What Has Become of You, Korea?

By John Kim

Published Date: 2021 / 09 / 09


[Picture Credit: The Japan Times]

A little more than a month ago, the biggest sporting event of 2020 took place in Tokyo, Japan. Despite the controversies concerning the undertaking of the Olympics itself that continued to arise throughout the proceedings of the event, the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 proved to be another successful experiment amid the COVID melancholy. Citizens worldwide, regardless of their age, gender, and nationality, partook in the experience in a multitude of ways; contemporaries have observed a myriad of interactions that arose from anger, joy, and sorrow all alike.

One particular incident that attracted perhaps the greatest public attention in Korea was the case of archer An San. Following her victory in Archery Women’s Individual and Team, misogynistic criticisms of South Korean citizens began to surface in various media. These comments pointed out the short haircut of the established athlete and labeled her — more derogatorily than accurately — a radical feminist, inducing much controversy over the next few weeks.

From this information alone, it only appears that Koreans are being mean toward an archer with a successful career. But this is what the media speak; are we understanding this correctly?

One indisputable fact that media outlets are continuously failing to address is that An’s haircut has never really been the centerpiece of the criticisms against her. Some Koreans, notably a handful of Instagram users, undoubtedly underscored her hairstyle in the beginning, but this has always been rather a minor opinion in comparison to the evidence drawn a few days later from her social media account. The latter, in fact, has provided a much more powerful corroboration that convinced people into questioning the ethical establishment of An. An’s use of such terms as ‘woong-ang-woong (웅앵웅)’ and ‘five trillion and five hundred million (오조오억)’ in her past Instagram posts — misandristic terms that are infamous for their use in radical feminist online communities of South Korea — is what outraged many citizens and prompted them to question the athlete’s morale; she remains silent up to this date.

Perhaps, An have used the terms without knowing their context. After all, it is common for people to assume the meanings of certain terminologies, particularly if the terms consist of such commonly-used language as onomatopoeia and mere numbers. Maybe, she might not have been such a bad person in the first place.

Seven years ago when esports athlete Hong Jin-ho used the term ‘jjireung-jjireung (찌릉찌릉)’ in a Twitter post to comment on a movie that he had watched, he had to spend the next several days and weeks to clarify that he has no connection with the South Korean radical community (that is, a far-right, anti-feminist, anti-immgirant, and anti-LGBT) Ilbe Storehouse (일베저장소) and successfully presume his career in esports. Five years ago when actor Ryu Jun-yeol used the term ‘tofu’ to humorously depict his rock-climbing experience as running an errand to purchase some tofu from a store, he spent hours and hours of restless public announcements to clarify that he has no connection with the Ilbe Storehouse. And eight years ago when actor Ha Seok-jin expressed condolences toward the death of Sung Jae-gi, a South Korean men’s rights activist who passed away in 2013, he had to post lengthy explanations on Twitter to clarify that he has no connection with anti-feministic online communities.

When prominent individuals were scandalized for their alleged participation in misogynistic online communities in the past, the public immediately demanded explanations from the very subjects, to which the subjects of scandals, too, responded in timely and adequate fashions; when people were suspected to be connected with online communities that are extremely prejudiced against women, they were expected to answer the question, ‘what’s going on?’ This has always been the case — but nonetheless rightly.

Yet, this explanation is no longer valid in today’s case. Just because the subject of criticism has changed from a person alleged with its connection to a misogynistic community to a person alleged with its connection to a misandristic community, the South Korean public has lost its ardor for justice and has decided to resort to its parochial assumptions. Whether An had used the aforementioned terms in vain or with intent — the question is no longer valid. Instead, we must question the morale of the Korean public itself: Since when has Korea become a haven for misandrists but a killing field for misogynists? Where is justice that condemns the wrong but praises the right? What has become of us? Clearly, that justice no longer resides in us.

This paper is written with no intent to undermine or denigrate athlete An San. She cannot be unfairly blamed for her accomplishments nor her character until all information is fully disclosed. What we, as the public of South Korea, must strive to achieve is the establishment of a just community where both genders can be understood and treated on identical standards. Clearly, this is not the world we’re living in.

Works Cited
김영규. “웅앵웅·오조오억녁·허버허버 뜻은? ‘정만식, 안산 페미 논란에 분개.’” 국제뉴스, 31 July 2021, www.gukjenews.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=2278504.
“'안산 페미' 공격 되레 편들어준 국민의힘 대변인.” 한겨레, 1 Aug. 2021, www.hani.co.kr/arti/politics/politics_general/1006077.html.
Yang Hyunjoo. “Despite Two Olympic Golds, ANTI-FEMINISTS Focus on An San's Hair.” Korea JoongAng Daily, koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/2021/07/29/national/socialAffairs/an-san-archer-an-san-korea-archery/20210729182200479.html.
“홍진호 논란, '찌릉찌릉' 일베용어 아니다.” 이투데이, 8 Jan. 2014, www.etoday.co.kr/news/view/849851.
“[단독]류준열, 일베 논란? ‘두부 심부름 가는 길’…소속사 ‘일베 유저 아냐.’” 서울EN, 24 Feb. 2016, en.seoul.co.kr/news/newsView.php?id=20160224500159.
“하석진, 성재기 '추모글' 남겼다가 '곤욕'.” 국제신문, 31 July 2013, www.kookje.co.kr/news2011/asp/newsbody.asp?code=0500&key=20130731.99002144013.

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