KORADFEM is a South Korean twitter account. I first became aware of the when they tweeted about the abuse of a woman in South Korea, assaulted for “looking like a feminist” (click here for link). I reached out to KORADFEM to ask some questions about feminism in South Korea: how it works, how their culture reacts and how they think they’re doing in their battle for liberation.
KORADFEM is part of the radical feminist movement in South Korea.
Radical Feminism can sound alarming if you don’t know what it is. Radical Feminism is basically a root-cause analysis of the structures of power which oppress females. Analysis of patriarchy and male violence, for instance, often come from a radical feminist lens. If you’ve thought that perhaps female oppression might be even partially due to our bodies or our reproductive abilities, you’ve applied radical feminist thinking.
I will put a disclaimer here that many liberal or mainstream feminists do not agree with radical feminist analysis and have differing theories regarding concepts such as male feminists, makeup, femininity in general, gender etc. I want to make it clear that this is not a recruitment piece for radical feminism. Rather, I wanted to share a perspective from feminists that isn’t very often heard, and of the movements discussed, Escape the Corset, is very much a radical feminist movement. I hope with this in mind, the interview and replies can be taken in good faith, even if you disagree with this particular feminist analysis, or these particular feminists.
I have lightly edited Ara and Crystal’s replies, for ease of reading.
Hello! Can you tell me about yourselves?
Ara: 30, Ara Koh, Youtuber KORADFEM for Korean radical feminism.
(The channel makes English videos of protest for MOLKA, BlackSunday in Korea, and translates for Radfems in the world. Activist of Women in Korea.)
Crystal: Hello, I am a Korean woman called Crystal (*fake name). I’m 25 in Korean age. I suppose it’s 23 in international age. I live in Seoul which is the capital of Korea. Currently I participate in the translation team of KORADFEM channel.
How is feminism viewed in South Korea? Is it difficult to call yourself a feminist? Is it dangerous?
Yes. We've always been dangerous to men or the Korean government. For example, mostly men and some women mocked and insulted me for my “Escape the Corset” profile. I had uploaded my pic with my hair shaved on my Instagram; they posted it online using illegal methods. It's not just me, they mocked us openly for the short haircut, mocked all those shaved women who have fought for the Corset. I’ve heard public derision on the street because I have shaved my hair and removed my make-up. A man sent a threatening message to my mother on Facebook; he said, "You know your daughter is a Megal (Korea’s very first feminism site) bitch."
There was an actual case where a woman got fired from her work because Korean men complained that she was a feminist. The company required her to officially declare that she is not a feminist. And then they fired her because she rejected it.
There are also national petitions by men that demanded to execute a woman celebrity because she pressed “like” on an instagram post that was about women’s rights.
That’s why the women who officially “escaped their corset” are so brave. Not only because they choose to resist social norms, but also they are openly feminist.
Especially in youth communities. It is very common to be taunted and bullied when you are known as feminist in school. So I think that underage feminists should deserve more attentions and protections.
I have seen you tweet reports of a woman being hit for "looking like a feminist" (click here for link). Does harassment or assault of feminists happen a lot? Is this a vocal minority, or the majority of men?
Every Korean man is hostile about feminism. They demonize feminists and censor every woman around them. My brother also once asked me: “are you a feminazi?”
It is socially prevalent that men are criticizing, mocking, and threatening feminists. I’ve seen some cases where women were physically attacked. So, no, it’s not safe to be openly feminist in Korea. Most people choose to hide their faces and personal information. Even I knew it could be dangerous, but still we were all shocked by this case. And it’s such a shame that victims are terribly ridiculed and criticized by Korean men now.
Here in Australia, and around the world, we’ve seen a few of your recent radical movements. I'd like to get your views on them.
In the 80s, South Korea had a severe case of abortion for girls (femicide) (I found a study here affirming this:click here for link), which is now proved by sex ratios in the nation's population between women and men. This means it led to male violence growing up, with women dying every three days for dating violence, and one in every five women dying because of their husbands.(click here for link: Korean Broadcasting System(KBS)), "Last year in South Korea, 20% of all crimes committed was by husbands who killed their wives.")
(Included from Ara is affirmation of violence caused by an uneven sex ratio, extrapolated using China’s One Child Policy. Click here for link). Sex Ratios and Crime: Evidence from China’s One-Child Policy - Columbia Univ, Chinese Univ of Hong Kong, "The rise in the sex ratio coincided with a dramatic increase in crime. Between 1988 and 2004, criminal offenses rose at an annual rate of 13.6% (or 12.5%, population adjusted) (Hu (2006)), and arrest rates were up by 82.4% (Figure 2).1 The overwhelming majority (70%) of perpetrators of violent and property crimes in China are between 16 and 25 years old (Hu (2006)). While we do not have the gender composition of arrestees by age, in 2000, 90% of all arrestees were men (Law Yearbook of China (2001)).")
