Posted on Leave a comment

The Threat of Working Women in South Korea

By: Christina Lee

Under YouTube videos of her interviews with high-profile Korean celebrities, hundreds of comments referring to the red-haired interviewer as a “femi,” or the Korean abbreviation for the term “feminist,” paint the interviewer in a malicious light. Some comments claim that she hates all Korean men to exist, and some accuse her of aiding in the suicide of a male photographer from a 2018 sexual harassment case.

A self-proclaimed “semi-celebrity,” Lee Eunjae, or better known as JaeJae, made a name for herself in South Korea’s mainstream media with her superb interviewing skills and popular YouTube series “MMTG,” where she meets the biggest stars of the Korean entertainment industry. Her high-energy personality and witty sense of humor has attracted millions of views to her videos and launched her to star regularly on talk shows as an interviewee herself. Offscreen, she works a typical day job as a producer at one of South Korea’s largest broadcasting stations, SBS.

In a recent YouTube video titled, “How Single JaeJae Gets Her Money Back From Weddings,” JaeJae opened up about her decision not to marry. “I never thought of marriage as a requirement in my life,” she says. JaeJae mentions how generations ago, marriage was seen as a woman’s “final destination” in life.

To young South Korean women like JaeJae, marriage seems like the last thing one would ever want to do in a newly industrialized country where women finally have the opportunity to join the workforce and gain financial independence. This pattern is evident even behind the scenes of JaeJae’s YouTube series. Her production team from “MMTG” is predominantly women, something Girls’ Generation member Tiffany Young pointed out during her interview: “So many boss ladies. Working women on set. I respect you.” 

For a veteran of the South Korean entertainment industry like Tiffany Young to point out and praise the presence of working women on set speaks volumes about the traditionally male-dominated workspaces, and figures like JaeJae are undoubtedly beginning to threaten this status quo.

As a result, JaeJae has become a victim to relentless misogynistic criticism that attacks her every move. Despite having received a bachelor’s degree from one of South Korea’s most prestigious schools, Ewha Womans University, JaeJae opened up about her struggles to find employment after graduation.

The internet’s response to her story was brutal. Commenters, mostly Korean men, criticized her short hair, her looks (“Physiognomy is science,” reads one Facebook comment, referring to the hackneyed Korean saying that justifies attacks toward one’s facial appearance), and her educational background from a “femi” school. “I guess I’m sorry to women, but a short haircut usually leads to disqualification,” another commenter posted in an unintentional acknowledgement of the gender biases that do indeed exist within the workplace.

The South Korean perception of a “femi” and its negative connotations arise from various factors; it is difficult to pinpoint a single reason, but much of the Korean male anxieties about working, outspoken women like JaeJae who are honest about their experiences may be reflected in the status of marriage and fertility rates in South Korea.

Currently, South Korea is facing notably low marriage rates, with a 10% decline in the number of couples getting married just last year. The country is also known for having the lowest fertility rate in the world, raising concerns about how South Koreans will be able to stabilize their population as the country’s number of deaths outweigh its number of births.

Working women ultimately become a scapegoat in this situation, as they bear much of the pressure and responsibility to maintain the South Korean population—a difficult feat especially when women are favoring professional careers over motherhood.

These challenges to traditional family dynamics that have been historically and culturally enforced by Confucian values undoubtedly destabilize an entire country. But to have one public figure—who merely uses her newfound popularity and platform to voice her opinions—take the blame for the country’s uncertainties may seem more as a demonstration of male anxiety over their potential loss of power in a traditionally patriarchal society. Meanwhile, Lee Eunjae has been grappling with what it means to be true to oneself amid misogyny.

Hate toward JaeJae was only amplified by a video from 2018 that resurfaced in which JaeJae worked as an editor and reporter for an SBS news segment. Taking place back when JaeJae did not sport bright red hair, the news clip documented an investigation of a sexual harassment case involving YouTuber Yang Yewon, who claimed that she was sexually abused while modeling for lingerie.

