Go to contents

Chain smoking as sexual violence?

Posted October. 19, 2012 21:49,   


For so many women, the worst way of breaking up with a significant other is to find a note written by him saying the relationship is over, much like the one Carrie found on the hit U.S. TV series, "Sex and the City." Carrie and her boyfriend Jack Burger have a bit of a strained relationship. One night, he arrives at her home holding a bouquet of flowers. After spending the night together, Carrie wakes up in the morning feeling refreshed but then finds him gone. She comes across a Post-it note on the computer screen saying "Good-bye." In the note, he says he is sorry for being unable to continue their relationship, and he even asks Carrie not to hate him. She gets more infuriated over the way he breaks up with her than the split itself. A degree of decency should be exercised when saying goodbye.

In Korea last year, an undergraduate at Seoul National University filed a complaint with the student association of the school`s social sciences college. She said her ex-boyfriend saying goodbye to her while chain smoking was tantamount to sexual violence. “On that day, he began smoking and continued chain smoking until he said goodbye to me. His chain smoking in front of me was meant to intimidate me by emphasizing his masculinity while suppressing a woman’s right to be independent. I felt as if my feelings and opinions were looked down upon in front of an expressive agony and intimidating atmosphere created by smoking,” she said in explaining why chain smoking should be considered a form of sexual violence.

In recent years, verbal or mental violence as well as physical attacks such as rape, sexual molestation and genital exposure have been viewed as sexual assault. One big factor that can constitute an act as sexual abuse is force. The key to this case is whether the student`s ex disregarded her feelings by chain smoking, which is considered macho behavior. People tend to smoke a lot when they have butterflies in their stomachs.

Though I support feminists, I am unsure if chain smoking constitutes an act of sexual assault. If saying goodbye after chain smoking is sexual violence, what about a man confessing after chain smoking? How about a man saying goodbye to his girlfriend while drinking heavily? Should this be interpreted as sexual assault? Do only men chain smoke? Is this view not sexist? What was the so-called independent woman doing while her ex was trying to suppress her by showing off his masculinity through chain smoking?

The student body president of Seoul National University’s College of Social Sciences, who is the daughter of former United Progressive Party Co-chairman Rhyu Si-min, rejected the complaint. “Chain smoking in this case shall not be viewed as sexual violence,” the president said. Afterwards, the student and supporting women’s groups criticized the president as "the second perpetrator." The president eventually stepped down. Many older people find it hard to understand that young people nowadays have the nerve to bring personal issues, such as breakups, to public attention. "Femi-nazism" seems to be exerting power over many female college students. One value stands out in this case, though. A degree of decency is necessary when breaking up.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)