Gender Equality, Gender-based Violence, Inspiration
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Disruptive Voices: Breaking Gender Barriers in South Korea

Disruptive Voices is a South Korean Facebook group, that not only functions as an online social network, but actually organizes in-person discussions about gender in Korea, which I think is awesome.

Disruptive Voices is an offshoot of Varyd, a clothing line launched in June 2013. The founders of Varyd, Rydia, a Korean National, and Vanessa, a Korean-American, both survivors of physical and sexual violence, market their clothes using models of different shapes, sizes, colors, and age, to remind us that we are all beautiful.  Varyd has been featured on CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Korea Herald, DaeguCompass, Groove Korea, and Korean Buddhism

While working on their clothing line with the aim of improving their community, they established Disruptive Voices,

..a community/movement to help support, empower, validate, and further raise awareness (about gender issues) especially in Korea.

In an interview with the founders, Vanessa explained, “we are survivors and know there is a lack of communicative and safe support for people to come together (on this issue).” Through her own experience, Vanessa realized that psychological support and a space of safety is vital. “In order to move forward, I felt that (for myself) having a ‘circle’ or safety was essential, if not life saving.” 

Disruptive Voices hopes to curb the objectification of women. Rydia explained that in Korea there is a “ focus on materialism and external beauty as a means to prove your worth.”

The issue of plastic surgery and the obsession of it in Korea…shakes up values. Women are expected to become ‘perfect’ and young men are raised to value that. Women are no longer fellow humans, they are objectified. I worry about how this effects and harms the youth and how they value themselves and one another. There is (also) a stigma with reaching out for psychological support or therapy. People are concerned with how they are viewed and judged, this negatively affects potential self-security.”

The founders hope that Disruptive Voices can be a place of “embrace, safety, support, and care” for those who do not find support from family, peers, or police, and who may be ridiculed for coming forward about surviving sexual violence.”

We are warriors with and for those that feel alone.

Vanessa suggests, “for the older generation, Confucian roots are a big reason behind a lot of thinking. Some of (her) students are adults and they are very open minded and bright, but they have used Confucianism as a reason behind why women should cook and tend to children and men should work and drink.”

Disruptive Voices 1

Image courtesy of Disruptive Voices

Disruptive Voices has hosted “Womyn’s Talks” covering the topics of Violence Against Women, Dating, Media and Body Image. Women may only attend the “Womyn’s Talks”, however, Disruptive Voices has not forgotten about the vital role men play in closing the gender gap. Disruptive Voices held their first “Men’s Talk” this past Sunday. Disruptive Voices co-leader, James, has taken on the instrumental role of leading the “Men’s Talks”.

While talks are regulated by gender, workshops are open to everyone. Both talks and workshops focus on raising awareness about specific gender topics. The talks are held in Seoul, South Korea, but the group hopes to expand nationwide. Individuals from Korea, US, Ireland, India, and Pakistan have attended.

An important point Rydia shared is that “one of the greatest cultural traits of Korea is the collective mentality. Unlike the Western societies, Korean culture highly emphasizes ‘one for all’ instead of individualism. While it may sound like a negative thing, it helps get top-down initiatives by authorities and the government trickle down faster to citizens.  By targeting the power of media, celebrities and … collaboration with bigger establishments, we most definitely can make a great impact in Korean society.” Additionally, through including expats in the discussions, “people are able to expand their views, listen, and understand others.”

Disruptive Voices 2Rydia explains, “I am Korean. I love Korea. I want to do my best to make individual’s lives better. I don’t kid myself that I can change the entire nation and that they will all listen to what I have to say. But comments after the talks make me and the Disruptive Voices team happy.”

Disruptive Voices is partnering with TGN Korea for a nationwide campaign called “the S.H.I.E.L.D” occurring from April to May 2014. The campaign aims to inhibit sexual violence through self-defense classes and a neighborhood watch program to patrol heavy alcohol/party districts such as Gangnam (the neighborhood made world-famous by Psy) to make sure drunk individuals get home safely. K-POP stars and actors will be speaking and performing in support of the campaign.

All are invited to join Disruptive Voices events, but not required to share personal experiences. Please remember to be respectful and keep the space safe and confidential.

Disruptive Voices is open to topic ideas for talks, and is currently seeking LGBTQA individuals to serve as leaders for upcoming talks on issues affecting that population. Additionally, Disruptive Voices is in need of interpreters to translate from English to Korean and vice-versa. Email the founders at disruptivevoices (at)!

Follow Varyd on Twitter @varyddesigns.

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