Cambodia

From bald to bold

Suzin Bahc

South Korean woman met in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 

“I have experienced situations where I felt extremely vulnerable”

 My name is Suzin Bahc, I am 31 years old. I am currently living in Melbourne, Australia, but I am from South Korea. Back when I was living in South Korea, I have experienced situations where I felt extremely vulnerable and situations where people clearly disapproved me for who I was because I didn’t fit into their definition of how a woman should be.  I realize that, even though, I enjoy a certain amount of freedom in my life, there’s still a large part of the female population who feels not so happy with what society wants from them and wish to break free from the so restrictive and discriminating conventional rules.

For myself, I always wanted to be independent and remain unmarried as long as it pleased me. . However, the role of a woman in the South Korean society – unless you are recognized with your career or whatsoever – is still to form a traditional concept of family and live happily ever after. All my childhood I dreamt of a life that is pretty close to the life I have now, but with some more twists and turns!

As a little girl I wished for my grown-up self to lead an independent life in a more culturally diverse place with international perspective… these sorts of things. As for now, I wish for young girls to keep trying and going on with what they want in their lives, but with dignity and respect for others as much as they hold respect for themselves. It’s an era where everyone can easily add up each of their own fantasy and live in a dream, but I wish for them to be true to themselves.

“I have experienced misogynist and sexist comments from all different regions of the world”

The South Korean society has changed at a very fast pace, and has reached to a point where individuals gained more popularity among young people. Our society has also been greatly influenced and reshaped by western countries and their liberal ideas and lifestyle. Yet, it’s certain that the Korean society is still emphasizing the importance of equal access to education, but at the same time, it is not a system that is in favor of letting students speak up. Additionally, our society has a long history of following the Confucius practices.

To put it simply, I have always felt shy or nervous to speak up as if my opinions and ideas might be disapproved which led to me undervaluing my own ideas.

I once worked as an intern for a local branch of the public corporation where most of the staff members were men in their middle ages. The main duty I was assigned to do was to clean desks, print copies, make coffee and interact with customers when requested. This particular experience turned me off from settling down and getting a secular job in South Korea, at least in any other similar work environment dominated by men.

I have traveled quite a lot in the past few years. I have to admit that I have experienced misogynist and sexist comments, and treatments from all different regions of the world. There are a series of accounts where I faced street harassment, mainly verbal harassment and catcalling. In each case, male perpetrators were able to walk away easily without fearing to respond for their misbehavior and having to apologize for it. These spontaneous and random harassment are hard to penalize. Being said that, there is a need for a cultural change where men can be more aware of what they can say and do to women.

I am currently based in Melbourne, Australia. As a young 30-ish year old Asian single woman, it’s interesting to see how Asian women are perceived here in a western context. From my previous experiences, I find Korean women are perceived as either stylish, shy or precious. In my opinion, there are only a few types of Korean/Asian women represented in the media that fuel what the rest of the world think about Korean women. There is an outrageous misrepresentation of South Korean women in the media, while the only representation offered is biased with not-so-flattering stereotypes.

For those reasons I have come to live in Australia. I can improve my English skills so as to have more direct exposure and access to writing and storytelling programs and workshops so that one day I can deliver what I think of who I am as a Korean woman.

What I want to emphasize on my work is to tell my story that is complex and hard to be pigeonholed.

“I wasn’t clear back then but when I look back, part of me was just being resistant to dominant beauty standard”

I want to tell you about my hair. I’m an Asian with single eye lid eyes and predominantly black hair. For a woman to have natural long hair is overpriced and idolized by the consumerism of commercials and pop culture celebrities. Just being quirky, I always admired to be a bit different from the majority of women around me. One of the experiments I ventured into was with my hair. I used to immerse myself into French movies. They inspired me to go get my hair cut short which was almost impossible and quite witty for a young Korean girl to come up with such an unconventional hair style.

I wasn’t clear back then but when I look back, part of me was just being resistant to dominant beauty standard. After I went study abroad in Costa Rica, I broke free from all the traditional rules I grew up with in a more extreme way and became bald. A Buddhist nun like bald. At this period of my life I had a sort of spiritual revelation. I realized that my strength lied within me. My look didn’t matter anymore. From all the countries I have visited back to Korea, I got a couple of compliments about my hair style being unique and bold but mainly from non-Koreans. As soon as I put a foot on the South Korean’s soil, I started feeling intimidated by the way people looked at me. They seemed shocked, perhaps even afraid. Despite my personal resistance/revolution through my hair style, I received a few inappropriate comments about my shaved hair being wrong for a woman.

“When oppressed, any group of people tend to show resilience and tenacity through hardships”

Albeit women are socially conditioned to behave in a certain way, some women tend to show their resistance and try to follow their own rules. It’s hard to speak for all the women, but I have to say that women tend to be more open-minded and caring than men. When a group is oppressed, like women are, they tend to show resilience and tenacity through hardships.

 

“We share womanhood”

My opinion is that women need to value themselves and support each other. They have to express themselves. They have to resist in any form possible. They have to love themselves for who they are. We have to encourage weirdness, diversity and let our mind be creative. I want women to be more aware and conscious of themselves, of others and of the world surrounding them. We share womanhood.

Born as a girl baby, grown as a girl to become a lady, in different contexts and at different levels of social understanding though, still, we are all human beings.

The other day, I told myself that I would like to be born as a girl again if I was given another life. Women are diverse, wild, different, and strong.

 

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