The New Wave of 4B: The South Korean Movement Experiences Newfound Popularity Online

,

Written by: Maite Sastre

A new social protest has taken over the internet and divided opinions. The 4B movement was born in South Korea out of a combination of previous Korean digital feminism initiatives. Proponents of this protest preach the 4Bs, or 4 No’s: no heterosexual sex (Korean: 비섹스; bisekseu), no heterosexual dating (Korean: 비연애; biyeonae), no heterosexual marriage ​​(Korean: 비혼; bihon), and no childbearing (Korean: 비출산; bichulsan). A lot of members also sport shorter haircuts and no make-up in order to defy ever-narrowing beauty standards.

The movement gained traction in 2019, along with the MeToo movement in the West, and recently it reached social media apps like TikTok and Instagram. Although it’s not clear exactly how many participants it has as many have chosen to remain anonymous, it’s estimated somewhere between 5,000 and 50,000. On social media apps, people have been giving their opinion about this form of social protest and while a lot show support for it, many others see it as too radical.

People who disagree with the movement often point towards South Korea’s extremely low birth rates. The United Nations found in 2020 that the average woman has just 1.1 children, which has become worrisome as it will not be able to keep up with its aging population and economy, creating a looming threat of a demographic crisis.

There are many reasons why the 4B movement has grown so much in Korea. The three main ones are clear: the culture has always been and remains very conservative, so the idea of women being inferior is constantly perpetuated; the large inequality in economic power between Korean men and women; and the increasingly worrisome rates of gender-based violence.

I. Cultural perpetuation of discrimination

South Korea culture has continued to uphold very conservative values throughout the years. A lot of Koreans still carry traditional Confucian patriarchal values in their day to day, which leads to women often being treated as inferior to their male partners, colleagues, and family members.

Confucianism teaches ideas of social hierarchy and harmony through philosophical and ethical lenses. Usually, through a Confucianist’s point of view, everyone in society has a role to fulfill and, historically, the role of women has been being mothers and housewives. This has made their entry into the workforce more difficult and left them with little control over their lives.

In fact, a paper by the Gettysburg college points out that “the only direct reference to women in the Analects of Confucius can be interpreted as very demeaning: ‘Women and small [minded] people are hard to deal with…’”

These values also usually make it so women’s lives are very reliant upon their reputations, which define their access to employment, friendships, relationships and almost all parts of their lives. An intangible image of “sexual purity” becomes a central goal in the lives of girls who wish to thrive in traditional Confucian societies.

II. Economic gap

South Korea also has an ever-growing issue with gender-pay inequality. In 2023, the World Economic Forum found in their yearly Global Gender Gap Index that Korea was the 105th country with the widest gender-pay gap out of 146 total. In fact, when compared with 2022, the country fell 7 spots in women’s educational attainment (from 97th to 104th place) and 16 in political empowerment (from 72nd to 88th place).

As the divide between men’s and women’s access to wages, education and political power widens, more women become outraged by the situation and by their counterparts’ apparent inability to recognize these struggles.

III. Gender-based violence

In 2018, tensions over gender-based digital violence came to a boiling point and tens of thousands of Korean women took their grievances to the streets in a series of six protests in Seoul, where they held up signs with phrases like “My life is not your porn,” and “Are we not human?”

The epidemic of digital sex crimes continues to grow every year and its victims are overwhelmingly women (80% in cases involving spycams), while the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are men (98%). The protests broke out when a woman received a jail sentence for distributing nude pictures of a man after so many men had gone free for the same crime.

There are two more prevalent types of digital sex crimes: spycam crimes, where the perpetrator obtains the images without the knowledge of the victim by putting small cameras in bathrooms and changing rooms or hiding them during sexual activity, and distribution of images obtained with or without consent or artificially fabricated. Spycam crimes are often linked to distribution, because the men behind the spycam tend to post/share the illegal content they created. However, distribution goes further than spycams because if the photos were taken consensually but distributed nonconsensually or if they were fabricated with artificial intelligence platforms and distributed, it is still a digital sex crime. Many women feel discouraged to date men for fear that sexual partners will leak intimate photos or videos.

The Korean Herald reported that more than 240,000 illegally produced and distributed sexual photos and videos were deleted in 2023 by anti-digital sex crime organizations – an increase of 30,855 from the year before.

