South Korean women are reacting against sexism.
Last week on the podcast, we highlighted how the culture in South Korea has been changing as women are being empowered in larger society. No longer are South Korean women left to rely on marriage and men to ensure they are being cared for. They’re able to have careers, support themselves, and save up money to live the lives that they want to live.
But while larger society has evolved to empower women (though South Korea lags behind most developed nations on markers of the status of women), much of the culture for marriage and family expectations has not. Women are still expected to defer to their husbands, keep the home, and keep up with the emotional labour of being a wife and a mother.
But young South Korean women are tired of it, and they are pushing back by challenging the societal traditions of their country.
They’ve had a huge #MeToo movement–the biggest in Asia. But what’s really key, and why this is in the news so much, is that the birth rate in South Korea has dropped through the floor.
Lots of South Korean women have adopted new guidelines to live by to ensure they can live happy and thriving lives. These four guidelines, also known as the four Bs in Korean, are:
- No to dating
- No to sex with men
- No to childbirth
- No to marriage
Which makes total sense! If a woman does not have an equal partner in her husband and she knows she can have a better quality of life as a single woman without children, why wouldn’t she opt for that path?
As Hawon Jung explained in The New York Times:
President Yoon Suk-yeol, elected last year, has suggested feminism is to blame for blocking “healthy relationships” between men and women. But he’s got it backward—gender equality is the solution to falling birth rates. Many of the Korean women shunning dating, marriage, and childbirth are sick of pervasive sexism and furious about a culture of violent chauvinism. Their refusal to be “baby-making machines, according to the protest banners I’ve seen, is retaliation. ‘The birth strike is women’s revenge on a society that puts impossible burdens on us and doesn’t respect us,’ says Jiny Kim, 30, a Seoul office worker who’s intent on remaining childless.
As gender based violence, along with incel culture and revenge porn, has become common in South Korean culture, women are refusing to allow themselves to be put in harmful situations. Women are just saying, “forget it. I don’t want to be part of this.”
Many young Korean men, however, have declared themselves victims of women’s activism. President Yoon rose to power last year by leveraging this resentment. He echoed the dog whistle of men’s rights advocates, declaring that structural sexism doesn’t exist in South Korea and vowing tougher punishment for false reports of sexual assault.
After finding an article about this in The Atlantic last year, I’ve been devouring articles about South Korean women, and just finished Hawon Jung’s amazing book Flowers of Fire. I couldn’t help but notice the close similarities between South Korean culture and conservative evangelical culture. So let me list the things that are going on in Korea and you can see if this sounds familiar to you with our evangelical culture:
What South Korea and Conservative Evangelical Culture Have in Common
- Women have economic opportunities, but men in the culture still expect women to do all the housework and childcare
- Women are expected to defer to men and to wait on them
- Gender-based violence is common, that violence is minimized, women’s reports of violence are not believed, and there’s often retaliation when women make a report
- There’s a huge online culture of men in their cultural group deriding feminism saying, “Feminism is the cause of all the evils in the world”
- Men are deriding women for not being feminine enough and for expecting equality
- Leaders start saying there is no structural sexism—we’re all equal. Different rules and roles but we’re still equal.
- Feminism is seen as the problem, and they’re getting rid of any talk of sexism existing.
- At the same time, there’s a huge financial crunch where it’s really hard to afford housing.
And what happens?
Well, in South Korea, the women just stopped.
They stopped dating, and they created a great sisterhood instead.
All of those things listed above are definitely true in both South Korean and evangelical culture. But there is a big difference between the evangelical community and South Korea:
In the west, conservative evangelical women have a choice.
(And some South Korean women will as well because not all South Korean men are sexist, obviously! It’s just that there’s a very large component that is).
Evangelical women can leave the evangelical subculture, go into the regular world, or go into other types of evangelical or mainline churches and find healthier options for culture and for marriage. In South Korea, because many (though not all) South Korean men buy into these notions, and the workplace is heavily stacked against working mothers, the only choice many women have is to simply opt out of cultural expectations and choose to remain single.
So what will happen in North America among conservative evangelicals?
The cultural shift does not have to be a threat to Christian values. After all, not all evangelical churches advocate for toxic masculinity or patriarchal beliefs!
In the past women have had very few opportunities, and they had to get married to the best guy available. But now it’s, “get married if you meet the best guy.” That is a fundamentally different choice.
Men can now be held to the same standard that women are being held to. And that’s something that, as Christians, I actually think we should be embracing because anything that asks us to actually step up to the plate and to develop and improve and grow– that should be something that we’re okay with.
It is better for society if both men and women are active parents, if both men and women are able to keep a house, if both men and women are both able to do emotional kin keeping and build really strong communities and friendships. TAnd yet, it’s being seen as this attack on Christian values. But we should ask ourselves, “at what point are Christian values just not Christian anymore?”
Men are not entitled to an easier life than women just because they are men.
Men are not entitled to women’s bodies, to women’s work–though that’s what the incel community teaches. And quite frankly, that’s what a lot of the conservative evangelical community has been teaching.
What I’m seeing in my comments and emails everyday is that many women who grew up in conservative evangelicalism are opting out. They’re refusing to date men in their church, and they’re switching churches and denominations to find someone to marry.
When women realize they have better choices, they tend to take them.
Our culture is offering women better choices. Mainline churches are offering women better choices. Egalitarian evangelical churches are offering women better choices.
Women are starting to notice.
Here’s my prediction: Conservative evangelical churches will push even harder to isolate young people from the world so that women don’t see they have choices. They’ll push homeschooling, Christian schools, and Bible colleges. They’ll discourage consuming media. They’ll discourage working in secular spaces. They’ll attempt to isolate, isolate, isolate and create their own bubble.
In doing so, they’ll become even more fundamentalist.
And ultimately it won’t work. Women are already beginning to flee.
It will be very interesting to see what the next decade brings.
What do you think? Are you seeing a trend of younger women opting out of conservative evangelical spaces–or opting out of dating from this pool of men? What are your predictions? Let’s talk in the comments!