The controversy made national headlines during the time, and netizens who are now coming across this older video are incriminating JaeJae for her role in supporting Yang Yewon. Calling the semi-celebrity and her supporters “biased feminists,” the netizens who most likely approach this issue with the same attitude as the commenters who spout “Physiognomy is science” to any woman with an opinion began likening JaeJae to a murderer, after one of the men involved in the sexual harassment case took his life amid the investigation.

Despite the criticism, JaeJae continues to host her popular “MMTG” series, appear on talk shows, and has gained fans throughout the country. She is one of the many female public figures who face scrutiny by misogynistic netizens, and her rising fame and fanbase is a testament to the ever-evolving social expectations in South Korea. To her female fans, JaeJae is the voice for women who choose a professional life over marriage, who live alone and don’t dream of having children. The idea that women now get to make their own choices in life threatens the country’s entire power structure, but the presence of unapologetic women like JaeJae in the media is something that South Korea desperately needs.

Posted on Leave a comment

Defining Foreign: What “Minari” Says About America

By: Christina Lee

“Korean people use their heads,” Jacob Yi says in Korean, his son David trailing behind him. Then in accented English: “We use our minds.” The duo walks across what seems like an endless field of grass below a cloudless sky, perfect for a farm.

The 2020 film Minari, written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, follows the Yi family, headed by South Korean immigrants Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Han Ye-ri), as they relocate to rural Arkansas where Jacob hopes to support his two children, wife and mother-in-law by growing Korean vegetables.

A semi-autobiographical film based on Chung’s childhood memories, Minari took home the trophy for the best foreign language film at the Golden Globes this year. Chung shared his gratitude for his win, but he also hinted at what could be interpreted as lingering dissatisfaction, a sentiment shared by viewers and fans who understand what it feels to be “othered” in the United States.

Minari is about a family,” Chung said in his acceptance speech. “It’s a family trying to learn how to speak a language of its own. It goes deeper than any American language and any foreign language. It’s a language of the heart.”

With this statement, Chung suggests that he too is very much aware of the controversy surrounding the movie and its classification as a “foreign-language” film.

Minari, the story about South Korean immigrants in the United States, had no choice but for its American film distribution company A24 to submit the American-directed and American-financed film to the foreign language category, as more than 50% of Minari’s dialogue is spoken in Korean. 

“It goes deeper than any American language and any foreign language.”

The country that is home to the largest film industry in the world fails to recognize the inherent Americanness of its own movies. Instead, it resorts to arbitrary numbers to define what counts as “foreign enough” and therefore disqualified from competing against English-language films in a country that does not have an official language.

Chung knew that finding financial support for his movie about a deeply cultural experience would be hard in an industry still dominated by whiteness and one-dimensional narratives. However, thanks to Korean American producer Christina Oh, Chung found an ally in his mission to keep Minari spoken mostly in Korean.

While the film’s characters speak English from time to time, Chung addressed why the dialogue remains predominantly Korean, and his reasoning is personal. Chung described his characters’ Korean speech as the “sort of insular feeling that you have when the reality at home is different from the one outside.” Through this reality of bilingualism, Chung demonstrates that the dual experience or “twoness” is common among immigrant families, to whom a second language is not simply a convenient tool used to appeal to monolingual moviegoers for financial profit—it is an entire lived experience. The Golden Globes failed to acknowledge this.

“You really try to preserve some of that reality within your own family as you feel it slipping away,” Chung said.

The Korean American director and writer’s work is truly one of preservation, to uphold the truth about the immigrant experience through language, especially when Minari stars Korean American actors like Steven Yeun, who proves that the loss of home and one’s native tongue within immigrant families is an ongoing and evolving experience. Noticeable in interviews, Yeun’s improvement in the Korean language demonstrates that children of immigrants are still engaged in a constant relationship with their parents’ ways of communication and that “foreign” language is not a cinematic gimmick nor a static category title that demarcates narratives about the experiences of people who do not look like the white majority.

Chung also recognized the arbitrary nature of deeming something “foreign.” He said, “My grandmother, if she were still alive, she’d be very proud that I held through and did a film in Korean and didn’t compromise and then start using that foreign language of English.”

