Although the #MeToo movement was born out of Hollywood, it quickly became international in scope. And while some of its biggest headlines have aired on this side of the pond, it has been highly controversial wherever it has been felt, with predictable results not so different from those realized in the West.
A long litany of scandals, that has so far claimed at least one life, has enveloped the entertainment and political landscape of South Korea, which began with allegations of a female prosecutor alleging that she was groped by a male colleague, the calculation of which allegations appearing in solidarity with the Hollywood movement.
In late February, on the 19th, an anonymous allegation was released to an online community against one of South Korea’s leading award winning actors, Jo Min Ki, alleging that he had been sexually harassing some of his female students in the course of his role as a professor at Cheongju University.
The allegations, which eventually mounted to allegations from over a dozen women including actress Song Ha Neul, who took to Facebook to publish her testimony, led to the loss of his professorship at the University, the cancellation of his contract with his agency, Will Entertainment, after it had initially issued a statement on his behalf, and being edited out of a role on a television show which was soon to air. Less than two weeks later, Min-ki’s wife discovered that he had hung himself in the storage room adjacent to the parking garage to his apartment. Min-Ki had composed and released a letter containing his apology for his actions just before his death, the full contents of which have not yet been released by the authorities.
While the Min-Ki scandal was in full bloom, hit star Oh Dal Soo faced an anonymous allegation of sexual harassment, which didn’t make it too far. But when a second round of allegations came out, this time the accuser being Uhm Ji Young openly positioned her grievances with the star on JTBC’s ‘News Room’. After initially denying the accusations, Oh later publicly issued an apology for his actions.
Additionally, actor Jo Jae Hyun faced allegations of sexual harassment by actress Choi Yul, who pointed to him out as the aggressor via an Instagram post saying
“I was wondering when this would bust. Happened earlier than I thought. It’s now just the beginning. There are still many more trash out there. I can’t say much because I have a lot to lose but till the day where there are no perverts #metoo #withyou.”
Jo later issued an apology to his alleged victims. Jo was removed from the upcoming drama “Cross”.
Playwright and producer Lee Youn Taek faced allegations of sexual assault and abuse by multiple women, including actresses Kim Su Hee and Lee Seung Bi who published their allegations against the playwright onto Facebook. Other women also came forward to call out the popular artist for multiple accusations of rape anonymously via the internet. Lee issued an apology for his actions, but maintains his innocence of the accusations of rape and forcing his victim to procure an abortion.
Kim Tae Hoon, an actor known for numerous major roles, also faces accusations of sexual assault, also anonymous, and also through the medium of Facebook. Hoon has also issued a public apology, and has stepped down from his professorship at Sejong University, in addition to each of his other professional roles.
World renowned film director Kim Ki Duk is facing multiple anonymous allegations of rape and sexual assault by several actresses, one of which has resulted in a fine levied as settlement for violence, although the charge of rape was dismissed due to lack of evidence. Kim rejects the allegations against him.
Cho Jae-hyeon has apologized to his alleged victims, also actresses, who have anonymously accused him of multiple counts of rape and sexual molestation.
The South Korean music industry is also realizing its own share of MeToo accusations, as one member of the popular girl band f(x) took to social media via Twitter to decry instances of sexual harassment and assault, saying
“It happens everywhere, even here. I want to add my voice as well. Not only from what I have experienced but also from what I have seen my friends and loved ones have to go through… And because it’s so common, I hate to say it…the feelings become so numb and we all felt that we just had to ‘deal with it.'”
South Korean Poet, Nobel Prize front runner, former Buddhist monk, eighty four year old Ko Un faces allegations of sexual misconduct under the present mood of the MeToo movement. The scandal coming off of this story has led to his poems being erased from school texts and a library which bears his name being shuttered, as his rival, Choi Young-mi, accuses him of groping young women. Ko denies the allegations and waits to be exonerated through the passage of time.
But the entertainment industry isn’t the only one being plagued by allegations of sexual misconduct as the MeToo tsunami overtakes the Asian nation which recently hosted the 2018 Winter Olympics. South Korea’s political sector is also getting its own fair share of the carnage.
Former Governor of the South Chungcheong Province, Ahn Hee Jung, who was aspiring after the Presidency, had his political aspirations fall victim to charges of sexual misconduct in the form of two charges of raping his own staff members, including his own secretary.
Another politician, Min Byung-doo, of the Democratic Party of Korea, faced the claim that he had forcibly kissed her following a dinner back in 2010, following which allegations, Min has since stepped down from his position.
The Minjoo party, which was aligned with Ahn, is being extra careful with what they say and do, and are looking to implement stricter profiling procedures in order to help protect themselves from any further political damage that could be wrought through further allegations against party members.
Even the President’s administration is concerned about the possibility of a member being accused, as such a thing occurring during the course of the present political and social climate could be politically devastating.
The funeral for Jo Min Ki took place five days ago, leading up to which, an online petition submitted to the President’s website calling for Moon to attend the funeral, given that he had publicly supported the #MeToo movement and assigning partial blame to him for promoting it, with the movement being seen as the reason why the popular film star took his own life.
The actress who accused Jo Min Ki of sexual assault on Facebook, Song Ha Neul, has seen her Facebook page become inundated with “malicious comments”, where commenters have asserted that she is also to blame for the actor’s death by taking her allegations to social media rather than filing legal charges against him for his actions.
One of the more predictable results of the movement in South Korea, much like in the West, is an increasing climate of ostracism where women are being excluded from social gatherings and business trips as well as generally avoided by men in the work environment.
In some cases, even managers are putting distance between themselves and the female members of their staff for fear that she may introduce a MeToo moment in the form of an accusation that could destroy men’s careers as the allegation alone can utterly ruin a reputation and career, with no investigation being necessary for that result.
While the MeToo movement might in some cases draw necessary attention to some real issues that are increasingly prevalent in some industries, it has an unforseen effect of leaving women utterly abandoned and on their own in the professional world.
When someone’s accusation can be a permanent life changing, reputation destroying issue, men become wary of being in close proximity with, and, most especially, being alone with a woman. This iteration of feminism, rather than empowering women and propelling them further in society is producing a backlash that does anything but that, leaving them, in many cases, to fend for themselves.
In a society which boasts sexual liberation, promiscuity is viewed as a form of empowerment in many parts of the West, where frequent, unscrupulous sexual intercourse is par for the course, it can seem somewhat hypocritical of such a society, especially its cultural fountain in the modern entertainment industries, to decry the effects of a culture which they, themselves, tirelessly promote.
It can seem confusing for gender relations when for decades women have opened themselves up to intercourse with people they meet over a few drinks, and how this has come to be viewed as normal, the idea that the person who hits on her is guilty of sexual assault accusations, especially when she doesn’t reject him, possibly introduces a certain friction. In the climate of the MeToo movement, a man can find himself on the receiving end of sexual misconduct allegations for something that, when it happened, could have seemed entirely consensual.