When users logged onto “Lost Ark,” an online multiplayer video game, they clicked on an icon of a hand gesture to make their characters laugh, talk, and interactive with other players in many different ways.
Three years into the game, however, a group of players came out and said that they believed the “Lost Ark” hand gesture icon was a sexist insult aimed at men, demanding its removal.
To many others, the hand gesture of an index finger and a thumb signified that a person was reaching out to select something, in the way people touch their screen to zoom in or out. But, to the growing anti-feminist movement in South Korea, they viewed the hand gesture as mocking the size of men’s genitalia.
The game eventually replaced the icon amid growing complaints and demand from fans for its removal, calling it an “game-unrelated controversy.”
As South Korea seeks to address gender inequality, the feminist movement has come head to head with an anti-feminist gender war, and many companies are complying to appease their male audiences.
According to CNN, over 20 brands and private companies have removed similar hand gestures of people selecting their products in advertisements in order to avoid vitriol from the anti-feminist movement and their claims of the “feminist agenda” taking over media.
This past May, the popular South Korean convenience store GS25 removed the hand gesture from a camping ad trying to get people to buy camping food on their app. The selecting hand gesture, commonly used to show someone holding something without obscuring the product, showed a hand about to pinch a sausage to cook over the fire.
Ant-feminist critics pointed out that the hand gesture looked very similar to the hand gesture from “Lost Ark” that they believed was mocking men, and GS25 later removed the ad. Going even further, GS25 claimed that they had reprimanded the advertisement staff and fired the marketing team leader.
In a video by the popular YouTube channel “Asian Boss,” which covers controversy in Asiatic countries, many young men openly admitted to being offended by the hand gesture, while many women who saw the camping ad thought that it looked like “just an ad that recommends going camping.”
A wave of similar anti-feminist campaigns followed in the wake of “Lost Ark” and GS25 due to their success, such as a Starbucks ad of someone reaching out to select a drink on the beach, or online fashion retailer Musinsa, who offered women discounts to increase their small base (but not men). Following backlash, Musinsa’s CEO Cho Man-ho stepped down to appease South Korean men.
According to The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), South Korea has one of the worst gender-pay gaps in the world, as well as a female board member percentage of just 5% for publicly listed companies.
South Korea attempted to combat this gap by creating more programs for women to join the workforce, but among a shrinking job market and a rising housing crisis, male critics in the country have been very vocal about feeling left out.
Many anti-feminists have also pointed to the 12 months of mandatory military service they must complete before they turn 28 years old, which they view as a burden that women do not have to take on.
Though companies have gone out of their way to appease the men in these camps, the government is still trying to address the gender war as best they can. Taking office in 2017, President Moon Jae-in gave a speech promising to be a “feminist president.”
“Some very important debates are being buried,” Yonsei University Professor Park Ju-yeon told CNN. “It’s not a fight about the fingers.”
He said that the gender war is just now hitting the “tip of the iceberg,” and that soon the underlying, systematic issues will be brought to the table. With people online complaining about hand gestures in ads, he claimed, the true issues of the gender pay gap in the workforce have been completely buried.