The subjective lens of “foreignness” easily allows for the country’s narrative to favor the white, English-speaking majority over multilingual Americans of diverse cultural backgrounds. Rarely is it acknowledged that English in America is just as foreign to immigrants and their children, who often learn their native tongue first, English second. To deem any language other than English as merely “foreign” hints at xenophobic tendencies to invalidate the sense of belonging and community of immigrant families, further establishing that their languages, cultures, and experiences can never be fully integrated into society.

Minari attempts to bridge this gap between “American” and “foreign.” Its actors—ranging from South Korean-born parents of American children to second-generation Korean Americans—exemplify the American experience characterized by these actors’ varying linguistic abilities. The Korean grandmother speaking broken English to the American-born child responding in flawed Korean is a living, breathing representation of the ultimate American experience for immigrants. What is foreign to one person is never foreign to the other. So what truly defines foreignness?

In retrospect, the tension between American and foreign feels nonsensical. A country built on immigration and cultural diversity should not devalue the very origins of the nation’s unique identity. Through films like Minari that portray the diverse lives of Americans, hopefully we will begin to realize that whatever seems “foreign” at first is more familiar than it appears.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Period Product No One Asked For

By: Elizabeth Woodhall

There’s always going to be a male to explain everything that a female already knows. 

Recently, a German team consisting of two men, Eugen Raimkulow and Andre Ritterswurden, came out with a period product that is meant to make the female experience much easier in the eyes of men. They presented this product on a German television show, where a businessman, Ralf Dummel, invested 30,000 euros. Now, it’s baffling that they were able to gain so much funding and successfully launch the product without stopping to think for one second about what someone who has a period would think about this. 

The invention Is called “Pinky Gloves”, a pair of gloves to remove a sanitary product, such as a tampon or pad, that can then be used to discreetly dispose of them and use these gloves as a disposal bag. This product retails for $14.31 for a pack of 48 gloves. Now, I don’t want to speak for every person who’s had a period, but I’ve never needed the assistance of gloves to remove either my pads or tampons. Not only this but spending a great amount of money on something that I do for free every month sounds very wasteful. Such as the pink tax, which stated by Listen Money To not just my wallet, but for the environment.  Not to mention the current environmental friendly period products, such as the period cup, that exist as well that does not fit into the agenda of “disposing of products.” They have created a solution to a problem that does not even exist, by creating more waste for a product that already produces waste on it’s own.  

You may wonder what’s so bad about this product, “If you don’t want it, don’t buy it!” Well, this invention is deeply rooted in the stigmatization of the menstrual cycle. It implies that having to dispose of something that occurs several times a month is “gross”, despite it being a biological process that half of the population experience on a regular basis. Not only this, but the fact that the gloves are used as a kind of discreet disposal bag so that other people do not know you’re on your period is harmful on its own. It feeds into the idea that periods are something that should be kept from the public eye. It not only lets young people with periods know that what they’re experiencing is “gross”, but it once again reminds society that periods are not meant to be spoken about. It also makes it seem as though there is a proper way to dispose of pads and tampons: discreetly. 

See, if anyone uses this product, then they’d be using an entire box consisting of 48 packs of plastic gloves. It’s extremely environmentally unfriendly and shows us how capitalism continues to thrive off these expectations and norms that exist, whether it be the dieting industry or the beauty industry. The industries once again thrive off of the same insecurities that they created.  Now, the period industry. As stated on twitter by handle @DrJenGunter, “Every day there is another useless product for the vagina. Every. Damn. Day.” As if paying for sanitary products that are a necessity wasn’t enough, now we are expected to dispose of these products discreetly so as to not upset men. 

In response to the criticism, the team claimed that they had personally lived with women since they were married. From their experiences as the malepartner of a female, they came across the period products and said that they smelled unpleasant so therefore they should be disposed of in another bag separate from the one already in the garbage bin. 

