“Don’t be such a girl, be a man.”
“That outfit is too girly!”
Our everyday language indicates that being a girl is something to be ashamed and made fun of. Upon constantly being exposed to these messages, it unconsciously seeps into our mentality, quietly carving the belief that being “feminine,” is in fact, something to be ashamed and made fun of.
Considering how deeply the patriarchal system is rooted in Korean society, I was truly privileged to have been raised in an empowering family where my parents told me that I can be anything if I work hard. My grandparents lovingly told their four granddaughters that we’re 10,000 times better than any son they could have ever had.
Even so, the messages I was exposed to everyday relentlessly told me that men are the ones who achieve great things. When I was younger, I had a collection of 100 biographies in my room: 50 of them about Koreans and 50 about foreign figures.
Even at a young age, I remember finding it odd that Shin Saimdang was the only female figure among the 50 Korean figures and her main achievement was described as being a respected mother who properly raised Yi I, the greatest scholar from Joseon Dynasty. There were a few more women in the non-Korean section, yet, they too were overshadowed. For instance, Marie Curie was referred to as Madame Curie from the title to the last page of the book. Despite her unprecedented scientific accomplishment, the biography had still called her, Curie’s wife.
Thus, my short stay in New York could only be an inspiration because the city’s effort to break this stigma was so apparent that it came off as a cultural shock to me. Unlike the books from my childhood, the bestselling children’s section in Strand Bookstore was stacked with Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, Feminist Baby, RAD American Women A-Z, Women in Science, and Princess Princess Ever After.
In Wall Street, a statue of a small girl, Fearless Girl, stood proudly facing Charging Bull. Charging Bull was created after the stock crash in 1989 as a depiction of the spirit of New York where pure determination can overcome any obstacle. Fearless Girl became an addition on International Women’s Day of March 8, 2017, as a symbol to advocate gender diversity in workplace.
Charging Bull’s intention was never misogynistic, yet, the fact that the artist used a girl – so small she didn’t even reach my shoulder – as a figure that confronts the bull was such an inspiration. Despite the stark contrast between the two statues’ physiques, Fearless Girl’s bravery refuse to waver before the ruthless, masculine form of the bull.
The New York City that I experienced was feminism inclusive of children. It is not my intention to idealize New York and call it the human rights paradise. “The deadliest terror attack since 9/11” on Oct. 31 that left 8 killed and 12 wounded, is one example of why that’s not the case. From my personal experience, however, no one said that children are too young to understand discrimination, feminism, human rights, and patriarchy.
As long as equal human rights are concerned, it shouldn’t matter whether you’re a woman, a girl, or a man, nor should it matter that you define yourself a political conservative, a liberal, a Christian, or a Muslim.