Tag Archives: fight against patriarchy

Day 29: Maya Says…

16 Mar

I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.
-Maya Angelou

I hope that every woman has young spirit and does what Maya told us. We must defeat what the world says on how we should be and tell the world to just shut up. We are gonna tell the world how it should be. And I hope that many of us really do kick some ass seriously.


Day 19: The Plastic Surgery Debate Shall Continue Forever

2 Mar

By accident, I ran into this article today written by Siobhan Courtney. This discusses the PIP breast implant scandal and the whole issue of plastic surgery and women’s choice. I don’t know if you remember, but this was the horrendous case where silicone that was not up to standard for medical use was used for breast implants everywhere in the world. She mainly argues that women who choose to obtain the surgery are exercising their agencies over their bodies, and they are not some cheap bimbos.

Her argument is something that seems to be opposite to the argument that I presented yesterday. But the general sentiment against the patriarchal voices regarding plastic surgery seems to be the same. Her argument is more on the fact that many patriarchal discourses ignore the fact that women have agency to make their own choices regarding their bodies (and satisfy their needs to feel good about themselves, not necessarily pleasing men), while calling the women bimbos and many terrible names. Although I agree that women should be able to freely exercise their agencies, I would argue against her argument, because I think that the driving force of overall plastic surgery industry and culture is the patriarchal culture. What seems to matter the most in this whole plastic surgery debate ultimately is that patriarchal discourse will always be present whether to cause plastic surgeries or to criticize them. Also it should be debated what has contributed to the formation of “women’s agency” which is highly subjective anyways. Well, I guess I saw the extreme negatives while she observed the “grey areas,” like the example of the woman in her writing who had to get plastic surgery after breastfeeding 2 children.

Just too much to think about… and the debate will go on, I suppose.

Day 15: What Part of Violence against Women Is Acceptable to You? (Hope None)

27 Feb

Yes, I skipped a day of writing, part of it because of the lack of inspiration and unexpected work that overwhelmed me until today. But I’m back, so I hope that such slip would not happen again. And I’m back to a heavy topic: Violence against Women (VAW). This is inspired by the recent debate on Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the United States, and a VERY disturbing video clip of Liz Trotta’s rant on how feminists are increasing the military budget tremendously because they push for military women’s protection from sexual violence from other soldiers.

Initially, I ran into this Forbes article on facebook which talked about the Republican’s opposition on reauthorization of VAWA which has been in place since Clinton administration along with Trotta’s absurd junk on the Republican channel (Fox News). Then I was led to Liz Trotta’s video clip, which honestly upset me very much.

I have to admit that in American politics, everything has to be bipartisan (democracy? hmph…) even on the matter of women’s human rights. I hate this whole politicization of women’s bodies, while it is mostly patriarchal men (and women) talking about how they should be controlled.

But it is what it is at this point. And I must express that I’m strongly against the stance that some extreme conservatives are taking. They are saying that violence against certain women count more than violence against others. And these other women (and men) that cannot be protected are parts of undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ and Native American communities. Those who are not REAL Americans cannot be protected, in sum. Here, we see the political agenda deeply enrooted in the opposition as Republicans are generally for stricter border controls and against LGBTQ rights issues. But claiming that women in these minority communities deserve to get their rights freely violated (by not providing proper protection measures) is simply outrageous.

And according to Liz Trotta, military women should not be protected either, because they all cost too much of the precious military budget. Those who are risking their lives by taking professions which are often dominated by men (“masculine” professions) cannot be protected? And they should expect such violence, not coming from the enemies at the frontline but from their own comrades who are supposed to trust each other firmly? Well, I’m sure she was expecting such violence when she took on her career as a journalist.

Hence her anti-feminist ranting is mostly laughable. She herself, as you can see in the video, is quite an elite journalist, who has been to Vietnam War as a reporter and attended prestigious Columbia University. Well, excuse me, weren’t her professional field and high education all-men’s fields merely a few decades ago? Without feminist movement pushing boundaries for women to get into men’s territories in reporting and education, she would not even be talking on Fox News.

Come on people, let’s be real. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, how can anyone be OK with the fact that 3 women are murdered everyday by their intimate partners, the fact that more than 600 women suffer sexual violence everyday, and the fact that young women and minority women are more easily exposed to sexual violence? (Information from National Organization for Women, USA) And this is the United States we are talking about, the land of freedom and democracy (so they say…). I can’t even imagine how many women are battered and raped around the world, and practically every woman lives in fear, because of the potential violence they may suffer any time during their life time.

