Democracy in Peril

The divisions only deepen as the tug-a-war between parties continues to escalate, with democracy as the dangerously fraying rope.

October 7th, 2018 will go down in political history as a blazing warning underlined in red. It was the day when former United States Circuit Judge, Brett Kavanaugh, was finally sworn into the US Supreme Court after a long battle against accusations of sexual assault stemming from three women. Christine Blasey Ford was the first and main accuser.

 

Ford, an American professor in psychology at Palo Alto University, claimed that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a party when they were teenagers. Ford recounted an intoxicated Kavanaugh and some of his friends forcing her into a bedroom, pinning her down, and attempting to remove her clothes one summer night. “I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling. It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.” Terrified, Ford stated that she made her escape when Kavanaugh slipped and fell, and had steered clear of the man afterward.

Until now.

When Kavanaugh announced his nomination as a Supreme Court justice nominee in July, Ford wrote a letter to the Washington Post and her congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, about the incident. Ford begged for her identity not to be revealed, as she was afraid of the consequences and public backlash. Eventually, Eshoo and Ford decided to take the matter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, who later revealed to the public (without revealing Ford’s name) that she was withholding a Kavanaugh-related document. As the media started to track Ford down, Ford decided to go public, causing the matter to spiral into a national issue. And at the peak of all the tension, September 27th, Ford walked into Capitol Hill, raised her right hand, and gave her testimony on how Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her 36 years ago.

In the eyes of the feminist, men and women who had lived and endured the trauma of sexual assault were holding their breath on October 7th, hoping for Ford’s victory in the vicious battle between her and Kavanaugh. Millions were devastated and outraged when Kavanaugh was sworn in as one of the justices of the Supreme Court as the result of the closest vote in the last 137 years: 50 to 48.  

This extremely close margin stemmed from nearly all members of the Senate voting along their party lines—Republican or Democratic. Their motivation? Securing power for their own party in both the Supreme Court in the form of a swing vote and also gaining a slim majority in the Senate. President Trump was exultant that his favored nominee was now a justice—and mocked Ford’s testimony and the voices of her supporters as “phony stuff”. By treating her courageous decision to represent her rights as a woman and the rights of all the other sexual abuse victims in the country to walk into court and testify as a joke, Trump provided the entire nation a wall of hollow laughter and derision to hide behind and deny any blame or wrongdoing. And this cowardly behavior only stirred up more conflict and increased polarisation between parties, as Democrats continued to rally the anger of their liberal and victimized citizens to their side.

The #MeToo movement has been a trending hashtag for many months now. It has exploded into a huge movement for the voices of sexual harassment victims to be heard, as well as an enormous form of courage for those who had previously been afraid of the negative social backlash of telling their stories. It has become a beacon of hope for all victimized citizens in the country.

But Kavanaugh’s nomination became a major obstruction on this path to justice.

The election had placed the country smack in the middle of a tug-of-war between parties for increased political power, pulling and yanking and casting aside people’s worries, doubts, and rights in exchange for the influence both sides so coveted. The victims of sexual abuse were slighted, their testimonies either ignored outright or placed in a glaring spotlight, only to guilt-trip politicians into supporting their party. Citizens were reduced to mere trophies or to nothing at all.

The resulting anger and disappointment were evident on Sunday. Many citizens felt betrayed, their faith in the leaders of their country challenged at the core as their voices were not heard—as there were no ears to listen. Screams of “Shame!” resonated as demonstrators were restrained by the police from mobbing Capitol Hill when the news of Kavanaugh’s nomination was released. “This is a stain on American history,” one woman shouted. “Do you understand that?”

But while Ford became a figure for the support of for the voices of the abused and oppressed, Kavanaugh became a representative for many resentful men—their resent stemming from “smearing,” or cases of women falsely accusing men of sexual assault to cause their fall from power. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell claimed that the real victim is Kavanaugh, suffering “the weaponization of unsubstantiated smears.” Many others also rallied to the same cry on Capitol Hill, clashing with the shouts of Ford’s supporters and creating a discordant sound of chaos and conflict.

