The women of Seoul are angry and they have every right to be. On Wednesday at about 1 AM, a young woman was stabbed to death after she entered a public restroom. She had no prior relationship with her attacker. He had been waiting in the bathroom, planning to attack the first woman who walked in. This tragedy occurred in one of the brightest and busiest areas of Seoul, a place I’ve called home for the last six months: Gangnam.
The attacker was a man who worked at one of the restaurants near my work. He was caught by the police on Wednesday when they matched the stab wounds to the knife he used at work. He harbored a deep resentment of women, and he felt that the constant rejection he received needed to be heard. He wanted women to understand his pain, and to suffer along with him.
There are eerily parallels between the Gangnam Murder and the Santa Barbara murders in 2014. Eliot Rodger went on a killing spree on Santa Barbara’s famous Isla Vista street that left 14 injured and 7 dead, including himself. Both men felt rejected and wronged by women, both chose to stage their attacks in areas known for their wild nightlife and attractive young people, and both ignited national debates in their respective countries.
In the US, we debated our ineffective gun laws and our deficient mental health services. We despaired over yet another loss of youth and life due to an angry psychopath with a gun. And predictably, but unfortunately, not much has changed.
In Korea, a far more interesting debate has emerged. Women are demanding justice and equality. They might be scared but that fear has been wholly overwhelmed by anger. It started with a memorial attached to Gangnam Station. People were invited to attach post-its with messages to the side of the station entrance. I went on Thursday morning and there were hundreds of messages. By Thursday afternoon, there were thousands. Most of the messages were condolences, shared fears and cries for gender equality. Some were nasty requests for women to be quiet. The intimidation continued online, where many men threatened to follow women home from the memorial site and attack them or to burn the entire memorial down. Women in my classes have told me their personal stories of sexual harassment, and their anger how women are treated in their country. What are they supposed to do if they can’t even go to the bathroom safely?
There was also a demonstration on Saturday evening. It seemed like a thousand people were crammed into the tiny corner surrounding the memorial, and the atmosphere was incredibly intense.
Protestors were screaming and crying, and police with riot shields ringed the scene. At one point, a man was escorted away in handcuffs, and at another point, a young protestor began crying and screaming at the bystanders to turn their cameras off.
By Monday, the memorial had been removed by the police. As I walked by, I felt slightly uneasy. It seemed strange that all of those thoughts and fears had been erased so quickly, and I wondered if the entire controversy would fade away, a victim of the rapidity of life in Seoul.