How can anyone be OK with the fact that their own sisters, mothers, wives, partners, girlfriends and female friends suffering such tremendous violence, even more because they are discriminated against by a policy?

It’s not a problem that exists just in America. In many parts of the world, women are considered properties of their fathers and husbands, and they are often subjects of domestic violence, marital rape, human trafficking (often to brothels and as wives to older men) and other violence, and no statistics can explain the seriousness of the problem all around the world. And in some countries, there is no law protecting women who are endangered by sexual violence, and even if such laws existed, they are not enforced in serious manners.

Women don’t need special protections, just because they are these delicate entities that deserve protection and respect, as men have traditionally considered. Women need protections because women are still subjected to way more sexual (and other) violence, and they are certainly not equally protected by laws and policies that are often made with patriarchal biases. And women deserve protection and respect because we are human beings, just as much as men deserve them, too. If you think that feminists are claiming for contradictory stance (“we need more freedom” and “we need more protection”), you’d better realize that we want freedom from restrictions that does not allow the equal opportunities (such as joining the military) and protection from violence (from the fellow soldiers).

FYI, here are some links on opinion pieces on VAWA.



Day 13: Will Leadership Ever Feminize?

24 Feb

About a week ago, I ran into an opinion piece by Joseph Nye on Al Jazeera English titled “When Women Lead the World.” I assisted a research on women’s leadership in Asia briefly while I was in graduate school, so I was intrigued by what this international security guru has to say. This article was prompted by the recent book by Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and I would one day love to read the book on how a psychologist would put the current gender gap in women’s leadership.

Although I thought the article was OK (and I wasn’t disappointed), I still felt like something was missing. I mean, he isn’t the first person who has talked about the importance of more “feminine” style leadership and more women’s participation in leadership roles. Numerous people have already said that “we need more women in leadership positions” and “we need more people who have soft skills and feminine leadership styles,” and why does it ring a louder bell amongst people when a male leader speaks of the issue? (Answer? It’s a MAN speaking of a “women’s issue,” gasp! Well, you all know that it’s not just concerning women when it comes down to talking about a CEO of a global corporation or a prime minister of a country.)

I also thought that he was combining and mixing up two different –although often overlapping and difficult to separate– concepts: “feminine” style of leadership and women leaders. It seems like he’s talking about two different problems as if they are the same one: 1. There are not enough women leaders (hence we need more), and 2. Leaders need more “feminine” skills. Here, his assumption is that having more women would help feminizing leadership.

What Nye referred as “feminine style of leadership” is the antithesis of the old (and masculine) concept of leadership, a style (or multiple styles) that is more collaborative, conversational, participatory and soft skill-oriented, hence feminine. Yes, it is more likely that a woman leader tends to have more feminine style of doing work and going about her businesses, mostly because of the way that she has been educated in terms of how to perform her gender on everyday basis. But I believe that the current female leaders’ leadership styles are more likely to be masculine than feminine, because of the greater societal structure that still favors the masculine style more, and if she wants to be a top dog, she still has to play “fair” with the boys, with the rules that men have set within their club for ages.

I cannot help but thinking that the concept of leadership itself is already masculine but now it just wants to have some sprinkles of “feminine” elements, while it will fundamentally never change its masculine nature. In my radical mind, I believe that without the effort to completely challenge and uproot what it means by leadership, the gender binary will continue to exist with the constant challenge of how to feminize leadership. And let’s not forget that in the world of binaries, the elements that have been identified with masculinity have mostly held positive connotations (think of words like “strong,” “power,” “charisma,” etc.) while elements identified with femininity have been associated with negative connotations (words like “soft,” “indirect,” “peace,” mostly considered weak hence not proper for leaders) especially in leadership sphere.

So back to my point earlier. Here’s what I think.

The reason why we need more women in leadership positions is because women, for ages, have been systematically prevented from making effective political, financial, social and other major decisions that concern the wellbeing of greater population, including both women and men. Often the decisions concerned the wellbeing of free men (excluding women, men of lower classes, people of certain ethnicity/race, people of disability, etc.) and overlooked the concerns for “the others” whose lives were still very valuable.

The reason why we need more “feminine leadership” is because the old concept of masculine leadership is not properly functioning within the more diverse, rapidly changing society and population (with more women participating in various functions of the society) where ideas are constantly challenged and are in need of changes. The “old” concept of leadership has been generated mostly by men, and the leadership skill sets they held have not necessarily corresponded to the needs of the greater human race.

