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Have You Heard Of The 4B Movement? Here's Why It Matters.

Depending on what side of TikTok you’re on, you’ve been seeing an uptick in content about the 4B Movement. In response to South Korea having the world’s lowest birth rate, TikTok user @denimchromosome gave a brief synopsis of the movement on February 16. “Korean women are so done with Korean men that they’re literally just deciding to die out," she said in her post.


While the video is only 30 seconds, this user broke the movement down to its essence and sparked a broader conversation for people to fully dive into knowledge about the movement and why some Korean women have decided to fully commit to this push for gender equality and social justice.

What Is the 4B Movement?

The 4B Movement gained notoriety and prevalence in 2019 when a collective of Korean feminists decided they would no longer marry men (비혼 bihon), have children (비출산 bichulsan), date men (비연애 biyeonae), or have sex with men (비섹스 bisekseu). The name of the movement came from all four agreements, starting with the letter B in Korean. The women who have chosen to participate in this movement are doing so as a result of the blatant misogyny that exists in their society.

They are challenging the cultural norms of their country by removing themselves from the dating scene, ignoring the beauty standards and consumerism propagated toward women, and calling out the pay disparity in the Korean job market.

Go Min Hee, a political professor at Ewha Women's University in Seoul, told NPR, "Gender gap in education has disappeared with the declining number of children and growing attention to education.” As of 2003, women’s college enrollment rates in the region have surpassed men’s.

“But the income gap in the post-education labor market hasn't closed," she continued. South Korea has the largest gender pay gap in the developed world, as of 2022, women still made 31% less than their male counterparts.

In the same report, Jeong Han-Wool, head of the Research Institute of Korean People, shared “For a long time, patriarchal norms governed South Korean society. But those social norms dissolved with democratization, and I don't think we have established new norms that can fill the vacuum.”

Han-Wool said the 4B movement was ignited by the Me Too movement here in the U.S., which he said sparked a new wave of young feminists in South Korea.

While others don’t connect it directly to the movement, they doacknowledge that 4B emerged after multiple incidents of high-profile murders of Korean women, a rampant culture of revenge porn, and spy cam sex crimes were at an all-time high.

Additionally, there is blatant discrimination against women in the workplace; married women are often subjected to gender-based violence, and women are expected to take on the majority of household and child-rearing responsibilities.

Tackling Gender-Based Bias

Digital creator Ryan Carriger said, “Through amplifying the voices and the experiences of the movement, it can illuminate the far-reaching nature of gender-based bias and challenge the social structures that reinforce inequality.”

However, some, such as Anna Lee, have said that the Western media is sensationalizing this movement in South Korea. Despite the fact that reports from the country’s Ministry of Education support the quickly diminishing juvenile population, which many argue is a direct result of feminism. As of February 2024, 157 elementary schools throughout the country will have zero first graders. The lowest reported since the ministry began keeping records in 1970.

Likewise, because of the uptick in feminist voices, young men have shared their feelings of “reverse discrimination” and want the government to get rid of the Gender Equality Ministry in large part because it’s making the job market even more competitive.

Yet, this government entity focuses on more than career equity. One of its main purposes is to protect Korean women who are victims of gender-based crimes such as sexual assault and rape. Opponents of the government’s desire to dismantle this ministry believe it is a dangerous idea and will only lead to more harm toward women in the future.

As the online dialogue continues to build around the 4B Movement, many women from across the world are standing in solidarity with the women of South Korea. Some American women online are sharing a similar sentiment that they’ve already committed to the agreements of the 4B Movement in their personal lives without knowing it was associated with any deliberate social activism.

@wtfaleisa Replying to @user9720585462941 ♬ original sound - wtfaleisa

Decentering Men and Toxic Patriarchy

As many women’s studies scholars have found throughout history, to truly gain gender equality, you have to destabilize patriarchal systems and institutions. Activist, feminist, and author bell hooks once wrote, "Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. Decentering men is a central aspect of this movement." Judith Butler, a gender studies scholar, has further added that decentering men "does not mean erasing men or their experiences, but rather acknowledging that our social and political structures have been built around a narrow understanding of masculinity."

Yet, in true social media form, some of the discussions that are emerging online are demonizing, shaming, and insulting women who are choosing to distance themselves from men, that are collectively harmful to their overall well-being. Proponents of the movement are providing counterarguments to these videos.

Some people can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that there are women who would rather be single, have full autonomy over their bodies, and build a life that they want for themselves. Many naysayers of the 4B Movement are calling these actions misandry.

Carrieger disagrees with the notion that the movement is discriminatory against men and says, “Just as Black individuals have long fought against systemic racism and oppression, women have faced their own battles against gender-based discrimination and inequality.” He continues, “The 4B movement's call to challenge traditional gender roles and advocate for the empowerment of women reflects the struggle for equality that resonates within the Black community.”

Finding Common Ground for Social Justice

Historically, any oppressed group looking to gain equal citizenship in a society is always met with pushback, violence, shame, and blame. We saw it with America's civil rights and women's suffrage movements. We saw it with the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and, most recently, with the women’s movement in Iran. This conversation could continue for hours upon hours, and the debates on whether women hate men could rage on for millennia.

The one piece of the conversation that some people are failing to address is that women, not only in Korea but globally, have decided they’d rather be single, child-free, and at peace than have to be subjected to constant trauma, discrimination, and abuse.

It goes without saying that not all men fall in line with patriarchal beliefs or disagree that there are toxic men in the world. However, this conversation is about a collective experience women around the globe share when it comes to their roles in a misogynistic world.

Even women who are in loving relationships and happy to be mothers have shared their understanding of why women would not want to have anything to do with men. Women standing up for themselves and not wanting to feel like second-class citizens isn’t an attack on men, but a call for them to be held accountable for their behavior, both past and present.

And for men to acknowledge that women play just as important a part in society as they do.

I’ll leave you with this quote from activist and scholar Angela Davis: "Decentering men is not about diminishing men or their contributions, but about recognizing that true liberation requires challenging all forms of oppression, including patriarchy."

This quote fully embodies the essence of the 4B Movement and similar movements that aim to decentralize men in our global society.

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Featured image by Delmaine Donson/Getty Images

 

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