Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Letter to Myself, 20 Years from Now

I wrote the following letter for Professor Amy Sankaran’s externship seminar. Thanks to her and many others’ critical assistance, I was able to spend my last semester of law school deeply reflecting on my life. With an incredible amount of support from others and sheer good fortune, I have managed to complete my law degree. 

Dear Nayoung, 20 years from now (2036):

I hope this finds you alive, healthy, and surrounded by loved ones. I would give anything for Grandma and Grandpa to still be with you in 2036, but as they are already in their 80s, I accept that it is not likely. I hope you were able to make the most of the time that you had left with your grandparents in this life, and I hope you have kept your partner, parents, siblings, and friends very close. I also hope you were able to meet and bond deeply with many other people. 

I write to you from the United States in 2016. This is the year that Donald Trump was elected president. It is also the year that I had a major existential crisis, as well as the year that I married the most compassionate person I met. I have experienced a lot of difficulties in and out of law school this year. I do not feel very well, but I am still hopeful that things will improve and that I will make it through this and many more difficult times to come, one way or another. A great many people have offered their kindness and understanding to help me get to this point. I want you to remember their names, to thank them always, and to follow their example in being kind to others.

Apart from keeping yourself healthy, staying close to your loved ones, and being kind to others, I would like to ask just one thing of you. Please do something for women. I have no way of knowing whether you were able to live your life in a way that is true to the vow that you made at twenty, to do something for women. I sincerely wish that this was possible and I will do my very best to make it a reality, but I am beginning to realize just how difficult it is going to be. So I won’t blame you too much if you turn out to have done too little for women in the 20 years from now. However, I will still ask you, to do something for women. If you have done not much, do something. If you have done something, do more.

Monday, May 9, 2016

2nd Poem for Catharine A. MacKinnon's Sex Equality

A Dead Feminist Saves A Victim of Child Sexual Abuse

“Does the sun ask itself, “Am I good? Am I worthwhile? Is there enough of me?” No, it burns and it shines. Does the sun ask itself, “What does the moon think of me? How does Mars feel about me?” No, it burns, it shines. Does the sun ask itself, “Am I as big as other suns in other galaxies? No, it burns, it shines.”
- Andrea Dworkin, Our Blood, 1976.

“But the minute there is that spark of self-respect, or respect for another woman, or you get what really happened to your mother, the whole house of cards starts to fall apart in your mind, hence in the world, or in the world, hence in your mind.”
- Catharine A. MacKinnon, Shakespeare's Sister in Philosophy and Reality: A Response, 2013.

Planet earth.
A victim of child sexual abuse decides to die,
Like so many others have before her.

While she has always known that she was raped as a child,
Something inside her stopped her from confronting this truth,
Until this truth was triggered out of her dissociated mind.

She was triggered while learning about rape,
Learning about rape while learning about the law,
The law that does not care about how raped girls feel.

She feels so awful all day every day,
It is a wonder she has managed to keep breathing so far,
Her entire world falls apart, sleepless nights, living dead days.

She decides to strangle herself with her pajama pants,
Or, failing that, jump into a river nearby,
It would not be the first time a raped girl takes her own life,
In fact, she thinks, it is quite fitting,
For raped girls do not live real lives anyway, or so they say.

She knows that she is cherished but this does not matter,
For she feels so dirty and worthless, a shameful burden on people she loves,
She convinces herself that she would be a better daughter, sister, and friend, in memory than in life.

In the deep dark of the night,
A dead feminist comes to this victim of child sexual abuse,
To save her from killing herself, to give her back her life.

The dead feminist teaches the victim about the house of cards,
The house of cards that holds this world together,
A world in which children are raped and women are murdered.

From the dead feminist, the victim learns about resistance,
An organized resistance that will pull the house of cards apart.
Until this work is done,
There will always be a raped girl who decides to die.

Having met the dead feminist, the victim starts to hope,
To hope that she might live a real life after all,
A real life in which she will love, rejoice, and fight.

This has been the feminist’s gift to the world, in life and in death.
In life, she believed that "writing could move the earth and raise the dead, at least the living dead."*
Her writing did, does, and will forevermore, even in death.

Planet earth.
A victim of child sexual abuse decides to live.

* Catharine A. MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin: Remembered, 2005.

By: Nayoung Kim, written for Catharine A. MacKinnon's Sex Equality course.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Personal Statement for Law School (Fall 2013)

