Following are the winners of the 2019 Herald Journalism Essay Contest organized by Herald Edu in May. -- Ed.
Media and Feminism: A South Korean Perspective
By Shin Hee-eun
Daewon Foreign Language High School
“My life is not your porn!" Over the course of eight months in 2019, thousands of South Korean women flooded the streets near Hyehwa Station to protest the proliferating crime of spy-cam pornography, made with clandestine cameras targeting women in a variety of public spaces. Protestors, many of them feminists, criticized the justice system for neglecting to dispense appropriate punishment, and the police for its alleged double standard in handling an analogous case involving a male victim. But as news reports of the demonstrations surfaced on- and offline, another party emerged as part of the problem: the South Korean media.
Selective and superficial are two words to describe the domestic media’s coverage of the Hyehwa Station protest, and by implication, of Korean feminism. For example, articles were brimming with vivid depictions of the most militant marchers with their bellicose slogans, including one—“Moon Jae-in jaegihae [Go kill yourself, President Moon Jae-in]” —involving a personage only tangentially related to the issue. Relatively little mention was made, however, of the thousands of peaceful protesters who were simply asserting their basic right not to be exposed to a voyeurism that may live on forever in cyberspace.
Still less mention was made of the complex social context in which the protest arose. Far from an isolated incident, spycam pornography in Korea is an epidemic years in the making, exacerbated by an entrenched culture of patriarchal insensitivity to women’s rights, both on the part of the public and of government. Combined with a slew of other sexist incidents now coming to light, it is little wonder feminist anger has reached a point of eruption. Given an explanation of such realities, readers would have been more likely to understand the protesters’ motives as reasonable, rather than irrational. In place of such an in-depth investigation, however, South Korean media has largely chosen to fixate on the most lurid details of the protest itself.
The implications of such coverage are not just that the public is misinformed, but that unnecessary social tension is created along gender and ideological lines. This “us vs. them” mentality impedes productive discussion on gender inequality issues in a country that has many. According to the New York Times, “the World Economic Forum ranks the country 118th of 144 in terms of gender equality.” With sensationalist journalism prevailing in South Korea today, there is little hope that things will improve. It is time, then, for the Korean media to recognize where its true responsibility lies: not in generating the most clicks or sales, but in sparking well-informed conversations about the neglected voices of half the population, only now starting to be heard.
The True Bully Deterrent
By Byun Su-min
Hankuk Academy of Foreign Studies
Cruelty and ostracization may be a part of human nature, but that does not make their persistence in schools acceptable. So much has been said and done to root out bullying from educational environments, yet a recent UNESCO report still identifies it as a “major global issue.” It may thus be time to seriously re-evaluate existing approaches to the problem. Having advised a number of bullying cases as a peer counselor in my high school, I believe current solutions fixate too much preventing and stopping perpetration, and too little on building up supportive in-school relationships for victims.
Campaigns against the perpetration of bullying are as widespread as they are diverse in form. So far, however, it appears they have limited effectiveness at best, and are counterproductive at worst. Take, for example, the famous zero-tolerance policy, which calls for the immediate application of the most severe forms of punishment to perpetrators. According to a panel of experts recently commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences, “Zero tolerance policies have not had an impact in keeping schools safer and could have adverse consequences.” This is not to deny that some progress has been made under existing conditions, as a recent study of Maryland schools has shown. The fact remains, however, that dealing with the act of bullying itself is only half of a complex battle.
Calls for more attention to victims have already been made, but they’ve been about the wrong kind of attention. A good instance is a 2011 article that appeared in the Atlantic, titled “An Alternate Approach to Stop School Bullying: Fix the Victims.” A one-line summary below the title says new research “seeks to empower victims with ways to cope with peer aggression.” Not only does such phrasing suggest that bullying victims have somehow instigated their own misfortune, but it also implies that the onus is ultimately on them to dig themselves out of the mess. Indeed, the piece goes onto cite “an egoless approach to building relationships” and “react[ing to aggression] in … mindful ways” as behavior to be cultivated in those being bullied.
