Is Your Relationship Equal?

Roundtable Discussion with College Students

Narang 2020-07-09

Editor’s note: In honor of Ilda’s publication of the Korean translation of 『I Never Called It Rape』 (first published in 1988, author Robin Warshaw), we are publishing a series of articles analyzing the problem of dating violence dating violence and seeking solutions.


Dating is considered the special privilege of those in their twenties. What do college students think about today’s dating culture and dating violence? I listened in on a frank conversation between five members of The Feminist Committee of the College of Liberal Arts of Sungkyunkwan University.


▲ A poster entitled “Is this situation an example of stalking?” made by The Feminist Committee of the College of Liberal Arts of SKKU

- I’m curious about what dating means to twentysomethings in today’s world. As you know, there are expressions like “single since birth,” “couple hell,” “single heaven.” So it seems like you’re a generation that attaches a certain meaning to dating.


Tooth (Female): It’s like it’s been established as an inevitable condition. Everyone seems to be saying, “A person in their twenties not dating is unthinkable,” and marking themself as a person who has to date.


Pooh (Female): As you know, these days people are on social networking sites a lot. People brag a lot on Facebook and about half of it seems to be related to dating. There’s stuff about friends or travel but a lot of it is “I’ve been dating this person for this many days,” “I had a great date with this person.” Dating has become another thing to brag about.


Dikom (Male): Dating hasn’t really gotten any easier but people’s attitude towards the process of becoming a couple seems to have changed. As you know, they use the word “sseom*.” That’s the kind of ambiguous relationship that’s hard to define, when you might be friends or it might develop into romance. People say, “We are riding sseom, we are not riding sseom” like it’s something that can be turned off and on, and seem to talk about relationships like they are something that can be easily broken off.


Donut (Female): There also seems to be a sense of dating as a qualification, to some extent. Someone I know was thinking of dating another person when they found out that that person was a “single since birth.” They said that after hearing that, that person seemed much less attractive. They were like, “It must be that they’ve never dated before because there’s something wrong with them,” and said singles-since-birth seemed pathetic.


-In the media, dating has been portrayed as something happy and fun, but that’s not always the case in reality. How did you learn how to date, or how to communicate with your partner?


Tooth: You talk with your friends and hear their dating stories and find out, “Ah, that’s you behave.” You learn indirectly.


Pooh: During sex education they don’t even properly teach you about birth control, so there’s absolutely nothing about dating. I think I’m learning how to do it from my current partner. This is my first real relationship, you see. How to deal with it together when you get angry, how to resolve conflicts... as we’ve been together I’ve gotten a lot of real practice with and learned these kinds of things.


Donut: I’ve had to do a lot of learning of rules. For example, “When you fight with your boyfriend, don’t speak like you are arguing. You have to speak quietly, that’s the wise way to talk,” or “A man needs time and space to himself, so you have to understand and put up with that.” You learn a lot of norms like that.  Fashion magazines and dating columns and that kind of thing produce a lot of that kind of discourse. 


Kong-Kong (Female): I fought a lot with a guy I used to date. He was five years older than me. When we fought he would always treat me like I was being emotional and I always ended up apologizing first. When he got angry it was “anger,” when I did it was “being pissy.” His conclusion would always be, “That’s just how girls are.”


Pooh: As you know, when women get angry, men react like “you’re not making any sense,” “I can’t understand what you’re saying.”


Donut: The question women ask their boyfriends, “You don’t know why I’m angry?” seems to get caricatured and ridiculed. Men are taught that when there is a problem in the relationship, “It’s not something a man can solve anyway,” “Women are incomprehensible beings so I’m not at fault.” No woman wants to seem difficult, so even when there is a problem, they think they have to let it go and not bring it up. 


Pooh: I think that men and women learn different dating behavior. When I speak, I usually use hedging words like “might” and “maybe,” and it’s been pointed out to me several times that this is a “feminine way of speaking.” Women learn not to strongly insist on their opinion but to express themselves hesitantly. But to some people this seems like a frustrating aspect of women, a way of wanting people to understand you without actually expressing yourself. Men have to express themselves strongly, and if they don’t, people say, “You’re a guy, why are you like that?”


▲ Five members of The Feminist Committee of SKKU talk about dating violence ©Feminist Journal Ilda

- Shall we begin our discussion of today’s topic, dating violence? When you hear the words “dating violence,” what kinds of situations come to mind?


