Shaking up the World Instead of Shrinking in Fear
Anti-rape Campaign #ThatsRape (2)
Editor’s note: The Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center is leading a campaign against sexual assault committed with the help of alcohol or drugs, called #ThatsRape. This 5-part series of articles explores the discussions held by the campaign’s planning committee, as well as their questions and recommendations for change.
The advice my younger brother gave me
My youngest sibling came to greet me when I returned to my hometown for the Lunar New Year. I had never spent much time with him compared to the middle child, and I always felt a little sorry about that. I was glad that we got the chance to have lunch and a cup of coffee together over the holiday. We were talking about this and that in a quiet café, when he suddenly looked away and said, “I’m not sure how to bring this up, but I think it has to be said: don’t get involved with those Megalia girls.”
After a second of speechlessness, I asked, “Why?”
The reason was that, though he acknowledged the positive changes that Megalia (a website that opposes misogyny) has brought about, there are too many posts on the site that make him uncomfortable. My brother is just a high schooler, but he’s on the Internet a lot [instead of studying]. It was clear that he had acquired certain values from the sites he was visiting, and he was saying this because he was disturbed by the posts that I had liked on Facebook.
I thought for a moment about where to begin, and decided to start by thanking him for bringing it up.
Misogyny: when it isn’t strange to expect a slap in the street
Feminazi. Female supremacist. Enemy of men.
In high school, a few guys defined me by these words. It was because when they said things like, “Women should do this” or “Women shouldn’t do that,” I tended to respond with something like, “Why don’t men do that?” or “Why can’t women do that?” I asked because I was genuinely curious, but it seems that in their eyes I was a dangerous rebel trying to destroy the status quo.
Labeling a person is apparently pretty easy. In less than a month, boys started to avoid me. I kept asking myself whether my questions about gender roles were not valid, and if my values and way of thinking were wrong. Sometimes even girls criticized me for being unfeminine. Boys who had been my friends started to turn away from me, which was hurtful.
My current self would fight back about these labels and would cut off relationships with people who thought that way, but at the time I just endured it. The lips that mocked my appearance right in front of me, the eyes that looked away from me even though I needed help, all of it.
When I came up to Seoul for university, the relationships with those people ended naturally. But I had still had lots of labels. In Seoul, too, I was a woman, a person from Jeolla Province, and an Ewha Womans University student. All of these were considered faults. I thought it wouldn’t be strange if I were slapped by a passing “Ilbe vermin.” Because I was scared, I withdrew into myself more and more.
At university, I learned about feminism in classes and discussed it with club members, friends, and fellow students, but they were more or less “safe” people because of their connection with the university. That’s why I tried to stay in the university as much as possible. I did my best to avoid having to spend time with men. Once, I went a whole month without speaking to a man. When the people said illogical, sexist things, I would just nod and let it go. Later, at home, I would regret reacting that way.
Megalia: Stop self-censoring and become proud
Then MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) came to Korea. That’s how MERS Gallery [a section of a particular news website]was born. A rumor was spread that MERS was first brought to South Korea by a woman, which led to the site’s male users denigrating and verbally abusing women as a whole. When it was revealed that the rumor was false, the female users of the MERS Gallery started to challenge the misogyny of online spaces in earnest.
So many people gathered in the MERS Gallery so fast that it became hard to believe that we had tolerated misogyny up until now. The group grew explosively. “Megalia,” an anti-misogyny site [whose name is a combination of “MERS” and “Gallery”], appeared, and engaged in endless mirroring (imitating an opposing party’s speech and behavior like a mirror). In just a few days, countless men became its enemies.
Megalia users stole the language of Ilbe (“Ilganbesteu Jeojangso,” an online community that deals with politics and humor and has an extreme right-wing orientation that manifests in sexism, regional discrimination, and criticism of democratizing movements) and the authority of abusive language, they picked out sentences that people use without realizing they squeeze women like corsets and made people aware of their oppressive character. I learned about these facts from friends and other online communities. We became riled up. When Megalia was mentioned, our voices would get louder. We said over and over again that these must be smart people to use mirroring so perfectly, and that we admired them.
I was still unable to forget the words of my high school classmates, so I sometimes disliked my body and censored my behavior. But the thought that I was not alone anymore made me stronger. Somewhere there were others like me who were stressing themselves out fighting fiercely. I told someone who criticized me not to pass judgment on my body, I demanded an apology from a food service worker who looked my friend up and down and called her sexy, and learned to tell a man who was proud of the gender wage gap that he was wrong to think that way.
Before, on blind dates even with rude men or ones I didn’t click with, I would smile brightly and listen politely or pay for coffee more expensive than the meal the man had just bought, all out of a fear of criticism. But now that me was gone. The Ilbe vermin that I had been so scared of now seemed like insignificant jerks hunched over keyboards. The frequency of conversations about feminism with my friends increased, but no one ever complained that we were talking about the same subject too much.