Menstruation is a biological process that’s experienced by half of the world’s population and yet “period” is still considered a dirty word. There are keywords used for it that minimize its importance, merely reduced to a kind of an inside joke between society and women. Growing up, I was told to keep it a secret because boys would behave differently around me. They did, too, making comments of how not to approach me because it was “that time of the month again.” That It was meant to be a secret between just women, and yet I couldn’t remember a time growing up when I could talk about my period with other women in my family without feeling shame for it. It became a topic that I had slowly become conditioned to not speak of with anyone else. It can be a very isolating thing when you realize that almost half of this world experiences this same biological function and yet you’ve never been able to fully talk about it without feeling as if you’ve spoken about something that’s “dirty.”

Having a menstrual cycle should not ever be considered a dirty thing, nor should a society shame someone for speaking about it openly. It is because of ideas that males like these hold that cast shame on people who menstruate to even feel comfortable in a time that brings so much discomfort. Periods should not be a topic that’s silently talked about amongst people who menstruate, but rather for people who do not menstruate to educate themselves on this completely normal biological process that half of the population experiences. No one should ever feel shamed for this natural process. Instead of coming up with products that could make this experience better for men, how about work towards making pads and tampons accessible so that having a period is not a luxury instead. 

Posted on Leave a comment

Solitude, Stressors, and the Rise of Eating Disorders During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Abby Loomis

Sometimes after sitting at my desk for 7 hours listening to Zoom lectures, my mind drifts back to the early days of the pandemic, when life seemed a lot easier. We had dalgona coffee, Tiger King and a two week long spring break! What could be better? If you were like me, you probably thought that this would be the perfect time to start working out, especially with the new Chloe Ting Two Week Shred everyone was talking about (the first video has 336 million views!).

But as we all know, the pandemic lasted a bit longer than two weeks. Quickly, what was a fun break from school became a concerning and life altering event. Schools began to announce that they may not open in the fall, and would likely continue online classes. People were laid off from their jobs, forced to move back in with their parents or adjust to an entirely new format of learning. 

Life was upended, and any semblance of normalcy was quickly lost, taking a large toll on everyone, especially those with mental health issues. While this exacerbated all mental illnesses, I am going to be discussing how the pandemic not only affected those with restrictive eating disorders, but how it also caused an increase in disordered eating in those without a previous history of eating disorders.

First, it is important to understand what exactly eating disorders are and what can cause them. According to Psychiatry.org, “[e]ating disorders are behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent disturbance in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions”. One does not need to starve themselves in order to have an eating disorder, they may purposefully cause themself to throw up their food, consume large amounts of food without control during a binge, or obsessively restrict their diets. One’s genes can put them at a greater risk of an eating disorder, but according to Eating Disorders.org, it is oftentimes one’s environment that can lead to the development of eating disorders.

 Major stressors and traumas, like assault or home instability, can lead one to develop an eating disorder. And, from personal experience and medical evidence, disordered eating is often a way for one to feel in control of their life, as for many it is hard to control their external environment, but they can control what and how much they eat.

COVID-19 provided more than enough stressors that could lead to or exacerbate pre-existing eating disorders, such as isolation, job instability, deaths of loved ones and chaos surrounding supermarkets (i.e. food shortages and possibility of getting COVID-19). In fact, according to a recent survey of those who have eating disorders, 53% of those in the U.S. reported that they were ‘very concerned’ about their eating disorder being exacerbated “due to a lack of structure”. 

As well, the COVID-19 era is also notable for the shift towards online learning, and the use of Zoom in particular. We all know what it feels like to have your camera on and constantly worry about whether or not we are making the right facial expressions or if our face really looks like that. In fact, a study found that 86% of dermatologists reported that patients were “citing video-conferencing calls” as a reason to seek cosmetic care. But this increased body awareness associated with Zoom is yet another factor which can contribute to or worsen disordered eating. Many people with eating disorders avoid mirrors in order to avoid triggering themselves, but with Zoom they are constantly confronted by their reflection and by proxy, constantly confronted by harmful thoughts about their appearance, which could lead to a relapse into disordered eating. 

