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New form of scarlet letter in Korean entertainment scene

Actor Yoo Ah-in cautions against ‘men vs. women’ debate on feminism


A star of critically acclaimed film “Burning,” Yoo Ah-in recently talked about being branded “anti-feminist” by the public.

He is among a growing line of Korean celebrities who -- upon being labeled “feminist,” or “anti-feminist” -- get thrown into the line of fire by the public.

In a recent interview with BBC News Korea, the actor expressed concerns over feminism-related discussions in Korea degenerating into a battle of the sexes.

Yoo Ah-in (Yonhap)
Yoo Ah-in (Yonhap)

“This movement (in Korea) has taken the form of us versus them, spreading out in the form of a violent movement. ... There is the structure of ‘men, the discriminator of women’ versus ‘women, the victim.’ We must co-exist in this world, and I believe that the way to do so must be discussed in a less aggressive, more peaceful way,” said Yoo.

The actor has defined himself as a feminist and called it “the most important human rights movement of today.”

But he has been labeled as a misogynist by some feminists after he refused to apologize for joking about an online commenter being hit by a zucchini. (To read more about the incident, click: Yoo Ah-in moves to end ‘gender bashing’ dispute with netizens

Feminism most-widely refers to a range of movements that strive to achieve equal rights between the sexes. But the terminology has taken on a different connotation in Korea, due to what can be seen as gender-bashing by some portion of the movement.

The phenomenon can be traced back to the misogynistic culture at some male-dominated online communities such as Ilbe. This, in turn, led to the creation of men-hating websites that “mirrored” the actions of their misogynistic counterparts.

Being linked to “feminism” in any way has had severe repercussions for celebrities here.

“My Mister,” a tvN drama, was recently accused of misogyny for a scene in which the female protagonist Lee Ji-an is beaten up by a loan shark.

Her sarcastic comment “You like me, huh?” invited accusations that the scene attempted to romanticize dating violence, although there was no indication that the two characters were ever romantically involved and the character of the loan shark and the said scene were depicted in a negative way.

IU -- who played Lee Ji-an -- was attacked on “radical feminist” websites for “selling the fantasy of dating older men,” referring to her on-screen relationship with her older boss. The singer-actor on Monday announced that she would take legal action over malicious online comments.

Comedian Yoo Byung-jae was embroiled in controversy after pointing out that the drama never intended to justify violence. His comment, “Whenever I want to learn about feminism, they (women) push me away because I’m a Han-nam-chung (Korean male bug), and the other side pushes me away because I’m a hardcore-feminist,” made during a stand-up comedy show, also drew criticism.

Being labeled “feminist” has an equally negative impact on a celebrity’s reputation.

Seolhyeon (FNC Entertainment)
Seolhyeon (FNC Entertainment)

K-pop star Seolhyeon of AOA recently was thrust into the maelstrom for un-following Yoo Ah-in, Yoo Byung-jae and IU on Twitter while following Luna of f(x), who advocates feminism.

Despite the K-pop star remaining mum on the meaning of her Twitter activity, it was interpreted as supporting feminism and invited criticism from male-dominated online communities. A local media outlet on Monday even published the article “Seolhyeon, a traitor to male fans?”

In March, Irene of Red Velvet came under fire for saying that she read the feminist novel “Kim Ji Young, Born 1982,” as fans posted online burned and torn up photos of the K-pop star.

By Yoon Min-sik

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Korea Herald daum