abortions were common.

mandatory military service. But many women drop out of the work force after giving birth, and much of the domestic duties fall to them.

“What more do you want? We gave you your own space in the subway, bus, parking lot,” the male rapper San E writes in his 2018 song “Feminist,” which has a cult following among young anti-feminists. “Oh girls don’t need a prince! Then pay half for the house when we marry.”

The gender wars have infused the South Korean presidential race, largely seen as a contest for young voters. With the virulent anti-feminist voice surging, no major candidate is speaking out for women’s rights, once such a popular cause that President Moon Jae-in called himself a “feminist” when he campaigned about five years ago.

has said.

It is hard to tell how many young men support the kind of extremely provocative​ and often theatrical​ activism championed by groups like Man on Solidarity. Its firebrand leader, Mr. Bae, showed up at a recent feminist rally​​ dressed as the Joker from “Batman” comics and toting a toy water gun. He followed female protesters around, pretending to, as he put it, “kill flies.”

Tens of thousands of fans have watched his stunts livestreamed online, sending in cash donations. During one online talk-fest in August, Mr. Bae raised nine million won ($7,580) in three minutes.

legalize abortion and started one of the most powerful #MeToo campaigns in Asia.

Lee Hyo-lin, 29, said that “feminist” has become such a dirty word that women who wear their hair short or carry a novel by a feminist writer risk ostracism. When she was a member of a K-pop group, she said that male colleagues routinely commented on her body, jeering that she “gave up being a woman” when she gained weight.

“The #MeToo problem is part of being a woman in South Korea,” she said. “Now we want to speak out, but they want us to shut up. It’s so frustrating.”

On the other side of the culture war are young men with a litany of grievances — concerns that are endlessly regurgitated by male-dominated forums. They have fixated, in particular, on limited cases of false accusations, as a way to give credence to a broader anti-feminist agenda.

Son Sol-bin, a used-furniture seller, was 29 when his former girlfriend accused him of rape and kidnapping in 2018. Online trolls called for his castration, he said. His mother found closed-circuit TV footage proving the accusations never took place.

“The feminist influence has left the system so biased against men that the police took a woman’s testimony and a mere drop of her tears as enough evidence to land an innocent man in jail,” said Mr. Son, who spent eight months in jail before he was cleared. “I think the country has gone crazy.”

As Mr. Son fought back tears during a recent anti-feminist rally, other young men chanted: “Be strong! We are with you!”

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Oh Se-hoon Wins Seoul Mayoral Election

SEOUL — In his last year in office, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has seen his approval ratings in a tailspin. His trademark North Korea diplomacy remains in tatters. Citizens are fuming over his ​repeatedly ​botched attempts to arrest soaring housing prices.

And on Wednesday, voters in South Korea’s two biggest cities dealt another crushing blow to the beleaguered leader.

Mr. Moon’s Democratic Party lost the mayoral elections in Seoul and Busan to the conservative opposition, the People Power Party. Critics are calling the results of the two by-elections a referendum on Mr. Moon and his government.

“The people vented their anger at the Moon government through these elections,” said Kim Chong-in, head of the People Power Party, referring to large margins by which its candidates won.​

policy of engagement toward North Korea.

Wednesday’s mayoral elections showed that the Democratic Party faces steep challenges as voters once loyal to Mr. Moon — especially those in their 20s and 30s — abandon it in droves.

Oh Se-hoon, the People Power Party candidate, won the race in Seoul, the capital city ​of 10 million people. He routed Park Young-sun, the Democratic Party candidate and a former member of Mr. Moon’s cabinet, by more than 18 percentage points, according to voting results announced by the National Election Commission.

The Seoul mayor is considered South Korea’s second-most powerful elected official after the president.

died by suicide last year following accusations of sexual harassment. The former mayor of Busan, Oh Keo-don, stepped down ​last year ​amid accusations of sexual misconduct from multiple female ​subordinates.

The former mayors were both members of ​Mr. Moon’s Democratic Party and the president’s close allies. Their downfall ​weakened the moral standing of Mr. Moon’s progressive camp, which ​has cast itself as a ​clean, ​transparent​ and equality-minded alternative to ​its conservative opponents. Mr. Moon’s two immediate predecessors — Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak — were both conservatives and are now in prison following convictions on corruption charges.

Mr. Moon was elected ​in 2017, ​filling the power vacuum created by Ms. Park’s impeachment. As a former human rights lawyer, he enthralled the nation by promising a “fair and just” society. He ​vehemently criticized an entrenched ​culture of privilege and corruption ​that he said had taken root while conservatives were in power, ​and vowed to create a level playing field for young voters who have grown weary of dwindling job opportunities and an ever-expanding income gap.

Mr. Moon spent much of his first two years in power struggling to quell escalating tension between North Korea and the United States, successfully mediating diplomacy between the two countries. He shifted more of his attention to domestic issues after the two summit meetings between North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and President Donald J. Trump failed to produce a deal on nuclear disarmament or the easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

But things quickly turned sour on the home front ​as well.

In 2019, huge outdoor rallies erupted ​over accusations of forgery and preferential treatment in college and internship applications​ surrounding the daughter of Cho Kuk, Mr. Moon’s former justice minister and one of his closest allies.

The scandal flew in the face of Mr. Moon’s election promise of creating “a world without privilege,” and prompted outrage against the “gold-spoon” children of the elite, who ​glided into top-flight universities and cushy jobs while their “dirt-spoon” peers struggled to make ends meet in South Korea’s hobbled economy.

won by a landslide in parliamentary elections last year as Mr. Moon leveraged his surging popularity around South Korea’s largely successful battle against the coronavirus. But Mr. Moon’s virus campaign has lost its luster.

In recent months, South Koreans have grown frustrated with prolonged social-distancing restrictions, a distressed economy and the government’s failure to provide vaccines fast enough. On Wednesday, the government reported 668 new coronavirus infections, the highest one-day increase in three months.

Mr. Moon’s most devastating setback came last month when officials at the Korea Land and Housing Corporation — the state developer — were accused of using privileged insider information to cash in on government housing development programs. Kim Sang-jo, Mr. Moon’s chief economic policy adviser, stepped down last month when it was revealed that his family had significantly raised the rent on an apartment in Seoul just days before the government imposed a cap on rent increases.

“People had hoped that even if they were incompetent, the Moon government would at least be ethically superior to their conservative rivals,” said Ahn Byong-jin, a political scientist at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. “What we see in the election results is the people’s long-accumulated discontent over the ‘naeronambul’ behavior of the Moon government exploding. Moon has now become a lame duck president.”

The real-estate scandal dominated the campaign leading up to Wednesday’s election. Opposition candidates called Mr. Moon’s government a “den of thieves.” Mr. Moon’s Democratic Party called Mr. Oh, the new mayor in Seoul, an incorrigible “liar.”

resigned as Seoul mayor in 2011 after his campaign to end free lunches for all schoolchildren failed to win enough support.

Pre-election surveys this month showed that voters who planned to vote for Mr. Oh would do so not because they considered him morally superior to his Democratic Party rival. Instead, it was because they wanted to “pass judgment on the Moon Jae-in government.”

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