My latest Huffington Post, “No One Deserves Abuse” for the Huffington Post.
Feel free to repost and share.
Growing up Asian American, I recognized that obedience was important. As a child, I was instilled with the understanding that I was to obey my parents and my elders. It was important to my parents that I know and practice this; it was drilled into me every time I went to the Korean Presbyterian church and to my Korean language school. They all told that me I had to obey.
As I grew older and became stronger and a more independent woman, I began to challenge this underlying Asian cultural understanding that I obey my elders. This has caused me trouble more often than not. My parents would tell me that I would bring shame to them if I were seen as the girl who didn’t obey. Whenever I wandered off track, my parents would quickly bring me back into the fold. As a young girl there would be consequences if I did not obey.
Even as an adult, I have encountered the importance of obedience. Extended family members wanted to keep me as a “good subservient wife” and told me to live a life of obedience. During my ordination process in 2011, I encountered much resistance and hostility from Korean American men. I could not understand it at the time.
I went to Myanmar in 2012 to give a lecture series at Myanmar Institute of Theology. After my talk, a female seminary student asked me, ‘What were some of the difficulties you faced when you were seeking ordination?” It was a personal question, and I gave a personal answer. I spoke about the Korean American men who were giving me a hard time. To my surprise, theologian Chung Hyun Kyung who was sitting at my lecture rose up and said, “Don’t you understand what is going on?” I was puzzled. She said, “The Korean American men wanted your obedience”.
At that moment, I understood, that many of my problems stemmed from my not “obeying” men. In my Asian American culture, any questioning of authority by a young woman was unwelcome. I am not saying that we need to disobey. We need to obey laws and persons of authority. But certain kinds of obedience must be questioned.
Certain circumstances call out for disobedience, such as civil disobedience. Sometimes there are consequences to such disobedience. Those who commit civil disobedience accept the consequences as part of what is needed to change an injustice.
At times the consequences to an act of disobedience seem far more severe than would be appropriate. Such extreme consequences are too often defended by saying the disobedient individual was “asking for it”.
It is important to remember that “they were asking for it” is used not only in instances of discipline. It is used in situations of abuse–to defend the abuser. Too often people say that women who endure abuse were asking for the abuse–in some way making the abuse the fault of the women who were abused. Even comedians use this approach to make fun of women being abused as Bill Burr did in stand up routine about Chris Brown beating Rihanna.
This happened in the situation of the 16-year-old black girl in the events that unfolded on October 26, 2015 at Spring Valley High School. Too many in social media reacted by blaming her. They argued the girl was asking for it by not listening to the teacher, administrator and police.
While our actions have consequences, and while the girl disobeyed, the reaction was disproportionate to the situation. No one who is not a threat deserves to be pulled out of a chair, and flung across the room for disobeying. As the South Carolina sheriff correctly stated when he announced the firing of the offending officer, the actions were contrary to the procedures established for his officers.
Those inclined to be abusive hold that somehow the misbehaving girl deserved the treatment she received. The sheriff’s statement affirms that our society is better than that, and we expect those who maintain the peace will do so in a lawful manner, even when dealing with people guilty of breaking some rules. No one deserves assault, a beating, or abuse under any circumstances.
Grace Ji-Sun Kim is an Associate Professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion. She is the author of Embracing the Other; Here I Am; Christian Doctrines for Global Gender Justiceco-edited with Jenny Daggers; Theological Reflections on “Gangnam Style” co-written with Joseph Cheah;Reimagining with Christian Doctrines co-edited with Jenny Daggers;Contemplations from the Heart;Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Spirit;The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other; and The Grace of Sophia. She is a co-editor with Dr. Joseph Cheah for the Palgrave Macmillan Book Series, “Asian Christianity in Diaspora”.