Yes, there are overlapping elements in between, but the two are distinguishable as well.

Also as a side note… I believe that there are plenty of women leaders around the world, especially at the grassroots level. Unfortunately, they are often underappreciated, which is another proof that the definition of leader and leadership is often limited by male discourse. For example, what about Somaly Mam of Cambidia who was sexually enslaved while she was a child, yet overcame her past and established an organization advocating for many children who suffer the same brutal sexual violence because of poverty? What she has done certainly requires tremendous courage and leadership. While new leaders have emerged from these “soft power” sectors (the arts, academia, NGOs, education, etc), the way that society still defines leadership is very much confined to politics, corporate sector and military where the real power lies (talking about the very real presence of patriarchy everywhere).

Hmmm… there’s simply too much to think about, especially when it’s on gender and power relations. I think the world would be a better place if women have ruled the world from the beginning , haha –or at least easier on my brain. Let me leave you with a humorous writing written by Gloria Steinem, “If Men Could Menstruate.” I think this is my favorite piece written by her.

Day 10: My Angry Protest against What “They” Tell Me (about how I look)

21 Feb

Do you know Margaret Cho? She is a Korean-American comedian who is a huge deal. I never got into her stuff, but I have always known that she is an outspoken (and fabulous) woman who never avoids speaking her mind directly, especially against gender injustice and homophobia. And I recently heard of her response to Karl Lagerfeld’s comment on Adele, calling her “fat.” Cho responded with rather stern, direct, sarcastic and angry blog post that made me fall in love with this woman.

Karl Lagerfeld is a legend who has led big time fashion houses like Chanel and Fendi, and his comment does reflect a lot about how fashion (and media), the object of human fascination, has actually encouraged us to objectify ourselves so that we identify our bodies with the material. I do enjoy fashion and style and what not, but I was seriously angered by this outrageous junk that he blurted out. What angered me the most is not simply the comment, but more of the helplessness that I felt about how women are forced to feel terrible while we consume the images that the media produce. Let me talk about this simply from my perspective.

I have constantly been exposed to what “they” tell us, and they seem to reflect how I am supposed to look and behave. And heck, I have been constantly feeling bad about my own body, because I don’t have a face like that girl who is advertising Chanel whitening cream (who is White to begin with), I don’t have a body like Angelina Jolie (and alike) and I probably can’t even possibly fit into the clothes that the K-pop girl bands wear. They have constantly told me that I’m supposed to look like that since I could remember, and the constant feeling of being “not good enough” has always been there. I shrank myself from the world, because everybody told me that I am probably not good enough for anything. Really, what does it take to become a beautiful person? Just my façade that looks good to everyone else, but never good enough to me that I feel the pressure to get plastic surgery on every single part of my face and body? What about what I have inside of me? My intelligence, my genuine heart, my potential, and my feelings? Do they count at all? Well, never mind, all I need, according to them, is just a pretty face and a nice body to be a confident, whole human being.

Dear Lagerfeld and alike, maybe you just need to build factories to produce the “ideal” bodies and images that you would like so that you can hang your clothes on them. Don’t try to make me be your clothes hanger (heck, I probably won’t be able to afford any of them for the rest of my life, and I don’t even care). Kindly, shut up.

Margaret Cho writes:

It sounds complex because it is terribly complex, but curiously simple and plain. When you see someone you identify with, who has a body that could be your body, and you recognize it on the screen because you remember it from the mirror and you watch them shine and conquer and overcome and overwhelm and startle and take over the world, you think you can do the same. It gives you strength. It’s powerful, indescribably so.

Now, I refuse to let them define me, who I am and how I am supposed to be. I will never be free from their noises, and it’s incredibly difficult to not to hear them. But hey, I will choose to tune them out, because they are too loud for me to concentrate on my inner voice. I’m gonna shine the way I want, both inside and outside.

I love you Margaret.

I love you Adele.

Day 6: How We Exercise Our Gender and Sexuality Daily- And Un/consciously Choose to Oppress Minorities

17 Feb

Today, I ran into an article on the Huffington Post, written by a writer “Amelia.” She is a regular blogger on HuffPost, and although it was my first time running into her article, I became a huge fan of her writing. I was deeply touched by her courage to make bold social comments by telling the readers very personal stories, and I saw nothing but courage and humanity.