In the case of Ford vs. Kavanaugh, it is impossible to truly discern which side is telling the truth. Obtaining evidence for a case like this is extremely difficult. However, the absolute truth should not matter in this situation. The saying “innocent until guilty” has been used over and over by Kavanaugh supporters in order to prove his qualifications as a Supreme Court justice. But the fact that three allegations of this weight were pressed against him, and the fact that one became a nation-wide controversy, should be enough to bar Kavanaugh from becoming a representative of the nation’s values of justice and inclusivity.  

The people instilled their trust into certain individuals in the form of political power with the expectation that they would gain, in return, a platform of reasonable discourse and action regarding their fears and concerns. Yet this has become a situation where the greed for political power has caused these fears and concerns. New York senator and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer expressed these sentiments powerfully: “When the history of the Senate is written, this chapter will be a flashing red warning light of what to avoid.”

By a margin of 2 votes, Kavanaugh managed to slip his way into the position of justice—but whether he managed to slip his way into people’s hearts, the nation is not quite sure. This uncertainty will prove to be poisonous to the U.S. unless the power-blinded politicians of today set their priorities straight once more. And this will not happen without a strong public voice to guide them.

Kavanaugh’s nomination was a failure and a disappointment to democracy. Let’s make sure history does not repeat itself.

– Lauren Cho (’22)

Featured Image: CNN/Clare Foran

Me Too— The Male Perspective, and Why Both Women and Men Need Feminism

While the Me Too movement has definitely brought some walls down, it has received its share of criticism. Why is it so, and how might it be worse in Korea? Closer examination of the issue reveals that division between the genders arises from a core misunderstanding of how sexism and feminism operate.

The Me Too movement has taken Korea by storm, but its debris is doing serious damage. While largely hailed as a sweeping progressive movement that has broken many long-held silences, its faults cannot be ignored, and the movement is facing especially strong criticism in Korea. In striving to propel the momentum into a positive direction, we must examine all perspectives— while promoting gender equality and eradicating sexual assault is a goal that the vast majority can agree on, specific movements and methods of taking action are a different issue.

The first major criticism is that the movement has the potential to become somewhat of a witch hunt. The inherent nature of sexual assault allegations is that it is extremely difficult to prove either side of the issue. Thus, opinions have surfaced that the Me Too movement has turned the “innocent until proven guilty” tenet of the democratic justice system into “guilty until proven innocent”.

This has reached an extreme effect in Korea following Jo Min-Ki’s suicide, an actor who faced multiple sexual assault allegations, setting off the Me Too movement in Korea. Some people think it problematic that a single allegation can be enough to destroy someone’s public career, although this seems disproportionate when compared to the destruction of a victim’s dignity and happiness following sexual assault.

The true problem is that amidst torrents of voices genuinely sharing their stories and exposing perpetrators, there have been a couple of false accusations. This has completely muddled the positive energy of the movement and thrown dirt into its values. Even in KIS and other international schools in Korea, some male students have expressed concerns about this aspect of the movement.

This leads to victims facing backlash once they take the courage to speak up, in addition to the rampant victim-blaming. Girls are often asked what they were wearing when it happened, or whether they’d been drinking, as if to imply that some of the incident was their fault. If women receive less empathy and solidarity than questioning and finger-pointing, what happens to the power of speaking the words “me too”?

Another way in which the movement has backfired in Korea is that it has led not to unity between the genders, but an increased divide. Korean women in workplaces have reported being separated from their male colleagues; the problem is that the movement has inspired more fear in many men than empathy. In the male-dominated corporate sphere of Korea, then, the movement has had a negative effect on some women who are being left out of office gatherings, business trips, and social and networking opportunities [2]. (It must be noted that the news outlet that initially reported this as an issue, Chosun Ilbo, has been criticized for reporting an occasional instance as a widespread trend. Readers are advised to note that this occurrence is not universal.)

