#Art + Culture

What Is 4B Feminist Movement? Motion Persuades South Korean Women To Renounce Marriage

4B Feminist Moment In South Korea
Patriarchal society, misogynistic men, and gender roles have forced a small group of women in South Korea to renounce dating, sex, marriage, and childrearing. They call the feminist movement 4B, representing four Korean words that start with “bi,” meaning “no.”

“Bihon” is refusing to get into a heterosexual marriage; “Bichulsan” is refusing to have a child; “Biyeonae” is refusing to date; and “Bisekseu” is refusing to indulge in heterosexual sexual relationships. The 4B Feminist movement originated in South Korea in 2019 by women who were fed up with the patriarchal practices of the country.

A small but growing number of women are part of this movement, owing to the male-dominated society in South Korea that expects women to solely take responsibility for the domestic chores, parenting, and caring for the elderly in-laws with little or no help. Centuries of this practice in South Korean society have led to a group of women starting this feminist movement.

South Korean society also expects women to adhere to strict beauty standards. Women were pressured to always look physically and sexually desirable. The societal pressure to look beautiful pushed women to purchase new clothes every few months, spend a lot of money on make-up, and maintain their physical appearance to look appealing to men.

4B Feminist Moment In South Korea

Youngmi, a 25-year-old South Korean nurse, found herself getting depressed over her uncertain future and unstable financial status. Despite her restricted income as a nursing student, she had to spend hefty amounts on new outfits every season and was forced to wear makeup religiously. “I couldn’t step out without makeup as I felt ashamed of my face. I had the pressure of wanting to look attractive to men,” said Youngmi.

After coming across women-led protests and following many feminists on social media in 2018, Youngmi realised that numerous men committed crimes like revenge porn, dating violence, femicide, etc., but most of them were just condemned with fines if at all they were prosecuted. She realised that men don’t face similar societal restrictions or pressure to look appealing.

After seeing a lot of women at the protests shave their heads on camera, Youngmi shaved her head too, stopped wearing makeup, and became a part of the “escape the corset” movement. South Korean women began this movement in 2018 to publicly turn their backs on socially approved beauty standards. They showed their protest by shaving their heads, cutting their hair short, and stopping wearing makeup.

Youngmi connected with like-minded women and feminists through open chat groups and befriended them. She stated that feminism has helped her realise that the bad things that happen in a woman’s life are not her fault and that it was patriarchy that was the problem all along.

Bonnie Lee, a straight woman in her 40s, lives with her dog in the country’s capital, Seoul. She claims to no longer be interested in men or relationships. She has stopped worrying about finding the perfect boyfriend and having a beautiful fairytale wedding. She had observed many of her well-educated friends couldn’t progress in their careers after getting married and having children and heard them express marital problems. “I’ve always felt that women face a lot more disadvantages than advantages after getting married,” she said.

The holder of two master’s degrees claimed that in the South Korean marriage market, a woman’s agency over her life, education, work experience, or talent doesn’t matter. In fact, being highly educated was a disadvantage in the country. All that matters in a woman’s life is how capable she is of caring for her husband, children, and in-laws. Even working women spend four times longer hours on household chores than their husbands.

As a result, a growing number of women are saying no to the country’s traditional expectations of women. Although there is no official data on the size of the 4B movement, the members say they have at least 4,000 followers.

Feature Photo: The Associated Press

Suggested Reading: Han Kang’s ‘The Vegetarian’ Unravels Patriarchy in South Korean Society