in administration, while conservatives insist it’s a conspiracy against their party’s members.
All this raises questions about whether the country’s politicos understand the gravity of Me Too, a movement that involves basic human rights, and whether they have the will to tackle the commonplace negligence that plagues sexual misconduct cases.
The Me Too movement is a sober call for a different society. The punishment must be fair from the perspective of the victims, their legal and systematic protection must be ensured and, more fundamentally, society must become gender-equal so that women can work without fear of physical and psychological threats.
Korea’s reckoning with Me Too is part of a bigger wave of social change sparked by the rise of feminism and the weak challenging the levers of power. This must not end with calling out a few celebrities. We must root out sexual abuse across society and set ourselves on a path toward a fairer and safer nation.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 1, Page 26