Day 1: Why I’m a Feminist- and Why You Should Be Supportive

12 Feb

For my glorious Day 1 posting, I thought I should be talking about something that I always wanted to talk about. That is about yours truly, the person that you are friends with (or slightly acquainted with, but that’s OK, this is for people to read my stuff, no?). I will talk about how and why I have become a feminist. After all, I believe that storytelling is a powerful means for better understanding of each other, don’t you?

I was thinking about many glorious topics from different aspects, like pop culture (especially the Korean one as it is such a big deal in Asian part of the world), education, inspiring women in my life, feminist writers and activists, gender-based/sexual violation, marriage, religion, and you name it. Of course I want to talk about them at some point over the next several days. But I think without talking about where I stand, as a person who will be talking about gender issues as a feminist (amongst other roles), the rest of my stories may as well be just not-so-meaningful gibberish. More importantly, I decided that I’m not gonna be afraid to talk about who I am and what I think.

So the beginning was probably when I was in high school. Many people have thought it was quite interesting (or strange) that I spent several years in Birmingham, Alabama, and tend to think that it took significant amount of courage and adventure for a little (I was quite scrawny 11 years ago) Korean girl coming from a completely different culture. It would be a lie if I say that everything was completely fine, and I fit right into the picture, which was completely not true. I was an awkward foreigner whose English wasn’t good enough at the beginning and studied really hard (just like Asians should, right?). But the experience of being a minority, in terms of language, culture, ethnicity/race, how I looked, and other factors, gave me a totally different perspective towards life. The “me” in the South was imposed many new roles, and the growth that I was able to experience was enormous while my identity was framing in a certain way that would not have been possible if I had stayed in my home country. Also, simply the fact that I was living in the city which was the center of Martin Luther King Junior’s activism was inspiring enough.

Did I experience racism? People have asked, but the truth is that, I probably did (because the majority often tends to be ignorant about its own racism/biases/discrimination while sometimes deliberate, unfortunately, and this includes myself), and although I don’t remember most of it in detail, I have painfully learned how to deal with what I faced and fight against injustice. All these experiences accumulated to my interest in gender issues. After all, women are half the world, so we may not be minority numerically, but most women do not necessarily have the power in social, economic, political, domestic and many other spheres as much as the other half, unfortunately. And of course, everyone knows this, and some of you may wanna deny this.

Since high school, I got to be involved in very meaningful feminist activism. I got in touch with an advocacy NGO for military sexual slavery survivors from the WWII period by Japan (I will talk about it in detail in another post). The survivors of the war crime, who were euphemistically called “Comfort Women,” and the activists have left a deep impact in my life, and I’m still proud to be a part of the activism. At the beginning, it was a simple interest in the issue as I am a product of patriotic history education in Korea (a lot of it was due to many unresolved issues historically and diplomatically with Japan), but eventually, the survivors and activists who have continued the fight over the past 20+ years, eventually made me realize about the greater power dynamics between those who have power —whether physical power to impose sexual violence, political power to frame systematic rape camps as the military policy of a country imposing colonialism against many countries, or any power that imposes patriarchy as the justification for male superiority over others— and those who do not.

At first, I was mad and angry at this inherent injustice that has run for thousands of years in the name of patriarchy. Then I realized that it’s not simply an emotional upset, but an awakening. I dare to say that it was a “calling” for me that I should pursue the cause of feminism throughout my life. I’m not someone who believes in fate per se, but I believe that everyone has her own call in a life. Following this call, I got to pursue feminism over the past decade. I learned from and became friends with many feminist women and men during the 4 years in college, and learning in depth was challenging and painful at times because of the “diverse” and confusing nature of it which often does not fit into the current social orders, but it made my entire life only richer while I got to pursue academically as well, whether in my major classes (cultural anthropology), women’s studies or minority women’s feminism study group.

I have witnessed lots of discourses on feminism, and despite the numerous questions and criticism on the lack of unity among different types of feminisms, what matters to me the most is not a single, simple definition of feminism. Feminism in action matters as it has affected the lives of many women and men. I believe that feminism is the reason how I was able to obtain many years of education along with male students at the same institutions (especially my post-secondary education), the reason I can vote, the reason I can dream of many professional possibilities that were only held by men several decades ago.

But because the reach of feminism is not enough, many women in many parts of the world still do not get proper nutrition and education, have to risk their lives on their way to school (because women are simply not allowed to get smarter, according some people), die giving birth to children without proper medical treatments, are victimized by gender-based violence (including spousal rape which is not considered illegal in many countries), are told how to dress (and not to dress) by patriarchal rules (whether they be national laws or religious rules) instead of choosing their own ways, and work at young age for their families, especially for their brothers’ education while they are not getting any. And women who were victimized by systematic rape by a colonial military law are still not able to obtain proper justice (official apologies and formal reparations), because women were simple tools of the war, disposable ones, and the similar violence is still happening in many wars that are currently happening today.

Because the reach of feminism is totally lacking, I firmly believe that feminism is not “getting old” but must still go on.

I’m not forcing you to join the bandwagon, although I would be thrilled if do (For example, I don’t claim myself to be an environmentalist, although I am all for the cause and try to exercise environmentally friendly practices, part of it largely because of the lack of my knowledge in it). All I’m saying is that it is a cause to give my life for, and dear friends, if you are truly my friends, understanding an important piece of me would be very meaningful for our friendship, wouldn’t it?

Lastly, let me leave you with a Ted Talk by Isabelle Allende. Think her talk is somehow in the same line, in a more humorous, way more brilliant way. Passion matters, and I hope to remind myself of it everyday.

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