S. Korean women show solidarity with feminism a year after Sulli’s death

Posted on : 2020-10-14 16:43 KST Modified on : 2020-10-14 16:43 KST
Young women reflect on how Sulli’s suffering is an issue that affects all women
Women post their messages of support for feminism and Sulli on social media.
Women post their messages of support for feminism and Sulli on social media.

A year has gone by since Sulli (real name Choi Jin-ri) passed away at the age of 25. Sulli charted a course in Korean society that was quite different from other female idols in their 20s. She had a reputation for getting into trouble. She made a stir by admitting she hadn’t really tried in a performance, and she opened up about her dating life and used profanity on TV. Some people may have seen her as being divisive simply because she refused to be constrained by a bra.

“Live like Sulli” — during Sulli’s life, the phrase gained currency among women in their 20s. That’s why Sulli’s sudden death one year ago caused young women to feel so much rage and despair. The women who cheered for Sulli are now standing up to champion the cause she left behind. 20-something women who spoke with the Hankyoreh on Oct. 13, on the first anniversary of Sulli’s death, agreed that Sulli had got them thinking about “us,” rather than “me.”

Shin Min-ju, 26, spokesperson for the Basic Income Party, started a campaign to stop wearing bras because of Sulli, the first female celebrity who described bras as an accessory. When Shin was interviewed by a newspaper about the no-bra movement, thousands of nasty comments were posted attacking her. Along with comments about Shin’s physical appearance and figure, some people even threatened to kill her and specifically described how they would do so.

Shin had never imagined that the obvious statement that she had the right to make choices about her body and her life would lead to so much pain. “I’m not the only person who had to live in a country where ‘Sulli no-bra’ was the top search term for 48 hours — Sulli was living there too. I felt sorry for not having realized that,” Shin said.

When the Constitutional Court ruled in April 2019 that the ban on abortion was unconstitutional, Sulli said it was “a glorious day.” A 25-year-old university student surnamed Won said she was always grateful to Sulli for openly expressing her views about women’s issues. Won also felt a generational affinity for Sulli who, despite being a celebrity, reacted strongly to the oppression of and discrimination against women.

Won explained that Sulli had helped her realize that “young women are second-class citizens.” “Sulli got dragged by internet users when she didn’t use the standard honorific for Lee Sung-min [an older male actor]. They called her disrespectful. I saw other people taking issue with Sulli’s behavior, even on TV shows. She must have been really lonely,” Won said.

Whenever the media presented Sulli as being “problematic,” Won stifled the urge to retort that “the problem isn’t Sulli, but society.” After Sulli’s death, Won said she felt like a bystander. “Sulli had her own distinct way of trying to change the world peacefully, without making overt statements about fighting for feminism, and now everyone is talking about that approach. I’ve made up my mind to stand in solidarity with people like her.”

“Korean society hasn’t changed at all over the past year,” said a 30-year-old office worker surnamed Lee with a sigh. After Sulli’s death, comment sections have been closed on celebrity articles on news aggregators. But this past August, a female idol came under fire after she wore a T-shirt with the word “feminist.” “The removal of the comments means that celebrities no longer have to face each and every one of those provocative reactions, but I don’t think the critical atmosphere has gone away. It just seems like society will never change,” Lee said.

“We need to reflect upon our urge to put Sulli in a box,” said Kim Ye-eun, 24, director of a group called Feminism for Everyone. Kim said she liked the fact that Sulli was such a complicated person. “I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but just seeing the nonchalance with which Sulli went about her life was really encouraging for me,” Kim said.

About two months before her death, Sulli posted a handwritten letter to her Instagram account and wrote, “I find myself thinking that I’m not alone in this life.” A year later, Kim finds herself thinking something similar. “I’ve learned that solidarity is really important. When I see women going down a path similar to Sulli, I’ve resolved to show my support, for whatever it’s worth. We’re not walking alone.”

By Park Yoon-kyung, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories