Professor Kim Joeun recently joined the KDI School family after receiving her Ph.D. in Sociology and Demography from the Pennsylvania State University (USA) with a concentration in Gender Inequality, Economic Insecurity, and Family Decline in South Korea.
What was your dream when you were an undergraduate student?
Well, in my first year as an undergrad I was in the Social Science department studying Sociology. But I had a fantasy to live and work in France which urged me to become a curator and an art dealer. So I went to France to pursue a degree in Museology, but not long after I realized that the fantasy world I was living in was not appealing to me at all. So I came back to Korea and worked on my sociology degree. Yet back then I had no intention of becoming an academic, I just wanted to study more. Somehow as a result of that journey I ended up pursuing a Phd and now I am working at the KDI School.
You have a degree in sociology which is concentrating more on gender inequality. What inspired you to choose that area in particular?
When I first applied as a Ph.D. student my concentration was in a field of sociology which studied interactive relationships between genetic components and social structure. For me back then, studying human behavior was fascinating. Yet during my second year, I wanted to study gender inequality and wrote a dissertation titled “Crisis of The Family’: Gender Inequality, Economic Insecurity, and Family Decline in South Korea.
Students are usually scared to change their area of concentration in the middle of a degree. What made you succeed in taking these chances?
You say I have accomplished a lot, but I mean I don’t think too much before I make a decision or when I want to make a change in life. There can be a lot of obstacles that might be thrown your way but for me I just focus on the things I like the most at that specific moment and I make a go at it. Well, about the aftermath or the consequences I really don’t think much, maybe it is my personality. If I like something I never hesitate to do it.
“Gender War in South Korea ” is one of the most interesting topics you teach this semester. What is it exactly?
There are no definite definitions as to what Gender War is, but I like to define it as an ideological conflict between men and women especially the young generation over gender issues. I think that this gender war has been happening very quietly in online spaces, mostly in online forums, since 2010 and because there has been a growing backlash against women in male-dominated online communities. This triggered a feminist response to men’s backlash against a young woman and that became a gender war which is now ongoing and ranges over multiple gender issues.
Is “Gender War in South Korea” visible to the outer world?
So the main reason you wouldn’t see anything concerning gender inequality taking place is mainly that most of it happens in the online spaces and then most people are reluctant to talk explicitly about it in real life. First, because it’s such a sensitive issue and this term gender inequality can mostly impact one’s mental wellbeing.
In South Korea, there has been a lot of advancement in gender equality, especially in public spaces. Women have achieved a lot in terms of education and have claimed a great percentage of the labor force participation, especially young women in their 20s. Yet the problem is that still there still exists harsh discrimination within the family or with interpersonal relationships. Women are still exposed to a lot of domestic violence and they are also randomly beaten up in the street just for being women. A lot of frustrated men pour their anger about personal issues onto women so there are still a lot of incidents of gender-based violence happening in the country. These occurrences still come as a shock to many women who have achieved so much in life as they still have to get exposed to various kinds of gender discrimination. It is also the motivation within women that leads them to fight against gender discrimination or gender-based violence.
What can we do to maintain gender equality in our society and space?
“As for my personal view, one way to overcome gender inequality which persists in almost every society, is to engage both women and men in conversations related to gender issues. Because it shouldn’t be an issue that is being discussed and argued among only women and revolving around their experiences. We should incorporate men in discussions on how to improve gender equality in their societies, because they are also under pressure follow multiple gender norms to be a breadwinner or to be successful all the time. These kinds of pressures should be alleviated to achieve equality between men and women.”