South Korea's feminists fight to go braless in push for equality

Beh Lih Yi, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Posted at Feb 25 2020 07:06 PM


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KUALA LUMPUR - South Korean women have called for their freedom to dress as they choose after a newsreader caused an uproar for appearing on air without a bra, the latest bid in a feminism movement that has grown in the male-dominated country.

Yim Hyun-ju came under criticism after she appeared on air on a TV program braless this month and took to social media to share her experience with a hashtag #nobra.

It came as a small but growing number of women in South Korea choose not to wear a bra in public in a bid to reject traditional social norms and to push for gender equality.

"It's all about breaking out of the box," said Yim, who has worked for one of South Korea's biggest broadcasters, the MBC, since 2013.

"Many things that we considered as natural in the past was a repression of women's rights," the 35-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone through a translator.


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From abandoning makeup to rejecting marriage, a burgeoning feminism movement has gained grounds in recent years in South Korea, which ranked 108 out of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum's 2020 Global Gender Gap Index.

The movement was sparked by thousands of women who took to the streets in 2018 against an epidemic of voyeurism or "spycam porn" where victims are filmed urinating or having sex.

It has gathered pace in other areas in the socially conservative Asian nation since then.

This includes a rising number of young women who have given up makeup or cut their hair short to rebel against society's long-held ideals of beauty in a country with one of the world's highest rates of plastic surgery per capita.

Yim herself made headlines in 2018 after she broke taboos on local TV by going on air wearing glasses - an issue that also sparked outcry in Japan last year after some firms were found imposing similar bans on female staff wearing glasses.

"Wearing glasses and not wearing a bra are all about choice," said Yim, who was on a show about new challenges that featured 3 men wearing bras and 3 women - including Yim - who went braless for a day.

One of South Korea's best-known K-pop stars, Sulli, was vocal about not wearing a bra in public, sparking headlines.

She took her own life in October after cyber bullying. Police said she had being suffering from severe depression.

In 2018, a group of young Korean feminists protested after their topless photos on Facebook to highlight women's rights were removed. Facebook later reinstated the photos.

"It's absurd that in 2020 we have to say out loud that it's our right to not wear a bra in public," said Jiann Woo, 25, a theater director in Seoul, co-founder of a local feminist group.

"I feel natural and comfortable since I stopped wearing it since 4 years ago."