오늘은 세계 여성의 날···이탈리아 출신 ‘아시아엔’ 인턴기자 눈에 비친 ‘한국의 여성’

[아시아엔=알레산드라 보나노미 <아시아엔> 인턴기자] 8일은 제 100주년 ‘세계여성의 날’이다. 한국은 다른 아시아의 국가처럼 여전히 남존여비 사상이 영향을 미치는 나라지만 선덕여왕, 신사임당, 류관순 열사 등 자랑스러운 여성들이 존재해 왔다.

최근 들어 전통적 가치관과 자본주의 가치관의 충돌로 여러 논란이 있었다. 그중 하나가 2005년 ‘호적법개정’이다. 이는 가부장제를 해체하는 데 큰 역할을 했다.

또 하나는 한국에서 미에 대한 관심이 높은 까닭에 벌어지는 현상이 그것이다. 성형외과가 많이 생겨나 성형수술이 대중화되면서 파생되는 여러 사회현상들과 이에 관한 논란이 벌어지고 있다.

이는 특히 K-Pop이나 드라마를 통해 벌어지는 성역할에 관한 논란에도 많은 영향을 미쳤다. 성에 관한 논쟁은 직장 내 성차별이나 성폭력 논쟁도 불러왔다. 지난해 강남역 살인사건은 ‘메갈리언 논쟁’으로 이어졌다.

이탈리아에서 유학 온 외국인 눈에 비친 한국사회는 이런 논쟁들을 통해 아직 갈 길은 멀고 변화의 속도는 느린 것 같지만 성차별을 극복하고 성평등 사회로 나아가고 있는 것은 확실해 보인다.(번역 요약 김균열 기자)

 

다음은 영어 원문이다.

International Women’s Day (March 8th) has been observed since in the early 1900’s. “It is a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political” UN website reports.

What is the female situation in South Korea? Answering to this question is not an easy job.

Even if the Confucian concept Nam-Jon-Yeo-Bi (男尊女卑”man is higher than women”) affected and still affecting the role of women in many Asian countries, we can find several examples of relevant women in Korea. Looking back over the Korean history, Queen Seondeok of Silla played a strategic role. She reigned as Queen of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, from 632 to 647. She was drawn to Buddhism and presided over the completion of Buddhist temples. She also worked towards the relief of poverty. Another famous woman of Korean history is Shin Saimdang (1504 – 1551). She was an artist, writer, calligraphist, poet and the mother of the Korean Confucian scholar Yulgok. Her respectful nickname was Eojin Eomeoni. A Korean heroine from the last century is named Yu Gwansun Sun (1902 – 1920). She was an organizer in what would come to be known as the March 1st Movement against the Imperial Japanese colonial rule of Korea. She was imprisoned and tortured because of her continued activism even in prison.

Trying to analyze the situation in the recent years, the clash between tradition and capitalism brought controversial consequences. First of all, only in 2005, South Korea abolished Hojeok, the family register system that places the man at the head of the family and defines everyone else in relation to him. According to the Global Gap Report of 2016 by the World Economic Forum, the country was ranked 116th out of 144.

Secondly, the concept of beauty is very important in South Korea: in fact, the nation has the highest rate of cosmetic surgeries in the world. The country “is rapidly becoming the world’s plastic surgery leader, with more cosmetic procedures per head of population than any other nation” Daily Mail reports. Double eyelid surgery, V-Line Jaw Reduction, Epicanthoplasty, Rhinoplasty and Forehead Augmentation are the most common plastic surgeries for Koreans. “There are lots of girls who come in (clinic) after breaking up with their boyfriends” Dr. Seo, a surgeon from Seo Jae Don Plastic Clinic, declared. Apparently please the partner idea of beauty is one of the reasons why the rate of plastic surgeries is so high in South Korea.

In addition to a specific idea of beauty to deal with, South Korean women have to deal with the female role in Kpop videos too. In fact, the K-pop industry is a pioneer in fetishizing barely legal young women as consumer products. Taking into account the lyric of a very famous song (Bang Bang Bang), the sentence “Guys go on top, girls get low” appears at least sexist. However, the Kpop lyrics are full of discrimination sentences: “And your body is my wonderland, I could play all night […] I cock it and load it, call me Mr. Big Rocket […] Niagara Falls, baby girl, I got you wetter than” (Move), “See I’m about to change positions, come and take my magic stick, gonna take you for a ride, guaranteed to make your body shake” (Rainism).

