Discrimination Editor's Picks National

Exit 10 at Gangnam station erupts into gender based feud

Photo by Stella Parmentier
Photo by Stella Parmentier
James Hyams
Written by James Hyams

Script for TBS eFM radio, May 24

Henry: Thousands, of post-it notes, flowers, and soft teddy bear toys lined the walls at exit 10 of Gangnam station until Monday. Many of us know that a young lady was killed in a unisex toilet in Gangnam recently allegedly simply because she was a woman.

 A memorial site was also started at exit 2 of Busan’s Seomyeon station on Friday last week and in Daejeon. This murder struck a cord with thousands of young people each with their own message to share.

Tonight we have The Korea Observer’s deputy editor James Hyams with us to discuss the reactions of many to this event.

Welcome to the studio.

James: Hi Henry. It is good to be here but it is unfortunate that this entire event occurred. My condolences to the friends and family who lost their loved one.

Henry: I also want to give my regards to the family. I’m sorry this has happened.

James: Many feel the same way. I think that is one reason why so many people are emotionally moved and were posting notes on exit 10 and now at city hall. They are paying respect to the young lady who was killed by a socially deprived man with mental health issues who could not relate to or talk with women. There is the feeling among many young ladies in Korea who believe that they could have been the one murdered. One of the messages literally translated said:

“RIP. I am still alive because I was not in that public toilet. It could have been me.”

That seems to be the general consensus among women.

Henry: It is a very sad case indeed but I hear there has also been some conflict as well.

James: There has unfortunately. Feminists and academics have used this as an opportunity to highlight discrimination against females in South Korea. Some men feel that they are being labelled as potential predators and a risk to women’s safety – a label they feel is unfair. On the same token men’s groups have tried to do the same stating that men die in military service and are at greater risk of death than females. All these arguments have been playing out everyday at exit 10 since this murder.

Henry: Why don’t we discuss the men’s groups at the memorial site first.

James: Sure. Brad Seoh, a peace protestor at exit 10 of Gangnam station on Monday, held a sign saying: “The insane man should be blamed, not men themselves. RIP for the 23 year old angel.”

This is what Seoh had to say:

[Brad Seoh, first audio; 10 seconds]

1:21 “I don’t want this case to be the conflict of the men and women. What I want to say is that we can make the world together if we don’t have the prejudice. That is why I came here.”

Despite this, when prompted Seoh also said that men had legitimate reasons to suggest they are disadvantaged in Korean society as well.

[Brad Seoh, audio 2; 11 seconds]

“We go to university and we go to military. Between the two years gap women can get ready for their job but men cannot. We cannot think and study.”

James: Many people are unhappy with messages such as Seoh’s stating that it is distracting away from the main issues women are facing.

Prominent blogger John Lee articulates this clearly.

[John Lee, guys distracting issue; 9 seconds]

“Right now women are saying, ‘hey we are being vicitmised because we are women.’ Instead of reaching out and saying ‘how can we help,’ these guys are saying ‘hey what about our problems.’ What they are doing doesn’t help.”

Henry: I can see Lee’s point.

James: So can much of society but there are still many male activists trying to bring attention to men’s issues. For example, men’s advocacy group Ilbe sent a flower garland to the memorial sight containing photographs of fallen sailors, all of which are men.

Lee explains this in the following clip:

 [John Lee, Ilbe’s Garland; 15 seconds]

“On the garland it said, remember all of those sailors who died on the ROKs Cheonan, they died only because they were men. That is a separate issue which needs to be discussed on its own merit in a separate conversation altogether.”

 Henry: The compulsory military service debate has been ongoing for years but is this really the correct time and place to be debating this topic?

James: Not at all. The fact is that South Korea has a 37.4 per cent gender wage gap and ranks 125th out of 142 countries in the category of equal pay for similar work. Lawmaker Sim Sang-jeung of the Justice Party said that 87.2 percent of all reported victims of violent crimes in the country in 2014 were women. Statistics show that South Korea is the only developed country in the world where more women are killed than men. These things cannot be disputed.

There is a real problem here and real problems require real solutions. That is why so many people are enraged when men complain about their discrimination as a rebuttal to concerns about female rights. It is also why so many feminists come across as being anti-men when they just want equal opportunity.

Henry: And to feel safe I presume.

James: Yes, that’s true. This view was reiterated by a Korean transgender women named Valentina Kim who attended the memorial site to pray for the victim. Valentina said that as a person born as a man and later transformed into a woman, she can understand both sides of the debate.

[Valentina Kim, first audio; 19 seconds]

“Well, I agree on the part that females should be protected. I don’t agree on the part that all the men should be viewed as a bad person. I don’t think the problem here, we should debate about the female male thing but we should more talk about how we should solve problems with the people have like mentally illness.”

 Henry: Is it really just a random attack by someone having mental health problems?

James: For some yes, for others no. Some people are claiming this is a misogynistic attack that reinforces the divide between men and women in Korean society whereas others are saying that it is a simple case of a person with a mental health issue attacking a random girl. It is the clash of these two perspectives that has also created arguments at the memorial site. Korean national Fernando Kim translated some of these arguments for us as they were happening.

This is Kim’s translation for us:

[Fernando Kim, first audio; 16 seconds]

“What we are all angry about is your trying to cover up the main issue. It is not a problem about deluded men killing somebody. It is a social problem we have between men and women. That is what we are thinking about. That is what she is saying.”

After translating Fernando wanted to offer his insight into what he believes the main issues are:

[Fernando Kim, audio 2; 21 seconds]

“My personal belief is not just about men and women. It’s about all kinds of partitions that we have in Korea. Student, non-student, rich poor, man women. Men are doing all the work, women are treated so unfairly. Those kind of issues and nobody is right there trying to solve it but the fight is still going on.”

Henry: Fernando raises a great point. Who should be trying to solve this issue?

James: That’s a great question that requires substantial analysis to achieve a valid reply. In short, every one of us. A prominent gyopo blogger, John Lee, offered one part of a solution to this issue after admitting that he was part of the problem.

[John Lee, first audio; 17 seconds]

“When I said that I think I’m part of the problem is because I don’t really recognise the problems, I am blindsided by it. When I do hear about these things I am really shocked most of the time. And so, in order to not be a part of the problem I think it is important to have a discourse about it.”

Henry: There has been a lot of discussion on this in the press.

James: Yes, but that is not enough. The discussion needs to be had with family at home, with friends, partners, at school, and preferably in parliament as well. The message: Violence against women, Korea says “No” needs to come from all angles, not just the press or from groups preaching to other victims.

Henry: It is a nice idea and a good suggestion but we wont be solving this issue any time soon. That is all we have time for. The Korea Observer will be back again on Thursday. 

About the author

James Hyams

James Hyams

James Hyams juggles several careers including being a journalist and a social worker. James has an avid interest in 'telling it as it is', exposing matters of public interest, and reviving investigative journalism in the new digital era. Testimony to this is his thesis titled: “U.S. Government secrecy and the withering watchdog: Is WikiLeaks the answer?”

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