But I hesitated to get involved in Internet activism because of a fear of the adversaries I would face. I felt indebted to the anonymous people who were fighting for feminism on the front lines like that, but I was satisfied with the amount I was doing.
“I believe that our country can get better”
Around the time that I was getting used to Megalia’s existence, I went on a trip to Europe. By the time I landed in Lyon, France, I was starting to tire of traveling. I went with the French owner of the guesthouse I was staying at to a neighborhood bar to have a drink, and somehow we started talking about feminism. The guesthouse owner said that France still had a long way to go, but when I told her about life in South Korea, she quickly decided France was actually pretty good.
She said that there are people like hannamchung (a mirroring term that compares to insects the men who denigrate women by calling them “soy bean paste girls” and “kimchi girls” [slurs that cast Korean women as materialistic and depending on men]) in France as well, but they are a tiny minority and hide themselves, so the chances of meeting one in real life are small. She added, “But I believe that our country can get better.” I felt like I had had a rug pulled out from under me. The next day, I felt out of it all through my tourist activities. With even French people unsatisfied with their present condition and fighting to make it better, I suddenly felt ashamed about my willingness to be satisfied with the worse situation in Korea.
A few days later, the SBS program I Want to Know That aired an episode called “Weird Rabbit and Shoe Closet” that dealt with the Sinjeong-dong serial murders (two unsolved kidnappings, rapes, and murders that occurred in 2005-6). Internet communities lit up with talk about the show and stories about personal experiences with and fear of sexual assault. It took me a long time to fall asleep that night.
I was furious that I have to be careful on the street at night, and also during the day, just because I was born a woman. I felt that I didn’t want to live like this anymore. I wanted not to fear potential criminals but to make them fear me. If it were before Megalia came to be, I would have been afraid of assailants and crouched in a corner, but now my way of thinking had changed.
As soon as I returned to Korea, I looked for some activism to get involved in. During my trip, I had tried to do some online feminist activism, but after suffering one episode of malicious replies, I decided it wasn’t for me. (My Internet connection wasn’t great, and during a 3-day period that I couldn’t get onto my page on a social networking site, a personal attack on me was conducted there. The fact that the people doing it hung around for 3 days with no reply from their opponent shows that they must have nothing to do.) Because I am a person who needs her opponent in front of her in order to really get angry and fight, I thought it would be more fitting to run around in the real world instead of knock down an opponent behind a monitor.
Right at that time, the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center called for volunteers to participate in a campaign against sexual assault committed with the help of alcohol or drugs. I didn’t hesitate. A few days after I sent in my application form, I got a call telling me the time and place of the first meeting.
But people were interested. There weren’t enough chairs for all of the people who came to our discussion. In the comment section under Internet articles about our street events, people came and left muck, telling us we should be ashamed of ourselves, but that just shows how much of a topic of conversation we became. The planning committee’s goal to troll the entire nation succeeded by the end of our 4-month p.
#ThatsRape: trying to shake up the world
My conversation with my younger brother never really reached a conclusion. Nearly an hour of talking did nothing but stress us both out. He said sourly, “Our values may be different,” and I replied, “You’re either sexist or you’re a feminist,” and the conversation ended.
Frustratingly, it seemed that continuing to talk would not change anything. Instead, I bought a copy of Egalia’s Daughters (a novel by Norwegian author Gerd Brantenberg, about an imaginary society called Egalia, in which men and women’s gender roles are reversed) for my brother. This isn’t a solution to the problem, but I hope it will at least change our next conversation a little.
When the phrase “kimchi girls” was used at a recent group meeting I went to, no one besides me objected. Even as my friends and I like posts made by the Facebook account “Megalia 4,” we worry that we will lose relationships because of it. (It’s very different to know in your head that such people are not good for you anyway and to accept in your heart that the relationship is over.) After a recent online fight with someone I know who criticized Megalia, I’m afraid that that person will say bad things about me to people we know. When I think that quite a few people must have already cut me off, I feel both relieved and uncomfortable about these relationships ending.
But during the last year, I and the people around me have changed to a surprising degree. I stopped hiding, stepped forward and made my voice heard. The people I knew who used to tell me that I was probably too sensitive started to say instead that I was probably right, and that they supported my activities. As the number of such people increases, our side gets larger and our arguments seem more and more like common sense.
There are people who denigrate, discriminate against, and molest women and are proud of this behavior, language, and way of thinking, because they don’t know they should be ashamed of it. I believe that if we point out, criticize and explain their misdeeds, the world will change someday. Last year we gave the world a shake and got a taste of fulfillment, so rattling it one or two more times probably won’t be that hard. That’s what I’m going to prepare to do.
Published: February 22, 2016
Translated by Marilyn Hook
*Original article: http://ildaro.com/7379
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