We mark the eleventh day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence by speaking to gender activist and researcher, Samantha Joo.
Tell us about yourself: who are you and what do you do?
I had taught Hebrew Bible at a number of academic institutions. My last appointment was at Seoul Women’s University. However, during my father’s illness and eventual death, I felt lost and decided to leave academia. I was tired of living in cities I hated, writing on subject matters that only appealed to a few people, and teaching courses to students most of whom did not care about their education. All at extremely low pay. So after some soul-searching, I started my own nonprofit organization, Platform (https://www.platform4women.org), and opened a new business to financially support my work. Now, I write about topics relevant to my community, work with people who I believe will be effective visionary leaders, and live in a city that I choose.
What’s your involvement with gender activism? Does your work intersect with gender activism? How?
For some reason, I had always associated activism with protests, marching out in the streets or blockading some politician’s office. Since I was a more private person, I did not consider myself an activist, and definitely not a gender activist. But now, I think differently. I had the makings of an activist in my early career but it did not become manifest until I started teaching at Seoul Women’s University. It was here that I met some of the brightest, passionate women who had limited themselves by unconsciously accepting traditional societal expectations. To model my own teachings on gender equality and social justice, I felt I had to “out” myself through activism. I started Queer Koreans Alliance (QKA) which jumpstarted the first LGBTQ teen safe space, Dding Dong, in Seoul, South Korea. I felt that I could not ask my students to make a difference without daring to make change myself.
In developing Dding Dong and teaching at SWU, I visualized a center to train emerging women leaders for social justice. It took a long time to turn the vision into reality, but I well under way to developing a nonprofit organization, Platform. Platform intends to mentor/train women with a passion and a vision for the marginalized in API communities. It empowers women to work more effectively for the oppressed in their communities.
How does or could The Shiloh Project relate to your work and activism?
Interestingly, I had written an article on the politics of “comfort women” in Korea. Johanna Stiebert happened to be one of the reviewers and wanted to include a shorter version of the essay on The Shiloh Project. Of course, I was honored to share my article on the website but it was more than an opportunity to capture a wider audience. The Shiloh Project is a mission-driven platform to explore gender-based violence and religion. It has everything to do with my work and scholarship because rape culture affects all women and men.
But more specifically, I am writing an article on rape and silence in the Bible. I analyze the story of Tamar and Amnon in which many commentators have written about the terror of Absalom silencing his beloved sister, Tamar. On the contrary, Tamar is not silenced but actually speaks through her body. The biblical author alludes to her desolation which is a subtle reference to the silent language of the oppressed. This language is commonplace in many cultures where women cannot vocalize but embody their stories.
I am able to share such essays on The Shiloh Project to a wider audience. I personally do not know of any other platform where this is possible.
How are you going to get active to resist gender-based violence and inequality?
Many of the nonprofit organizations in the Asian and Pacific Islander communities have been established to combat gender-based violence, specifically domestic violence. Platform will not only train women to serve victims of domestic violence but to create a space in which women can discuss and find systemic solutions to end it. Since Platform is invested in women leaders as well as the marginalized in API communities, we are empowering grassroots movements to “resist” and “fight” oppression.