How the hell do you talk about gender inequality to a room full of young Korean women?

May 29, 2017

My current job at the Global Station in Daegu, South Korea has me visiting area high schools for the occasional guest lecture. It's part of our mentoring program to help make up for the fact that budget cuts caused Native English Teachers to be cut from most high schools. I was recently assigned to speak over 4 periods across 2 days at the Daegu Girls High School. Now part of this program is that the teacher at the school chooses the topic and partially plans the lesson. The chosen topic, inspired by Emma Watson's speech to the UN was Gender Inequality. 

Considering I'm, you know, a man I felt a little odd about speaking out on the topic. Who the hell was I to talk about gender inequality to a room full of young Korean women about gender inequality? I didn't want to "mansplain" gender inequality to a group of people who, more than likely, have a helluva a lot more experience with the topic than I do. (Many of them have apparently been told by parents and grandparents "Don't worry about what you will do for a job, you'll just find a husband anyway", they don't need me to explain shit to them). I was supposed to discus my experiences and observations with gender inequality in both my home country (the U.S. of A.) and South Korea. I was also supposed to write an read a "resolution against gender inequality". So I went around and asked a bunch of my women friends, many of whom fall into the "strong independent" category to say the least, just what the hell I should say so I didn't come off as a dick or a try-hard. I talked to western women and Korean women about it. And many of them touched on the same issue.

They all mentioned the ideas of traditional gender roles. This, in one form or another, was brought up by every woman I asked. Many of them seemed to share the concern that it was also a men's issue. Which is a concept that was central to the Emma Watson speech the class was centered on. This also gave me something to talk about that connected to me and would seem more personal and less disingenuous. They wanted me to talk about how "feminism" means equality for everyone,fringe groups notwithstanding.

Anyway, below is a slightly altered version of the "resolution" I wrote up. I did not include some of the more complex and colorful language, and the end was a little different.

I am a feminist. Does that surprise you? Okay, I’ll say it again. I, Kyle Decker, the man writing this, am a feminist. Many people seem to have a very warped idea of what that means. But it means simply this: I think that women are people. I think men, women, and everyone in between are equals.

I’m not in a position of power. So how can I fight gender inequality? Easy. By simply showing respect for choices people make with their lives. Whether she chooses to be a politician, an artist, a CEO, or a stay at home wife and mother. All of these women deserve respect because feminism, first and foremost, is about choice.

Just as importantly, I can put my own insecurities about my masculinity aside. Because the traditional gender roles can be damaging to men as well. Men are told to not show emotion. Men are sometimes mocked for going into jobs seen as “women’s jobs” like nursing or teaching. I was bullied as a kid because I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about sports, my predilections were more artistic. I was called a “fag” and “girly” because I liked writing and theater more than basketball. You see, what feminism really means is equality for women and men. It means that a man can cry without anyone giving him crap for it. It means a woman can be assertive without being called “bitchy.” It means a woman can be a CEO or construction worker. It means a man can be a nurse or a stay at home dad. It means that you, me, all of us can do what we want and be who we want. But what we all need to do, all of us together, is show each other respect for these choices. Only with that support, can we all break free of these bogus, limiting gender roles.

So to hell with so called “tradition.” Because the time to move forward is always right now.

I have always considered myself a Humanist. Feminism is a obvious subcategory of that. If not, basically, synonymous. Overall having to sit down and think this one through, hearing people's stories while preparing, and hearing what the girls came up with was all a very eye-opening experience.