 However, there is another factor which has exacerbated disordered eating. With all of this free time, we have all spent an immense amount of time on social media, either making content or watching others. Experts know that social media, particularly Tik Tok, which has gained popularity during the pandemic, has a negative impact on body image and can be used to proliferate disordered eating habits in the form of ‘weight loss tips’ or intentionally triggering images which are referred to as “thinspo”. Even well meaning content, such as workout routines, can feed into disordered eating behaviors without any intent by the creator. For example, in the comment section of the previously mentioned Chloe Ting Two Week Shred, one does not need to scroll far to find comments reminiscent of 2016 pro-anorexia Tumblr, such as ‘body checks’. 

During the pandemic we have used social media and the Internet as a whole in order to keep ourselves occupied and in touch with others in order to preserve our mental stability, but for many it has a deteriorating effect. We have too much time alone with ourselves in which we can pick ourselves apart in the mirror, bit by bit. And then once we go back online, it is easy to find content which can decrease our self worth even further.

But what can we do? In the face of constantly mounting stressors and triggers, how can we protect ourselves from developing or falling back into disordered eating habits? The Center for Discovery advises that we should attempt to provide structure for ourselves, setting aside specific times for eating, sleeping, and partaking in our hobbies, as well as limiting social media use. By setting aside time to take care of ourselves and incorporating that into our daily structure, it is easier to ensure that we actually do those things instead of forgetting about them or brushing them aside amidst the chaos of quarantine. As well, it is of utmost importance to connect with loved ones to alleviate feelings of isolation, even if it is only for a quick call. While we cannot eliminate all of the stressors of COVID and possible triggers for eating disorders, we must put in the effort to take care of ourselves even when it is difficult. When we notice ourselves slipping into harmful behaviors, we must step back and focus our energies on self-care. There is no shame in asking for help or calling a hotline. This is a time of immense chaos and stress, and we need to ensure our wellbeing and mental stability.

National Eating Disorders Hotline

(800)-931-2237

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

(800)-273-8255

Posted on Leave a comment

Nonconsensual Pornography in the Modern World

By: Abby Loomis

In the era of high-speed internet, 5G, and social media, things can and often do go viral, fast. In the best cases, sweet little dogs and fun baking videos gain 15 million views. In the worst (and most terrifyingly common) cases, intimate pictures meant for one’s partner circulate the internet without consent. 

According to a 2019 study, “[o]f the 3,044 adult participants (54% women), 1 in 12 reported at least one instance of nonconsensual pornography victimization in their lifetime, and 1 in 20 reported perpetration of nonconsensual pornography” (also known as NCP). While anyone can be a victim of nonconsensual porn, 90% of victims are women. However, it is not just these images that are put online, as 59% of the time a full name is attached to the photo and in 49% of these cases, social media information is attached. This opens the victim to harassment, stalking, and the possibility of losing their job on top of the severe emotional trauma of being publicly violated and humiliated, oftentimes by someone who was or is close to them. And, like everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on NCP as well, with increased cases in both the U.S. and the U.K

NCP is terrifying, and this crime takes an immense toll on its victims. There are countless cases of young women (in some cases, men) who have had their lives upended entirely by this horrible crime, with images (taken consensually and nonconsensually) of them being spread. Victims are often blamed for the atrocity done against them and have their trauma dismissed. To many, if the photo was taken consensually, then the victim ‘should have known better’ or taken precautions. Responsibility is taken away from the person who actively violated trust, privacy, and another’s right to choose if such images ought to be posted, and placed onto the person who took photos under the assumption that they would not be used against them. And in the cases that the images are taken nonconsensually, excuses for the perpetrators are equally abundant. After Audrie Potts, a 15-year-old girl, was sexually assaulted at a party while intoxicated, she woke up to find that photos of her assault were circulating around the school and the internet. Audrie was bullied to the point of suicide, and in the ensuing investigation, she was blamed because she had been drunk at the time or was speculated to have kissed two of the boys, and others insinuated that she probably liked it and that her suicide was due to other reasons than the harassment and humiliation she faced. This is sadly one of many stories, one of many lives which have been lost because of NCP. 

