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When is a sausage just a sausage? Controversial ads fuel S.Korea's sexism debate

Berita 24 English -   Three South Korean companies and the Seoul police department were forced to remove advertisements and other content ea...

Berita 24 English -  
Three South Korean companies and the Seoul police department were forced to remove advertisements and other content earlier this month after men's rights groups claimed that "small penis" symbols were used to insult men.

Which images are offensive? Hands with the thumbs and index fingers pressed together, illustrating the act of reaching for an object. However, the gesture is frequently used to denote something small. In South Korea, it is associated with a strident, albeit now-defunct, feminist group that incorporated the image into its logo.

Exacerbating the problem, one advertisement and a menu included sausages.

Following the advertisement, GS25, South Korea's largest convenience store chain, witnessed a protest outside the firm's headquarters by a handful of members of the men's group "Man on Solidarity." In less than two months, the group's YouTube channel, which features videos of its protests, has accumulated more than 200,000 subscribers.

GS25 retracted its advertisement, and fried chicken chain Genesis BBQ retracted its menu, apologising and stating that they had no intention of demeaning men. Kakao Bank Corp. apologized for using a similar-looking hand in one of its advertisements. The Seoul Metropolitan Police Department also removed a similar-looking hand from a road traffic advertisement, stating that it wanted to avoid misunderstandings.

The controversy is the latest escalation in South Korea's long-running conflict over gender rights, which has pitted men's and women's groups against one another and resulted in police investigating whether female comedian Park Na-Rae violated any laws with a ribald joke she made in March.

The joke on a YouTube video involving a Stretch Armstrong action figure with his arms brought dangerously close to his genital area sparked outrage. Many claimed that a similar joke by a male comedian would never have been acceptable.

Park, 35, and her management company JDB Entertainment issued statements apologizing for the incident, and her YouTube channel was shut down. Police must investigate the matter after a complaint was lodged on a website dedicated to resolving citizen complaints, though it is unclear whether charges will be filed.

Reuters' requests for comment on the potential police action were not responded to by Park or her agency.

Kim Garo, director of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family's women's policy division, said that while misogyny and misandry are not new in South Korea, the recent targeting of businesses and individuals is.

She acknowledged that it was difficult for the government to intervene when protests took consumer action but that outreach programs inviting young men and women to discuss gender equality and employment would continue.


When President Moon Jae-in took office in 2017, he campaigned on a promise to be a president for gender equality, promising to do more to address women's disadvantages in South Korea.

South Korea has one of the largest wage disparities of any OECD country, and women receive only 19% of parliamentary seats. Since Moon, women's wages have increased slightly, and they are also eligible for larger government subsidies when starting a new business than men are.

According to political scientists, many young men now feel their own needs and rights are not adequately addressed, contributing to widespread dissatisfaction with the lack of job opportunities for young people.

"Anti-feminist sentiment is strong among men in their twenties and early thirties, as well as the millennial generation," said Jeong Han-wool, a senior fellow at Hankook Research Company. According to research for a 2019 book he co-authored, 58.6 per cent of Korean men in their twenties expressed strong opposition to feminism.

This complicates the ruling Democratic Party's re-election prospects next year when Moon's single five-year term expires.

The party has also lost support among women due to multiple sexual abuse scandals involving politicians, which contributed to the party's crushing defeats in recent Seoul and Busan mayoral elections.

Park Jun-young, a 27-year-old graduate student of engineering, says he agrees with those who believe men are now disadvantaged.

"Feminism in South Korea began with gender equality, granting women equal access and breaking the glass ceiling, but has evolved into something where young men - who are no better off than women their age - have become a target of criticism," he explained.

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