Korean Gender Reader

( Source )

1) 60% of underage female entertainers pressured to expose as much skin as possible

Lest that sound like an exaggeration in light of other news articles that state that only 10% are, let me refer you to the relevant section in the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family’s (여성가족부; MOGEF) own report on its survey of 103 teenage entertainers and aspirants (53 males, 50 females), which specifically says:

19세 미만의 청소년 연예인(88명) 응답을 분석한 결과, 연예 활동 시 10.2%가 신체 부위(다리, 가슴, 엉덩이 등) 노출을 경험하였으며, 여성 청소년 연예인의 경우 60%가 강요에 의한 노출이라고 응답하였다.

Or that of the 88 male and female teenage entertainers interviewed (not aspirants), 10.2% said they had the experience of exposing parts of their bodies (legs, breasts, buttocks, and so on) while performing, whereas 60% of the female ones had been pressured to.

Which remains confusing, but I think it’s safe to assume that the 10.2% of cases of exposure by males and females referred to were accidental (albeit because of their clothing?), and that the 60% of females that were coerced to wear skimpy clothing were in little position to refuse. Whatever the true figures however, they belie recent claims that such fashions are somehow intrinsically empowering in a sexual and/or feminist sense, or that it’s the girls themselves that want to wear them (and recall that Girls’ Generation above, for one, was specifically created to appeal to 30 and 40-something men).

Meanwhile, they’re also pressured to go on diets and get cosmetic surgery and so on, and teenagers of both sexes miss out on schooling and work excessively long hours because – bizarrely – entertainers aren’t covered by child labor laws. See the above links and also Extra! Korea and JoongAng Daily for a summary of all the issues raised by the survey, and kudos to MOGEF for finally doing something within its limited budget (0.12% of the government total) that may nevertheless ultimately have a genuine impact on young women’s lives (unlike here, here, here, and here).

2) Subway groping on the rise

In Seoul at least. By coincidence, Busan Mike saw an incident in Busan last week too, although of course that doesn’t necessarily imply that it’s rising in Busan also.

3) THAT video

Yes, Mamma Mia by Narsha (나르샤) of the Brown Eyed Girls (브라운 아이드 걸스), which a dozen readers passed on to me because it’s so rare to see Korean female/Western male pairings in the Korea media. I can’t really add anything that Mellowyel hasn’t already covered in her own excellent analysis of it though (see here also), but you may be interested in this 2002 S.E.S (에스.이.에스) video that it instantly reminded me of, as the contrast in the treatment of the Western men in it couldn’t be greater:

Despite how it may appear though, Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling argues that in fact they’re a substitute for Korean men, who wouldn’t have accepted being portrayed so negatively. Why not? See this *cough* 4500 word post of mine on that here, in which I place it into the context of Korean social and sexual norms in the late-1990s and early-2000s.

4) Number of female victims of sexual abuse is 8 times greater than actually reported

Unfortunately no details are given about its methodology, but according to a recent study by Korean Institute of Criminology, about 470 out of every 100,000 women were sexually abused in 2008, which is eight times more than the official figure of 58. Of those, 36 out of 100,000 were raped, 9.5 times the official number.

Like the reader who sent those on to me pointed out, of course it’s not news that most cases go unreported, but it is nice to see this fact getting some attention from the national news agency.

Update: Korea Beat has a little more information on it here, noting that “it has been the general understanding that many more sexual assaults occur than are reported, but this study is the first to produce relatively concrete figures” (my emphasis).

5) Korean Demographic Reader

As always, rather depressing news:

More interesting are two stories about Japan, with very similar problems (and for similar reasons). First, an article entitled “Families dictate Japan’s economic fate” from The Japan Times, which describes how one scholar:

…uses the cases of families collecting dead members’ pensions and the rise of “parasite singles” to point out how a rich, vital economy can sink so far it has no realistic chance of climbing back up. Low birthrate is a problem, but mainly as a consequence of Japan’s “failure to create jobs.” The Japanese media has not ignored this connection, but in general they still blame population contraction on social changes rather than economic ones, as if the two were somehow distinct. Men have become less aggressive, women too choosy; so they don’t marry and procreate.

