“Did they photograph us, you think?” -“I don’t know… but if I so, I hope I’m smiling!” – two guys joke around while the police fences off an area around a toilet in the K-building at the Sogang campus. Someone hid a secret camera in the man’s restroom and posted photos on the Korean extreme feminist blog “Womad”. Sogang was not the only university that fell victim to hidden camera’s on male toilets. Cameras were also hidden at Korea University and Sungkyunkwan University, causing the hastag #몰카 (abbreviation for hidden camera) to go viral.
Earlier that week, a related incident shook up the nation. A male nude model was secretly photographed during a painting class at Hongik University. Likewise, the photo was posted on the Womad blog. Quickly the police identified a female student who was taken into custody. The case caused wide-spread uproar, as the male model reportedly became depressed after being ridiculed by Womad netizens for having small genitalia and being ugly. Soon, an online petition appeared, asking for the punishment of the female student, which was signed 18,000 times in only a few hours.
However, a large demonstration last week put the incident in a different light. On Saturday, 12,000 women gathered at Hyehwa station to protest against spy-cam pornography. According to the protestors, the quick arrest of the female student shows a double standard in police handling of such cases. In 2016, 80% of the sexual harassment cases were filed by women, but little of them were ever solved. (Source: The Korea Herald)
The current situation should be seen in the light of the recent #MeToo movement, which had an immense impact on South-Korea, causing film directors, politicians and singers to explain their sexual misconducts in public. Often, the version of Confucianism at the base of the Chosŏn state (1392-1897), Korea’s longest ruling dynasty, is seen as the cause for current gender inequality and #MeToo related cases. For centuries, South-Korea’s society has been shaped greatly by politicized and (deliberately) misinterpreted Confucianism, which placed the male at the center of the family and political power through lineage policy and emphasizing the woman’s role to be a mother and wife.
It takes time for an institutionalized patriarchy to break down, but the #MeToo movement accelerated the process. However, we are now at a state where South-Korea’s deeply embedded gender inequality on the one hand, and radical feminism on the other, has created a toxic debate full of extremes. The recent feminism-turned-man-hating has merely caused for division within South-Korean society, turning public restrooms, universities and weblogs into heated battlegrounds. Hopefully, the #MeToo momentum in South-Korea will not be lost in reckless emotional discourse, but rather form the seed for paradigm change in gender politics in South-Korea, setting an example to the world.