Media freakout as South Korea elects first anti-feminist president
Last week's presidential election in South Korea featured two candidates who advanced radically different visions to the electorate.
Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party of Korea campaigned on a platform of progressive policies such as 30% gender quotas for females. "I think it's very important to acknowledge the inequalities and issues of gender inequality that women suffer structurally in our society," he emphasized.
Lee's opponent was Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party. Yoon ran on an openly anti-feminist platform. He called for the abolition of the Ministry of Gender Equality and accused its officials of treating men like "potential sex criminals." He promised to enhance punishments for false accusations of sexual violence. Yoon also charged that Marxist-inspired feminist ideology undermines healthy relationships between men and women.
Yoon's charges were buoyed by a 2021 poll in which 84% of Korean men in their twenties, and 83% in their thirties, said they had experienced "serious gender-based discrimination." And the anti-feminist group "New Men on Solidarity" reportedly has 15,000 Facebook followers.
Yoon's improbable campaign was propelled by outrage over a feminist group named Megalia that promoted an image of a thumb and index finger held closely together, seemingly mocking the size of the male genitalia.
Last Wednesday, Yoon emerged the winner, carried largely by male voters who felt marginalized by the Democratic Party's gender policies. An exit poll showed that 59% of men in their 20s and 53% of those in their 30s marked Yoon on their ballot paper.
Pundits from the mainstream media were aghast. The Washington Post ran an editorial bearing the alarmist title, "How South Korea's 'Anti-Feminist' Election Fueled a Gender War." Writer Haeryun Kang warned that the election "signals a major threat to women's rights over the next five years and could herald increasing governmental and social backlash against feminist movements."
The Guardian claimed the election result augurs a "'pivotal moment' for public discussion of women's issues." Time magazine opened its lengthy analysis by citing an anecdote in which a man allegedly removed a cell phone from his girlfriend's hand, presumably an act of unrelenting patriarchal oppression.
But rather than analysis by anecdote, the debate is better served by an examination of the data. These are the actual statistics that compare the status of men and women in South Korea:
- Life Expectancy: Men in South Korea have much shorter life spans than women: 80.5 years versus 86.5 years.
- Occupational Deaths: A national survey of occupational deaths found higher mortality rates across the board. For example, among machine operators and assemblers, the mortality rate was 380 males per 100,000 workers, compared to only 158 females per 100,000 workers.
- Suicide: In 2020, there were 35.5 male and 15.9 female deaths by suicide per 100,000 population — more than a twofold difference.
- University Enrollments: In 2005, identical numbers of high school students enrolled in college. Since then, the gap steadily widened. By 2018, 73.8% of females, compared to only 65.9% of males, were enrolling in universities.
- Dating Violence: A survey of dating violence among university students found that females were far more likely than men to be abuse perpetrators: 39.4% of females admitted to assaulting their partners, compared to only 24.7% of men.
The media's reflexive hysteria over Yoon's election reveals how the media consistently misrepresent the gender equality debate.
First, the legitimate concerns of male voters are dismissed as childish, buffoonish, or "misogynistic." Among the many media discussions of the South Korean election, mention of the five areas listed above was scant to nonexistent.
Second, media reports often cherry-pick the numbers. For example, the Time magazine article reported that young women's "suicide rates jumped by more than 40% during the pandemic," somehow ignoring the much higher overall rates among men.
Third, media accounts are rife with emotion and hyperbole. For example, the headline of the Guardian article reads, "Devastated: Gender Equality Hopes on Hold as 'Anti-Feminist' Voted South Korea's President." Note the scare quotes around the term "Anti-Feminist."
Fourth, articles consistently confuse equality of opportunity with sameness of outcome. I've never met a woman who aspires to work as a coal miner, logger, or asbestos-remover. But the scarcity of women in these fields is not caused by sex discrimination. Rather, it's the result of individual choice.
There's a broader lesson to be gleaned from the media's hyperventilation over Yoon's alleged "weaponization" of the gender equality debate. The reality is, the feminist movement long ago abandoned its quest for equal opportunity for women.