The value of the Me Too movement certainly lies in that it gives victims courage and builds momentum to eradicate a vicious culture. But the fact that it is dividing the population and not uniting is the core of the problem. Feminism is about unity, because it’s about eliminating sexism, and closing the chasm between the genders. It’s all interconnected— sexism, victim-blaming, and the misinterpretation of the Me Too movement as misandry. There is a crucial distinction to be made here: feminism promotes equality of the genders, while misandry is prejudice against men.

Why is the male perspective often left out when discussing sexism? They make up half the population, and contrary to popular belief, are also negatively affected by sexism. This is because, first of all, gender stereotypes are harmful at either end of the spectrum. Just as girls are categorized as weak, delicate, and over-emotional, boys are also expected to be aggressive, extroverted, and detached. Although sexism affects women more, since they are the belittled and marginalized group, the other end of the spectrum also suffers as a consequence. It is emotionally damaging for a boy to be told that he cannot cry, or that it is abnormal for him to be sensitive or emotionally expressive, when none of these supposedly “feminine” qualities are negative at all. Sexism breaks the heart of a girl who dreams of becoming a firefighter, but it does the same to a boy who yearns to be a nurse, and it does so unseen. This is the concept of “toxic masculinity”, and is definitely a product of sexism, although a lesser visible one.

So what does this have to do with the Me Too movement?

Lots. The reason why the movement should not imply a divide between the genders is because male victims exist, and so do female perpetrators. This is not a fight of man versus woman. It is victim versus perpetrator. That is why there is only one right side in this conflict, and it is against the criminals, the abusers of power, the damagers of human rights.

One in ten rape victims is male. But we never hear about this, and we never talk about this. Male victims can sometimes feel more pressure to stay silent. They are asked: “why couldn’t you fight back?” They are told: “didn’t you enjoy it?” Every aspect of this stems from sexism— the presupposed notion that the male is always stronger than the female and should have dominance over her, as well as the misguided stereotype that men are supposed to always crave (heterosexual) sex, because that is what society has defined “masculine” as. This undoubtedly connects back to why some male perpetrators are celebrated instead of corrected.

What’s more, a recent scientific study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology concluded that holding sexist principles actually harms men’s mental health [1]. A meta-analysis involving almost 20,000 men concluded that men who adhere to harmful gender norms exhibited significantly worse social and psychological health. Sexism is not only a social injustice, it is also inherently damaging for everyone.

So how must we press forward with a movement that ends up malfunctioning when combined with the poisonous culture of victim-blaming, gender-dividing and sexist stereotyping? We must hold true to the core of what the movement is about, and the invariable truth that it is trying to express— sexual harassment and assault exist. They exist everywhere. They harm women. They harm men. Silence is no longer okay. And those of us standing on the right side of history must stand together, instead of turning on each other, because in the end, we share a common goal. The right side of history will press to achieve justice for victims and the falsely accused. The right side of history will strive to empower the female voice and ensure that the male voice is not erased from the conversation. Somewhere down this long and winded road, we will find that the fight has been worth it, and that it has raised humanity up as a whole, not just a ragged portion of it.

-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)

Sources:

KIS Needs #MeToo

What is the #MeToo movement, why is it so relevant, how does it matter in Korea— and in KIS? Why should we care? Read the article to stay aware, and to read what KIS students have to say about sexual harassment and assault— the voices that have been silenced for too long. This should not be invisible any longer.

“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)

Featured Image: https://parismatch.be/actualites/societe/83810/mouvement-me-too-vieux-10-ans-plus-hashtag

Source: Washington Post visual documentary “Hollywood’s greatest betrayal: How sexual predators operate in plain sight” https://www.facebook.com/washingtonpost/videos/197021417560598/