Before we dive into this third installment in the F.A.D. 16 Days of Activism series, a heads up: I hoped to post daily during the 16 Days, but I’ve realized I can’t keep up the pace. I have more to say about the women’s rights issues in each It’s OK to Be Sensitive! episode than I thought! Even so, we ain’t stopping! Now, check out the next webisode:
Before moving on, be sure to watch the nine-minute webisode above, because after this, THERE BE SPOILERS. And remember to click the CC button to get English subtitles.
This chapter in It’s OK to Be Sensitive! (the fifth overall in season one) centers on Ye-ji, whom we learned early in the series conforms to many traditional Korean expectations of young women – modest in speech and fashion, highly deferential to those older than her, and reluctant to challenge men. Her character snapshot in the prologue even suggests a lot of her male classmates think of her as an ideal Korean woman (hashtag: “Wise Mother, Good Wife”). But in this episode, Ye-ji begins to find her voice.
The first scene shows Ye-ji and her boyfriend making out in his dimly lit bedroom. They both seem to be enjoying each other, and they progress from sitting to lying down. Then she’s startled by a beep. The camera pulls back to reveal a cell phone propped up on a table, recording their foreplay.
It turns out that this scene didn’t actually happen to the characters, but its elements represent Ye-ji’s dilemma in this episode. Her boyfriend keeps pushing her to let him film them having sex, while she is very uncomfortable with the idea.
Ye-ji turns to her close friends, Shin-hye (our central character, who’s a couple steps ahead of Ye-ji in standing up for herself against sexism) and Chae-ah (the bestie who would take on the entire patriarchy by herself if she had to), for advice. She explains to them that her boyfriend (only identified as “Honey” in the episode) pledges they’ll only film it this one time, and further, he promises that he’ll be the only person who ever sees it. To him, having their sex captured on video is a lot like taking selfies when you know you look good. But she has strong misgivings.
Shin-hye and Chae-ah explore with her the reasons why doing the video could come back to haunt her. She pushes back strongly when they suggest he could post it online if they break up, as an act of revenge. They then come up with various ways the video could still get out, even if her boyfriend doesn’t leak it on purpose. As they do, Ye-ji gets more and more stressed out.
She suddenly gets a call from her boyfriend. She answers, only to learn that she is indeed receiving a call from Honey’s phone, but that it’s not him calling. (Hmm, what if that’s actually his real name? I’ve heard of Asians taking English names like Apple and Cola, though not yet Apple Cola. Yet.) On the other end is someone who found his phone, which he had apparently lost, and is calling her to find someone who can get the phone back to him. Coming in the midst of Ye-ji’s discussion with her friends, she panics.
Chae-ah goes to retrieve the phone and brings it back. They look through its contents and don’t find anything that would have been embarrassing to Ye-ji, which is a relief to them all. But the incident underscores how easy it is for anything recorded to get out into the world. Chae-ah then challenges her to tell her boyfriend how she feels, and that she’s willing to break up over the issue. Shin-hye offers her empathetic looks and sighs to convey her support.
Ye-ji brings the phone over to Honey’s place, waking him up from a nap. Even though she’s holding his phone, it doesn’t register with him that he even lost it. She gets right to the point.
She speaks hesitantly, but with clear determination. “I don’t want to take … that video. I love you very much, but I am really important, too. If I film the video, even if it’s just for your enjoyment, I will still be anxious about it for the rest of my life. So … I will not film it, ever! If you ask one more time, I will break up with you.” She then covers her face with her hands as the tears begin to fall.
Me: GO YE-JI GO!!!
Happily for Ye-ji, Honey gets up, embraces her, and apologizes. He comes off as being truly sincere, saying sorry, admitting that he’s wrong, and promising that the video will never happen.
My three takeaways for this chapter of It’s OK to Be Sensitive!:
First, we shouldn’t minimize the step that Ye-ji is taking by standing up to Honey. Someone like Chae-ah may have already kicked him to the curb by this point, and maybe many of you reading this post would have, too. But Ye-ji stands up to some of her greatest fears and draws a clear boundary. That’s huge for her!
