Fired for ‘being a feminist’ in Korea? New committee wants to hear from you

Posted on : 2024-03-07 17:20 KST Modified on : 2024-03-07 17:37 KST
A new committee is taking on workplace policing of feminist beliefs, announcing findings of a survey of women who faced negative repercussions in the workplace for perceived feminist inclinations
Representatives of women’s labor groups launched a joint committee for responding to workplace policing of “feminist” beliefs on March 6, 2024, at the Chun Tae-il Memorial Hall in Seoul. (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)
Representatives of women’s labor groups launched a joint committee for responding to workplace policing of “feminist” beliefs on March 6, 2024, at the Chun Tae-il Memorial Hall in Seoul. (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)

#1. “‘Megals’ are responsible for everything that’s wrong with society lately.”

Company employee “A” got into a brief argument after hearing this remark from a male colleague during lunch. She insisted that an even bigger problem was the labeling of women who protest discrimination as “Megals” — a misogynistic Korean term for militant feminists, taken from the users of the Megalia, an online committee presenting a “mirrored” response to misogyny.

A director who had been present at the occasion summoned “A” the following day.

“You won’t be needed as of next week,” she was told. She had been fired.
#2. “In my day, it was the rule that you followed the woman you liked around at night.”

“B” was notified of her termination after not agreeing with this remark made by her company’s president. The reason was that she had somewhat cautiously suggested that the women in question “must have felt a bit rattled.”

The president insisted that they could not work together “because our philosophies and values do not align.”

These examples of workplace policing of “feminist” beliefs were among those shared on Wednesday by the Committee on a Joint Response to Scrutiny of Feminist Beliefs.

During a launch ceremony for the committee at 10 am that day at the Chun Tae-il Memorial Hall in Seoul’s Jongno District, six groups — including Joint Action to Abolish Sexual Discrimination in Employment, the Korean Women’s Trade Union, and the Youth Community Union — share some of the stories of abuses that the KWTU had learned about through an online survey between August and December 2023.

A total of 77 examples were submitted by 56 people, showing cases where women in the workplace have faced repercussions for expressing feminist beliefs at both public and private workplaces.

Respondents said they had been routinely asked questions in interviews about whether they had been “active in any women’s communities” or what their “thoughts on feminism” were. In everyday conversations, they heard remarks about how feminists need to be “smashed” and “rooted out.”

One respondent said, “I mentioned how I wanted to earn money to buy a house, and a colleague sarcastically asked if I was a ‘feminist.’”

In a number of cases, the policing of feminist ideas went beyond the level of abusive language to the actual termination of contracts and firing. 

Of the 77 reports submitted, seven (9%) had faced wrongful dismissal or had their contracts terminated, while 14 (18%) had been discriminated against at the time of hiring or had their job offers revoked.  

There were also two cases in which workers were forced to sign contracts that included clauses that employees could face “disadvantages” in promotions and transfers if found to engage in women’s communities even after being hired, or that they would be forced to pay compensation out of pocket if they were to “trigger public criticism on social media during their employ.”

In particular, women who work as illustrators and voice actors or otherwise in the game industry were found to have faced policing from certain malicious game players for supposed feminist inclinations. These malicious gamers created “feminist blacklists” on their messaging boards and used these as the basis for sending relentless complaints to the companies behind the games, effectively cyberbullying the women. 

The committee said that these online communities would offer to erase the women workers’ screen names from the list if they subjected themselves to litmus testing to prove that they weren’t feminists.

“The policing of feminist beliefs is both a grave suppression of human rights that violates the constitutional value of freedom of thought and a crime. But despite this, companies are heeding the demands of players of certain games to terminate contracts [of their targets], disadvantaging women workers,” the committee said at their event. “Even the Ministry of Employment and Labor’s labor inspector system isn’t properly looking into this.”

The committee said it has opened an online report portal for those penalized for feminist inclinations, and plans to “put pressure on” corporations and the government to play their roles in resolving the issue. 

By Choi Yoon-ah, staff reporter

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