The very article was titled, “When Your 7-Year-Old Son Announces, ‘I’m Gay.’” Some of you may feel uncomfortable, and others may find the degree of courage to tell such a story very touching. Or maybe you feel both ways, and I do hope that what you are feeling is nothing negative. She tells us that her son, after he learned the definition of word “gay,” figured out part of his identity. He tells his parents that he’s gay. Amelia’s (and her husband’s) reaction is something so respectable. She accepts him as he is and lets him know that she loves him no matter what multiple times. However, she also does not forget to warn him about how people in the society may not like that particular part of his identity. In the story, the level of unconditional love as a parent is almost heartbreaking, perhaps because she foresees the difficulties that he may face and has to tell him that people may not like him for who he is.

This article totally reminded me of a Korean television program that I watched recently. It’s a Korean version of Super Nanny, where a child specialist goes into a family of a child that has behavioral problems and advices on good parenting. The very episode that I watched was somewhat disturbing and confusing to me. The specific boy’s family consists of the parents, younger sister (around 3-4 years old maybe) and himself (who seemed to be about 6 years old). The father was away in the Middle East for his work, so he has been mostly absent throughout the boy’s life. The mother was not a very happy person, partly because of the stress coming from the pregnancy of the third child and having to exercise the role of both father and mother. The boy had several behavioral problems, many of them from such family circumstances. One of the problems that was raised was that he liked girly stuff. He likes to play with dolls and stuffed animals (unlike other boys who run around and play with robots and toy guns), fancies skirts (which he had a few), and not aggressive at all even when his younger sister picked up fights.

What bothered me was the child specialist’s evaluation. She said that the boy is at the developmental age when children figures out how boys and girls “should” act differently. She claimed that he “lacks healthy male role model [due to the absence of his father] hence missing out on the opportunity to develop his masculinity during the crucial period.” She then suggested that he learns Taekwondo where he can be surrounded with a bunch of boys and takes the master as his male role model. By showing many feminine characteristics – such as not being able to fight back against his younger sister over a toy, liking the color pink, and liking cleaning the house— the boy, only 6 years old or so, was stigmatized publicly as someone who is in trouble, who is not behaving right.

Yes, the main concern for the specialist and the parents was that he might become a misfit in the conformist society where standing-out is not OK. But by not accepting who he is, by telling him that what he is doing is something shameful and wrong, they are telling a 6-year-old that he must be concerned about how people would perceive him at such a young age, instead of being concerned about learning about and accepting himself. There is also an implicit message that he cannot be loved if he does not act like all the other boys in the society. Isn’t the love from parents supposed to be unconditional? Couldn’t they accept him as who he is and just watch him how he grow as a whole person, someone who loves him as he is?

These got me thinking a lot about how we perform our gender and sexuality. There are a lot of discussions regarding LGBTQ population and how we, the majority heterosexuals where girls dress like girls and boys dress like boys, should treat them. There are plenty of political, religious, social discourses that support or disagree with the idea of homosexuality and LGBTQ population. Is it nature (Is she “born this way”)? Is it nurture? Does one choose to wear something that’s not normal to that specific sex/gender? Can one be “ungay-ed”? Would God approve homosexuals and transvestites?

In the discussions, we often forget some simple truths. We are socially programmed to develop prejudices against something that is out of ordinary and minority, regarding gender role, sexuality, race/ethnicity, whatever. And when things are not quite fitting together, we impose ridicule, hatred and injustice against the minority and feel compelled to push the “abnormal” to become “normal,” because it’s OK to hate those who are not in line with the majority. Before we teach our children (OK, I don’t have any, but the younger generation) what kind of gender one should or should not perform, why can’t we teach them how to love themselves as they are, instead of trying to fit into the social expectations? And why can’t we teach them to love one another because they are different, not despite? After all, everyone is made differently, even minor things like the shape of one’s feet.

When I become a parent, the first thing that I will teach my child would be how to love herself as she is, and I will love her no matter what.

Day 5: Why South Koreans Won’t Have Kids- And Why Policy Cannot Solve the Low Fertility Issue (part 2)

16 Feb

In the last post, I said that the overarching policy frameworks are mainly patriarchal, and that is what is preventing the formation of long-term policies. And the specific problems that I can think of (or heard of) are below.

