A poster emphasizing that verbal abuse, which is a kind of Gapjil, is also a violence is attached in front of a guard security’s office.
/Photography by Lee Jae-eun
On October 21st, a stylist who has worked in the field of fashion for 15 years revealed that an anonymous celebrity has done “Gapjil” to people on her Instagram. According to her, in the contrast with the celebrity’s carefully constructed image and eminent appearance, she abused her power by treating people who work for her like subordinates and verbally assaulting them for about 20 minutes. Speculation about the celebrity whom the stylist sniped was rampant as the hashtags implied who the celebrity is. In addition, the controversy intensified since other famous photographers and officials from the same industry cheered for the stylist’s disclosure. Eventually, the incident ended when the celebrity, who had been designated as an assailant, posted an apology on her Instagram on October 23rd. However, the public’s disappointment over this “Gapjil” did not quickly disappear. Even though this controversy is over, it is necessary to discuss for a better awareness of the Gapjil problems in our society and methods for the eradication of it.
Gapjil is an act of using one’s superior position
Gapjil is a newly coined term that appeared in Korea around 2013, combining the suffix “jil,” which means any action, with “Gap” from the Gap-Eul relations, which refers to a person who has the upper hand in a relationship. It means a person in a superior position in social and economic relations abuse authority or treat other parties unfairly based on his/her influence. Physical and mental violence, verbal abuse, and the creation of a threatening environment are included in the scope of Gapjil. The fundamental reason for the negative perception of Gapjil lies in impersonal treatment, which is the most dangerous factor. Members of society react sensitively to immoral words and actions, such as degrading the appearance, body or defaming another person’s personality, because they conflict with the ethical values pursued by the society.
Untill now, many Gapjil cases have occurred frequently, but they had not become major social issues. Rather than emphasizing the negative nature of Gapjil, which is an act of contempt, previous Gapjil cases were reported just in the aspect of the occurrence of an incident. However, after Korean Airline’s “nut rage incident,” the problems of the Gapjil culture became an issue in earnest, and the public started to pay attention to the negative aspects of Gapjil. The nut rage incident refers to the return of the aircraft that happened on December 5th, 2014, when Cho Hyun-ah, a former Vice President of Korean Airline and also a member of the owner family, made a fuss over the flight attendant’s peanut serving service while the airplane was being prepared for takeoff. This case corresponds to impersonal treatment of thoroughly defining employees as Eul and making unfair demands on them. She even swore at employees directly.
Gapjil has negative effects both on individuals and society
The biggest problem with the Gapjil culture that can affect individuals is that it strengthens negative emotions about one’s life. According to a survey conducted by Job Korea, an employment portal site, in April 2020, 66 percent of 2,288 workers decided to leave their jobs due to personal insults and violence by their bosses. Gapjil eventually demands “Eul” succumb to the unwarranted abuse or request from ones in relatively superior positions. The process of adapting to a ruler’s power to avoid disadvantage results in the denial of the Eul’s own life. The more frequently one is exposed to damages from Gapjil, the more likely one’s satisfaction with life would decrease. Recently, there have been some cases of security guards who suffered abusive language and complaints from residents committing suicide.
According to a research conducted by Hankook Research in 2018 to find out Koreans’ perception of Gapjil, a person who has undergone Gapjil more frequently has a higher likelihood to overuse his/her power to others. It is a mechanism that a victim tries to do Gapjil to a more vulnerable person to compensate for one’s damaged self-esteem, since his/her self-esteem was harmed by giving in to unfair demands. In the end, the vicious cycle of Gapjil will inevitably lead to the maintenance of a negative culture. “Taeum” culture in the nurse group at a university or hospital is a serious example of adhesion of the Gapjil. Taeum refers to a culture in which senior nurses discipline new recruits in inappropriate ways. Yet, the vicious cycle of it has not been eradicated.
Gapjil is happening due to psychological and social structural factors
By gaining the upper hand in power, the tendency to take self-centered actions increases. Self-centered people also become goal-oriented, and when the degree gets worse, they treat other members of the society just simply as tools without consideration and empathy. The desire for recognition is the main reason for Gapjil. Generally, individuals have the psychology of seeking recognition and respect from their neighbors. However, excessive desire for recognition makes individuals overinterpret the behavior of those who seem to be at a lower status and express pressure or inferiority with anger as they recognize that other people are ignoring them.