Kong-Kong: Recently a cartoon was uploaded to Facebook. It had three or four panels. A woman asks, “Oppa, what are you going to have for lunch today?” and the man hits her, hard. He drags her to a motel. “Today I’m going to have you, you are what’s for lunch.” It’s clearly dating violence, but it’s become a meme and people chuckle over it. During sketch comedy shows, too, people crack up when a man raises his hand to a woman like he’s going to hit her.


Tooth: I’ve seen that too. There are scenes where they openly beat women, and even though it’s comically exaggerated, it was really uncomfortable.


Pooh: Isn’t it that people laugh when they see those things because they feel safe that “I’m not like them”? Those who’ve suffered dating violence can’t tell the people around them, and so people think that kind of thing doesn’t happen to anyone they know. 


Kong-Kong: A close friend of mine had been dating her boyfriend for a long time, but when they broke up he took her DSLR (camera). (Reporter Narang: Extortion is also a form of dating violence, isn’t it.) My friend is not the type that gives up easily. She got angry and went to get the camera. The guy said he wouldn’t give it to her and suddenly started hitting her, in the stomach. They were outside on a side street. The more shocking thing is, an old man who was passing by didn’t help her. My friend said she didn’t know why the old man didn’t help her, but I think I know. They usually think, “Well, that kind of thing can happen when you’re dating,” you know.


Before that, I couldn’t imagine that dating violence was happening around me, but after my friend got hit, I realized, “Ah, people don’t talk about it.” My friend didn’t tell her parents about what happened. You have to go to anonymous websites if you want to see stories about dating violence, and I think that is because it so hard to reveal to people you know.


Pooh: Someone I know has a slightly older boyfriend. He always calls her “dumb.” “That happened because you’re dumb,” “You’re a dummy,” “You can’t do even this little thing because you’re dumb.” It feels like he’s not joking but drilling the idea into her, in a humiliating way.  At first glance it doesn’t seem like dating violence, but when you consider that he always talks like that or think about her self-esteem, you’ll see that it actually is.


Kong-Kong: Some people commit violence using language, but I think a lot of people don’t realize that. Because they think that “violence” is limited to something physical. That only violent behavior is violence. And it seems like talking in a way that eats away at their partner’s self-esteem is a way to prove to themselves that “You belong to me.”


-Has anyone here experienced that kind of thing in their own relationship?


Kong-Kong: Yeah, before I broke up with an ex-boyfriend. I was eating with some friends and telling them about our relationship when one suddenly slapped the table and said, “Hey, that’s abuse. Come to your senses and break up with him.” So I did. That boyfriend used to stick his nose into every little thing that I did and put restrictions on my behavior. He would say about the activism I did at school, “What’s so great about what you’re doing?” He thought of the stuff that he did as the public service that a member of society naturally must do, but would talk about what I did like, “What’s that, get out of it and meet up with me,” and pressure me. We fought a ton.


One time I went to a job fair with an older student in the same club as me and uploaded a picture of us to Facebook. He called me immediately, asking if I was crazy. When I asked what he meant, he asked if it was right to upload a picture of myself with another guy... he had been monitoring my Facebook page. And he asked his friends if they thought what I did was ok. Nine out of ten of them said, “She’s in the wrong.” So I said I was sorry. Because if I didn’t apologize, he would keep bothering me.


Even going through that kind of thing, I didn’t think it was abuse. But my friend looked at me seriously and said, “That’s abuse, and if you continue to date him knowing that, then our relationship is over.” I said, “He treats me well, usually.” If you look on the Internet, victims of dating violence always say “He’s a good person, usually,” about the perpetrator. When I became one of them, it was really hard to admit that what I was going through was abuse.  And I was ashamed that I hadn’t realized it on my own... We broke up, and now I think that was a really good decision.


Pooh: The acquaintance I was just talking about, her situation is also serious. Her boyfriend has thrown things at her during a fight. And up until a year ago, he would never use a condom. (All: Wow.) They were fighting and thinking about breaking up, and it wasn’t until they did that she realized, “Ah, what will I do if I get pregnant?”  Before that, she had assumed that he would take responsibility for her if she got pregnant.


▲ A book of the Korean translation of 『I Never Called It Rape』 by Robin Warshaw  ©Media Ilda

- Why do you think it’s hard for victims of dating violence to realize that what’s happening is abuse? And why do they continue the relationship?