But digital sex crimes are not the only type of gender-based violence that continues to grow in Korea. Infamously, in February of 2022, a woman was physically assaulted and almost raped by a man in Busan. The man had a large list of prior convictions, but judges decided to lighten his sentence from the asked 35 years to 20 years, which the victim attributed to the assailant’s familial background. The incident was nicknamed the “roundhouse kick” incident and gained special attention after the victim made an online posting titled “I’ll be dead in 12 years”; discussing her fear of being murdered once her aggressor gets released.

A survey by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family conducted a survey in Korea in 2016 and found that the incidence of intimate-partner violence was at 41.5 percent, significantly higher than the global average of 30 percent. Women feel unsafe not only because of the high rates of gender based violence, but also because courts continue to take mitigating factors into account when imposing sentences. Many see dating as an extremely high risk activity and to the proponents of the 4B movement, the reward does not outweigh the possibility of harm.

IV. Social Media

Last but not least, the 4B movement experienced an astronomical spur as popular creators on social media apps like TikTok have gotten wind of it. They have used their platforms to share their opinions on it and often interact within each other, spreading the ideas of the movement all over the world.

TikTok creator Mandy (@pottymouthpollyanna) responded to another creator’s video, who claimed that the 4B movement was evil and an attack against men. Mandy stitched his video, rebutting that the creator should actually turn his anger toward other men as the whole reason why the movement is catching the attention of so many women is because it resonates with their lived experience. The video amassed over a hundred thousand likes.

However, not everything online is always accurate. South Korean creator Anna Lee (@jyannalee on TikTok) claims that the 4B movement is not as strong in Korea as people online are making it seem. She claims that it’s a small sector of the population who thinks that way, that many women are still looking to get married and that because of that matchmaking programs in Korea are still very popular.

In the end, a majority of videos made by women and shared on the app seem to be in support of the movement. Even those who were previously unaware of it expressed agreement with the ideas and sentiments shared by the women who are a part of it. Some even have pledged to become a part of it in countries outside Korea.

 

Citations
Barr, Heather. “‘My Life Is Not Your Porn.’” Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch, 2 Aug. 2023, www.hrw.org/report/2021/06/16/my-life-not-your-porn/digital-sex-crimes-south-korea.

Craddock, Danny S. “The Asian Five Dragons: What’s the Relationship of Confucianism and Gender Inequality? .” The Cupola Scholarship at Gettysburg College, Gettysburg College, 2022, cupola.gettysburg.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1771&context=student_scholarship.

“Global Gender Gap Report 2023.” World Economic Forum, June 2023, www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2023.pdf.

Ji-hyoung, Son. “Is S. Korea Dangerous for Women?” The Korea Herald, The Korea Herald, 26 Sept. 2023, www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20230926000525.

Jun-hee, Park. “Over 240,000 Illegal Sexual Photos, Videos Deleted This Year.” The Korea Herald, The Korea Herald, 29 Dec. 2023, www.koreaherald.com/view.phpud=20231229000456#:~:text=Over%20240%2C000%20illegally%20produced%20and,deleted%20between%20January%20and%20Dec.

Kim, Soojeong. “Predictors and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence Impacting Korean Women.” The University of Texas at Austin, Aug. 2022, repositories.lib.utexas.edu/server/api/core/bitstreams/2db0cb7c-47c4-4d26-87b1-63b029625b03/content.

Lih Yi, Beh. “No Sex, No Babies: South Korea’s Emerging Feminists Reject Marriage | Reuters.” Reuters, 20 Jan. 2020, www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-women-rights-idUSKBN1ZJ02Z/.

TikTok, uploaded by Mandy (@pottymouthpollyanna), 05 April 2024,

@pottymouthpollyanna

You seem confused. Welcome to the find out part of this game. We’re done. We’ve had enough. Go complain to someone who cares.

♬ original sound – Mandy ♥️


&_t=8lZUxlAzRfu.

TikTok, uploaded by Anna Lee (@jyannalee), 31 March 2024,

@jyannalee

thanks to my friend @Annie Nova for making this video! The 4b movement is not as big in Korea as y’all think it is #korea #seoul #4bmovement #livinginkorea #southkorea

♬ original sound – Anna Lee – Anna Lee


75ckEE.

TikTok, uploaded by The News Movement (@thenewsmovement), 11 April 2024,

@thenewsmovement

South Korea’s feminist 4B movement started in 2019 but is blowing up all over again. No heterosexual marriage, no childbirth, no dating men and no heterosexual sexual relationships. It’s about the radical rejecting of traditional gender norms. So how did it start, what does it mean and is it really impacting the country’s birth rates? #4b #4bmovementsouthkorea #4bmovement

♬ original sound – The News Movement

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *