The youngest South Korean archer on the women’s team made history at the Tokyo Olympics this week. On Friday, 20-year-old An San became the first South Korean triple gold medalist at a Summer Olympics and the first athlete with three gold medals in Tokyo.
But back home, men online are more concerned with her short hairstyle, which they argue shows she is a “feminist” who should be stripped of her medals. They also called on her to apologize for being a feminist and demanded an explanation.
Online cyberbullying against women and feminists has been a growing problem in South Korea, where men dominate business and politics and where anti-feminist sentiment has been on the rise.
But thousands of internet users, including female Korean celebrities, quickly offered support for the archer. The website of the Korea Archery Association filled with positive messages directed at the star while also demanding that the group protect the athlete from hate speech and online abuse.
Celebrities and politicians posted photos with their short hairstyles showing solidarity and support for the athlete.
“These days, I let my hair grow long after having short hair for years, just because I want to,” wrote Ryu Ho-jeong, the youngest lawmaker in parliament and a member of the progressive minority Justice Party.
“There is no such thing as a feminist appearance because feminists are women who make their own choices. We don’t ask others for permission,” she added.
This isn’t the first time An has faced rude questions about her hair. In March, she uploaded a video of her training on Instagram. When an Instagram user commented “why do you have your hair cut short,” she replied “because it’s comfortable.”
Feminist philosopher Yun Kim Ji-yeong of Changwon National University said journalists and politicians have enabled the disturbing rise in anti-feminist norms in the country.
“Media companies have given a platform to sexist comments from male-dominated online communities without filtering,” Yun Kim told VICE World News, adding that politicians have tried to capitalize on anti-feminist sentiment to gain popularity.
She said a clear message has to be sent that sexist remarks cannot be tolerated.
“Companies and public organizations have to send a strong message to society for the values of gender equality and respect for other people,” the professor said. “The press and politicians who impose the sentiment should be confronted with strong criticism.”
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