“This is not a male thing or a female thing, it is not a Hollywood thing or a political thing, this is a human thing. And it happens in the workplace, it happens in families, it happens all over the world, and we’re all the same.”
– Ellen DeGeneres
Every woman in our lives has experienced a slice of this world that they never wanted a glimpse of— sexism, misogyny, and sexual objectification. At some point, these realities cease to shock us. They become part of the air we breathe. They do not surface in conversations. The sicker the injustice, the heavier the cover-up, and the subtler the culture, the more invisible its grip.
It has long since reached boiling point.
And now, a worldwide phenomenon now has fed-up women breaking the silence.
The Me Too Movement protests the pervasive culture of sexual assault and harassment. It spread virally online in October 2017, mostly as a social media hashtag used by victims in order to demonstrate the issue’s pervasive and widespread nature, as well as expressing solidarity by sharing their own experience. Countless brave women and men have spoken out with their stories, including top celebrities exposing the rotten core of their industry.
The Washington Post has called this an “open secret”: something hidden, and yet also well-known. “It happens, everyone knows it, but no one talks about it.” This extends beyond just an individual’s lust and misdeeds— it has to do with the larger culture, the power structure that makes up the very basis of society. While this is often discussed in the context of Hollywood, where someone important can make or break your career and use that power to gain advantage over you, this could not be truer in Korean society.
In this country, the Confucian roots are deep and long-running. From these roots rise a strictly hierarchical system that affects every family, school, and workplace. And when this top-down, vertically structured culture meets a country characterized by an unusually wide gender pay gap and a seemingly unbreakable glass ceiling, it becomes so easy for mere misogyny to flower into harassment, then into assault. No wonder, then, that the Me Too movement in Korea takes a slightly different flavor, distinct from that in America. It fights through multiple layers.
Rape and harassment may sound like such distant concepts, but they really are not. The root of the problem is in this culture where sexual objectification is accepted and sometimes even encouraged. Where does this culture start? School. Yes— sexism, objectification, verbal and sometimes even physical harassment is present in KIS, too, no matter how unaware we may be about it. At the most basic level, it surfaces in “locker room talk” discussing female students’ bodies; at the most extreme level, it is in student relationships where one party is coerced into unwanted physical contact.
But “boys will be boys”, it is said.
“Teens will be teens,” it is said.
And thus the “taboo” topic is never discussed, the victims too afraid to speak up, and outsiders too shrouded in blissful ignorance.
But how should we feel, knowing perpetrators of this crooked culture sit uncorrected in our classrooms, laughing with their friends and wearing a clean reputation like a gleaming armor?
Blueprint interviewed two KIS high school students about the issue, “Mary Kim” and “Mia Choi”. (Fictional names are being used for anonymity. The interviewees have been brave in sharing their perspectives; readers are asked to be respectful and refrain from speculation.)
“It happens when the guy thinks it’s okay to treat [sexual advances] as something casual because you’re in a relationship and you feel that it’s an obligation to make them happy [through such acts].” – Mary
Students can be especially vulnerable because they lack the age or experience in navigating relationships.
“I experienced sexual assault from my partner. I never knew something like this would ever happen to me[…] honestly, I thought it would be less common [here] since Korea is such a conservative country. I think people should know that this can happen to anyone with anyone.” – Mia
Because the issue is never discussed, victims are caught completely unaware once it happens, and are left without systems of support.
“Since it was my first time being in a relationship, I thought it was normal. I felt violated and scared, yet I had nobody to talk to, since I didn’t want to [worry my parents].” – Mia
Victim-blaming is an entire issue by itself; in the aftermath of such experiences, students feel silenced and guilty, trapped in self-blame. The sensitivity of the issue prevents healthy conversation and communication.
“Some guys think [victims are] just being stupid and not standing up for themselves. But actually being in that perspective, it’s difficult to refuse because it feels like [your partner] has a certain power over you.” – Mary
“I had a really hard time since I felt that everything was my fault. [I thought] I should have said no louder, or that maybe if I told someone, I would not have gone through it. [But] it is never the victim’s fault and no always means no. [Even now,] I still struggle to not blame myself.” – Mia
Mia said she thought she could fight it off alone, but that she was wrong. Shame on all of us for sustaining such a climate, in which sexual rumours and gossip is allowed to pervade the student body without being called out. Why should the Me Too movement ground to a halt when it comes to the school setting? Why is it that KIS students are given extensive lessons on college admissions or “leaving a legacy”, but are never taught about consent? Where are the conversations about rights and respect? Where is the awareness around sexism or date rape? Where are the support systems?
There is only silence here.
If a candlelit protest was enough to reverse a corrupt government, this movement now attempts to reverse a corrupt society. Not everyone can be a trailblazer, breaking barriers and punching down walls, but at the very least, we can be #Withyou. We have the choice to recognize that even if we ourselves haven’t experienced it, and none of our close friends have, that does not in any way mean that it does not happen. Because it does. And it’s time to wake up to that. We have the choice to sympathize with victims and express solidarity instead of shaming them or reducing them to chewed-up pieces of gossip. We have the choice to stop conversational objectification the next time we hear it. We have the choice to be With Them, not against.
– Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)
Source: Washington Post visual documentary “Hollywood’s greatest betrayal: How sexual predators operate in plain sight” https://www.facebook.com/washingtonpost/videos/197021417560598/