When is a sausage just a sausage? Controversial ads fuel sexism debate in South Korea
SEOUL (Reuters) – This month, three South Korean companies and police in Seoul had to remove ads and other content after men’s rights groups claimed “small penis” symbols had been used, insulting the men.
Offensive images? Hands with thumbs and forefingers pinching towards each other illustrating the search for an object. But the gesture is also often used to indicate something small in size and in South Korea it’s associated with a strident, though now defunct, feminist group that used the image in its logo.
To compound the problem, there was an ad and menu involved that advertised sausages as well.
South Korea’s largest convenience store chain, GS25, saw a handful of members of the men’s group “Man on Solidarity” protest outside the company’s headquarters following its ad. The group’s YouTube channel, which posts videos of its protests, has gained more than 200,000 subscribers in just two months.
GS25 withdrew its ad and the Genesis BBQ fried chicken chain took down its menu, apologizing and stating that it had no intention of putting men down. Kakao Bank Corp apologized for a hand drawn in the same way in one of its ads and Seoul Metropolitan Police also removed a hand from a road traffic ad saying they wanted to avoid any misunderstanding. .
The controversy is the latest long-standing outbreak of gender rights in South Korea that pitted men and women’s groups against each other and also led police to determine whether comedian Park Na-rae broke laws with a ridiculous joke made in March.
The joke on a YouTube video involving a Stretch Armstrong action figure whose arms were pulled close to his genital area sparked a storm of complaints that a similar joke by a comedian would never have been acceptable.
Park, 35, and his agency JDB Entertainment released apology statements and his YouTube channel was taken down. Police are forced to look into the matter after a complaint is lodged on a website set up to deal with citizens’ grievances, although it is not known whether charges will be laid.
Park and his agency did not respond to Reuters requests for comment on the potential police action.
Kim Garo, director of the women’s policy division at the Ministry of Gender and Family Equality, said that while issues of misogyny and misandry were not new to South Korea, the recent targeting of companies and individuals was.
She said it was difficult for the government to step in when protests took the form of consumer action, but would continue with outreach programs that invited young men and women to discuss issues such as gender equality and employment.
When President Moon Jae-in came to power in 2017, he pledged to be President for Gender Equality, vowing to do more to correct the disadvantages of women in South Korea.
South Korea has one of the largest pay gaps of any OECD country and low political representation of women, who occupy just 19% of parliamentary seats. Since Moon, women have seen some improvement in wages and are also eligible for larger government grants than men when starting a new business.
Political scientists say, however, that many young men now feel that their own needs and rights are not sufficiently recognized, adding to widespread discontent with the lack of employment opportunities for young people.
“Anti-feminist sentiment is strong among men in their twenties and early thirties, as well as the generation that becomes adulthood,” said Jeong Han-Wool, senior researcher at Hankook Research Company. Research for a 2019 book he co-wrote found that 58.6% of Korean men in their 20s said they were strongly opposed to feminism.
This complicates the prospects for the ruling Democratic Party as it seeks re-election next year at the end of Moon’s single five-year term.
The party has also lost women’s support after multiple sex abuse scandals involving politicians, contributing to landslide defeats in recent mayoral elections in Seoul and the Port of Busan.
Park Jun-young, 27, an engineering school graduate, says he’s among those who think men are now at a disadvantage.
“Feminism in South Korea started with gender equality, allowing women the same access and breaking the glass ceiling, but it has become something which young men today – who are not better off than women of the same age – have become the target of criticism, ”he said.
Reporting by Seoul office; Edited by Edwina Gibbs