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Tuesday, 10
December 2019


Seen Elsewhere
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South Korean women go on strike — and who can blame them?

by Mary Harrington
Yoon Ji-hye is one of a growing number of South Korean women backing the ‘Four Nos’ Movement. Credit: Getty.

The South China Morning Post reports that a growing ‘Four Nos’ movement in South Korea encourages women to say ‘No’ to dating, sex, marriage and child-rearing. South Korean wives “are often expected to work, raise children, and care for ageing in-laws with little state or community help”, the article says.

To make matters worse, a prevailing beauty culture places heavy pressure on women to adhere to stringent beauty standards and behavioural norms require women to be “passive, childlike and bubbly”, as well as attractive, to be desirable. The ‘Four Nos’ and ‘Escape the Corset’ movements protest this along with a rising spy cam and revenge porn epidemic.

The article notes that ‘Four Nos’, if it gains serious traction, will worsen an already severe demographic crisis: despite a growing raft of pronatalist measures, the South Korean fertility rate is already 0.98 children per family, well below the 2.1 rate needed to keep a population stable.

I have written elsewhere at UnHerd about the care-shaped blind spot in liberal feminism. So often in its mainstream form this feminism seems not so much to liberate women from the low-status work of caring for the young and old, as to employ lower-status women to do it instead: a deflection whose costs are increasingly becoming apparent in terms of fertility rates, disintegrating communities and many other unintended consequences.

But when women are expected to continue doing the thankless communitarian spadework of infant and elderly care, while also being pressured to take on paid careers and impossible consumerist beauty standards, and to pursue self-realisation into the bargain, they can hardly be blamed for protesting. If they are opting to put the communitarian part of their obligations down in order to prioritise self-realisation, no one can fault their logic.

If the society that hitherto took women for granted is beginning to see a ticking demographic timebomb as a result, then something will have to give. But absent other changes, lecturing women about their selfishness or the needs of wider society is unlikely to make us keen to take up the yoke again.


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24th January 2020