Cultural Wednesday: Rape Culture & Tragedy

A lot of shit went down in Korea in the last week. Earlier, I posted about saving face in Asia and that point when it goes too far. Well, shitty people have struck again (and they’ll never stop, according to history), and even Korea is in an uproar this time.

Here’s a graphic article describing the situation in great detail, but if you don’t want to take the time or would rather avert your eyes from the images…

Summary: Early last week, a 23-year-old woman was stabbed to death by a male stranger in the bathroom of a noraebang (singing room). When arrested, the man said he stabbed her because he “felt belittled by women.”

Now, I’m not going to rage against the patriarchy and Korea. I’d rather deconstruct the culture surrounding this event, which is not exclusive to Korea (remember that one guy in Isla Vista, California, who went on a misogynistic killing spree but with bullets?).

The article provided above lays it out:

“But South Korea, a country with one of the most influential youth cultures in Asia, is also a society with a deep gender inequality according to the World Economic Forum which ranks the nation 117 out of 142, putting it alongside Qatar and Nigeria.

This is a subject Koreans do not like to discuss, partly because defamation laws in the country are strong, making criticism of the government, police, or major corporations dangerous. Many of those I contacted over the last two weeks were afraid to talk for fear of a lawsuit, though few would say so outright.

When they responded, they were often “too busy.” One person who worked in a frontline support service for rape victims told someone who had contacted them on my behalf: “This is a sensitive issue and I am Korean.”

Korea is a patriarchal culture at its core. Men are more powerful and use that power to control women. I mean, single mothers are ostracized by their own government, a government that offers extra money to married couples having children because they’re worried about the low birth rate. Abortion is illegal except for when the mother’s health is at risk. And only recently did Korea update its sexual assault laws.

This event offered a lot of insight into how Korea deals with tragedy. Though rape and sexual assault are actually commonplace here, murder is not. I’ve literally never felt unsafe walking down the street alone at night (though that confidence is now shaken). But just the other day, at Daegu’s memorial for the victim, a man was detained for brandishing a knife and threatening women on the street.

What has brought about this kind of deep-seated hatred for women standing in solidarity, for women voicing their opinion, for women being women?

In America, the misogynistic roots extend all the way back to before we were even a nation, but the biggest proponent and justification was and is the church or religion. It’s apparent, even today, that the Bible is often used as a justification for ideals that place power into the hands of men, or the rich, or a specific race (did you know the Bible was used to defend slavery? Real talk). Just look at the political divide that has split in a fissure deeper than the Grand Canyon.

In Korea, it’s not much different. Confucianism and industrialization are two major factors in Korea’s rape culture. Confucianism asserts that women are subservient to men, and their only power lies in their ability to be a mother and bear a son. Women are expected to behave with quiet obedience and must always answer to a man—daughters to father, wives to husbands, and widows to their oldest son.

Though Confucianism isn’t considered the normal practice, Korea’s core values have already been influenced by these ideals.

This paired with the 0-60 industrialization of the country, have created a dangerous mix. Only 60 years ago, Korea was in the red—poverty, war, lack of resources. In less than a decade, they rose to be an economic powerhouse, but at what expense? Old men and women are hump-backed, bent at the waist, and picking up trash, the only job they can do. The country’s dietary staples are products of a time when its people were starving–fermented radishes, fermented cabbage, fermented cucumbers, fermented peppers, stews with all but the kitchen sink, and a drink made with water and the leftover rice from the cooker.

Korea has grown, sprawling up and out and connecting its once isolated towns. So-much-so that people are intermingling in ways they never have before.

More men are meeting women. More women are drinking. More women are available. More men believe they deserve something from women, like attention and obedience.

And so the cycle continues.

But it’s not hopeless.

The outcry over this tragedy has not only brought sexual assault in Korea to the main stage, its forced a conversation. Hopefully, some minds will be changed. Hopefully, this won’t have to happen again.


What do you think?



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