Kong-Kong: The reason they continue the relationship despite dating violence is because “Usually it’s fine, though.” “It was my fault he got mad, so if I’m good to him he won’t be like that” is also a big part of it. (Reporter Narang: They have ambivalent feelings towards their partner?) Yes. They say, “Usually he’s a considerate and good person,” and don’t realize that the abuse they’re suffering is “usually.”


Tooth: As their self-esteem crumbles, they start to think that what they’re enduring is what they deserve, and not abuse. So I think verbal abuse is more malicious.


Pooh: It seems like it’s hard for them to look at the situation objectively because it’s their own. They say they love the abuser. They often say, “Even though he does this, I can’t break up with him because I love him.” If they broke up they could find a better person to date, but they seem to lose the ability to see that, or maybe they don’t think of it.


Kong-Kong: When people are “dating,” because it’s a romantic relationship the abuse isn’t noticeable. It’s already a natural part of dating. In relationships, the things that a woman has to do and the things a man has to do are fixed. Men being aggressive is really a kind of [expected] dating behavior. If you look at the same situation but remove the dating relationship the man becomes a total jerk. But in a romantic relationship people don’t recognize it for what it is.


Donut: I’ve experienced something similar. This guy that I had gone on a blind date with, I didn’t want to see him again so I didn’t answer when he called. He kept calling at night and coming to my neighborhood, and I thought it was creepy but I didn’t consider that it might be dating violence. When I told people I knew, they would be like, “It seems like he really likes you, it seems like he’s doing that because he doesn’t want to miss out on you.”


Also, most women think that it’s natural for a man to shout. They think that he must express it when he gets angry. But about themselves they think, “If I feel angry, I have to suppress it.” (Tooth: Women have to either suppress it or express it very politely.  Kong-Kong: That was me two years ago.) “My boyfriend won’t like it if I yell at him, because I’m a nice girl.”


Kong-Kong: I also often cosplayed as a good girlfriend. I hardly ever expressed my anger, because if I did, my boyfriend would get angry at me in return. That was so stressful. The uations I got from my boyfriend’s friends for being like that were really good.  “She’s a really forgiving girlfriend.” “She really understands what men are like.” What did I understand, though? All I did was keep my mouth shut. My boyfriend was so proud when he told me what they said, so I realized, “Ah, that’s how I have to be.”


- What kind of changes are necessary to stop the occurrence of dating violence?


Kong-Kong: Everything else aside, the first step is for people to recognize that dating violence is violence. To look back on their relationship with somebody and think, “Were there times when I was pressured, or something was one-sided?” If not physically, maybe verbally or mentally. And some people seem to need a person to define abuse for them. (Reporter Narang: Yes, your friend played that important role for you.) It’s important for the victims to tell those around them, and their friends have to give them proper advice. I think it’s important when you’re listening to a friend’s relationship troubles not to think that it’s their [the couple’s] business. We need to think, “What if this wasn’t a romantic relationship but two individuals?” And I wish that stories of dating violence were given more public attention.


Dikom: We have to change the belief that a relationship is a private thing and just between two people and its problems can’t be solved by anyone else. In our country, when a wife is being beaten by her husband in the street, people just say, “That’s a family matter,” and that’s the end of it. That’s it’s not something for others to stick their noses into. There’s an atmosphere of what happens in the private sphere must not be made public.


Pooh: Men also need to look objectively at their behavior. In many cases, they think that what they are doing is not abuse but passionate pursuit, but they need to consider that it might be abuse to the other person. There’s a certain culture among men, as you know. I often seen men who can’t play soccer or computer games well, can’t fight well, and are short and thin, get called “anchovy” and be considered out-of-the-mainstream. You also are seen as a cool guy if you are firm and forceful in your relationship. I’m not sure how to change this, but I think men also need more self-reflection.


Dikom: There are many cases in which stalking is romanticized as heartbreaking one-sided love. I wish that dating violence were not packaged as a poignant stage of youth, as part of the process of love. 


*Sseom: To “ride sseom [sseomtada]” means to have the kind of ambiguous relationship that Dikom describes. The word sseom comes from the English “some,” as in “something.”


By Narang

Published: July 22, 2015

Translated by Marilyn Hook


*Original article:

기사입력 : 2020-07-09

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