The Korea Herald/Asia News Network
The MeToo campaign, initially launched to raise awareness about the widespread prevalence of sexual assault, is revealing the true colors of powerful men who have been portraying themselves as doting fathers and loyal husbands. (Shutterstock/Pao Laroid)
In 2011, Ko Un, Korea’s most celebrated poet and a perennial Novel prize hopeful, published a collection of poems.
Ko, 84, dedicated the book “Poems for Sang Wha -- Planetary Love” to his wife, Lee Sang-wha, who was a Chung-Ang University professor at the time. The collection consisted of some 120 poems -- all featuring his love and appreciation for his wife of 30 years.
“When revolving around my wife, I shine,” said one poem in the collection. He also wrote in the book’s introduction, “I literally wouldn’t be alive right now if I had never met my wife,” calling her his savior, his goddess.
Some seven years have passed, and Ko is one of several high-profile figures who have been accused of sexual misconduct amid the fast spread of the #MeToo movement in the country. The campaign, initially launched to raise awareness about the widespread prevalence of sexual assault, is revealing the true colors of powerful men who have been portraying themselves as doting fathers and loyal husbands.
Behind closed doors, it seems, they were sexual predators.
Amid such revelations, Koreans are faced with a question: What does it mean when the nation’s well-respected male figures -- seemingly loving patriarchs -- have been exploiting women outside the family?
Ko is not the only figure who has been publicly showing affection for his wife while allegedly abusing other women.
Disgraced ex-governor: ‘Feminism-embracing, loving husband’
The former governor of South Chungcheong Province, An Hee-jung, who has been accused of multiple rapes by two women, had repeatedly and publicly expressed his affection for his wife, Min Joo-won. He had done so while publicly endorsing feminism.
An shared on social media that he was reading books by feminist authors, including Stephanie Staal, Rebecca Solnit and Jeong-hee-jin. One of the reasons why he was studying feminist texts was his wife, as she emotionally and financially supported him throughout his rather turbulent political career, he said.
An was imprisoned a number of times, once over his student activism against the authoritarian regime in the 1980s, and another time for violating the Political Funds Act while working for the late President Roh Moo-hyun’s presidential campaign in 2002.
He used to be widely tipped as one of the top candidates to be South Korea's next President.
“Joo-won is the person that I love the most, a friend whom I spent and endured many years with, and the mother of my two children,” he said on a TV program last year.
When Kim Ji-eun, his former secretary, publicly accused him of raping her four times in the course of some eight months, An initially responded by claiming that although he did have intercourse with Kim, it was consensual -- meaning it was extramarital sex, not a sex crime.
An eventually retracted his initial statement and apologized to Kim and the public on his Facebook page. Many are still disturbed by his initial reaction to the allegation.
“It’s become clear now that An had no interest in learning about what feminism really is all about, and at the same time, did not have any respect for his wife,” said Lim Ji-hyun, an office worker in her 20s in Seoul.
“He basically used feminism for his own political career, and also used his own wife as some sort of a self-promotion tool only for his own benefit. He wanted to appear as this feminism-embracing, progressive politician who is loyal to his wife. We now know that all of this has been a lie.”
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Famed filmmaker and actor: fathers turn out to be accused rapists
Famed actors Cho Jae-hyun and Jo Min-ki, both accused of sexual assault, have appeared on reality TV shows as doting fathers to their real-life daughters.
Actor Cho, who has often collaborated with award-winning filmmaker Kim Ki-duk, is arguably facing some of the most serious allegations by a number of women.
Most recently, a former actress anonymously said that she was raped by Cho and Kim while working together on a film. At the time, she said, cast and crew members lodged together, and Kim and Cho forced their way into her room and raped her.However, in a TV program called “Take Care of My Dad,” where Cho appeared with his daughter in 2015, he presented himself as a caring father, genuinely interested in his daughter’s future and needs. In the show, he wrote her a considerate hand-written letter and mentored her on her acting skills and career.
Cho’s daughter, Hye-jung, is an emerging actress in her 20s. Ironically, many of Cho’s alleged victims are actresses as well.
“Their behavior reminds me of that of a psychopath,” said Hahn Hyun-jin, a working mother living in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.
“The fact that they presented themselves as ideal father and husband figures is proof that they clearly knew what they had been doing to other women -- the alleged victims -- were wrong and criminal activities,” she said.
Some criticized An and filmmaker Kim for claiming that their relationships with the alleged victims were consensual -- that they cheated on their wives, but never abused other women.
