International Symposium “The Politics of #MeToo…”

Event Detail

2022.01.21 International Symposium
“The Politics of #MeToo: What the #MeToo Movement Has Left for Feminism”

On Friday, January 21, 2022, the international symposium “The Politics of #MeToo: What the #MeToo Movement Has Left for Feminism” was held online. At the beginning, the moderator Ki-young Shin introduced how the #MeToo movement began and started to spread worldwide from the end of 2017 in protest against gender-based violence, and how it is an ongoing event in South Korea.

The first part of the session featured a discussion between KangYu Garam, director of the Korean documentary “After MeToo” (2021), and two panelists, Mari Hamada and Isul Kim Lee. The film covers the post-#MeToo era uncovered in Garam’s early documentary titled “Us, Day by Day” (2019), which focuses on feminists who were active in South Korea during the late 1990s. “After MeToo” is presented in omnibus format, with four episodes from multiple directors: (1) “Girls’ School Ghost Story” (School #MeToo), (2) “My Mind and Body are Healthy Now” (a middle-aged woman’s life-long struggle to cope with the victimization of sexual violence), (3) “And Then” (supporters helping victims), and (4) “Gray Sex” (violence in intimate relationships). None of the episodes narrate the typical #MeToo story that people might expect; however, they present topics that are familiar yet difficult to talk about in public and hard to visualize.

(1) “Girls’ School Ghost Story” depicts students using sticky notes to demonstrate solidarity against sexual violence committed by teachers in schools. Students stick numerous sticky notes on the school’s windows to form the phrase “#WithYou.” In 2018, spurred by extensive media reporting, the #MeToo movement became widely known and was a motivating factor in accusations of sexual assault. (2) In “My Mind and Body are Healthy Now,” a woman returns to her hometown and repeatedly practices for a speech about sexual violence she suffered there as a child. The woman initially hides her real name and uses her handle (social media account name), “Happy Teacher” instead; however, throughout filming, she builds trust with the director and finally reveals her real name. In the credits, “Happy Teacher” and her real name are credited. (4) “Gray Sex” depicts women’s discomfort with men they have met through a dating app, revealing that apps package images of female users based on male preferences. The episode also reveals how this kind of atmosphere is tolerated on apps, and that it is hard to talk about intimate relationships formed via dating apps in Korean society.

(3) KangYu Garam’s “And Then” depicts the nature of sexual violence in the arts and culture industry. It highlights how victims face the dilemma of making accusations within a small community; if they speak up, they may lose their networks in the industry and future opportunities as a result. Yet if they remain silent, more people may be victimized. The episode highlights the importance of allies who can change things from within to protect victims.

During the presentation, KimLee spoke about the importance of seeing a woman not as a victim but as someone managing to survive daily life. She also spoke about the difficulties faced by Korean women living in Japan and supporting the #MeToo movement, and about the need for allies to listen to victims’ voices. Using the example of online harassment of female members of local assemblies, Hamada reemphasized the difficulty of acknowledging the harm of sexual harassment in everyday life and the significance of everyone speaking out.

In the second section of the session, a debate was held about various challenges for feminism following #MeToo, including a discussion of the situation in Japan and South Korea. First, Hyunyoung KwonKim, author of The Politics of #MeToo, cited the An Hee Jeong case (the sexual assault of secretary Kim Ji-eun by the former governor of South Chungcheong Province An Hee Jeong) as a significant trigger for the book’s publication.

This case is a major focus in the book, and KwonKim stated that the book’s purpose is to reveal how the issue of sexual violence has been raised in a male-dominated society. In South Korea, although rape by “force” is criminalized, the need to prove a clear working relationship made it difficult to prosecute, and there was virtually no precedent. However, in the An Hee Jeong case, the perpetrator was convicted because there was a direct employment relationship, marking a significant turning point in juridical decisions on sexual violence cases. Despite the legal victory, KwonKim highlights that in the political and cultural context, secondary harm was caused to victims via controversy and criticism, particularly through the mass media that encouraged public opinion favoring perpetrators and sparked backlash against the #MeToo movement.

