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To be a feminist in South Korea is to risk being the victim of constant harassment by anti-feminist groups, both online and in the public sphere. During the summer of 2021, members of the feminist group Haeil were the targets of mockery and incitement to hatred. This testifies to the growing tension between two trends, each strongly anchored in South Korean society.

“Look at me, all these feminazies! That’s it, run away from me! You will get a little exercise, like that”, exclaims with a sneer a man disguised as Joker, famous antagonist of Batman, who pursues a small group of South Korean feminists and shoot them with her water pistol. The activists are frightened; he is having fun. In the heat of the moment, he slips a few looks on camera: he films himself live on social networks, where hundreds of people encourage him behind their smartphones.

The scene takes place on August 22, in the streets of Daejeon, in central South Korea. And this man is Bae IngGyu alias “Wangja” (prince, in Korean), YouTuber and central figure of the “New male solidarity”, who is waging war on feminists, believing that they endanger their rights and advocate hatred of men.

As feminist ideas have gained ground in recent years in this conservative country, initiatives to defend “men’s rights” have multiplied. Among them, we find the group “Dang Dang We”, founded in 2018, which wants to defend men wrongly accused – according to them – of sexual harassment, or “The anti-feminist organization”, which regularly protests against the ministry. of Gender (in charge of gender equality in South Korea). These groups are openly supported by several South Korean MPs.

Feminism, often confused with misandry in South Korea, is the obvious enemy of these “masculinist” groups. They “fight” it therefore with mockery and anonymous threats on the Internet, “anti-feminist” gatherings, and sometimes even moral or sexual harassment.

The feminist association “Haeil” (“tsunami”) was created in June 2021 to fight against this growing anti-feminism. This made him the ideal target for these masculinist groups, in particular the “Wangja” team, who attacked them all summer. On the pitch or online, it’s an offensive on all fronts.

On August 22 in Daejeon, the group organized a demonstration against the politicization of anti-feminism. In very small committee, health context requires.

In this video, shared by Haeil on Twitter, the leader is seen armed with his water pistol, surrounded by a film crew – he is live on social media for the “new male force”. We hear him say: “So you got water? Are you angry? (…) Damn, there are so many insects here, there are so many, yeah, I’m going to kill the insects, they’re insects, aren’t they? ” (The term “insect” is used by some feminists to qualify anti-feminists, Editor’s note)

“I heard there were feminists around here, I’m going to murder them all,” he shouts in this other video, right next to Haeil’s rally.

joker legend © Les Observateurs de France 24

Contacted by the editorial staff of France 24 Observers, Kim Ju-hee, founder of Haeil, said:

“It was the first time that he had approached us so close, at a distance where he could even hit us if he wanted. He started chasing us, shouting insults, but what made us particularly fear was that we did not know what was in his water pistol: in South Korea, there have been several acid attacks and cases of ‘sperm terrorism’ against women. throw / swallow sperm to a woman without her knowledge, read this article by Vice to learn more, Editor’s note). “

vulgar and violent, the unapologetic war declared by masculinists against feminists
In this image, Haehil founder Ju-hee comforts one of her members. According to the feminist group, the young woman still suffers from anxiety and has been on medication ever since. © Haehil

“The hardest part is that nobody stopped them. Neither the passers-by, who sometimes even cheered them, nor even the police. The group could even continue their live video without worries. That day, in addition to having was afraid for my friends, I told myself that no one was protecting us, that we were alone. “

Video translated by Haeil from the Youtube channel of the “new male solidarity”

vulgar and violent, the unapologetic war declared by masculinists against feminists
Busan © Les Observateurs de France 24

This other video was filmed during Haeil’s first rally on June 30 in Busan, South Korea. We see the anti-feminist YouTuber wearing a long blonde wig and dressed as a woman. From the roof of a van, he laughs at the feminists demonstrating to expand the right to abortion, a few meters away, and declares: “Yeah yeah, I’m a victim, because I’m a woman.” A young woman by his side adds: “I went to see the feminists, I was afraid because they look like bears.” “Maybe I should buy you a tranquilizer gun,” “Wangja” replies.

