Renowned for its excellence in education and cultural diversity, Gangnam has been reputed as a vibrant and welcoming environment for many tourists and for the locals. However, this prestigious district of Seoul has become a fearful place for young women after a 34-year old man slew a woman at a restroom in a corridor of a building near the subway station. After the suspect was arrested, he told the police that he chose to victimize women because he had felt “ignored and belittled” by women throughout life, according to the LA times .
While the slaying drew an emotional response from young South Korean women, it also triggered a heated debate on misogyny and mental illness in South Korea, according to the Korean Herald. When the police reported the suspect’s record of being hospitalized for mental health problems including schizophrenia, they claimed that the murder case shouldn’t be perceived as a misogynistic crime due to the suspect’s mental illness. While the polices’ response towards the murder case provoked a lot of frustrations for South Korean citizens, there were opponents who felt empathized with the male suspect.
Currently, a memorial site is held in the exits of Gangnam station. And on May 21st, the LA times reported that a group of “men’s rights” activists came to protest at the memorial site. Their counterargument was that men’s lives are in danger than women’s in South Korea due to their required military service. On the other hand, a group of men came out to the memorial site to show support for women’s rights. They held a placard that read, “Women lives matter.”
The murder case remains as an unresolved problem in South Korea. Just few days ago, a 61-year old man was suspected of murdering a 63-year old woman near the entrance of the Mount Suraksan trail on northeastern Seoul. The suspect replied to the press, “I have nothing to say. I don’t know why I killed her.” Later on, he revealed that he killed the woman to steal her money to buy himself a meal. According to the Korean Herald, police are looking into his criminal motive and checking his medical records for signs of mental illness.
It’s very troubling to me that the polices are making the connection between violence and mental illness because it’s easy to disregard the criminals’ behavior and other important factors that caused the crime. Furthermore, when the police declared that the Gangnam murder case shouldn’t be perceived as a misogynistic crime due to the suspect’s schizophrenia, I thought that the argument was contradicting because “mental illness doesn’t make a person a misogynist,” as a 29-year old American teacher living abroad in South Korea summarizes in the Korean Herald article.
Blaming on mental illness to cover an incident that took an innocent female’s life cannot be justified. As a South Korean girl residing in the U.S., I’m not only disappointed with suspects who committed the crimes, but I’m really angry at the public’s behavior. I cannot understand why some people aren’t able to look at the tragedy with a rational mindset and acknowledge that systematic sexism exists in South Korea.
The culture that allows gender-based discrimination to hail in South Korea must be eradicated. Based on a research on the level of gender equality in 2015, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family reported the Gender Gap Index in South Korea. Out of 145 nations, South Korea ranked 115th.
When Korean Herald interviewed Lee Soo-yeon, a researcher from the Korean Women’s Development Institute, Lee noted how the patriarchal values still prevails in South Korea. Lee says, “there’s a clash between the old patriarchal ideology and the changed status of women.”
Although my parents are know to be more “westernized” compared to my fellow South Koreans’ parents, there’s still some patriarchal values that remain in the household. Some generalizations like “women are weak” or “women should be protected by men” are common values that both of my parents share.
When I told my parents that I don’t want to get married, they took it very lightly. However, as I gradually grew up, they are seriously worried that I will not get married, although I still want to live as a single woman in the future.
And I know for a fact that it’s not just South Korea who’s struggling to break out of the patriarchal values that are so ingrained in society. Women all over the world, including the U.S., are having difficulty voicing their opinions or advocating for themselves because they fear the cynical judgements that are being made from the public. In fact, the Atlantic in May 2014 published an article on the confidence gap to prove that women are still less self-assured than men.
In the end, I want all women, especially South Korean women to feel safe and confident without the fear of judgement and hazing from the public. Women don’t deserve to be attacked either verbally or physically by men.
As an advanced country, South Korea isn’t very progressive in terms of advocating for women’s rights. It’s ironic because the president of South Korea Park Geun-hye is a woman too. The conversation regarding gender disparity and gender-based violence doesn’t end after the two murder cases occurred in May. We need to continue to have conversations around these topics to raise awareness so that women can always feel safe.