Although Korea is known for its safety without guns and drugs, male violence is considered serious; it is drawing the attention of researchers around the country. MOLKA is just one of the aspects of the crime.
Molka means “secret camera”. Victims of this are photographed or videoed as they are walking, or even in change rooms or bathrooms. (Click here for link)
There's been a huge and angry response to "molka". Tens of thousands of women have protested this harassment. How did you feel about women coming together to protest like this? Has this large of a protest ever happened before?
I’m so proud of my sisters and it’s hopeful that more and more women will become conscious of feminism. As I know, “the courage to be uncomfortable” protest is the largest women protest ever among all Asia.
That’s amazing. I've seen that slogan: "the courage to be uncomfortable"- what does this mean?
In Korea, there is a slang “프로불편러” it becomes “prouncomfortabler” if I translate it literally. This slang is used to make fun of people who point out inappropriate points. So, the slogan contains the meaning we need to be brave to point out something wrong and especially about misogynistic problems. And “the courage to be uncomfortable” is the name of protest. The main slogan is “the courage to be uncomfortable will change the world”.
How widespread is the molka problem? Does it make you nervous - walking around worried to be filmed? Do you check for spy cams in toilets etc?
It was a common and well-known crime; taking pictures or recording women’s body parts in public spaces such as [the] subway. But I was shocked to know the fact that the little holes in the public restrooms which I had seen since I was little were actually for hidden cameras and that men were consuming those videos as porn.
|Image is of small holes drilled into bathroom stalls|
Every Korean woman feels fear that her toilet habits might have been recorded and shared at anytime and anywhere. Furthermore, because pornography is illegal in Korea, every Korean porn is illegally recorded from everywhere in our life. There are illegally filmed videos from motels, changing rooms, restrooms, even from women’s private houses. You can so easily buy various forms of spy cameras on major shopping sites of Korea.
Now, most Korean women are sharing their ‘tips’ to break and block hidden cameras. We are carrying our own awl and silicone sealant everywhere.
|Image of silicone and tools to plug up small holes|
|Image of small holes in public restroom that have been plugged up with silicone|
Also, you can find these things in Korea public restrooms- the holes women tried to block with tissues.
|Image of tissue being shoved into small holes in bathroom stall|
I love how innovative women are! This is amazing.
How do police respond to complaints?
Actually, this protest is primarily about a male biased judgement. We knew about those illegal spy cam videos and there are sites uploading and selling those videos before. But when victims tried to sue the criminals who recorded and uploaded videos, the police always answered “they cannot track the criminals”. Because of this neglected duty, many women committed suicide. Even if the charges have been filed, the punishments of the criminals were ridiculously light (mostly suspended).
But last year, there was a case where a picture of a male nude model got uploaded online. And the woman who uploaded that picture was immediately arrested and known nationally as a ‘crazy bitch’. Women got angry that actually they were able to catch the perpetrator this quickly and easily. Therefore, the protest started.
Sadly, that woman was sentenced to 10 months. It’s insane. In Korea that amount of sentence is not even for child sexual abuses (of course only in male cases).
What made women snap - what ignited the protests?
Before the 6th protest, it was revealed that [the] strong reputation of Korea as the global IT powerhouse was actually built based upon illegal spy cam videos of women.
So many industries, companies and even the government institution [are] involved in this Illegal Recorded Pornography Cartel. I assume this made 110,000 women to participate in 6th protest.
|Infographic of The Structure of the Webhard Cartel (yonhapnews.co.kr)|
This article illustrates the situation very well: click here for link
I've seen slogans "leave Korea right now" - what is this about? Are you trying to warn foreigners/tourists?
Yes it is. Because the protest was held in Gwanghwamun which is one of popular tourist attractions, the organizers made these warning announcements in several languages.
How do you think molka could be stopped?
I think to stop entire molka crimes, the government should change. More than 90% of Korean politicians are male. Even though this demonstration that was held on the sixth [Nov 2018], the government is still ignoring voices of women and do not mention anything about [the] protest. We need much more female politicians who can speak up for women’s rights.
I wanted to ask you about “Escape the Corset” – where women rebel against beauty standards and femininity oppression by destroying their makeup supplies, shaving their heads/cutting their hair.
What are makeup standards in South Korea like?
