Students were gathered in a circle, fidgeting with awkwardness that seemed to devour the empty room of 310 in the Graduate Building. For minutes, it seemed as though the workshop might just end as it began- 3 hours of pure awkwardness. However, fortunately the moments of awkwardness didn’t last long as the host, Baek Yoon Young-mi, broke the ice by starting a warm up session. Students were still timid and seemingly passive, but as everyone took their turns talking about their feelings on their first impressions of the class, laughter soon overpowered the atmosphere. And with it, the three-hour session was off to a good start.
Hosted by the Chung-Ang University’s Gender Equality Center, a session on “Love without Fear… For Real?” was held from 6p.m. to 9p.m. on November 17th. The objective of this special session was to promote gender equality through the means of communication. Students were asked to participate in a recreational activity, during which they could freely express their emotions and thoughts. The session was mostly aimed at resolving the tension around gender inequality issues that arise during love relationships. Aimed especially at university students in their 20s, it was a session that could directly help students with problems they were facing right now, and those they were about to face in the near future. By taking part in a role play, students were given the time to reflect upon their past behaviors and bad dating habits.
The session itself was interesting and creative in that it chose a different approach to tackling gender inequality issues. The fact that students had an opportunity to actively participate in a play is what sets this session apart from other lectures on gender equality, which eliminates interaction between students. Normally, universities provide students with lectures, most of which are a passive, indirect way of actually visualizing and resolving the matters regarding inequality. There is even the saying, "To know is one thing, to act is another." Students may understand and comprehend the incongruent distribution of equality between both genders, but whether they can apply this knowledge to reality is another problem. The workshop that was held on Thursday, on the other hand, was able to converge the two concepts of knowing and acting. Students were able to teach and learn at the same time, while getting a hands-on experiment on gender role ideology. From it, a greater synergy effect on understanding the concept of gender equality was produced.
Because there were no fixed scripts to the role play scenarios, students were open to freely express themselves without any interventions. Through this short act, students were encouraged to develop their own critical intelligence with regard to culturally inherited stereotypes, and to the influence of media portrayals. After each role play, students were given some time to reflect on their behaviors, realizing how believing in stereotypes might lead to unwanted violence to others and themselves. Discussions on the kinds of stereotypical ideologies that were embedded in each student's way of speech were followed thereafter. By pointing out the problems in their communication, students were able to realize what they were doing wrong and ways to fix it.
Communication is crucial in modern day society. In fact it has been so throughout history, from the very dawn of the advent of human beings. In his famous prose, John Donne quotes that “No man is an island.” It is true; no man can be an island, completely isolated by him or herself, as long as they live in this world. Everyone is connected, one way or the other, creating a huge circle of life. And in order to circulate this circle of life, people use a means of communication to strengthen their bonds and relationships. Communication, therefore, plays a huge role connecting person to person, and people to the world.
However, as easy and natural as it is for people to talk, speech has a volatile nature which can make or break us. If used effectively, it can serve as the strongest means to show your love to others, while it can also act as an abrasive weapon that could forever wound people around you. This is especially evident in a relationship, where two different individuals of the opposite sex learn to give and take words of love. Relationships can never be all about romance and fairy tale; conflicts happen, and they come without any warnings. As two people's way of speech collide with one another, their relationship might just reach a destination of a dead end. However with the right words, the couple may find a detour and resume their relationship. Words are for sure, a very powerful ally or a weapon.
With Industrialization, the agrarian and patriarchal society of Korea has dramatically changed. The spread of Western ideology of individualization has effectively shed light on the growing importance of women’s rights, calling forth the need for gender equality. Thus, throughout many decades, the inequality between men and women has significantly improved. Subsequently, people’s awareness on gender equality has risen more than ever before, and women are actively participating in promoting their rights. Even until today, the battle for equality continues.
Then there is the question: Is it just an assumption that Korea is improving in terms of egalitarian issues, or is it all a mere illusion? How do we know for sure that Korea is changing?
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)announces an internationally approved data on an annual basis, which determines a numerical value for the rate of gender inequality among assigned countries. The Gender Inequality Index (GII) designed by UNDP, ranges from 0, which indicates equality between male and female, to 1, which means women are relatively underprivileged in terms of reproductive health, empowerment, and the labor market. The numbers derived from this data determine which country is statistically an "equal society."
According to the 2011 statistic by UNDP stating the GII, Korea recorded 0.111 points, ranking 11th out of a total of 146 countries. This is a notable change when compared to the statistical result of 2010, which marked Korea 0.210, ranking 20th among 138 countries. Korea has escalated over 9 levels over a period of just one year, bringing our nation closer to the number 0. Positive outlook on reaching 0 and achieving desirable equality between both genders is expected.
Behind the static lies the hidden effort of government, organizations, education, and other social factors. The hopeful result served as a driving force to further enhancing gender equity. Universities are collaborating with various organizations, including the Health Support Center, the Center for Health and Gender Equity, and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Through the collaboration, students are offered a wide range of options. They are given the opportunity to step away from the logical and decisive study of academics and focus on emotional and introspective aspects of love and life. The workshop on role play is a part of the program that CAU offers to promote gender equity. In partnership with Dongjak Family and Health Center and Baby Love Organization, Dongjak-gu has also decided on carrying out temporary lectures on "Smart Love" in CAU. It is expected that the lecture will expand to its nearby campuses, including Soongsil University and Chongshin University. Yonsei University is famous for its lecture, "Do You Know Love?" For 7 years, this course has been consistently popular among students. Feminist studies that focus on love relationships are attracting students as well. A lecture was held in Sogang University about the remnants of patriarchal gender role ideology that rests in modern day love relationships. It questions the stereotypical thoughts on men's roles and women's roles when it comes to dating; putting an emphasis that change is crucial. Temporary or not, it is an undeniable fact that universities are working hard to promote egalitarianism.
Korea has shown a great effort to work against gender inequality. It has lived through a dynamic history which dates back to the patriarchal society, transitioning to the modern day society where women's rights are now being prioritized over other factors. In this great move towards egalitarianism, people's views are gradually but definitely changing for the better. Creative and effective methods are being practiced to capture the social consciousness of young students. Such methods are always welcome. If we continue to take such small steps, Korean society will definitely be able to see positive changes in only a matter of a few years.
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