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09th Apr 2024

What is the viral feminist 4B movement in South Korea?

Anna Martin

4b movement

You may or may not have come across the 4B movement while scrolling through social media

As of late, the feminist action has been gathering more attention on TikTok as South Korean women take a radical stance against traditional gender norms.

Yet unsurprisingly, even if you have seen it on socials you may have many questions.

Why did it start, what are the principles and is it actually having any effect on Korean society?

Here’s everything you need to know about the 4B movement.

What is the 4B Movement?

4b movement
Credit: Canva

Despite gaining Western media attention on TikTok this year, the movement really got its formal start on Twitter back in 2019.

It’s unclear how many official members there are but estimates suggest a range of 5,000 to 50,000 participants.

One notable feature of the 4B movement, as with other Korean digital feminist movements, is that members often identify themselves as “anonymous women,” and opt to not disclose personal details online.

It advocates for women to reject societal expectations, particularly regarding marriage and child-rearing, as a protest against widespread misogyny in South Korea.

The movement is defined by its four foundational principles, each beginning with the Korean word “bi-” which translates to “no”: Bihon (no to heterosexual marriage), Bichulsan (no to childbirth), Biyeonae (no to dating), and Bisekseu (no to sex), per The Cut.

Its emergence and rapid growth can be attributed to a broader context of frustration among South Korean women towards a culture that imposes rigid expectations on their roles within society.

The movement has been instrumental in highlighting and protesting against South Korea’s pro-natalist policies, which have been criticized for failing to address the underlying issues that deter women from choosing to marry or have children, such as gender inequality, lack of support for working mothers, and high childcare costs.

Why did it start?

Though we can’t pinpoint the exact moment, the government’s treatment of the issue of gender equality has long been a source of frustration and anger for South Korean women.

For years Korean women’s engagement in the labour force has already been low without considering the additional challenges that intersect with pregnant women and mothers.

There is a prevalent issue of discrimination against hiring women which draws from the traditional gender roles expecting women to remain in the home.

The gender pay gap also discourages women from entering the workforce.

Mothers struggle to re-enter the workforce both because of workplace discrimination and because of familial expectations that require them to also handle childcare and household responsibilities. 

Yet instead of lobbying for change, President Yoon Suk Yeol used men’s frustrations surrounding this issue as part of his political platform, blaming feminism for the low birth rate while simultaneously claiming that gender inequality is not an issue in South Korea.

The nation currently holds the lowest birth rate in the world (0.78 compared to a global average of 2.3. Australia’s is around 1.58). 

Part of Yoon’s domestic agenda is to abolish Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality which has been active since 2001.

This announcement sparked backlash from feminists and resulted in protests demanding that the government advance rather than hinder women’s rights.

The government has further reversed the progress of women’s rights in Korea by removing “gender equality” as a term in school textbooks.

How are we only finding out about this in the West?

@denimchromosome also hilarious that the govt thinks just throwing money at pregnant ppl is gonna fix the problem instead of addressing the cutthroat lvls of competition, insane housing prices, misogyny, and the worst gender gap in OCED 😌 #fypシ #korea #4b ♬ original sound – jeanie 🍉

It all really kicked off here when a TikToker named Jeanie discussed how women in South Korea are, basically, boycotting men.

“I think it’s so f***ing funny that Korean women are so done with Korean men that they’re literally just deciding to die out,” the video begins.

Jeanie, also known as denimchromosome on TikTok, explains the 4B movement as women “giving up” on men, preferring to “go extinct” in protest.

“[Women] are like, ‘[Men are] f***ing assholes, they’re not going to change, so we’re all going to go extinct.’”

In other words, Korean women are so fed up with misogyny that they’re going on strike from heterosexual relationships, and all that would traditionally imply (like, birth and marriage).