“I’ve been involved in sexual relationships (with other women), but they were always consensual,” said director Kim in response to the allegations. Like most of the accused men, the filmmaker is currently married. Like Cho, he has a daughter in her 20s.
“I feel like this is their way of getting away with things -- using adultery as a way to justify their allegedly criminal behaviors,” said Park Ji-yeon, a working professional in her 30s.
“By denying non-consensual sex as married, high profile male figures, they are humiliating their wives on top of trying to invalidate the alleged victims’ claims. I am utterly disgusted.”
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Madonna-whore complex vs. personality disorder
Experts say the accused men are not atypical among Korea’s middle-aged men.
“I think they rather have that typical patriarchal way of thinking when it comes to categorizing women,” said Chung Hae-sook, a senior researcher at Korean Women’s Development Institute.
“For many middle-aged men in Korea, all women belong to two categories. One is those who are, or are going to be, dutiful wives and mothers. They are often described as almost sacred beings, the ever-sacrificing mothers. And the rest are those who can be sexually exploited, who are simply there to satisfy men’s sexual needs.”She said that such ways of thinking are reflected in the parenting styles of many Koreans. “Many parents try to control the way their daughters dress, make sure they come home before it gets too dark,” Chung told The Korea Herald.
“At the same time, when a woman is sexually assaulted, they are very often blamed for what happened. They are blamed for drinking too much, or wearing something that’s inappropriate. Many fathers here try very hard so that their daughters don’t end up being ‘that’ girl. And obviously this is related to how they and their male colleagues treat women outside their family.”
Lee Sue-jung, a professor of criminological psychology at Kyonggi University, said that among the accused, former provincial Gov. An seems to have tendencies of histrionic personality disorder -- a condition characterized by a pattern of excessive attention-seeking behavior and a desperate need for approval.
“People with tendencies of this disorder tend to do well in politics, because they know what to do in order to grab attention from a lot of people. They also have good social skills, in spite of being manipulative,” Lee told The Korea Herald.
“An knew talking about feminism would gain him more supporters, but would turn to his other -- or real -- self when he is with people that he doesn’t need to please. People like him tend to be very egocentric and narcissistic behind closed doors. So it is unlikely that his family life has been stable nor functional, contrary to what he has been showing off all along. ”
Lee also agreed with researcher Chung that the way the accused men perceive and treat women is not unusual by Korean standards.
“Men in their 50s and 60s had fathers who were allowed to have mistresses,” she said.
“They grew up watching their fathers treating their wives and daughters as properties that needed to be protected, while treating women outside their kinship structures as non-humans. This perception is still shared by many men in Korean society, and it oppresses and exploits all women -- because one can be someone’s daughter and a victim of sexual misconduct at the same time.”
Read also: South Korean actor accused of sexual assault found dead: Reports
Wage-Gap, infidelity and more
Statistics back up Chung and Lee’s points.
A study in 2016 showed that more than half of married Korean men have had extramarital affairs at least once in their lives. Men in their 50s, on average, had had extramarital affairs with 12.5 women.
At the same time, the country has the widest gender wage gap -- 37 percent -- among the 36 member states of the OECD, and ranks in the lowest tiers in the international comparisons of overall gender equality.
Single motherhood is also still heavily stigmatized in South Korea.
This means many women are often forced to be financially dependent on their husbands, and unable to leave their husbands even in the case of infidelity of their spouses or domestic abuse.According to a report by Korea Women’s Hot Line, only 8.5 percent of all domestic abuse cases get prosecuted in South Korea, while almost 40 percent of all criminal cases get indicted.
At the same time, the report showed, that 64.3 percent of all women who have been infected to STDs got it from their male spouses. Only 5 percent of the Korean men said they contracted STDs from their wives.
Lee Soo-yeon, a researcher at Korean Women’s Development Institute, said while infidelity is a personal choice, it is important to note that it is very likely that many middle-aged men in Korea genuinely cannot tell the difference between sex crimes and romantic -- and extramarital -- relationships.
“Many men in power don’t realize that it is very difficult for their subordinates to say no to them in a direct way,” she told The Korea Herald.
“For a lot of them, you are not rejected (for intercourse) unless the woman physically resists. They don’t understand the definition of non-consensual sex.”
For others, it may not be about the difference between sex crimes and adultery.
On Wednesday, former lawmaker Jeon Yeo-ok released a statement in which she said that there are “many other An Hee-jungs” in Yeouido, the district where the National Assembly is located.
“There are many men in Yeouido who have done things that are much worse than the allegation that has been made against An,” she wrote.
“Some of them may be preparing a line that says ‘It wasn’t a sex crime but a case of sex-trade.’”