As well, the aforementioned 2019 study reported that 66% of women and 82% of men do not seek help, with most women doing so out of shame and most men claiming that it did not bother them. Within the context of social norms, this makes sense. Women are commonly taught that our sexuality is something to be ashamed of, that we should be chaste and pure. The idea of sharing nude images for many can seem taboo, something we shouldn’t even think about, but to then have those pictures leaked and to have people know that we are not as pure as the Virgin Mary? That shame and embarrassment is turned inward, resulting in self-blame, making it unlikely for the person to pursue the justice that they rightfully deserve. For many men, having sex and ‘getting laid’ is viewed as a source of pride. Being seen as sexually desirable is beneficial, so when a man is a victim of NCP, it is somehow construed as a compliment instead of the complete invasion of privacy that it is.

One would assume that the penalties for such a horrendous crime would be high and that it would be illegal for websites to host and distribute these photos. One would be depressingly wrong. While 46 states have laws concerning NCP, in 17 states it is regarded as a misdemeanor (punishable by up to a year in jail), only 11 states it is regarded as a felony (punishable for more than a year in jail), and in the remainder, it depends on the specifics of the case. There are no specific laws in Wyoming, Mississippi, South Carolina, or Massachusetts. In addition, no law in the U.S. currently requires the perpetrator to register as a sex offender, that is entirely at the judge’s discretion. 

 Websites dedicated entirely to nonconsensual porn (which are oftentimes the suggested search terms to “non consensual porn laws”) are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states that websites cannot be punished for what others post. And since it is users who upload these images, the websites are protected from prosecution and can freely profit off of this crime, from advertisements (such as the now-defunct IsAnyoneUp?, which reportedly made $13,000 a month at one point) or from forcing victims to pay for the photos to be taken down. Even more shockingly, it was only in December of 2020 when Pornhub, one of the most popular pornographic websites, began to crack down on nonconsensual porn, which was often labeled as “stolen” or “leaked”. Pornhub quite literally attempted to film a ‘movie’ in space five years before they attempted to get NCP off of their platform.

However, there is currently a method where many victims can legally force these websites to take down their photos- copyright. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, if the victim took the photo themself, they can file for a copyright on the photos, which is a complex process that requires providing a copy of the images to the copyright office.  With this copyright, the victim can file a takedown notice against the website, which requires them to take the copyrighted images down or file a counter-claim stating that the website has a right to post the images. After this point, if the website keeps the photos up, the victim can sue for copyright infringement, which can result in up to $250,000 in fines and up to five years in prison per offense. While it is good that such a solution is plausible, I want to make this clear: the current laws surrounding NCP are so bad that victims have to use copyright laws to get the photos taken down, which is horrendous. This solution provides no actual punishment to the person who uploaded the photos and can require the victim to file notices against every website posting their images.

As well, even in states with laws concerning NCP, victims have a hard time obtaining justice. In a UK study, 94.7% of the police officers participating admitted that they had no training on how to deal with revenge porn. The combination of victim-blaming and lack of training can lead to deeply humiliating and traumatizing experiences with police, which can lead victims to drop their charges.  

While the situation is more than terrifying, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Recently the SHIELD Act, also known as the “Stopping Harmful Image Exploitation and Limiting Distribution Act of 2021” has been introduced in Congress as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. If passed, this law would make the distribution of NCP a federal crime, punishable by up to 2 years in prison for each victim, and would punish websites that intentionally and predominantly distribute NCP.  This law would finally bring justice to victims who have had their privacy and autonomy violated by this heinous crime, and could finally punish the perpetrators of this crime and the websites which they utilize. While this law has been proposed many times, it has not yet become law, but it did recently pass through the House. And more courts are ruling on the constitutionality of anti-NCP laws and upholding the fact that distribution of NCP is not protected under the First Amendment, and therefore can be prosecuted. This means if the SHIELD Act is finally passed, it has legal precedent behind it that may help ensure that this law is not overturned by the courts.

In order to turn this glimmer of hope into a beacon of safety for victims of NCP, we must pass the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021, which includes the SHIELD Act. It has already passed the House, so now we call our Senators and ensure that they vote for this legislation. We must protect all victims of this horrible act, we cannot and will not let this horror go on any further.