The success of Yoon’s appeals to anti-feminism reflects the rise of reactionary gender politics within South Korean political discourse as well as the growing divide over issues of gender in the country.
In order to fully understand the country’s most recent wave of anti-feminism and its’ influence on South Korea’s 2022 presidential election, it is important to note the country’s troubled track record when it comes to issues of gender. This past spring Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party (PPP) narrowly won the 2022 South Korean presidential election by a historically razor-thin margin over his opponent, the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) candidate Lee Jae-myung. Yoon owes his narrowly won victory in large part to the anti-feminist rhetoric he spewed throughout the presidential election cycle.
South Korea’s Abysmal Gender Equality Track Record
For decades, South Korea has continuously displayed the largest gender pay gap amongst all countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). And in the most recent OECD report detailing member states’ gender wage gap percentage, South Korea possessed a difference of over 31 percent, nearly twice the percentage of the United States and almost three times the difference of the OECD average.
Similarly, South Korea also hasn’t faired well in the World Economic Forum (WEF) reports on gender disparity. The WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report ranks countries it examines by analyzing the gender disparities that exist in the areas of health, education, economy, and politics. In the WEF’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, the area where South Korea’s gender disparities were most severe was in the area of economic participation and opportunity in which it ranked 115th. And overall, South Korea ranked 99th out of the 146 countries examined in terms of gender parity.
Young Men Flocking to Anti-Feminist Movement
While aversion to feminism can be seen across different age demographics of men, high rates of unemployment and skyrocketing housing costs have embedded a feeling of hopelessness, particularly among many young South Korean men and they have flocked to anti-feminist groups seeing them as a venue to express their frustrations for the lack of economic opportunities. These groups using women and efforts to increase gender equality in the workplace as scapegoats, ignoring underlying causes such as supply chain collapses due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its’ influence on global trade.
The increased visibility of the feminist movement within South Korea, as young women have taken to the streets to protest against sexual misconduct and violence against women, has been seen as a threat to the country’s highly patriarchal societal structure. As a result, many men argue that they are facing ‘reverse-discrimination’ and misandry at the hands of feminists. A common talking point utilized by anti-feminist groups within South Korea is connected to the country’s mandatory military conscription. All able-bodied South Korean men, between the ages of 18 to 28, must perform at least 18 months of military service. They argue that the lack of a similar requirement for South Korean women has placed an unfair disruption in young men’s education and careers
Yoon Suk-yeol’s Usage of Anti-Feminism as a Political Tool
Yoon Suk-yeol undeniably capitalized on the anti-feminist movement within South Korea to propel his campaign during the 2022 presidential election cycle. Yoon specifically appealed to young men by calling for the abolishment of South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF), established in 2001 to provide resources for women suffering from sexual violence and domestic abuse, stating that the ministry painted all men as “potential sex criminals”. Yoon went even a step further by pointing to feminism as the cause of the astronomically low birth rate, stating that destroys healthy relationships between men and women.
Ultimately, Yoon’s anti-feminist rhetoric was successful in attracting young male voters to his campaign. A clear majority of young men within the country voted for Yoon Suk-yeol in the 2022 South Korean presidential race, with Yoon receiving 58.7 percent of the vote from men under the age of thirty. Yoon’s receival of a majority of young men’s votes and its’ contrast to his opponent, Lee Jae-myung receiving a majority of young women’s votes – 58 percent of young women in South Korea voted for Lee – highlight the growing political divide between men and women in South Korea.
By constructing a platform catering to anti-feminist sentiments, Yoon’s campaign was able to successfully secure the presidency. President Yoon has since continued to promise to fulfill the agenda he campaigned with of abolishing the Ministry of Gender Equality and increasing punishments for women who file false accusations of sexual violence against men – a move Yoon’s critics have stated dissuades women who have actually experienced sexual violence from coming forward. It is evident, that during his campaign President Yoon further exacerbated the political divide between men and women. In just a few months in office, it is increasingly unclear if Yoon’s solutions to rectifying ‘gender relations’ in South Korea are viable and rather it seems that might drive a political wedge even further along gender lines.
Ahn, Ashley. “Feminists Are Protesting against the Wave of Anti-Feminism That’s Swept South Korea.” NPR, NPR, 3 Dec. 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/12/03/1135162927/women-feminism-south-korea-sexism-protest-haeil-yoon.
“Gender Equality .” OECD, Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, https://www.oecd.org/gender/.
“Global Gender Gap Report 2022.” World Economic Forum, World Economic Forum, 13 July 2022, https://www.weforum.org/reports/global-gender-gap-report-2022/.
Gunia, Amy. “South Korea’s Yoon Suk-Yeol Used Anti-Feminism to Win Election.” Time, Time, 10 Mar. 2022, https://time.com/6156537/south-korea-president-yoon-suk-yeol-sexism/.
Robinson, Britt. “Does the South Korean Ministry of Gender Equality Need to Be Abolished? .” The Diplomat, The Diplomat, 6 Aug. 2022, https://thediplomat.com/2022/08/does-the-south-korean-ministry-of-gender-equality-need-to-be-abolished/.