North Korea is punishing women who try to beat the summer heat by wearing shorts, with authorities saying shorts with a length above the knee are an infiltration of capitalist fashion – but only if the wearer is female, residents in the country told Radio Free Asia.
The latest campaign against “anti-socialist behavior” is yet another example of Pyongyang enforcing its vaguely written Rejection of Reactionary Thought and Culture Act, which it passed in 2020 with the intent of eliminating activities deemed to be South Korean, foreign or capitalist cultural practices.
While violators of the law are often citizens caught watching and distributing South Korean and Western media, it has also been used to crack down on window tinting, speaking and texting using South Korean slang or word spellings, teaching youth how to dance, or changing their hair color and wearing unapproved clothing styles.
Severe punishments for what would never be considered a crime outside of North Korea have included long prison sentences and even execution.
Though the law technically applies to both men and women, the current crackdown only targets women who wear shorts.
The move to stop women from showing off too much skin below the knee is meant to preserve the tradition of socialist etiquette and lifestyle, a resident of the northwestern province of North Pyongan told RFA’s Korean Service Tuesday on condition of anonymity to speak freely.
“As more and more women wear shorts in the cities, including here in Sinuiju, the authorities are writing them up for violations of dress etiquette,” she said. “Yesterday, a police patrol arrested 10 women in the marketplace for wearing shorts. They had to write a statement of self-criticism and sign a document saying they would face legal consequences if they were caught wearing shorts again.
Most families in North Korea depend on women as the breadwinner. Men must report to their government-assigned jobs, where their salaries are nowhere near enough to live on, so families get by on the income of side businesses, which fall to the women to run.
Given the huge responsibility that falls on them, citizens are angry that the government won’t let them wear what they want in hot weather, the resident said.
“The residents complain about authorities, who confine and terrorize these women who are responsible for their families’ livelihood, making them spend all day in the police station just because they wore shorts.”
A resident of South Pyongan province, north of the capital Pyongyang, told RFA on condition of anonymity for safety reasons that more women are wearing shorts in public this summer due to a heat wave.
“In response, the authorities are stopping women who wear shorts on the streets, saying that it is not in line with socialist tradition and lifestyle,” she said.
It was not the first time that police arrested women for their fashion choices, the South Pyongan resident said.
“A few years ago, they were cracking down on wide-legged skirt pants, saying they were Japanese fashion,” she said. “Many women are complaining, asking why men can wear shorts and women can’t. They are saying that the authorities are discriminating against us.”
The shorts ban for women is not the first time North Korea has applied the rules differently across genders.
Last month, RFA reported that North Korea enacted a public smoking ban for all citizens, but authorities only punished female smokers. Residents in that report pointed out the double standard, noting that the country’s leader Kim Jong Un is often pictured in state media with a lit cigarette.