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Why BTS won’t be at South Korean presidential inauguration

South Korea’s new president  was brought back into the limelight due to a rumour that BTS would play at his inauguration. A few essential aspects of the story were left out – why are mainstream outlets avoiding sexism in Korea’s recent election?

Due to weighty topics in mainstream news the past few weeks –  war in Ukraine or the ‘greatest night in the history of television’, for example – other important stories have been overshadowed.

One such story was the recent election of South Korea’s new President, Yoon Suk-Yul, whose campaign was characterised by some of the most devise talking points in the country’s recent history.

During the election cycle, voters quickly split into two camps we have become so accustomed to seeing in modern democracies: the liberals and progressives versus neo-conservatives akin to Trump.

More precisely, in South Korea, the election centred mainly around anti-feminist rhetoric and issues linked to gender inequality in the country.

Taking office this year in May, Yoon Suk-Yeol’s flagship policy was the abolition of the gender equality ministry. Alongside this, most of his speeches attacked the mere existence of programmes that aim to curb inequalities and protect women against various forms of violence.

He claims it is actually men who are being disenfranchised by such governmental policies.

Although topics such as Korea’s current housing crisis or foreign policy were also discussed, this recent wave of misogyny at such a high level of government is worth considering separately.

Any such discourse immediately raises red flags for those familiar with South Korea’s lasting legacy of gender inequality and state-sponsored misogyny.

As it stands, South Korea is often ranked as one of the countries with the worst standards for gender equality. The reasons for these enduring systemic inequalities come from a history of disenfranchisement that is worth discussing here.

After adopting Confucian values during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the country gradually shifted from its original matriarchal system of lineage to a patrilineal configuration.

From then on, men were the centre of all economic and social life, while women were relegated to a secondary societal role that entailed profound structural inequalities and higher rates of violence.

Later on in South Korea’s history, gender inequality and violence against women did not simply disappear.

Japan’s invasion marked a dark period for the thousands that became ‘comfort women’, coerced into prostitution for the benefit of the Imperial army. This exact structure was replicated by Americans during the Korean war and subsequent military deployment, during which over a million women were enlisted into prostitution.

Since the late eighties, the country’s legislative body has moved slowly towards bettering the situation for women.

Although the change has been slow to come, the general direction has been forward. But as is expected in any area of social progress, there are always setbacks due to internal conservative forces – Yoon’s election represents a significant instance of backsliding.

Korea’s legacy of state sanctioned misogyny calls for an examination of what is being said now by politicians and international news outlets. Considering the United States’ significant responsibility in this legacy, coverage from American media of the recent election is particularly striking.

While articles discussing Yoon’s discourse were limited abroad – understandably because of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine – what was written serves as a reminder that most people abroad are not aware of Korea’s history with sexism, and especially unaware of America’s responsibility in the current outlook of gender relations.

Most major outlets have chosen to focus on the President elect’s stance towards North Korea, while often completely ignoring any domestic issues with Yoon’s neo-conservative policies.

This narrow understanding of the potential effects of a new administration comes at a time when North Korea has been testing more ICBMs than ever before. While tensions with North Korea and nuclear war are extremely serious issues, it is hard to imagine how the news coverage of  the election would not even mention his domestic policy agenda.

Why are major news companies only choosing to briefly mention the new President’s oppressive plans for government?

For the United States and subsequently for major news outlets, international issues are solely considered through a utilitarian lens. ‘Will this advance American interests abroad?’ and ‘will Americans care about this?’ – the answer to the second question often being that they do not care.

These questions are some of the most reliable predictors of Western interest in any problems abroad. As long as a country’s foreign policy interests and commodity exports are aligned with US interests, they will not intervene or even comment on an internal situation.

It is therefore unsurprising to see a lack of attention on this issue which inherently calls on people to consider American responsibility in the construction of a sexist state.

The United States’ main stake in this situation has to do with mitigating the risk of North Korean aggression on regional allies. Once that issue is dealt with, why should we care about the rest?

I strongly suspect that there would be far more attention and media coverage of recent backsliding on gender equality in South Korea if Yoon’s team of diplomats were not aligned with American goals for the peninsula.

But in the spirit of the West’s relationship to states like Saudi Arabia, the media apparatus seems to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses when those committing them are useful to the US and European countries.

The lack of coverage of the anti-feminist rhetoric of Yoon and South Korea’s recent regression back to a more oppressive standard for women should be taken as emblems of imperialism’s staying power. It is also proof that conservative systems of government are some of the strongest forces in politics and that American news media will not take issue with it as long as there is little attention on a given issue.

We should expect more from international media outlets. It is vital they bring attention to and call out alarming events, even if news-consumers seemingly have no knowledge of the issue. Bringing attention to until then unknown subjects is at the heart of what the news’ role is in society.

At the very least, we can rest assured that when the news fails us, BTS will step up to the plate and object to Yoon’s sexist policies by refusing to perform at his inauguration.


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