[...] many people know about "Korean beauty culture" as "Plastic Surgery's Country", it's very common here. Because Korean women are used to being openly criticized for their appearance by Korean men; even teenage girls are under pressure from their families to have plastic surgeries and make-up, and now children are increasingly forced to wear makeup.
What does "Escape the Corset" mean to you?
Women are not born with a long hair, wearing make up from birth, but they are made to grow in that way. It in turn reduces women's abilities by allowing them to spend time only on their appearance.
Shaving my hair has reduced my shower time. Now I always walk with pride, use my time to study English instead of looking into mirrors, and the thought of losing weight has changed; instead I’m focusing on becoming healthy. I was so upset because it was all a culture that men encouraged us to do from the start.
People say they are helping women who are going through their chemotherapy by donating hairs to make them look “normal and pretty" again, and it is such a hypocritical, coy lie since what they really do starts from defining women’s natural appearance as “abnormal and ashamed” first. Then society proceeds to make them wear wigs to look like a long-haired barbie again. This reinforces “the utter feminine" stereotype, creating new type of corset afterhand. And corsets destroy the body.
Do you think this movement will undermine the Korean beauty industry?
Absolutely. In fact, Korea's beauty industry is already getting down. We hope all beauty industries will be affected.
How linked is the beauty industry to South Korea's plastic surgery industry? Is there pressure for women to have plastic surgery?
Beauty industry and plastic surgery industry are like identical twins with different names in reality. Those two thing always grow together.
If you go to station of "Gangnam" in Seoul, (which is famous for the song Gangnam Style) it is literally plastered with a plethora of plastic surgery advertisements inside and outside.
Young female children are also under passive-aggressive coercion to have plastic surgery and make-up.
|Image is a screenshot of google search results for Gangnam station plastic surgery|
Ara advises searching on Youtube to see tutorials for “make up for kids” – she advises not to click and watch any of the videos to ensure the uploaders don’t make money for these videos. (Youtube searching "어린이화장 (Make-up for Kids)).
How do people react to women who’ve escaped the corset?
Men are so afraid of women making their own opinions, so most Korean men use the term "Feminazis", "Femtardism". Some mothers with sons want more women to focus only on their appearance because they fear that their son's grades will drop because of smarter girls.
"Short-haired women" are always getting attacked online. Abroad, "Escape the Corset" is seen as a movement receiving positive reactions, but women are seriously suffering and the fights they've gone through are not known.
It’s terrible women are being judged so harshly for how they look, or failing to perform femininity.
Is it true you must provide photos when you are interviewing for a job? If so, will “Escape the Corset” affect potential careers?
South Koreans must put a picture on their resume. Most women have already been excluded from the job because they are women, and Korea's gender wage gap ranks always the first in the OECD. (34.6%, 2017, OECD: click here for link). A woman with a short cut often fails to get a job. Moreover there has been a case where a woman got fired from her job because she took off the corset after her job interview. The employer said that her appearance was “not neat and tidy enough to work at my cafe" and fired her, even though she was just as clean and tidy as a male worker right next to her. When she protested that it is unfair, he only repeated saying “but you are a woman so you should care more than men, it is natural" and “you had longer hair and applied makeup on your face at the job interview, and that’s the girl I hired, you fraud.”
Is “Escape the Corset” spreading? Despite the attacks women are receiving, are you excited about this movement?
Many Korean women have gained courage from short cuts for each other. It's revolutionary to be known abroad, but I am still unsatisfied-we want more. I can't give a complete positive answer for it because I know that there are many sisters who took off their corset are still afraid of men's violence as a retaliation. But that is the reason we should strive [harder] to let this movement catch fire even more.
Waiting for the wild fire we ignited to spread all over the world-it is more than mere excitement.
Are you hopeful that these new rebellions are only just the beginning?
Foreign journalists also regard the "Escape the Corset" as just the latest trends in Korea, but I sincerely hope it will continue into the world. Long hair and makeup suppress other women in a chain reaction. We, women, have to change first.
Korea have fostered culture and society of misogyny for thousands years, and that misogyny permeated deep into even our language. Korean feminists are now pointing out and changing misogynistic and patriarchal aspects in society. I think our movements are very militant and full of enthusiasm. Although it’s not easy to be feminist in Korea, no matter how [long] it takes, I believe we will win at the end.
Thank you so much, Ara and Crystal, for answering my questions and sharing your perspective with us.
By: Tee Linden
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of The Sydney Feminists. Our Blogger and Tumblr serve as platforms for a diverse array of writers to put forth their ideas and explore topics.