First of all, in my opinion, Korean culture (along with others) has demanded women’s tremendous sacrifices for their families, although its women got to take various social roles outside of their homes over the past several decades. In traditional Korean household, she is the one who takes care of domestic duties while the husband is the “breadwinner” who works outside, bringing income to the house. However, Korea’s economy has modernized in a very short time span, without giving people enough time to change the traditional family/social norms. Hence, even if both the husband and the wife are working, woman “naturally” has to take care of the work outside and inside household. For example, both of my parents work as teachers, and they bring similar amount of incomes to the family. However, my mother’s work doesn’t end at 5pm when she gets out of her workplace, but continues as she has to cook dinner, clean the messy house and fold laundry. When I was much younger, she breastfed me, read to me and helped my homework when I was enrolled in school, along with doing all the house chores. I don’t remember when the last time my dad actually did any of the work (no offense to him), and if he did anything, it was him offering help, not doing his duty. My mother was often at a place where she had to feel guilty as she had to leave me with my grandmother (who raised me since I was born until 9) and had to ponder whether she had to choose either her work or her wife/mother duty. And this was the 80s and the 90s.

Is it any different now in Korea overall? I don’t think so, unfortunately, although the modern fathers are more involved in childrearing than my parents’ generation. Even today, many young mothers have to ponder whether they are going to keep working, take some months off (maternity leave) or just quit her job so that they can devote their time for their babies, thanks to family friendly labor policies and practices. It is commonly believed that the child has stronger bond to the mother than the father, but I think it’s a matter of how we humans make it to be (i.e. it’s not a matter of nature, but nurture). I don’t think women are any more caring than men, especially in terms of parenting. What I mean is that many fathers have not been actively involved in raising children ever since they were born, and seriously, other than the fact that man can’t produce breast milk, there is no difference with the mother in terms of parenting. The child is the product of the two people, and let’s face it, the parental responsibilities have never been fair. Culture dictates people’s behaviors, while “policy making culture” within the country is the space for policy makers to influence the social norms (how things “should” be for the general social wellbeing). Policies which does not seek to influence shifting of cultures and behaviors are short-sighted and doomed to be ineffective. Korea needs a very deep gender role overhaul.

Another reason for not having children seems to be the economics of having children which is not economical at all. It’s just too darn expensive to raise even one child in a family. Even if both wife and husband work, it is impossible to have big savings from the beginning, as the housing cost is getting quite expensive in the urban area. Many couples start their lives with some debt, and then when they finally decide to have a child or two, the expenses are tremendous, starting with all the basics like diapers, formulas, and clothes (that they will grow out of so quickly). I remember watching news on how expensive these items are, way more than other countries with the similar purchasing power. When the child grows, they have to go to nurseries, kindergartens, schools and extracurricular activities, but they all cost tremendous amount of money that the parents may not have. The government came up with “free pre-school education policy” for the bottom 75% of the economic strata, but to be exact, the education is not free as the government provides about 150USD a month per family with a preschooler, while the monthly fee of a private kindergarten is often easily 300-500USD (or even more). So the name of the policy itself is pretty populist in itself as you see. I can’t imagine having 2 kindergarteners in my family and supporting them with my pay. I mean over 1000 dollars a month just for schooling? Even if both of the parents work, it is a huge chunk of spending. Now, the elections (both for the national assembly and presidential) are coming, the politicians decided that they will expand this to all households with pre-school age children as of this year. And what would happen to the budget of this country? I have no idea, and it’s only scary to think of the terrible cycle of near-sighted populist welfare policies and budget limits. I mean I’m all for welfare, and South Korea’s welfare system has a long way to go, but I hate these populist politicians and their policies playing with the tax money without much planning, while all they need is just a few more votes.

I’m sure there are many other reasons for low fertility rate. Some couples agree to not to have children, and it’s their life style choice that I have nothing against. Others choose not to marry, which reduces the chance of having children tremendously (In Korea, alternative family forms, such as single parents raising children without partners and gay couples adopting children, are not very common and perceived with much cultural stigma).

But in sum, Korea has many different elements that prevent young women and men from having more children (or having kids at all). Human, cultural elements are missing in family policies very often, causing other issues which require more new policies. Some Korean policy makers now seem to realize gradually that it’s not just “women’s problem” but there are a lot of obstacles to overcome in terms of social and gender norms, and policies should have long term goals which can drive the change of traditional mentality. After all, it is most important to create an environment where people can willingly have children, not because of the national economic issues, but because they want to have the joy of having more family members.