Kim: How being Korean American influences my conversations about sexism, masculinity

Yvonne Kim, Opinion Editor

In light of recent events on campus, conversations about buzzword topics like rape culture and toxic masculinity have felt particularly heightened. We are always talking about how administrations should respond, how men can do better, what underlying problems we’re ignoring. These conversations are loud. They are pervasive and active. They manifest in noise: voices of protest, constant social media chatter and marches across campus.

This noise has become central to a lot of who we are, myself included, and how we process our surroundings. But over time, as I have tried to have these same conversations within my own Asian and Korean circles, I have continuously been met with confusion as I realize how absolutely separate these spheres are from my life at Northwestern. As a Korean American, I have relentlessly tried to reconcile those two identities — assuming, in my own naivete, that I could simply take one discourse and slap it onto another — but I no longer think I can.

Different problems require different conversations. The toxic masculinity I talk about in theory is often not the same one I experience on a day-to-day basis. In fact, in many spaces I frequent, discussion is entirely nonexistent. We don’t talk about masculinity. It is a topic shunned or scorned, or sometimes altogether silenced. People express misogyny in a wide range of ways, and I find myself navigating this spectrum the moment I move from the comment sections of an English YouTube video to a Korean celebrity news website. Or as I go back and forth between hanging out with one group of friends to another, or on break when I return and somehow manage to feel a new wave of culture shock each time.

What I’ve ultimately come to realize is that mainstream culture’s approaches to misogyny and masculinity are inaccessible, sometimes absolutely incomprehensible, for those who come from other cultures. Cultures like mine are far more passive and silent on the issue than we are here at NU, or even in the United States. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is we are encountering people from these backgrounds each day, even on our seemingly homogeneous college campus.

As I continue to encounter situations where I cry in attempts to converse with my father about masculinity, or fail to speak out in predominantly Korean spaces due to discomfort, I’ve made two realizations that have helped me move on from this cognitive dissonance with a liberated attitude instead of a frustrated one. Firstly, although engaging in comfortable conversations here on campus can be incredibly formative and healing for me as an individual, it can also prevent me from tackling smaller, quieter issues in my own communities. And to be quite frank, the latter affects me just as much, if not more so, than the former does. I hope to be more willing to put aside the ways I’ve been conditioned to engage with social justice to be more flexible and understanding of specific Korean, Asian and minority issues.

Secondly, I’ve found that judging the spaces and people I come from through the lenses of mainstream discourse has merely made me internalize resentment against Asianness. Surely I have the right to be critical, but to move forward almost in arrogance — as though my knowledge and experiences as a bilingual, bicultural college student give me the right to see Korean issues as separate from myself — is fundamentally misguided. Admittedly this is incredibly difficult, often resulting in hurt feelings with family members, built-up bitterness against my own friends and very uncomfortable conversations. But as I continue to become more cognizant of these cultural disparities, I put it upon myself to be gentler in understanding my own communities, to use noise as a tool to help me navigate silence instead of feel stifled by it.

Yvonne Kim is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members at The Daily Northwestern.