In some Kdramas there are also “signs of misogyny, sexual harassment, and dating violence in a romanticized light” the blog Netizen Buzz reports. For example, in “Another Oh Hae-young” broadcast on cable network tvN we can find “several scenes that were under controversy for dating violence, such as Dokyung breaking his car window with Haeyoung still riding it, a scene where he pulls her wrist out of a restaurant and visiting her house without permission. Editors pointed out that any man who shows such signs of violence should be dumped immediately and blame dramas for normalizing or romanticizing such violent actions” (Netizen Buzz).

Quartz said on October 23rd that while pornography is illegal in Korea, a flood of illicitly filmed images of women is available on online platforms. This crime named molka includes taking pictures up women’s skirts as they travel on public transport or escalators and filming a video inside women’s changing rooms or public toilets. While some offenders use smartphones, others use spy-style gadgets, including ballpoint pens, glasses or wristwatches equipped with microlenses.

The female situation in South Korea is also affected by the working situation. “Many women drop out of the workforce in Korea at the age of 25, according to OECD data. Kim Ha-rin, a 19-year-old philosophy student who works part-time at McDonald’s, says that some of her colleagues are middle-aged women who were encouraged to quit their jobs after they got pregnant decades ago and now can only get low-wage work” Quartz reports.

Last but not least, there is the other phenomenon to point out: indeed, a number of cases in recent years have involved women being targeted for violent crimes. “Gangnam murder” is still fresh in people’s minds when a 22-year-old woman was killed by a 34-year-old who told the police that he committed the crime because he had been “belittled by women” many times in the past. Crime by intimate partners has been on the rise in recent years. For this reason girls in Korea talk about “the safe breakup” that is based on simple rules like “don’t say goodbye in a private place alone” or “threaten to call the police if he stalks you”.

For all these reasons, on August 6th, 2015, the independent website Megalian.com was founded. The name is a neologism combining “MERS gallery”, the web forum where the movement was born, and “Egalia”, the character of the satiric novel “Egalia’s Daughters” written by Gerd Brantenberg’s. In fact, in 2015 the virus MERS, a disease which was first identified in Saudi Arabia, was a huge problem in Korea. The outbreak was linked to two Korean women, who apparently contracted it while traveling on a flight from Seoul to Hong Kong. After they refused to be quarantined in Hong Kong, critics on a popular Korean message board called DC Inside viciously attacked the women. The collective movement began in June 2015, when women began to “mirror” the misogynic comments made by male members on the web. The mirroring technique was an answer to the denigrating popular lexicon, such as “vagina aristocrats” and “kimchi woman”. The targets of this movement are men of course, but also those women who do not contrast the patriarchal society. Moreover, some of the members of Megalia targeted gay men because they are part of the male society in Korea. From that moment on, people started saying “you must be Magalian” in order to say “you are a man hater”. In the website, where everybody writes anonymously, Megalians fought hard for several reasons. In particular, there were two important cases: the first one regarding a Nexon employee and second one regarding a Maxim misogyny campaign.

Last year Jayeon Kim, a voice actress who worked for PC game company Nexon, posted a selfie on Twitter wearing a shirt that reads “Girls Do Not Need A Prince” and lost her job. “The T-shirt was being sold by Megalia to finance lawsuits brought by women against men they alleged had ill-treated them” BBC reports. In many parts of the world, it would pass as the kind of thing any young woman might wear but “in South Korea, you can not really say <Girls do not need a prince> because a lot of men aspire to be a prince. They want all the privileges they have enjoyed so far and they are worried that these privileges are slipping away” NY Times writer, professor, and Korea Exposé managing editor Se-Woong Koo declared.

In 2015, Maxim Korea’s campaign with the headline “The Real Bad Guy” has been severely criticized. In the photo, actor Kim Byung-ok stands in front of a car, from which a woman’s legs tied by duct tape protrude from the half-open trunk. Maxim Korea first defended the photos saying, “We did depict the crime of murder and body abandonment in a film noir way, but there’s no hint of a sexual offense in the picture, and no fantasizing of sex crimes either” and then apologized.

As 10Mag wrote, “out of context Megalia is an extremist feminazi site full of angry women who hate men”. Only considering the proper context, people can understand why some Korean women are so wrathful.

Even if a Huffington Post article posted in 2015 titled “A Long Way To Go For Gender Equality In South Korea”, I believe that a slow change is taking place in the country. The election of Park Geun-hye in 2013 was a sign of a new era for women in the country. Unfortunately, the situation went downhill really fast. However, I strongly think the role of women is essential in the Korean society. Women should not solely be regarded as mothers, but also as an important resource for overcoming of the current difficult period in Korea because the ability of rebuilt is inherent in the nature of Korean men and women too. Just look at the stories of Queen Seondeok of Silla, Shin Saimdang, and Yu Gwan Sun.

Alessandra Bonanomi – The AsiaN Media Intern

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