By Choi Sung-jin
"We denounce the acts of people who think they can abuse men's rights under the pretext of guaranteeing the human rights of minorities."
This writing was posted on "SNU Life," an Internet community used by Seoul National University students, in the wake of the sexual harassment scandal using online chatting tools, which broke out at the highly prestigious school last Monday.
According to a student group for minorities at SNU, eight male students at the College of Humanities were accused of exchanging denigrating and sexually humiliating messages about seven of their fellow female students in a closed chat room on Kakao Talk mobile messenger.
After a few days of self-reflection, however, some SNU male students began to strike back asking why only coed rights should be protected. They acknowledged that pornographic postings on the group talk messenger may be subject for moral denunciation, but other student groups have no right to make these writings public.
"Stop infringing on male students' human rights," one male student wrote. "Let victims and perpetrators settle the matter between themselves. If there were legal violations, they can go to law enforcement authorities," he added, drawing a number of comments, mostly supportive, from other male students.
These counterattacks, which attempt to shift the focus of attention from the lewd postings by these young men to their disclosure, indicate how some young men are gripped by a victim mentality, even calling for a masculist movement, social scientists said. Some male chauvinists are reiterating their "reverse discrimination theory," claiming men suffer from various disadvantages, including obligatory military service for two years that puts off their employment during that period.
When a male schizophrenia patient killed a woman whom he had never seen before at a unisex public restroom near Gangnam Subway Station in May, there were also men who rebutted against the sympathizers of the victim, urging them not to hate men as a whole and regard all males as potential perpetrators.
These and other similar assertions are linked to the movements to "restore men's rights" that are gaining force recently, experts said.
"As women's social participation and their basic rights have rapidly expanded in recent years, men in their 20s and 30s cannot help but think they are being discriminated against with respect to their military duty and the financial burdens that men must endure from marriage," said Kim Dong-keun, representative of NGO for Equality, a masculist group.
They cite as examples of discrimination against men the female quota system in political and economic organizations, the introduction of women-only subway cabins and women-first parking lots.
These masculist movements have gone beyond gathering sympathizers and are moving toward seeking influence, on- and off-line. NGO for Equality held a news conference in front of Seoul City Hall in May, opposing various policies "favoring women based on extreme feminism."
Experts point out, however, it is dangerous to use a "gender debate" caused by a specific episode for staging a war between the sexes. Particularly, the black-or-white and zero-sum thinking, which regards benefits for women as losses for men, springs from misunderstandings about the purposes of gender-equality policies, they said.
"Feminism does not seek to put women's rights over men's but starts from the recognition that it is necessary to find the fundamental causes of gender inequality and social division of roles resulting from biological differences, which have no positive effects on either sex," said Lee Sang-hwa, a professor at Korea Institute for Gender Equality Promotion and Education.
"Instead of quarreling about short-term, ostensible advantages and disadvantages, men and women need to get over biases and stereotypical thinking resulting from their different sexes," she added.