The activist has already come several times dressed like this to feminist groups. A way to make fun of their physical appearance, as explained to the editorial staff of France 24 Observers Haein Shim, a member of Haeil:

“We all have very short hair because we want to fight against South Korean beauty standards. And they really don’t like that. So he comes dressed up like that and yells at us, ‘This is what you should look like, you. are not real women ‘. ”

Meanwhile, anti-feminism is popular on social networks. For this video of the Joker, the new male force collected the equivalent of 2 million won (1,460 euros) via donations to their channel on the Korean video platform “Afreeca TV”. A form of income called “hatred-coin” (“hate currency”) by Haeil, in reference to bitcoin. “Threatening feminists, it pays, and they know it”, slips one of the members.

Their Youtube channel had nearly 366,000 subscribers and each of their video had several hundred thousand views. But since the Joker episode, the account has nevertheless been reported en masse and the channel has been deactivated since September 5.

The new male force thus loses its main platform, but continues to appear on Facebook, Instagram and other networks, openly insulting feminists.

For their part, South Korean feminists are discreet online and very often demonstrate masked, as in this photo during a rally. The eyes are also blurred.

“At each manifestation, we must all cover our body and our face”

Hae-in Shim explains what they risk exposing their identity, in a country where cyberbullying is taking its toll.

“At every protest, we all have to cover our bodies and faces, because one of the most common forms of cybercrime is collecting personal information about women, including photos, and archiving them publicly, as soon as they happen. they think they’ve identified a feminist. “

Threats, cyberstalking towards feminists and their relatives, appeals to employers … “They are doing everything to prevent Korean women from identifying themselves openly as a feminist.”

To understand how the word “feminist” can connote negatively, just look at the surge of hatred online towards three-time Olympic archery champion An San this summer, categorized as a feminist “because of” her hair. short. Some had even demanded that she return her three gold medals.

Within Haeil, founder Ju-hee, a member of a feminist political party, is the only one to speak with her face uncovered.

In April 2020, in a feminist meeting

This has earned him the fact that he has become the main target of the anti-masculinist group: they broadcast his face on the networks, display it at rallies, put it as the wallpaper of their phone and make insulting photo montages with it. “You don’t want to know what they’re doing with his face right now,” Hae-in Shim slips.

According to her, even if Ju-hee did file a complaint, those who harass her would get away with it relatively easily. While Korean law does provide for penalties for cyberbullying, there are in fact very few convictions for online anonymity. According to experts on the subject, Korean police generally consider online harassment not to be a serious crime and are not sufficiently trained on the subject.

Haeil nevertheless considered taking legal measures.

When contacted, the “New Male Solidarity” did not respond to our requests. We can nevertheless hear the point of view of “Wangja” in an interview given to CNA published on August 22. (it starts in the 29th minute, interview given before the Joker episode). He refutes the idea that he “terrorizes” women, and explains that his videos aim to show how ridiculous the claims of feminists would be.“I can assure you that 99% of men agree with me, it’s just that, unlike these radical feminists, they don’t dare say out loud what they think.”

“Young men feel intimidated by the more inclusive social atmosphere of feminist ideas”

While these groups remain a minority, “feminism” continues to be viewed very negatively in the country. According to researcher Euisol Jeong, author of a thesis on South Korean feminism (University of Yorkshire), the question is particularly divisive among young people:

“The younger generation has split between those who support feminism and those who support anti-feminism because (generally) young men want to reclaim the patriarchal / sexist order and (generally) young women want to challenge sexism. and the misogyny of Korean society.

As young women’s protests against sexism and misogyny have become more socially visible and acceptable since 2015, young men feel intimidated by the more inclusive social atmosphere of feminist ideas. This makes it easy for masculinist groups to gain support. ”

According to a Korean opinion poll, 80% of young men in their twenties slightly or strongly agree with the phrase “feminism aims for the supremacy of women” and over 60% of them are not. agree with the phrase “feminism aims for gender equality”.

“They consider that we are threatening the tradition”

The whole thing is also mixed with a renewed nationalism, which anti-feminists do not hesitate to exploit, according to the founder of Haeil, Kim Ju-hee:

“They consider that they are waging a war against us, who threaten tradition. Some of them even claim that we are North Korean infiltrators who have come to spread dangerous socialist ideas, and that to fight against us is to fight for South Korea. “

The current progressive president, Moon Jae-in, presents himself as a “feminist leader” and his tenure was marked by the advent of the #MeToo movement in Korea. But the presidential election of 2022 is approaching and the nationalist candidates do not hesitate to exploit the vein of anti-feminism to attract votes. One of the main opposition figures, the conservative Ha Tae-keung, has indicated that he wants to suppress the Ministry of Gender, which works for gender equality in South Korea. The candidate considers it “obsolete”.