What the article gets right is the importance of relationships to victims’ coping, but this demands just as much effort from peers as from the victims. In fact, in my experience, the students who suffer the most are those afraid to reach out for help because earlier attempts were met with rejection. Classmates’ initiatives to establish lines of communication are crucial to helping such students escape isolation, leading to greater strength in dealing with the bullies. In other words, the solution to bullying we truly need starts with educating peers to stand with the victims, so that the bullies are deterred.
Let Me Sleep: A Dream of an Ordinary Student
By Woo So-e
Daewon Foreign Language High School
“We all lie”. This song took South Korea by storm, with the so called ‘Sky Castle Syndrome’, capturing the nation in awe. The TV drama vividly demonstrated our abhorrent education system and threw some very important questions, with one very important one: are students allowed to have a dream? Or must they become sacrificial lambs of social standards, live fake lives for the sake of their parents, and regret later once it is too late?
We often times come across the saying that happiness is not determined by grades, and that one should always have dreams. Teachers, society and role models from all walks of life preach to young children that they should have dreams. Dream to have hope. Dream so that you may live a meaningful life. Dream to aspire to inspire. The question however, is are our students being fed the necessary ingredients to dream? In other words, are they getting enough, or any sleep at all?
Students quickly grabbing a bite on the backseat of their mother’s car on the way to ‘hagwons’ is an everyday scene in South Korea. The mother would glimpse at the back mirror to ask her child whether they are keeping up with homework, when the child was just scolded at school for dropping their grades. Had the mother paid more attention to the child, she would have realized that all the child needed to hear was “you are doing well”. To the child who craves comfort, parents unknowingly push them further to the edge, making their lives even more miserable.
Such a skewed reality which preys on students to score high on exams gives birth to yet other problems, and causes collateral damaging to the already ill nation.
In an average classroom setting, there are no questions asked nor does the teacher expect questions from the students. Perhaps, the only question, that echoes the classroom is, “will it be on the exam?” It is as if they are prohibited to actually think about anything else. Ironic, because every school motto goes along the lines of: ‘change the world’, and ‘dreaming students’, yet today’s schools seem to resemble a bitter motto that reads ‘aim for the SKY’.
It is no surprise why South Korea continues to top the chart for teenage suicide worldwide. According to Statistics Korea, suicide continues to be the leading cause for deaths among those aged between 9-24. Furthermore, a state-run study showed that our students were the most stressed among students from 30 developed nations around the world. These figures however, should not really be at all surprising if the society really understands the everyday lives of today’s students, including myself.
Parents only want best for their beloved children. However, how does one exactly define what is best for them? This can only be done by indulging in different experiences and going through a process of trial and error. The problem with Korean society however, is that it fears errors and considers them as failures, not as stepping stones for success. These experiences will teach children to become more responsible for their choices, learn from their mistakes and ultimately allow for self-actualization.
Let children be children. That is to say that they should be able to dream, and do so freely. While the top of the pyramid may seem so enticing, the climb is not fit for all. Besides, the top of the pyramid is perhaps the most dangerous, with no room to place one’s feet, as if the crash to the bottom is always looming. So please, let us live our lives, not survive through it. Let me sleep. Let me dream. Let me be me.
The Human History of Evilness
By Song Hannah
Dongduk Girls’ High School
Are humans evil or benevolent? For centuries, historians and philosophers from both the West and the East engaged in endless debates on which character best defines us, humans. While Chinese philosopher, Mencius, optimistically claimed the goodness within humans, another profound philosopher, Tsun-zu, opposed such opinion by accentuating on humans’ evilness. Every individual may differ from one’s behavior; yet, when taking a brief look at the history of mankind, there seems to be a lot more evidence that validate the wicked and selfish character of humans. The endless temptation of humans has resulted in incessant greed which culminated in exploitation, torture and maltreatment of others, which has illustrated human history as bloody.
Representing case study of human evilness is colonialism. Through unwanted invasion by foreign powers, weak nations became devastated and replaced by colonizers. Treated as a subhuman that can be abused at will, colonists took advantage of their power, brainwashing the defeated ones that they had been ‘rescued’ from inferior, uncivilized, and barbaric civilization. Such distorted justification still exists today as a myriad of scholars from both the West and the East, most notably the UK and Japan, continue to publish journals, commemorating their history of imperialism and showing indifference to the lasting devastation on affected countries. These centuries of aching history prove how humans fundamentally enjoy abusing power once possessed. When taking a look at Europe, they colonized more than 80% of the entire world during 1490s to 1920s, despite them only covering 8% of the planet’s landmass. Obviously, one conquest was not enough. Humans with power could not possibly resist from continuing vicious exploitation.
