SJL Controversy: At a Crossroads Between Love and Hate

The latest controversy of KIS: Social Justice League. What are the various student viewpoints, and what should we really be focusing on? How much of it is justified? Follow Blueprint on a much-needed debate.

 

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)

A Quiet Feminist?

Is there even such thing called “quiet feminist? What constitutes a feminist today?

Wearing a long pebble gray dress with a white blazer, I stood in front of the UN flag and proudly represented the woman that I admired ever since I read her books in the local library: Eleanor Roosevelt. A woman of great courage and power, Roosevelt’s influence in the fight for women’s rights profoundly impacted me as I was engrossed by the notion of feminism. Even till this day, her famous quote on how “a woman is like a tea bag – you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water” reverberates in me. After representing her in my old school’s convention, I unknowingly seemed to be known as the fan girl of feminism at such a young age of 12.

Yet, I never had a conversation with someone on the topic; feminism always came to me in a form of research, facts, and numbers, never as a social issue. It was something that I knew I was interested in on a surface level, but it never came to me in a form of passion, as a deep-level thought.

As time passed, my interest in women’s rights drifted away from my mind as I came into concern with my introverted personality in an extroverted society. I began to research on what introversion was and what made it such an issue today. Through reading and watching videos, I discovered how I should praise my quiet personality as it yields valuable gifts and talents.

This school year, however, I joined Social Justice League, a club at school that advocates for social justice, in an effort to rekindle my temporary interest in women’s rights and perhaps deepen it. I wanted to take the opportunity to find myself back in the shoes of Roosevelt, explaining to people the great role I took in women’s rights. I hoped to make sense of the topic, to make it more tangible.

During the discussions we had in club regarding various issues on gender inequality such as how religion and cultural norms play in the issue, I was able to dissect feminism into pieces and have a better grasp on the complexities and layers of feminism. While discussing on what 21st century ideas on what feminism is, I encountered a dilemma.

Most students who call themselves ‘feminists’ are loud, confident, and aggressive, leaning towards to the extroverted side of the spectrum. They tend to show their bolder side by voicing their opinions on feminism. Even in social media, people believe that some of the most popular modern feminists are those who publicly assert their stances like Hillary Clinton and Emma Watson. Despite how incredible they are, we sometimes ignore those who express their passion in terms of words such as Warsan Shire, a Somali poet, and activist. I found myself gearing more towards the latter since I am not the most aggressive and expressive person in school. Yet, I always felt that I had to give up either one of my passions—introversion or feminism—as they often seemed to be conflicting in my opinion. So the question came to me: am I truly a feminist?

 

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(wordpress.com)

My answer came to me when I was researching on historical feminists that resonated with me.  Ida Tarbell, a female journalist who played a key role in eradicating the Standard Oil Company’s monopoly, was one that I embarked on to research. I discovered how Tarbell seems to be depicted as someone who has no ties with women’s rights. To some extent, it is true- many claim that she was against the women’s suffrage movement during the 1900s and believed that women should be subservient to men. Nevertheless, I found through research that although she never verbally claimed that she was a feminist, her work of revealing the corruptness of the Oil Company was an act of advocating for women, as most journalists during the period never attempted to risk an investigative topic this risky. I also learned that Eleanor Roosevelt, the woman that I so dearly loved, was an introvert herself yet still fought for women’s rights by writing daily on a column in women’s issues such as gender wage gaps and women in war.

 

 

Like the two, women don’t always have to possess masculine traits in order to be called feminists. We don’t have to boldly assert our opinions just because that shows our passion for feminism. Instead, we can find our own way of expressing what feminism is.

 

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(huffingtonpost.com)

 

By researching on Tarbell and Roosevelt and discussing in Social Justice League, I found myself back into the grey dress I wore four years ago, taking my stand and representing Roosevelt. And I asked myself again: Am I a feminist?

Yes. I am a feminist—a quiet yet passionate one.

—Sarah Se-Jung Oh (’19)

Lounge with Leona: Feminism

Sit down, take a chill pill, and relax for this week’s edition of Lounge with Leona; Feminism.

When I was in the 2nd grade, I got called “bossy” by another boy in my class for wanting to lead the class discussion. He led it instead because no one opposed him, just like how the world is led by men who aren’t opposed of. I’ve been dress coded multiple times for exposing my shoulders during the summer while I see other male students showing them off, wearing tank tops. Just like how society has no problem with shirtless men being on magazine covers but the moment it’s a woman wearing a bikini, they get called a slut. Guys around me are afraid of expressing their feelings because they don’t want to be labeled a “pussy” or weak, at that – yes, men need feminism too.

Feminism does not make me superior as a woman. Neither is it synonymous with man-hating. Rather, it’s the concept that women and men are treated and considered equal counterparts. Women are strong. Men can be vulnerable. It is not to say that one gender can only be accounted towards one type of gender expression because it’s not one or the other; rather, it’s a spectrum over a large scale. Both women & men still don’t seem to understand this, hence the misusage and the negative connotations of the word “feminism” – yes, the education system needs feminism too.

Sexism is real. It exists.  Young children are taught to be sexist at a young age, whether it be unconsciously or not. People are not born with stereotypes. They learn them as they grow, and they teach the same things to their children – a vicious cycle. Think about it; the moment we’re born, we’re categorized into either pink or blue. Pink for the girls, and blue for the boys. I remember when I was in the fourth grade, it was a “thing” for girls to be un-girly as possible. And the way we did this was to pick, wear, and like anything of the color green. My Mom would be so confused as to why I suddenly stopped liking the color pink (though I actually hadn’t), and complained about how shopping for me became a much more annoying process. Imagine what it was like for boys who couldn’t express they liked the color pink, when I myself, a girl, found it hard to favor the color – yes, children need feminism too.

Gender stereotypes within the workplace does exist. People make a funny face when they hear a man’s occupation is a nurse, or when a woman’s occupation is a truck driver. Or when a woman is a bassist, and a man is a harpist. Speaking of which, The fact that human beings have attributed some jobs as masculine and others as feminine, so much so that the stereotype has been rooted within our minds, shows how sexism is prevalent in society – yes, workplaces need feminism too.

The Fortune 500 is a list compiled and published every year by Fortune magazine, which ranks 500 of the largest cooperations in the United States of America. With such a large number of 500 to consider, however, merely 21 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women [1]. Moreover, 290 of those CEOs are men who are six feet or over (182cm or over) [2]. This proves two things. First of all, not enough women are in leadership position. That’s 4.2% of those CEOs who are women. Secondly, it proves we as human beings are already predisposed to link the qualities of being reliable, trustworthy and faithful with tall, broad-shouldered, tough looking menCountless stereotypes like such are casted upon women, such that force them to take the job of being a “supportive, affectionate mother who stays home” instead of a “strong, career woman” – yes, world leaders need feminism too.

It is not to say that you must be against men, in order to be for women. The strength that men hold is not to be taken away, but is to acknowledged that women can also be possessors of that strength. There are clear signs of misogyny and gender discrimination found in various things, whether it be song lyrics, videos, books, and what not. It’s been too long for this issue to still be in continuation. I’m a feminist, and I need feminism. You can be a feminist, because the world needs feminism.

– Leona Maruyama (’17)

Featured Image: Crescentia Jung (’19)

[1] http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-ceos-sp-500

[2] http://gladwell.com/blink/why-do-we-love-tall-men/