South Korean rapper San E has landed himself in hot water with a series of incidents in which he ranted against the burgeoning feminist movement in the country. His actions are some of the most visible in a small but growing pushback from men who feel threatened by South Korea’s burgeoning women’s rights movement this year.
The trouble started last month when San E released a new song called “Feminist,” in which he calls out what he sees as hypocrisy among women. The song includes lyrics like “You’ll probably say among OECD countries/ Korea has a gender pay gap of blah blah blah/ F***ing fake fact/ Hey if you want those rights so bad why aren’t you going to the military?” and “Oh girls don’t need a prince/ Then pay half for the house when we marry.”
After getting intense pushback, including a powerful response song from female rapper Sleeq called “Equalist,” San E released an apology, insisting that the song was not about his actual views on women’s rights. Rather, he insisted he was just attempting to satirize the views of faux feminists who believe those things about women. The response rang hollow for many, especially after San E doubled down on the controversial views at a concert this past weekend.
When the San E took the stage at Brand New Music’s year-end concert on December 2, the crowd began booing him, prompting the rapper to start a rant against feminists, particularly focused on radical feminist groups Womad and Megalia. “Womad is poison. Feminist no. You all are mentally sick,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a need for me to respect you if you’re not going to respect me… I don’t care how much you all attack me. I support sane women.” He later doubled down on these views, releasing another new song on YouTube focused on these radical feminist groups, and then posting a video claiming that news outlets edited the concert footage to make him look bad.
Brand New Music’s CEO personally came on stage at the concert to apologize for the outburst, and the company released an official apology afterward, but it does not appear that they have taken any formal action against the rapper.
Update: After this story was published, Brand New Music announced that the company and San E had “mutually agreed” to terminate his contract.
Womad and Megalia are controversial online communities that take extreme feminist views. Megalia is an online forum founded in 2015 out of a frustration with what the founders saw as discriminatory administration of other mainstream websites. The site has drawn controversy and has even been shut down several times for its posts, which regularly include threats of violence against men. Womad is even more extreme — it spun off from Megalia after they banned the use of homophobic and transphobic slurs. Womad often includes even more graphic speech against men, including against the queer community.
The mainstream women’s rights movement in South Korea has been growing in recent years, and has really taken off in 2018 — although the word “feminist” remains controversial because of its association with those more extreme groups. The movement started gaining momentum back in 2016, after a man randomly stabbed a young woman in Gangnam — the perpetrator later said, “I did it because women have always ignored me.”
In 2018, the movement grew even further with the enthusiastic adoption of #MeToo, which forced the resignation of high-level politicians, famous actors and directors, and more. More recently, women have organized large-scale protests against spy cam porn — an epidemic of using tiny cameras hidden in public bathrooms, hotels, and more to record videos of women without their knowledge, which are then posted online. In new data released today by Twitter Korea, the top three most tweeted about social topics in South Korea this year were “School Me Too,” “Feminism,” and “Spy Cam,” showing the growing visibility of women’s rights issues.
There have been setbacks, however. One of the most high-profile men accused of assault, former governor and presidential candidate Ahn Hee Jung, was later acquitted. And when it was revealed that actress Jung Yu-mi would be starring in a film adaptation of the popular feminist novel “Kim Ji Young Born 1982,” her personal Instagram account was flooded with nasty comments. Other female celebrities, including Red Velvet’s Irene, Girls’ Generation’s Sooyoung and actress Nam Ji-hyun, got similar backlash for even mentioning that they had read the book.
In this way, San E may just be the most overt and public expression of a growing frustration and fear among South Korean men as the women’s rights movement takes hold. His views have certainly sparked conversation, even though the discussion may in some cases be counterproductive. What remains to be seen is how South Korean society will grapple with these major issues, especially as pushback continues to grow.
Jenna Gibson is a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Chicago and a Korea blogger for The Diplomat. You can find her on Twitter at @jennargibson.