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Are You Sure You Know What Feminism Is?

Are you comfortable when hearing the word “feminism”? Maybe some will say yes, but many will say no. Feminism is one of the hottest issues of today in Korea, but is also an issue that people hesitate to talk about. This is because feminism indeed is a sensitive topic to discuss, but it is certain that it is an idea that should be dealt with at the moment. As some of the people who have negative views on feminism do not even know what it is exactly, the SungKyun Times (SKT) will introduce the origin and history of feminism and scrutinize feminism seen in our society.

What is Feminism?

Definition and Origin of Feminism

Feminism is a word derived from the Latin word “femina” which means possessing female characteristics. It is a term that includes various social and political movements and theories focused on the equality of the rights and opportunities of men and women. Since man took the lead in social activities and political participation historically, feminism aimed to assert and realize women’s rights. Feminism began to arise in earnest after the French Revolution in 1789. It has developed along with other social movements and theories arguing for the improvement and abolition of diverse social policies that exacerbate social injustice such as slavery, apartheid, and class systems.

History of Feminism

The history of feminism can be classified into three phases. The first wave of feminism refers to the feminist movement and development of theories that were aroused actively especially in England and the United States from the 19th century to the 1950s. It was also referred to as liberal feminism since it strived to grant suffrage and private property rights to women as well, so that they could fulfil their potential within the social system as individuals. Feminists of the first wave focused on gaining the same rights as men, and many writings arguing diverse rights such as suffrage and sexual rights of women were significantly published. The first wave was led mainly by the middle class cisgender Caucasians whose biological sex matched with the gender perceived by themselves. The second wave of feminism took place from the 1960s to the 1980s, focusing on emancipating women from many social injustice phenomena such as labor environments and wage levels. It pursued the liberation of women in private issues like their body and sexuality, and expanded the scope of discussion into the whole society and culture. It is also referred to as radical feminism since it showed strong and radical political characteristics, demanding the improvement of overall social policies. The third wave of feminism began in the 1990s, starting from the criticism on the second wave that it was the preserve of Caucasians. Accordingly, it endeavored to consider the diversity of race, nationality, religion, class, sexuality, and the culture of women, and modify to complement the single view of middle class cisgender Caucasians, the center of feminism movements until then.

Feminism Within Pop Culture

Celebrity Feminism

cartoonswallpapers.net/American Singer Alicia Keys Without Makeup in 2016 MTV VMA

Celebrity feminism, actions and statements of celebrities related to feminism and gender equality, has become popular thanks to the internet and Social Network Services (SNS) in the past two to three years. British actor Emma Watson, one of the most famous feminists in Hollywood, gave many speeches on feminism after she was appointed an UN Woman Goodwill Ambassador in 2014. American singer Alicia Keys also participated in the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards (VMA) without any make-up as a nod to the #nomakeup movement, one of the feminist movements against the social standard requiring women to wear makeup. It is not only female but also male celebrities, however, who have started to declare themselves feminists as well. Barack Obama, the former President of the United States, contributed a column about feminism to women’s magazine Glamour in August, 2016. In his column, he said, “it is absolutely men’s responsibility to fight sexism too,” stressing the role of men in feminism. Celebrity feminism made a large contribution on introducing and popularizing feminism to the public, but criticisms on it also exist because of the inconsistency in the actions and statements. Some people even describe it as celebrity “branded” feminism due to the limits that celebrity feminism often ends up in oral statements. Andi Zeisler, author of the book We Were Feminists Once, criticized the paradox that Emma Watson gave many feminist speeches but played Belle, one of the typically classic sexist roles, in her latest movie, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. She said that celebrity feminism can provide the public with a perception that the definition of feminism is hollow and superficial. Roxane Gay, author of the book Bad Feminist, also pointed out the limits of celebrity feminism in that its contents are not different from what feminists have been arguing for the past 40 years.

Changes in Princess Movies: Feminism in Disney

The typical story of a princess waiting for Prince Charming has been one of the crucial mediums that regard women as being a passive and weak creature for a long time. Today, however, Disney, the leading company of princess movies, is gradually changing under the influence of feminism. Unlike classic ones, most of which show women who rely on others, especially men, princess movies starring active and strong female characters have started to appear since the late 20th century. Merida in the film Brave released in 2012 is a representative character. In the movie, Merida _ghts against the society forcing her to behave modestly and marry with someone she does not even know just because she is a princess and female. She even strives to save her mom and change her destiny by herself. Compared to classic princess movies such as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty where princesses eat poisoned apples or get stung and just wait for Prince Charming, this is a signi_cant change. Despite the efforts of Disney, as for the movies based on classic fairy tales, there still lies some limits due to the sexist factors from the original story. Beauty and the Beast, for example, was appreciated for its feminist elements when it was released last March, but some feminists still regarded it as faux feminism. Having said that, the change of princess movies will be effective in teaching gender equality as well as the active images of women to children who will grow up watching those movies.

