A society of sexual harassmentAfter one student from Seoul National University reported a case of sexual harassment in early February this year, there has been an outpouring of other similar incidents reported by both Korean university and high school students. While such issues of harassment and molestation seemed to have occurred in the past as well, female students have typically assumed silence despite their victimization. It seems as if their reluctance to speak out not only stems from Neo-Confucian gender stereotypes, but also from the overwhelming emphasis that Korean society places on education.
Females have typically been characterized as obedient and subservient compared to their male counterparts in Neo-Confucian philosophy. As Korea is a country heavily influenced by such ideas, females could have unintentionally internalized such values and thus, accepted such acts of male superiority. The societal pressure exerted by Korea’s gender hierarchy could have deterred females from openly speaking about their unfortunate experiences, as they could have accepted such discrimination.
Adding to the internalization of male superiority, the staggering influence education holds in Korean society could have been the reason for the disproportionate number of reported cases of sexual harassment in schools. As teacher recommendations play largely into the student’s next educational pursuit, whether the student is in high school or college, students may have been afraid to cut ties with an important teacher or professor. Moreover, students could have easily felt that others wouldn’t believe them, as teachers are their direct superiors and are deemed as more reputable and credible sources.
Highlighting the importance of education has previously had positive effects on Korean society, such as encouraging economic and intellectual growth through innovation. However, it seems as if the pressure to do well at schools and receive a top-class education has created moral loopholes in our society that have put students in a vulnerable position that could be taken advantage of.
In order to serve as a remedy to this problem, the Seoul Education Office has recently enforced a measure to deliver more serious consequences to those who have been committing such indecent and forced physical acts. As the effects of the implementation of this act have not yet been checked, students like myself can only hope that the hunger for success and titles embedded in our society does not continue to engulf our morals.
Cho Hyo-jin, Student at Seoul International School