One of the book’s other authors, Luin, described the book’s purpose as a reconstruction of sexual violence analysis from a transgender/queer viewpoint, as opposed to the conventional understanding of sexual violence as defined as binary, male-female violence. Focusing on similarities between violence against transgender/queer people and violence against nontransgender people, and considering the current context in which discrimination against women in a patriarchal society is regarded as natural, Luin questions unilateral definitions of sexual violence from a nontransgender viewpoint as they relate to society’s general perception of women as natural victims. Furthermore, while acknowledging the antitransgender sentiments expressed by some feminists, she stated that a rethinking of sexual assault can be useful for exploring solidarity between feminism and transgender/queer politics.

Natsuno Kikuchi praised the book for its analysis of the connection between feminist research and the #MeToo movement in theory and practice. She also highlighted that there are barriers with regard to the prosecution of sexual assault in both Japan and South Korea. For example, in Japan, only victims are reported for official statistics, and thus, it is difficult to see where those barriers are.

Regarding the #MeToo movement in South Korea, KwonKim highlighted that unlike the anonymous #MeToo movement in Sweden and the celebrity-sparked #MeToo movement in the US, the movement had initially appeared in Korean social media prior to the global spread of the #MeToo movement, many of which were later followed by legal battles. While the #MeToo movement in South Korea has spread awareness about what sexual assault is, it has also placed too much burden on individual victims. There is also a division between those who can make accusations and those who cannot. Luin stated that #MeToo in Korea has exposed a broad understanding of how society and institutions surrounding violence and discrimination are structured, and that it has also inspired queer movements and communities to raise accusations of discrimination and oppression. Kikuchi further noted that although many individuals are aware of the spread of the #MeToo and feminism in Japan, and despite individual achievements (for example, addressing the problem of discrimination against women in medical school entrance exams), the #MeToo movement has not been a collective one. She also put forward the underlying factor that as a nation and people, Japan has not directly faced the issue of “comfort women.” In Japan, #MeToo and the problem of sexual violence at a national level are increasingly ignored by the society. Kikuchi stated that this is why #MeToo lacks momentum as a social movement in Japan.

Regarding changes post-#MeToo, KwonKim stated that, due to serious backlash against the movement, South Korea is not at the stage where it can be termed post-#MeToo; however, the movement’s achievements include legislation on sexual violence via digital media and guidelines to address sexual harassment in organizations. The question at present is how to transition from #MeToo, a movement based on women reporting their individual experiences, to #WithYou, the cultivation of gender solidarity within society. Luin spoke about the situation of transwomen in South Korea, warning that the topic has been witnessed as a divide between transgender people and women and between feminism and transgender/queer communities. She also spoke warily about the way transwomen have been portrayed as perpetrators since #MeToo.

The symposium ended with a Q&A session and a summary, which led to a discussion on solidarity and sexual consent based on a shared understanding of intersectionality.

Reported by Hanaoka Nao(Ph.D. student, Ochanomizu University)

《Event Details》
International IGS Symposium “The Politics of #MeToo: What the #MeToo Movement Has Left for Feminism”

【Date/Time】21 January, 15:00–18:00
<The first part>
KangYu Garam (Director of the Korean documentary “After MeToo” (2021))
Mari Hamada (Co-Representative of Gender Research Institute)
Isul Kim Lee (Translator)
<The Second part>
Hyunyoung KwonKim (Representative of Women’s Real-Life Research Laboratory(WRLRL))
Luin (Associate Researcher of Transgender Queer Institute)
Natsuno Kikuchi (Associate Professor, Nagoya City University)
【Moderator】Ki-young Shin (Professor, Institute for Gender Studies, Ochanomizu University)
Institute for Gender Studies, Ochanomizu University
Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C): Politics of Gender Quota: Institutionalization or Backlash?
【Language】English/Korean (Simultaneous interpreting)
【Number of attendees】329