Another illustration can be explicitly shown from international waste trade, which is the transport of the 1st World nations’ trash to the 3rd World nations that consists of toxic substances. Tons of non-recyclable waste has been dumped onto mostly Africa, where the lands are deemed properties of the West. Lawrence Summers, former President of Harvard University even stated that Africa is vastly ‘under polluted,’ stressing the egoistic justification of waste trade. Such unjust legitimacy has resulted in the rising dumping, which will equal the weight of 8 Egyptian pyramids in the next 4 years, according to the UN. Yet, the West has turned a blind eye to the inability of poor nations to process trash and cure deadly symptoms that result from waste contamination. In fact, they are exploiting Africa’s absence of understanding on its deadliness by even luring them with nonsensical compensation. For instance, Benin received merely $2.50 per ‘ton’ of waste which was all non-reusable. In the end, the West is creating a selfish future just for themselves by tossing over fatal substances while the poor is creating self-destruction.
Greed is a bottomless pit. And greed is permanent slavery. Without humans’ endeavor to overcome insatiable avarice, atrocities including war, violence and exploitation will never disappear from human history. Establishment of fair governments, stringent laws, and ethical teachings only seem to be the key to ending brutality done with human hands. But then again, will that be possible when such solutions must also be done by humans—the most greedy species that exist on this planet?
The True Gateway to Happiness
Cho Chloe Na-yeon
Seoul International School
“Am I happy?” Every one of us may have asked this question to ourselves at one point in our lifetime. Once asked, majority of people tend to equate happiness with success, which comes with a social reputation and abundant money. Such perception is proven in the reality, as millions of both adults and children spend days and nights, striving to climb up the top of the pyramid. Once reached, one will be finally granted with the title of a winner, who will be awarded with everything that one has imagined, including everlasting happiness. But is this the true answer to a happy life? This essay will delve into the distorted perception of happiness that is deeply rooted in the South Korean society.
Most important of all, the notion of “che-myeon”—how other people perceive one—is very strong within Korea, which significantly has contributed to how Koreans perceive happiness. As people are sensitive to how others view them, everyone regards happiness as possessing traits that others can envy, respect, and acknowledge. Such qualities include school titles, occupation or financial status. To not lose face, Koreans become caught up in a vicious cycle, merely obsessed with filling up those traits that the society admires. Once possessed, however, many people realize that such appreciated qualities are not the gateway to happiness, as they are nothing more than superficial elements. With distorted meaning of happiness as their ultimate objective in life, many become lost once they reach the top. They realize that “che-myeon” had blinded them from seeing the value of internal happiness.
Furthermore, “money” is another factor that is greatly considered as a key to happiness, to happiness, which stimulates people to constantly seek for opportunities to expand their wealth, as what they have at the present is not enough to grant them happiness. Such viewpoint is proven in the 2018 World Happiness Report released by the UN, where South Korea is ranked very unhappy—32nd out of 34 countries of the OECD, despite its economy being the 11 largest in the world. In contrast, 95 to 100% of citizens in African nations, such as Sierra Leone, Togo, Chad and Ethiopia responded that they lived a meaningful life, despite severe poverty problem. This proves that wealth is not proportionate with the level of happiness. There is another theory that highlights this vital lesson—a theory called Easterlin Paradox. It concludes that increasing sum of money does not necessarily entail a higher level of happiness, supported by several case studies, including America where the society tripled in terms of income between the 1940s and 1970s. Yet, happiness level declined. The reasons for above-mentioned studies are that materialistic happiness derived from money is truly short-lived. Material benefits that can be purchased by money eventually wear out, naturally leading us to desire better, newer goods that can satisfy our empty hearts.
In the end, happiness is not out there. It is within us. At the end of life, what really matters is not how others view us or what we possess. Without internal satisfaction and recognition of what “I” truly want in life, genuine happiness will not present itself in front of us. Happiness is not a possession—rather, it is a state of mind. We should all live a life—that matters, not to others, but to our own “self.”