#MeToo Becomes an Unstoppable Wave

“What kind of country is this? We want a better world!”

Park Ju-yeon 2020-03-17

Ever since prosecutor Seo Ji-hyeon came forward in January with her story of workplace sexual harassment, victims from every corner of society, including the theater, film, and comic book sectors of the arts and the religious, education, politics, and media fields. As the so-called “MeToo” movement continues, women’s rights activists are calling for the transformation of social structures, saying that it is time for real change.


▲ Picket signs made by participants in Korean Womenlink’s event “We will destroy the old world – The era of rape culture is over”, held on the evening of Feb. 23rd in the Sinchon neighborhood of Seoul.  ©Feminist Journal Ilda


On February 26th at 7 p.m., Korean Women’s Association United hosted the “Emergency Forum on the #MeToo Movement” at MicImpact, a business near Jongak Station in Seoul. The event was a chance to discuss the movement’s influence and future.


Women have always been saying this


“This movement isn’t a new thing.”


Chung-Ang University professor of sociology Lee Na-young said that women have continuously been telling their stories of victimization and called on the audience to look at the history of the Korean women’s movement and the anti-sexual violence movement. She said, “Please remember the people that have persistently questioned practices taken for granted, resisted discriminatory systems, and gone against the trends of their era, whether in the Japanese colonial period, the democratization movement of the 1980s, or more recently after the Gangnam Station murder.”


Feminist activist Gwon-Kim Hyeon-yeong said, “What surprised me about Hanssem sexual assault case was that a victim appeared who could describe in detail what had happened to her. I was surprised that we had a woman who would talk so openly about this kind of incident.”


Ms. Gwon-Kim also talked about her experience organizing the “First Annual Sexual Violence Survivor Speaking Contest” at the Korea Sexual Violence Counseling Center in 2003 and connected today’s situation with the history of the anti-sexual violence movement:


“I felt angry listening to prosecutor Seo Ji-hyeon’s story because I thought, ‘Women can’t fight back against sexual violence even when they have that much power?’, but I felt comforted by what Ms. Seo said: ‘I wanted to say that it wasn’t my fault.’ I realized that the feminist movement and anti-sexual violence movement had at least succeeded in conveying to victims, ‘It’s not your fault, it’s not our fault.’”


▲ Panelists at the Feb. 26th “Emergency Forum on the #MeToo Movement” hosted by Korean Women’s Association United.  © Feminist Journal Ilda

MeToo’s influence is reaching ordinary people


Song Ran-hui, secretary-general of Korea Women’s Hot Line, said, “When I see people calling the MeToo movement a form sabotage or politically-motivated, it makes me laugh. No one believes claims like that anymore.” She criticized those who tried to explain MeToo away with conspiracy theories and called the movement “a social force that cannot be turned back now”.


Ms. Song also passed on a story she had heard from a member of her organization and talked about the effects the MeToo movement is having on our society:


“One of our members went to her hometown for the Lunar New Year, and she said that 85-year-old women in the small town were talking about MeToo. It seems a local oriental medicine doctor had been molesting women under the guise of treating them. They [the elderly women] were saying, ‘I didn’t realize what was happening at the time but now I see what is was.’ People who have never talked about this kind of thing before are talking about it now, you see.”


This story of elderly rural women realizing that the doctor’s behavior was not simply “bad” or “immature” but a sexual crime shows how the MeToo movement is changing ordinary people.


Professor Lee said, “We need to pay attention to the fact that today’s women’s movements are leading victims beyond feelings like sorrow and self-blame into a feeling of determination.”


Professor Lee believes that the growth of the MeToo movement is not a reaction to a particular case or support for a particular victim, but instead works as follows: women 1) recognize its connection to their own experiences, 2) come forward to talk about their suffering, 3) become aware of and reflect on their ignorance and irresponsibility in regards to others’ pain, and 4) move forward with a commitment to change. What’s more, she reminded the audience, women are moving beyond awareness into action.


Female artists say it’s not just the perpetrators but the structure that must change


In the theater world, where upsetting incidents of sexual violence committed by stage director Lee Yun-taek and famous theater owners and directors are coming out one after another, the “Movement for Theater Industry Professionals Against Sexual Violence” has been created to participate in the MeToo movement and solve the issue of sexual violence.