Many Japanese still believe that the country’s economic and social problems can be solved by regaining so-called traditional values related to family and community…

And as it demonstrates, that is patently not the case. But as for more detail as to why, see the recently published Contemporary Japan: History, Politics and Social Change Since the 1980s by Jeff Kingston, reviewed here by the Economist:

THE modern image of Japan is built on shaky foundations. In the 1980s nearly all Japanese considered themselves middle class. Other abiding beliefs include companies looking after workers through lifetime employment and the yakuza, Japan’s mafia, being guardians of the lost samurai spirit. There is some truth in all this but, as with other national myths, their real importance is in what they reveal about those who hold them dear.

If the Japanese nurse old-fashioned conceptions about their national identity, so do foreigners. Throughout the 1980s Americans gobbled up books that painted a Japan that was poised to surpass the United States by dint of a superior education system, low crime rate, good labor relations, bureaucratic acumen, familial ties and (let it not be forgotten) racial purity. Most foreigners still see Japan in the rear-view mirror, as an egalitarian, socially cohesive society.

“Contemporary Japan” by Jeff Kingston, the director of Asian studies at Temple University in Japan, does sterling service in stripping away or qualifying many of these misconceptions…

( Source )

6) We married Koreans

Unfortunately for us, Diana of Going Places is now back in the US, but she’s still taken the time to write a review of We Married Koreans (2009), “a collection of 12 true stories of interracial, intercultural marriages between American women and Korean men in the 1960s”. A quick excerpt:

…It tells a fascinating history, both personal and cultural, of Korea as it struggled towards democracy (one woman’s husband was imprisoned for anti-government demonstrations in Korea) and America as it struggled towards racial equality (many of the women speak frankly about some of the racial epithets hurled at their children). The couples mostly met, married, and lived in America, but most lived for at least a short time in Korea and one missionary couple spent most of their marriage in the Korean expat community in Brazil. I feel like I just sat down and read 12 very good personal blogs about Korea.

Read the rest here. By coincidence, the World Federation of Korean Intermarried Women’s Association’s 6th annual conference, whose members are Korean women married to foreign men, was just held in Seattle, the first to be held outside of Korea.

7) Korea’s national motto is  “Just Bear It”?

Gord Sellar makes quite a convincing case:

Pretty much every time someone I know is doing something against his or her better judgment, something he or she clearly ought not to be doing — working a job he or she absolutely hates, coddling an abusive or infantile parent, turning down a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, or studying a subject for which he or she feels no interest — you can usually find a number of people have told the person that it’s important to “just bear it” — ie. bear with it, put up with your dissatisfaction, ignore your instincts, and do the thing you know you shouldn’t.

( Source: unknown )

While I’m sure long-timers especially need little convincing, let me buttress that with the following from the Samsung Economic Research Institute in 2008 (my emphasis):

…In sum, Koreans still regard their jobs principally as a means of livelihood. This mirrors the reality here in Korea where work does little to enrich the life of the people.

Many workers still take it for granted that they have to tolerate anything in return for getting paid. This kind of job atmosphere produces a negative influence on both companies and employees alike. With this in mind, businesses need to make more efforts to develop new programs, aimed at bringing a higher sense of value of work and satisfaction to their employees.

And I can vouch that even my wife finds it surprisingly difficult to conceive of how one’s job can ever be anything but sheer drudgery, let alone something one can enjoy and/or find it fulfilling.

Focusing on the gender dimension here though, Gord was prompted towards the above by a recent encounter in a hospital with a family with an abusive husband and father, and while I concur with his assessment that the wife was at least partially responsible for her situation, his story does provide a very human face to the extreme financial difficulties middle-aged women, most of whom are housewives, have in leaving loveless and/or abusive marriages (although it’s amazing that the divorce rate is so high nevertheless).

