Cover Image: A poster hung in KIS, originally reading “Gender is a spectrum, not a binary”, has been ripped to read “Gender is a binary”.
When Sara Kim (‘18) opened her locker thoughtlessly on an average Thursday afternoon, a piece of paper floated out. It read “feminazi bitch”. The words were typed up, and she found an identical note the following day. They were referring to her activism with her club, Social Justice League (SJL), which had been campaigning for women’s and LGBTQ rights in the school throughout the previous week. Some of their posters were found with the word “nazi” written on them, or deliberate cuts and snips. A few students made their dissent public through Snapchat, and Sara even received threats to take the posters down. A peculiar, negative current filled the KIS hallways as the controversy continued to gather student attention. And all this during the KIS “Random Acts of Kindness” week.
The issue concerned me, as someone with no involvement in putting up the posters. Not because the pro-feminism and LGBTQ movements had met disagreement, or because some people found the activism to be “lame”- these things were to be expected. It was rather because a few students had chosen to actively display their opposition in aggressive methods. I’m not sure if I was surprised, but I do know that not too long ago, I had been watching news stories of racial hate crimes in the U.S., with vandalized cars and ridicule of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. The detached, seemingly far-away issues formed a haunting reflection with what was happening in the very hallways that I roam daily. I wondered what could drive an active choice to hate.
It had to be more than just an eye roll, more than just a whisper of dissent. It had to be vandalism, threats, and personal attacks. It had to have been caused by something more than “this is lame”- it had to either have stemmed from a problem involving personal relations with SJL members or a legitimate disbelief in women’s or LGBTQ rights. It could have been both.
It’s okay to disagree. Perspectives matter. Especially in a comparatively conservative society, LGBTQ rights (more so than feminism) can be a controversial subject. But finding the notion of queer sexualities to be difficult to accept is different from actively pitting themselves against the inclusion movement- then it ceases to be a perspective, and becomes hate. Hate is not a perspective.
As much as I hold my personal beliefs that the fight for LGBTQ rights is not a debatable fight like democrat versus republican, and rather a fight of acceptance against discrimination, I understand that different upbringings lead to a different level of comfort regarding the issue. As I gathered the opinions of different KIS students (all anonymous for the purposes of this article), I realized that many viewed the plastered visuals of SJL’s posters as attempting to shove the issue into uneasy faces, or that it is belittling for those who do not follow SJL’s agenda to be called “ignorant”. I think the line is difficult to draw, but it is definitely there: it is ignorant to make no attempts at sympathizing and to blatantly disregard the existence of the queer community, and it is hateful to slur- it is neither ignorant nor hateful to attempt but fail to sympathize with the queer community and yet accept that some people are passionate about this cause and will take action.
Multiple KIS students also raised more constructive criticism about the club’s activism. The first was that the posters are largely ineffective. Some people thought that the decorations only served to irritate people of a neutral position on the issue, or that they failed to change the minds of those who had opposing viewpoints. Some voices raised concern about how not all the club members were given equal recognition for the work, or that the members did not have much voice in contributing to the decisions of the club. The biggest thing I noticed was that not everyone understood the posters to begin with- some slogans, such as “I am bi, you’re the one that’s confused” or “gender is a spectrum, not a binary” only stirred confusion among people who did not actively follow the queer movement and so did not understand what the slogans were supposed to mean. Some people thought that no group in KIS opposed feminism or gay rights in the first place, and therefore that SJL did not serve much of a purpose.
In the past, I may have agreed with the last point to some extent- until the controversy around SJL proved that it was clearly untrue. I also consider the issues regarding club management to be outside the scope of this article. But the other points all seem to point to a common theme: education. If ignorance is the obstacle, education is the logical vehicle for resolve. I agree that the posters did not have the power to change hard-held opinions, but they can get simple messages across, such as the fact that feminism is defined by the movement for gender equality, which makes being a feminist mutually exclusive from being a feminazi (who believes in the dominance of women). The decorations also provide a general atmosphere of positivity and acceptance, which is undeniably a benefit for the school as a community. The confusion that the posters created illustrates the problem caused when education is partially overlooked.
Another one of my personal concerns is that the term “social justice” is becoming strongly equated with feminism and LGBTQ rights, which are definitely a part of social justice but only encompass the best publicized portions of it. Social justice is the fight for human rights and equality as a whole, which also manifests itself in issues such as migrant worker rights and racism in Korea, the lack of opportunities for the handicapped population, or even socioeconomic statuses. After all, attending KIS is the biggest way in which we are all commonly privileged.
Feedback or criticism, such as those gathered from the KIS population, helps a club improve itself. But hate does nothing but create negativity, and means such as indirect threats or vandalism reveal the lack of courage to communicate or the lack of legitimate reasoning behind the argument, and thus the resort to immature means. The more divisive an issue is, the more interaction the two sides of the debate need to have, the more open the discussion needs to be- and, most importantly, the more polite the expressions need to become.
Just last year, the campus of Seoul National University was shaken by an incident in which a banner put up by the school’s queer community was found ripped through the middle with a blade. But rather than respond with negativity, the group placed a box of band-aids next to the ripped banner and asked the school to help “heal” the banner and the wound that was inflicted to the queer community. The banner had read “we welcome all new students, both queer and heterosexual”. No matter what SJL is mistaken to be proposing, their ultimate stance is for equality and acceptance of all groups, which is a noble cause to strive for, and the backlash to their activism illustrates the necessity for their existence. Like all other clubs, their course has not been perfect. Like all other clubs, they will continue experimenting and adjusting in response to the controversy. And like all groups that begin voicing an opinion in a hostile crowd, they have faced unjustified derogation.
But let us find hope in the moments like the day after the band-aids were placed next to the ripped banner, when it was found patched with 564 bandages by the school community. These are the silent supporters, the whisperers of faith. The inertia of ignorance may raise opaque clouds around minds, and the blade of contempt may cut through the soft, velvet hearts of the victims, but love can win. After all, is it not the moment that we feel the cold shoulder of our fellow human beings that we feel the heaviest despair? And is love, removed from issues and controversies, not the way in which we all fight that? It is my greatest wish that humanity, in and outside of KIS, continues to associate its conflict and strife less with division and more with a common struggle for beauty.
-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)