Subway Memorial: Perception and Feminism in South Korea

On the 17th of May 2016, a young woman in her early 20s lost her life to a man.

When put this way, the news seems almost mundane- millions of people are murdered every day around the world after all. That doesn’t make murder ‘right’, but it is true that in today’s world we have grown quite callous to a premature death of an individual we don’t know that well. However, this one woman’s death ignited one of the fiercest feminist movements in South Korean history.

Before I go into the details of the actual event, let me give you an insight to women’s position in the history of South Korea. Since Chosun dynasty, the introduction of Confucianism constructed a patriarchal society where women were considered inferior to men by law, culture and politics. It was considered a socially appropriate and virtuous for women to be obedient to her father before marriage, to her husband during the marriage and to her son after the death of her husband. Although almost 50 years have passed since Korea modernized, it is true that such social perception is still deeply rooted in the Korean society. Furthermore, even after the modernization, women were treated unfairly in the workplace, at university, at government and even at home where they had to serve their husbands’ parents rather than their own. Such traditional oppression of women is gradually diluting, but the subtle discriminations and restrictions against women undoubtedly still exist; a most obvious example would be the OECD statistics that ranks South Korea last in gender pay equality, with women receiving almost 36.3% less on average than their male counterpart. (OECD, 2016)

However, it is not the wage inequality or discriminations in the workplace that triggered the recent feminist movement. It is a more fundamental problem, a problem from which all other gender inequality issues stem from: perception.

118H.jpg“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea.” – Inception, (2010)”

What shocked the South Korean public was the fact that the murderer killed a stranger simply because she was a woman. A cold-blooded murder was planned and carried out due to the murderer’s memory of being “belittled and ignored by women.” When the news came out people were vehement, and the death of one woman soon became a symbol that reflects oppression that Korea women suffers. It was the idea that one person killed another person simply due to his ‘hatred for women’ that was intolerable for many people. A public memorial was set up in Gangnam station to mourn this unfortunate woman.

I am probably not an expert in feminism. In fact, it has not been that long since I started to consider myself a feminist. But even to me, some facts are plain as daylight; the murderer killed a woman not simply because the women were mean to him, but because the murderer thought he was being “belittled and ignored” even by women. It is hard to think that the murderer was a popular figure between anyone regardless of gender, yet he targeted women. It is from this that we can see his perception of women; we can infer that he regarded women as inferior to men, and the fact that such ‘women’ belittled him was what fueled his anger.

Some say it still can’t be an issue for the society because it is simply that particular individual’s mental health problems that lead to this tragic event. But I disagree. A man in his 20s must have had the chance to experience the world enough to contact different people and different ideas. Even if he had mental health issue, it would be absurd to think that he fostered his hatred for women, strong enough to kill someone, on his own. We need to be aware that the society had a role in creating his distorted perception. What we need to remember is not that a single ‘crazy man’ hated women, but that the society that allowed such hatred was planted and nurtured.

I do not think that the death of one woman is an evidence enough to doubt all men for being a potential murder or rapist. But don’t we live in a world where an overwhelming majority of rape victims are women? Shouldn’t we first question why women feel more unsafe when walking down a dark alleyway than men? Why are we not first questioning society’s perception that all women are potential victims and so should be careful before questioning the idea that all men are potential perpetrator?

I know, women are generally and biologically weaker than men in physical terms. But we are not animals. I feel that as humans, we have the responsibility to protect those who are weaker and more vulnerable, not prey on them. I hope that this tragic death is not abused as a political ‘icon’ but as an unforgettable reminder that the world is still more hostile to women than to men. Let the memorial be a true ‘memory’-al.



OECD (2016), Gender wage gap (indicator). doi: 10.1787/7cee77aa-en (Accessed on 01 July 2016)

Photo credit:

Downloaded from Gratisography


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