“It’s a shame she survived. How can someone live after such horror? It would be kinder if she had died.” So said my best friend after recounting the gruesome details of the rape inflicted on an eight-year-old girl. The crime had happened back in 2008 but I remembered it vividly, because the media had christened the victim with an alias which was also my own name, Nayoung. 
For a terrible minute, I was at a loss for words. I felt indescribably angry. Yet I also felt powerless because I knew too well what she meant. Not only would Nayoung suffer from the terror of that cruel day, she would also live with the stigma of being a rape victim: a damaged girl, a damaged bride, a damaged person. In time, she would learn how to always be alert to her surroundings and to distrust everyone and everything. Eventually she would join the living dead, because God forbid raped girls having real lives. As they say, “you can’t un-rape a girl once she’s been raped.” 
Perhaps she could pretend that it never happened. She could lie to everyone she loves, and grow up with a secret in her heart. However, it seems that Nayoung would not get to hide or forget. 5 years after the rape, her attacker is in jail but only for 7 more years. The press still stalks her with questions. People still talk about her bowels falling out when he tried to remove the semen. It is the only story she is allowed: a life destroyed by one event, destined to a fate worse than death. 
I want to tell a different story. It is the story I told my friend that day for the first time in 8 years of friendship. In my 23 years, I have known two killers and one child rapist. I met the first two while working at an organization devoted to fighting domestic and sexual violence, and the last when I was ten years old. The two killers I know are abused women who saved their own and their children’s lives by ending their husbands.’ I visit these brave women in jail and assist their lawyers with trial preparation. The child rapist I encountered is long gone from my very real life.I read and write fiction. I run, I do yoga, and I love. Although it took much time and heartache for me to get to this point, I am now a survivor of violence advocating for the rights of women and children. 
For ten years, I kept my rape a secret from everyone. My family is very supportive and loving, but I knew even then that being raped is a debilitating stigma in Korean society. I also did not want them to feel guilty. I could finally face what had happened upon entering college. Searching for answers, I wandered until I found <The Courage to Heal>, a book about overcoming sexual trauma. I chose to study law as a freshman and later discovered feminism and cultural anthropology. For me, these disciplines represent a shared emphasis on social engagement. Two years ago, I joined the Korea Women’s Hotline, which is the oldest organization combatting violence against women in Korea.
There was a time when I was afraid that I was being delusional. I believed that I had to change the world. I kept gravitating towards the non-profit sector, attending demonstrations and organizing student groups. Surely this must be lunacy. After all, I come from the Korean middle class, which celebrates sensible and profitable careers. So why this obsession with the public interest? Was I attracted to other people’s misery because there was something pathologically wrong with me? I sought help from a counselor who also gives lectures on sexual violence. He explained that public interest work would let me witness help being delivered to victims and that sometimes I would also get to be that help. This in turn would give me catharsis because I had kept my own pain masked and never received much help. Not only did he affirm my sanity, he also cheered me to carry on. 
Next spring, I will train to become a victim’s advocate before starting law school in the US. In my life I will attempt to answer several questions. Do different societies have different legal practices and cultural attitudes regarding the rights of women and children? If so, what kind of philosophical and historical factors make some societies fairer or safer than others? Is it possible to bring about lasting legal and cultural change? If so, how can this be done and what role do I play in it? In law school, I want to learn how to be a professional who is competent, comfortable with handling diverse situations, and skilled at maneuvering complex rules and procedures. I further hope to get acquainted with American and international feminist organizations like Equality Now.
Throughout my life, I have worked on confronting the past and healing myself. While my counselor could still be wrong and I may indeed have gone cuckoo from all the trauma, I sincerely believe that I must do something to change the world. Therefore I have set a specific goal and started towards that direction. I still feel anguished and wildly inadequate from time to time. However, more often I am empowered by the people I work with and encouraged by the fact that I can actually fight back and help others. I am proud of my journey so far. This is how I live after “such horror.”

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Poem for Catharine A. MacKinnon's Sex Equality

A Poem about a Woman, her Daughter, and her Granddaughter – Accidentally Empowered Women in a Male Dominated World 

The woman took her first breath under Japanese colonial rule.
Dispossessed, disempowered, and desecrated,
Her people were not safe in their own home.

She escaped the fate of being taken as a 'comfort woman'
Because they only wanted girls aged eleven and above,
And she was three years too young, three years too young, three years too young,
By an accident of birth.

As the eldest girl of many children in a family of modest means,
She would never have been allowed to go so far as to middle school,
Had the Korean War not killed off her sisters and brothers.

By an accident of war, the woman became an only child.
Her heartbroken parents supported the woman through university,
Which is how she became one of the first female teachers in war-torn Korea.

Unlike most other women of her time and background,
The woman could read, write, and earn her own money.
Depression almost put an end to her sanity, but it did not destroy her in the end.

The woman’s daughter grew up not knowing poverty,
Because the woman could provide for her children amply,
Even though they lived in a poor nation recovering from war.

The daughter never knew colonial rule, poverty, or war.
But she knew discrimination and inequality too well,
Because she was a woman, she was a woman, she was a woman,
By an accident of birth.

Like the woman, the woman’s daughter wanted to make something of herself.
Unlike the woman, who worked in the female-dominated field of teaching,
The woman’s daughter wanted to break into the male-dominated field of law.

Everyone told her women can’t, women can’t, women can’t do what men can.
She joined the seven women entering the best law school in Korea,
In a time when women represented some thousandths of the legal profession.

The woman’s daughter now a lawyer had many hopes at the start of her career,
But woman hating cut too deeply for her to do all that she could do.
Sex inequality at work and home almost put an end to her career and breast cancer almost put an end to her life, but they did not destroy her in the end.

The woman’s daughter had a daughter of her own,
So the woman had a granddaughter who looked just like the woman,
And the woman became her granddaughter’s most trusted friend and love.

Empowered by the woman’s wealth and her daughter’s status,
The woman’s granddaughter grew up knowing the potential of women.
She also knew that the women she came from were extraordinary women, extraordinary women, extraordinary women.

Like the woman and her daughter, the woman’s granddaughter has wild ambitions.
Unlike the woman and her daughter, who have led individually empowered lives, 
the woman’s granddaughter dares to make the world safer for the collective Women, 
ordinary and extraordinary, disempowered and empowered, across borders and differences.
Rape in childhood almost put an end to her hope, but it did not destroy her in the end.

By: Nayoung Kim, written for Catharine A. MacKinnon's Sex Equality course.