A call to armsIt has been disheartening to watch a liberal local government chief who championed free and civil rights shamefully fall from grace for sexual assault. The common disbelief — and defense of the accused — could not outweigh the exposure. We have come to learn that there is no explicitly sick, evil or threatening person that commits these crimes, but that most men who grew up in a patriarchal society can fall to temptation.
The victim who came forward is exposed to additional danger and shame as a topic of conspiracy theories, ideological disputes or lewd gossip talk. The opposition party is having a heyday using the scandal to attack the liberal front. Anyone attempting to raise it as a social issue of deeply seated inequality against the female sex — which is the essence of the misconduct and crimes of men in powerful positions reported in the Me Too movement — is sneered at as a “Feminazi,” an extremist who suspects and hates men. Some men even joke that to lessen the trouble, women should be segregated. Again, the onus falls on the female.
Sex crimes are not an issue restricted to women. The Me Too campaign is a fiery uproar against a male-dominant hierarchy that condones and indulges the overbearing and suppressive attitudes of men. It is an uprising against a society that has taken gender discrimination for granted and created men who live off their birth prerogatives. Korea has evolved and matured, and yet there are many still chained to a patriarchal ideology that simply regards women as the opposite physical sex instead of an equal member of society. These men discriminate, disregard, ridicule, abuse and even assault women.
International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8. Many women have fought our unfair and oppressive global society. Women’s rights have advanced under legal and systematic protection, but women still struggle against gender inequality and sexual abuse.
The ongoing Me Too movement reminds us of the second wave of feminism that started in the United States and Western society after women were forced out of the workplace following World War II. Women in progressive activist groups called for equal rights and a position alongside male revolutionists fighting for progress in democracy, equality and liberation. But their voices were utterly ignored in the broad leftist and progressive campaign.
Women became enraged by the so-called sexual liberalism championed by progressive males that placed them in more vulnerable positions for exploitation. They were infuriated for being treated as “trash” for having sexual desires and impulses and as subordinates in public. They formed a united front to address female issues and stand up for their rights.
The catchphrase “personal is political” became the rallying slogan for second-wave feminists in the late 1960s. The movement grew out of the conviction that a personal incident and experience did not happen to a woman out of her own will. It argued that a woman’s ordeal must be dealt with as political because her pain is not personal, but caused by structural inequalities in society. Feminism was primarily based on the recognition that women were neglected in the liberation movement and excluded from the universal values of democracy, equality and civil rights. It evolved from typical rallies for gender equality to an all-around revolution to reform laws and systems to dismantle discriminative culture. The abusive culture in the progressive community ironically triggered the most widespread global feminist movement.
The events panning out in Korea should be regarded as a revolution, not a movement. It could become a watershed to bring about a sea change in female liberation. It could lead to a second-wave of democratization, as the first movement left out women’s rights. We may see a true civilian revolution designed to break up gender inequalities.
A human being must be respected regardless of their age, gender, race, class, sexual identity, schooling or physical disabilities. Our democracy cannot move forward if society does not do away with its male-dominant mindset. We must decide if we really want to stay behind the times or build a fairer society for all.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 10, Page 25
*The author is a sociology professor at Chung-Ang University.