Individual tendency is one of the reasons for Gapjil, but a society with an invisible hierarchy is a fundamental cause for the maintenance of this culture. Currently, based on the Confucian traditional culture, the remnants of authoritarianism and feudal system still remain even after the 1980’s democratization. In other words, discrimination, oppression, and hierarchical authority still exist in our society. The degree of the Gapjil culture is even getting worse, as the rapid growth of the economy has intensified the materialism in which power depends on wealth and economic strength. An individual, who is accustomed to a society where hierarchical and discriminatory governance are prevalent, engages in ostentatious displays to distinguish oneself from those with a lower status and show off his/her superiority. Unless the hierarchical social structure is resolved, eradicating the Gapjil culture will be difficult.
Gapjil is inherent in our daily lives
A survey released by Albamon, an application that offers information about part-time jobs and employments, on June 17th, 2020, showed that 75.7 percent of the 2,279 part-timers surveyed had experienced Gapjil while they were working. As it is an experience that can happen in our daily lives, the Dongguk Post conducted an interview with a student who suffered Gapjil while doing part-time job.
Park, a senior, Creative Writing major of Chung-ang University
Q1. What kind of part-time job are you doing now?
A: I am currently working part-time at a franchise cafe “The Coffee Bean.”
Q2. Have you ever experienced Gapjil? If you have, what kind of Gapjil have you suffered?
A: I have a lot of experience of being a victim of Gapjil. I have even experienced Gapjil more than five times a day. The most frequent Gapjil which I experienced was customers being rude without consideration for part-timers, such as throwing payment cards even though I was reaching out my hand. At that time, I could not express my anger outwardly, but I was psychologically stressed out. I do not know why I should suffer from Gapjil since I am also a customer when I go elsewhere, and feel distrust in people’s impersonal treatments.
Q3. What do you think is the reason for Gapjil and how do you think it should be handled?
A: I think the cause of Gapjil lies in selfish minds of people who think they are the only customers. Also, as it is hard for part-timers to take strong action against Gapjil, they are still suffering from it. To eradicate Gapjil, I think a powerful law which directly punishes perpetrators should be made.
The solution to stamp out Gapjil has three aspects
To eradicate Gapjil, individuals must be more considerate about others. Gapjil does great damage to the victims in the respect that assailants recognize them as subordinates and treat them as tools while not caring about victims’ feelings. Therefore, a self-conscious attitude contemplating the negative effects of one’s immoral behavior that might influence others is needed.
Improving social awareness is also necessary to solve problems. In the past, Gapjil was a personal problem that the victim had to endure due to the hierarchy. However, this issue should not be viewed as an individual’s problem simply based on short-sighted thinking. Rather it should be approached at a collective and social level. It is important to form an awareness and attitude that can inform social problems and warn dangers. Instead of hiding problems, they should be brought to the surface so that citizens can think critically about them.
Complementation of institutional strategies is essential to change the social structure. The revision on the Labor Standard Law, so-called “Workplace anti-bullying law,” has been in effect since July 2019 to root out the Gapjil culture inside workplaces. In spite of legal sanctions, reviews that are complaining of Gapjil are still coming up in the job communities. Moreover, the blind spot, where there is no provision to punish the assailant directly, makes it less effective. Therefore, strict punishment of assailants should be initiated to prevent the occurrence of Gapjil. In addition, the social safety net must be prepared to protect victims from the disadvantages they might get after the disclosure of Gapjil. Jeong Hyeon-cheol, the Director of “Gabjil 119,” said, “Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) announced that the Workplace anti-bullying law focused on establishing a system to voluntarily prevent and take measures at workplaces rather than emphasizing strict punishment. However, such laws resulted in failure to protect workers who suffered from Gapjil. In order to revise current law, we announced a ‘Workplace anti-bullying law revision’ based on our research, on November 3rd.” He talked about three directions the revision is following. First, it deals with the need to apply the law in blind spots, such as non-regular workers, apartment security guards and businesses less than five people. Also it is emphasizing the necessity to create a new penalty for not taking proper action despite the victim’s report. Lastly, to enhance the effectiveness of the law it should move toward the direction that victims can report directly to the MOEL when it is difficult to resolve the matter autonomously within the company.
“Currently, groupism and authoritarianism are prevailing in our society. Furthermore, selfishness trying to win by any means and taking advantages of superior position is also raging,” Director Jeong added a comment about our society. However, even if individual differences exist, a higher social status does not give one person the right to unfairly control another. Recently, employee cards equipped with a technique of recording are on sale to prevent Gapjil, but the fundamental problems of it have not been resolved yet. Starting from a fundamental level, all social efforts should be involved to end negative Gapjil culture, which has been taken for grant. The Director showed a hope of improvement saying that recognizing Gapjil as an unethical act and establishing the culture of “not to do” will play an important role in improving the democracy level of Korea.
Lee Jae-eun firstname.lastname@example.org
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