What is 4b movement

Radical Feminist Responses to Oppressive Social Structures: Highlighting South Korea’s 4B movement


“Marriage and childbirth are closely intertwined; women are pressured to sacrifice their career once they have a child or get married.” – Hawon Jung[1]

In the space of DEIB initiatives and women’s rights, we often hear women share their experience of not being able to have it all, and having to choose between two seemingly separate and divergent paths:

  • Their career and individuality and
  • Family and motherhood

Very often the choice is not an active one where women can exert their agency, rather, one where societal norm, gender roles and ideas, bias and social expectations inform how women respond to these options as they grow within the organisation.

In our context, we have witnessed social concerns like sexual harassment, domestic violence and discrimination further narrowing women’s agency to determine their paths, free from external factors, often leading to women resorting to quitting, letting go of opportunities, stepping down from leadership positions, and struggling to navigate the challenges of re-entry into the workforce.

Today through this article, we are specifically spotlighting the response of some South Korean women to similar social challenges and oppressive practice, through the 4B movement.


Originating in the mid-2010s on the social media platform, the 4B movement is a radical feminist movement of South Korea, that responds to deeply entrenched patriarchal norms and societal expectations imposed on women. The 4B movement gained momentum after and partly as a result of the “Me Too” movement. Some influence can also be traced back to “Escape the Corset” movement of 2016, which challenged the economic and cultural significance of rigid beauty standards in South Korea – shunning, resisting and calling for a complete boycott of cosmetic procedures, demanding skincare or makeup rituals, and fashionable attire, all seen as perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards and misogynistic social norms.  

The 4B movement, both an ideological stance and a lifestyle, represents four strategic “NOs” set forth by these South Korean women:—

  • No heterosexual marriage (bihon),
  • No childbirth (bichulsan),
  • No dating (biyeonae), and
  • No heterosexual sex (bisekseu).

The movement is largely a digital one, where women engage in open discussions that often confront the pro-natalist policies and the patriarchal state of South Korea, policies that relegate women’s bodies and reproductive abilities as tools for the state’s future. Through a robust social media presence, it has garnered attention worldwide as part of a broader pushback against gender inequality, societal pressures and abuse of power abuse faced by women. 


“The birth strike is women’s revenge on a society that puts impossible burdens on us and doesn’t respect us,” – Jiny Kim, 30. Office worker choosing not to have children.

These responses and policies must be understood in context. South Korea currently holds the lowest fertility rate in the world, with projections estimating that it will drop to 0.68 this year — compared to the global average of around 2.4.

To remedy this, the South Korean government has implemented pro-natalist policies[2] aimed at boosting childbirth rates and population growth by encouraging women to reproduce actively. These measures include an online “National Birth Map” that tracks of the number of women of reproductive age in each municipality.

By politicizing marriage and child-rearing as national imperatives, these policies place additional pressure on women to conform to traditional gender roles and stifle women’s autonomy and agency – a unidimensional approach that places a lot of responsibility on women.

These policies do not recognise or respond to the documented economic factors lending to people’s apprehension and radical rejection of marriage and childbirth, which leads to the low birth and fertility rate, for instance South Korea’s high costs of raising children, unaffordable housing, poor job prospects, and long working hours. In fact, Ms Chung Hyun-back, tasked by the previous government with reversing the country’s plummeting birthrate, stated that an obstacle to her task was the prevalent patriarchal culture.

Anti-feminist sections believe and purport that feminism is to blame for impacting heterosexual relationships – leading to the low birth rates. However, gender equality may just be the solution, or part of it. By overlooking women’s needs and demands for more equitable and inclusive policies the existing pro-natalist policies tend to invalidate their lived experiences, further exacerbating their marginalization.


Despite there being some changes to incentivize childbirth and rearing and encourage young parents, like the introduction of a monthly allowance for parents of newborns, some women are still choosing to say no.

Women are documented to face discrimination and oppression on multiple fronts.

  1. This is significantly seen by the disparity faced at work between men and women in their social context. For example, South Korea has displayed consistently the largest gender pay gap among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries – 31% in 2021 and 31.2% in 2022, where the OECD average was approximately 13.5% in 2022 data.
  2. Korea also recorded low female participation rates in 2022, at 62%, among the lowest in the study, lower than the average of 72% across the OECD. In fact, across the 5 parameters assessed in the PwC Women at Work Report (gender wage gap, female labour force participation rate, gender gap in labour force participation rate, female unemployment rate, and female employment rate in full-time positions) South Korea’s numbers have fallen short, ranking 32 out of 33 in the report.
  3. The pressures of an inherently patriarchal structure and a sexist job market constitute the first layer of marginalization, where women are relegated to subordinate positions and denied equal opportunities and rights compared to men.
  4. Furthermore, the gender roles stemming from the patriarchal social frame sees women taking on the lions share of household and childcare responsibilities despite working full-time.
  5. This context is also exacerbated by the rise of sexual harassment and cyber-crimes like molka (secretly filming during sex), and the issues highlighted in the documentary “Burning Sun: Exposing the Secret K-Pop Chat Groups”, with public outrage to curb digital sex crimes remaining at an all-time high.
  6. Ultimately, even the fact that the South Korean justice system is heavily male dominated and has consistently shown leniency towards perpetrators of voyeurism and crimes against women, has driven women to adopt such extreme measures during and after the #MeToo movement.