▲ During the emergency forum, director Oh Seong-hwa revealed that, on the evening of February 21st, around 150 theater professionals gathered and talked late into the night about what to do.  ©The Facebook page of the Movement for Theater Industry Professionals Against Sexual Violence

Ms. Oh said, “In the theater industry, unless you’re part of a national or city-sponsored troupe, you usually move here and there among troupes, and in one production you might be the director while in another you’re an actor, so there are cases of people who are victims but also perpetrators.”


She continued, “There are many cases where productions are funded by public grants, and it is a structure in which a lot of power is concentrated in the hands of those who receive and manage such grants,” and emphasized that sexual violence in the theater world is closely tied to the issue of power.


The Movement for Theater Industry Professionals Against Sexual Violence conducts sexual violence prevention education within the industry, has met with government ministries to discuss the sexual violence problem, and has said that it will make efforts to come up with concrete measures.


▲ Film director Shin Hui-ju (left) and stage director Oh Seong-hwa.  ©Feminist Journal Ilda

The Women’s Association of Arts and Culture, which has been carrying on an anti-sexual violence campaign in the arts and culture world since the advent of the hashtag “#sexual_violence_in_(insert industry here)”, was also represented at the forum. Shin Hui-ju, a film director, described the association’s activities over the past year and displayed the proposals it had submitted to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.


 The association proposed that the government carry out a study on sexual violence in the arts and establish a special committee, which would include a fact-finding sub-committee, within the ministry.


Ms. Shin said, “The MeToo movement is not an extension of our carrying candles and calling for democracy, it is something that arises from the anger of women as people who were in the democracy movement’s blind spot.” Continuing, she emphasized the government’s role: “Government departments need to listen to this massive demand for the destruction of Korea’s rape culture and actively cooperate with it.


This isn’t a women’s problem but a men’s problem


It was also pointed out that the government bears responsibility for the problem of sexual assault because of its failure to actively address it.


According to the Korean Women Workers Association, the number of workplace sexual harassment cases reported to the Ministry of Employment and Labor rose from 249 in 2012 to 556 in 2016. However, only nine of the 556 cases were sent on to the prosecutors’ office, and among the slightly-larger number of cases in which the ministry at least ordered corrective measures, most ended in the victim withdrawing her complaint with the measures still unimplemented.


Kim Myeong-suk, the Korean Women Workers Association’s director of labor policy, said, “Changes to the relevant government departments are an urgent priority,” and especially criticized the Ministry of Employment and Labor for “not dealing with [sexual harassment] properly, despite having total jurisdiction over the private sector”. She argued that the ministry must take the problem of workplace sexual harassment seriously by “rigorously executing its relevant duties, such as the punishment of perpetrators, the protection of victims and prohibition of retaliation against them, and the reform of sexually discriminatory organizational cultures”.


The demand for government departments to stop shirking their duties was a common thread among all of the forum’s panelists.


They emphasized not just the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family’s responsibilities, but the function the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism should be fulfilling in the arts and culture world and the role the Department of Employment and Labor should be playing for laborers; Professor Lee also proposed the idea of mandatory feminist education as a task for the Ministry of Education. She even added that we should be looking hard at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, which keeps cutting the budget for women-friendly projects.


As for legal reform, the panelists agreed that the law against “truthful defamation” (which allows people to be convicted of defamation for making a true statement) must be abolished. “Truthful defamation”, which silences victims by turning them instantly into criminals, is the greatest source of aggravation for victims and the greatest barrier to their reporting crimes.


▲ Citizens making picket signs at Korean Womenlink’s event “We will destroy the old world – The era of rape culture is over”, held on the evening of Feb. 23rd.  ©Feminist Journal Ilda

More than anything, the participants in the forum pointed out that it was time to change the social standards and the individuals who have tolerated rape culture.


Professor Lee said, “We must work to break the cycle of the production/reproduction of structural injustice,” and urged “changing the framing through calling it a ‘men’s problem’ instead of a ‘women’s problem’”.


During the two and a half hours of the forum, there were laughs, tears, and anger. And there was also a passionate cry: “What kind of country is this! We want a better world!”


By Park Ju-yeon

Published February 28, 2018

Translated by Marilyn Hook


*Original article: http://www.ildaro.com/8137


◆ To see more English-language articles from Ilda, visit our English-language blog(https://ildaro.blogspot.com).

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