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JINA KIM's WOOLF SOCIAL CLUB CAFE

Alongside many conceptual cafes in Korea, in the streets of Hannam-dong, there is a cozy place called Woolf Social Club. Filled with books of feminist writers and jazz playing in the background, it serves as a safe space for women in Korea - should they need a place to work in peace, have a group book discussion, or enjoy a pleasant conversation over a brunch or a cup of coffee.

(Image: Credits to the rightful owner)

The cafe was founded by Jina Kim, a 46-year-old writer, businesswoman, and a former politician. After working in an advertising agency as a copywriter for over ten years, Jina Kim decided to open a place inspired by the feminist icon Virginia Woolf, hence the name of the cafe.

(Image: Credits to the rightful owner)

As one of her books, "The room of one's own" suggests, every woman needs their own physical space to create, and Jina Kim hopes that her cafe can serve as an "outside room of one's own" for women where they can feel safe, free, and inspired. But how are the ideas of feminism and women’s rights activists met in South Korea?

(Image: Credits to the rightful owner)

Surprisingly enough, while the talks about women's rights and equality are omnipresent, feminism remains a controversial topic in South Korea, so, women often avoid speaking about it openly. This is precisely one of the reasons for the creation of the Woolf Social Club:

"I think having a physical space like this, gathering women and talking freely can help raise our voices and talk about feminism, women's rights, and boundaries. I wanted to create a very safe space for women and see them gather and raise their voices and talk and laugh. That kind of atmosphere is what I wanted to create together with delicious things - it's mandatory!"

(Image: Credits to the rightful owner)

However, Jina Kim has not always been as aware of the deep-rooted internalized misogyny in South Korea. One incident, in particular, left a big impression on her, leading to her taking a proactive stand on women's rights issues. On May 17, 2016, there was a murder nearby Gangam station at a public restroom: a man stabbed a woman he had never met before to death with a knife.

During the trial, he even stated that he did that because he had enough women hurting him his entire life while claiming that the crime had no misogynistic subtext. Neither did the media, nor the police, and the public just attributed it to a mental illness that the murderer was suffering from. Nevertheless, it was clear that he chose the victim because it was a woman, be it because of his antipathy or that she seemed like an easy target and would not be protected. Jina Kim goes on to share how it affected her and women in Korea in general:

"We, Korean women, realized the reality of Korea. ‘Oh my god, that could have been me’ - was the biggest 'wow' moment for all of us. Because even if the woman is successful and financially independent or physically strong, she was still killed for one reason - because she was a woman."

(Image: Credits to the rightful owner)

This incident started the feminist wave in Korea, with women utilizing SNS to talk about their anger and frustration and share thoughts on social issues. That also made Jina Kim develop her career around feminism, and the Social Woolf Club was created in 2017.

Besides that, Jina Kim is also associated with The Women's Party in Korea. She represented the party during the 2021 Seoul mayoral elections and is one of the party's co-founders.

(Image: Credits to the rightful owner)

The political arena in South Korea is not too diverse: the two main parties are male-dominated and have similar views on many issues. And for women in Korea, the biggest problem is that for all the parties, the issue of women's safety and boundaries always comes last. Being frustrated with the system and eager to make their voices heard, The Women's Party was created to change the constitution, law system, and male-dominated parliament:

"Because it's not so important for the ruling parties, we need a women's party that only cares about women's issues, their problems, and safety since no other big party will do that."

(Image: Credits to the rightful owner)

Unfortunately, making your political position public comes with a price. Feminism remains a controversial topic in South Korea, so if you openly claim to be a feminist, you should always be ready for a chain reaction. However, while being prepared for the outburst from the male population, the reaction of some Korean women left Jina Kim in confusion:

"Even a lot of women feel offended by what I say or write. Because some women do not realize this structure and misogyny, they want to be with the more powerful side. And in this society, men have more power. I think the attack from those women is the most devastating thing. That's what I didn't expect and wouldn't have imagined in the beginning."

Amazing surprises are waiting you, wanting to deliver you a smile in your face, find happiness here: Seoulbox

And it is one thing to be discontent with a person's position and political stand, but a totally different thing is to actively crucify them. Because of the anonymity and disconnect from real human interaction that SNS provides us with, it is much easier to leave comments of the cruelest nature there. Disclosing her personality publicly, Jina Kim became a target for the witch-hunt that happens online:

"Whatever I say, whatever I do, I am someone who deserves to die. And they think they have the right to hurt and insult me because I am a feminist."

But despite the constant backlash and having her words being often misinterpreted, the goal of raising awareness of issues of women's rights and safety makes it all worth it, especially when you meet people who appreciate your work: Woolf Social Club also serves as a place where people can come and meet Jina Kim, talk to her, show their gratitude, and support female entrepreneurs in Korea.

(Image: Credits to the rightful owner)

So, overall, the hope for the better future for women and girls in South Korea and unwillingness to back down in a hostile and male-dominated environment is one of the main motivators for the constant fight:

"The important thing is to keep our voice being heard. That's what we do. And if we don't change the whole system right now, we can impact our younger generations and give them the courage and faith to fight. Maybe we can't win, but we will not lose without a fight. I think that's my role, to show that kind of fighting back to younger generations. So, we want to show grown-up women fighting back against patriarchy and male-dominant society."

We hope you have enjoyed and learned with this particular interesting interview, where we are all invited to raise awareness on women's rights and safety with a call to stay open minded.

June is a month of celebration, every Pride Month is about justice, equality, acceptance and love for everyone! We invite you to keep celebrating and enjoying life, love will always win.

Author: Irina & Aldo

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