Second, intimate pictures and video being taken or published without consent is no trivial matter. In most states in the U.S., it’s also criminal. And it’s rampant, not just here, but globally. One out of every 12 Americans reports having such images of them shared without consent. In Australia, one in five adults has had such images taken without permission. Reports of these kinds of sexual misconduct are rising across Asia, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and even Iraq.
Sometimes, the photos and recordings are posted online as a way to humiliate an ex, hence the term revenge porn. Shin-hye and Chae-ah bring this up as a possibility to Ye-ji, who refuses to consider that Honey would ever do such a thing. The most high-profile recent case in the U.S. concerns former California congresswoman Katie Hill, who resigned in late October after intimate pictures of her were published by a hard-right political blog. Ms. Hill believes her estranged husband leaked the photos.
Perhaps if the episode had been filmed later in 2018, the year It’s OK to Be Sensitive! made its debut, the characters may have also discussed a very well-known case involving K-pop idol Goo Ha-ra, a former member of the pioneering girl group KARA. Ms. Goo’s ex-boyfriend was found guilty last year of threatening to leak a video of their having sex, as well as guilty of assaulting her. (She also charged that the video was made without her permission, which the court acknowledged. Yet the court still ruled him not guilty of that offense because she stayed in their relationship.)
Ms. Goo was hospitalized for serious injuries; she released photos of her severe bruises to the public. Her medical records, which she also made public, describe not only numerous bruises and sprains, but even vaginal and uterine bleeding, due to his attack. He played the victim, publishing photos that showed his own facial scars from her attempt to defend herself. The court bought it, and based on that and other victim-blaming reasons, sentenced him to one-and-a-half years behind bars, suspended for a three-year probationary period. (I.e., if he keeps out of trouble for three years, he won’t see a day of that year and a half in jail.)
This example is particularly, and tragically, relevant because the 28-year-old Ms. Goo was found dead just a few days ago, as Billboard’s Tamar Herman reports. It’s believed that she took her own life. Though she suffered through many, many things, it’s not a leap at all to surmise that her experience of sexual violence was part of the burden that she carried.
There have also been numerous cases where hackers have seized nudes or other sexually explicit media from phones or the computing cloud and then leaked them without permission of the persons shown. This is a possibility that Shin-hye and Chae-ah didn’t bring up to Ye-ji, but that scenario is one that has faced a number of celebrities, including Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna, Demi Lovato, and Kate Upton. Earlier this year, actress Bella Thorne even took the step of posting her own topless pictures, beating the hacker to the punch.
Yet another type of sexual cybercrime that is widespread, notably in South Korea, involves the use of hidden cameras, or “spycams,” to capture explicit images or video. This form of sexual violence is explored in an excellent season two episode of It’s OK to Be Sensitive!, so I’ll save my comments on it until we get to that installment in the series.
My third takeaway: This web K-drama is a remarkable series for South Korea, given the country’s strongly patriarchal traditions! This surely is one of the first, if not the first, production by a major South Korean media corporation to focus its stories entirely on women’s rights issues. Most of the webisodes have two to three million views, telling us that the series has definitely struck a nerve, especially as South Korea experiences its own budding #MeToo-type movement.
My hope is that anyone and everyone who has been a victim of intimate image abuse, whether they’re women, men, or gender-nonconforming, find the support they need. From a legal standpoint, stories from around the world lead me to believe that law enforcement and judicial systems are hit or miss, sometimes helpful and sometimes not. But from practical and emotional standpoints, organizations like the BADASS Army in the U.S. (BADASS standing for Battling Against Demeaning and Abusive Selfie Sharing), the Revenge Porn Helpline in the U.K., and various NGOs around the world are stepping up to help.
As for our Fab Five, the heroines and heroes of It’s OK to Be Sensitive!, their relationships will become more complicated in upcoming chapters as romances blossom among them. (Of course, it’s a K-drama!) How will they navigate the real tensions that arise from the patriarchal gender expectations that they’ve been raised with? Which relationships will survive, and which won’t? And how will they handle more situations where men behave badly?
Tune in next time! In fact, if you’re ready, here’s the next post!