Recently, there has been an alarming increase in cases of gender-based violence and sexual harassment, especially targeting women who are taking a stand against oppressive social structures and advocating women’s rights. As per a June 2022 study on intersectional discrimination, intimidation/online intimidation, and suicidal ideation among young South Koreans- hateful remarks against women are perceived by young boys as a part of “peer-group” culture and begin to circulate as early as secondary school. The same survey found that 76.8% of feminists and 69.2% of young women who spoke out against violence among minors reported having experienced bullying or cyberbullying, intersectional discrimination, or suicidal thoughts.

This underscores an urgent need for robust legal strategies and policies that support women and take cognizance of the violence – subtle and overt, retaliatory or otherwise that women are vulnerable to. By understanding the motivations and impacts of these movements, we can better advocate for the rights and protections of those affected, pushing for stronger laws regarding gender-based violence and digital sex crimes.


The 4B feminist movement in South Korea reflects a broader global trend in addressing gender inequalities, including the persistent issue of the gender pay gap, which even globally remains a significant issue.

This is not the first – or only-time women have resorted to radical measures to address gender-based violence especially in South-east Asia.

In the Indian context too, we witnessed the “Pink Chaddi” campaign, that involved sending pink underwear to the founder of an extremist political organization on Valentine’s Day as a peaceful protest against moral policing, the “Blank Noise Project”, engages volunteers from diverse backgrounds, including victims, perpetrators, and passers-by, to address the issue of street harassment and uses strategies like legal advocacy, technology utilization, and awareness courses to empower women, challenge societal perceptions, and create safer environments.

These are only the tip of the iceberg. We need to understand that these radical stances are not about hating any gender, or a “war of gender”, rather they simply exist in response to a dominant narrative that does not give women access to their agency, to inclusion and equity. The dominant narrative is violent and oppressive – placing restrictive policies on women, and even the systems meant to support them are often inaccessible or waylaid.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2023, the global average gender pay gap is 20%, with women earning only about 80% of what men earn on average, the gap slightly differing with regions and industries. In developed nations such as the United States, women earn approximately 84% of what men earned. This disparity is even more pronounced for women of colour, with Hispanic women earning 56 cents and Black women earning 64 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.

Along similar lines, in a developing nation like India, men earn 82 per cent of the labour income in India, whereas women earn 18 per cent, highlighting that pay disparity and wage discrimination are pervasive issues, irrespective of the economic status of the country they belong to. While the 4B movement in South Korea addresses broader societal issues, its underlying principles resonate globally- contributing to the fight for gender equality. This includes efforts to eliminate the gender pay gap and help drive systemic changes that support fair pay for all, across all sectors worldwide.


In a world where patriarchy remains the hegemonic narrative, we are seeing more and more people with diverse identities take a stand against the systems that marginalize all of us. This shift, reflecting a demand for global discussions on gender equality and pay parity, challenges the status quo and inches towards more equitable structures for all. It envisions a world where policies are designed to bring women to the centre, rather than push them to the margins.

This stance should underscore the need to review and re-envision the policies that govern our social context. Governments must take steps to review the pro-natalist, discriminatory, or otherwise oppressive policies that put undue pressure on women and restrict their liberty and ability to exercise their rights. There is a need to also level the playing field by bringing in equitable policies that address the disparity, discrimination and social challenges that get in the way of women exercising their rights, as well as address the expeditious need to tackle gender-based violence rampant in society and sexual harassment; thereby ensuring a safe, respectful society for all.

Furthermore, in the context of work one must also adopt a similar lens, when developing equitable policies and practice – bringing in a strong DEIB lens to policy, informed by women’s voices, reflecting their unique life stressors. Developing and implementing robust anti-sexual harassment policies emerges as an especially imperative step at the workplace. These policies provide settings that are supportive of personal agency and autonomy in addition to defending the rights of women. Adopting these healthy measures is essential to break down repressive ideas and moving in the direction of a society that is more just and equal.

[1] Author, “Flowers of Fire”

[2] South Korea has the world’s lowest fertility rate, a struggle with lessons for us all, NPR World, March 2023. Source: South Korea’s fertility rate, the lowest in the world, holds lessons for us all : NPR

-Written by Rosanna Rodrigues, Snehal Khemka and Deeksha Rai

Comments are closed.