The Korea Herald


Misogyny making short hair unsafe

Fixed gender roles in Korea problematic, critics say

By Choi Jeong-yoon

Published : March 6, 2024 - 15:21

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AI-generated image of a woman in short hair (123rf) AI-generated image of a woman in short hair (123rf)

Prosecutors have sought a five-year sentence for a man in his 20s who was arrested for attacking a woman he perceived to be a feminist "because she had short hair."

In November last year, the man kicked and punched a female convenience store worker, saying, "Since you have short hair, you must be a feminist. I'm a male chauvinist, and I think feminists should be punished," according to police. He also assaulted another customer, in his 50s, who tried to intervene. At the time, the suspect was reported to have asked, "Why are you not taking my side (as a man)? She is a feminist."

Though the man pleaded guilty, he claimed he was in a state of mental and physical weakness, having been found to be inebriated when authorities arrived at the scene. Prosecutors demanded he be punished heavily, saying, "Though this is his first offense, the assailant committed an abnormal crime and the victim is still in great suffering." The final verdict comes on April 9.

Women with short, cropped hair have been the target of ire and physical attacks in South Korea. Many misogynistic commentators associate the hairstyle and a certain way of how one dresses with a perceived notion of "feminism."

In 2021, Korean archer An San, a gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, faced unwarranted criticism from male-dominated online groups. The disparagement centered on her short hair and enrollment at a women's university.

Dubbed a feminist by online detractors, An San's Instagram account was barraged with offensive language.

In a departure from the feminist movements in North America and Europe, the term "feminist" in Korea is frequently linked with the perception of being a "man-hater," leading to a degradation of public discourse into a battle of the sexes.

How did associating women with short hair and feminism begin?

Experts point to the "Cut the Corset" movement in 2018, where young women challenged long-held beauty ideals by sporting short hair and no makeup. Many posted images of themselves with their hair cut short, destroyed cosmetic products or piles of their cut hair in a political statement.

Many celebrities and YouTubers followed suit, and as the movement spread, prejudice against "anti-corset equals feminist" solidified, leading to a growing number of people equating them with a short haircut.

The prejudice fueled many online posts and judgment of women, including a post that wrote, "Aren't women from all-women's school who wear pants and glasses with no makeup and short hair feminists?" going viral.

Kim Dong-jin, head of the Feminist Pedagogy lab, points out that fixed gender roles heavily embedded in Korean society are at the core of the problem. "There is no scientific or logical reason why women have to have long hair and men short hair. These are all conventional perceptions from patriarchy that we have followed unquestioningly," she said.

She added that online communities that reproduce and proliferate such notions should be demolished.

The Women's Party also held a press conference ahead of the trial, stating, "This incident, which was committed with misogynic motives and assaulted a woman who he had no connection with, is a typical hate crime against women."

They urged the court to "clearly recognize it as a hate crime against women and set judicial justice straight with severe punishment for the perpetrators."