tumblbug.com/Go-ahead character Merida in the lm Brave

Feminism in Korea

History of Korean Feminism

Korean feminism started during the enlightenment era at the end of the 19th century as educated women in_uenced by Western culture started to perceive their identities as women and form women’s organizations. Feminism in Korea continued even during the Japanese colonial era; however, in the 1960s to the 1970s the movement lost its identity as it was integrated with democratization movements for or against the dictatorial government. In the 1980s, however, feminism started to be revived as a movement aimed at the liberation of women. Moreover, more radical changes such as the abolition of the patriarchal family system started to appear from the 1990s. In addition, many mainstream female writers like Gong Ji-Young and Shin Kyung-sook opened the era of woman writers, popularizing feminism as well. Disabled women, minority women, and immigrant women that were relatively isolated began to participate, and feminism on various fields started taking place after the year 2000.

Korean Society Negative About Feminism

Frightened of being branded as feminist, many people in Korea are reluctant to mention the word “feminism”. There are also a lot of people who are against feminism. According to a survey from Women News, four university students out of ten showed a negative response to feminism, responding that “feminism activities have a negative in_uence on their university lives.” The ‘Equalism Affair’, an incident where one internet user introduced an arbitrarily made- up term “eqaulism” which means a theory searching for alternatives for reverse discrimination of feminism in order to criticize feminism, is also a phenomenon that shows the negative views on feminism in Korea. The causes underneath this tendency to dislike feminism are complicated but can be grouped into three major reasons.

First of all, men who have had vested rights in an androcentric society misunderstand the concept of feminism as a threat against themselves. Since they think they have to give-up or lose their piece of the pie rather than enjoying the pie of the same size individually, those men have become negative to feminism. Secondly, some organizations that abhor other genders instead of pursuing gender equality misuse the word “feminism.” Megalia, a site that initially started as a feminism website against misogyny but is recently being perceived as a misandry site due to its excessive extremity, is a representative misuse of feminism. The misusage of the term by those organizations will give a false impression of feminism towards the public as female chauvinism, the same as heterophobia, encouraging reverse discrimination. The final cause is the “spiral of silence” theory, a phenomenon where people actively agree with an idea if they are in the majority while remain silent if they are in the minority. Korean feminism lies on the minority at the moment because it is a movement against the existing social system, and even negative views on it are prevailing in our society. Therefore, people try not to be involved in feminism issues and even decide to evade it.

Slow but Gradual Change Within Korean Society

womennews.co.kr/Icons of Penguine Project

Although negative views are prevalent, some people have started to speak out and discuss feminism more recently. The spiral of silence has started to break down and the usage of the words ‘feminism’ and ‘feminist’ are also increasing. There is the ‘#iamfeminist’ hashtag on Korean Instagram and the word ‘feminist’ was used in the title of the 33rd Korean women’s rally, ‘2017 Feminist Square for 3.8 International Women’s Day.’ In particular, a lot of movements are taking place in universities, and the Penguin Project is a representative program among others. The Penguin Project is an anti-sexual violence culture project aimed at changing the endemic sexual abuse culture within the campus and making a college more equal to everyone. 12 universities around Seoul including Kookmin University, KyungHee University, and SungKyunKwan Univeristy, and 25 groups of students are now participating. The motive of the project comes from the French book Projet Crocodiles (Project Crocodile) which deals with sexual violence and sexual discrimination. Penguin became the name of the project because the members wanted to emulate the “courage” of the first penguins falling into the ocean and the “huddling” of penguins for maintaining their presence and body temperature. It connotes a message to speak out about the inconvenience and discrimination that women suffer in university ‘_rst’, and brings change through ‘solidarity.’ The project group has been conducting seminars and campaigns along with each of the universities’ feminism groups since the beginning of March. On March 30th, the members successfully completed their official event ‘3.30 Rebellion of Penguins for Equal Universities,’ announcing their declaration for making equal universities. The project is also planning on conducting anti- sexual abuse and gender equality campaigns at each university from now.

popsugar.com/‘3.30 Rebellion of Penguins for Equal Universities’ Held in March 30th 2017

Since feminism originated in Western culture, most of the movements so far have been concentrated on Western countries as well. Today, however, feminism movements such as Gulabi Gang, an Indian womens organization against domestic violence on women, are starting to grow in popularity slowly but steadily in Asian countries where the standard of womens rights are still relatively low. Feminists say that negative prejudice against feminism comes from ignorance and resistance to prevalent sexual discriminations. Certainly there might be distinctions between the thoughts of each individual, but Kingos should refrain from blindly deprecating feminism without even knowing more about it.

박민주  minju5142@naver.com

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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