( Source )

8) Civil service exams to be abolished

While that may sound trivial to Western readers, in Korea it is anything but, as over 200,000 young Koreans are studying for them at any one time.

Why so many? Because the civil service remains one of the few institutions after the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 which still provides  “jobs for life”, unlike the rest of the Korean economy which now has the highest number of irregular workers in the OECD. Consequently, the various exams are extremely competitive, and indeed one of my own sisters-in-law spent over 4 years studying for hers before finally qualifying…for a series of grueling interviews, which many applicants still fail (including a friend of mine), but fortunately she made it through those as well.

Why this is a gender issue is because despite the difficulties, at least it is entirely meritocratic, and as such it has a disproportionate number of female applicants. Compare the private sector in contrast, where Gord Sellar’s partner was recently required to provide answers like the following in her application for a job at a major Korean company for instance:

  • list your brothers and sisters, and their places of employment
  • how old are your siblings?
  • what is your father’s job?
  • is your mother a housewife?
  • what is your height?
  • what is your weight?
  • what is your religion?
  • are you the descendant of a war veteran?

And don’t forget that a photo is also required, which as you can see above, has led to a flourishing photoshopping industry catering to job applicants.

We Married Koreans, a collection of 12 true stories of interracial, intercultural marriages between American women and Korean men in the 1960s. The collection is edited by Gloria Goodwin Hurh, whose own story appears in Chapter 5.

Share

14 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. The civil service exam is instrumental in suppressing sex discrimination in hiring in Korea. Why is it being abolished? In the US, public sector job exams reduce age discrimination. My middle-aged mother was able to get a secretarial job with the state of Michigan owing to her very high test scores. She didn’t make a lot of money, but she did retire with generous benefits, including subsidized health care that picks up most of the tab. Civil service exams are overridden by affirmative action, which helps minorities get hired in spite of lower test scores.

  2. Just a couple of points on the Narsha video.

    At about 2 minutes in, just when she gets into the car with the guy she comes out with “this could be dangerous.” Classic. Also, a bit before that, I’m loving the concerned look her stalkers give her when they see her with those two guys. Mamma mia indeed.

    At about 2:30 in, when she’s kissing the guy, she appears to say, “I can be dangerous, 다칠지 몰라.” If that is indeed what she’s saying, it could be translated into English that actually makes sense as “I could be in danger, I don’t know if I’ll get hurt.”

    At about 3:15, when she goes into the room and is blocking the stalkers from seeing or coming in, as she shuts the door she says to them, “조금만 커서 돌아와.” This translates as “come back when you’ve grown up a bit/you’re a little bit older.”

    Right at the end, when she greets the three guys in the room, the one nearest is clearly Korean, he’s the only shirtless one, and also the only one who bows to her, the other two simply wave nonchalantly.

    Now, I’m not saying anyone should read all that much into any of this. It’s just a few seconds of the video that caught my eye (or ear). I don’t think it’s a particularly great song – or video for that matter. My strongest reaction to it is that the English in it is just unbearable. I accepted long ago that all K-Pop songs would have some English in them – generally stupid English – but not only does a lot of the English in this one seem unnatural, stupid or even just incorrect, but the pronounciation is shocking. I don’t know why they even bother.

    • Thanks for looking at it. I did check it out once myself of course, but didn’t really like it, and with Mellowyel already covering it then I lost all motivation to look a second time to be frank. Or at least not with this &^%$ing painful infected big toe I’m about to pour hydrogen peroxide on for the nth time to focus on instead, and naturally perfectly timed for my next semester starting on Monday…

      Sorry, what were you talking about again?

  3. Those questions in your last item drive me nuts and remind me of the new “psychological” testing for jobs in the U.S. What’s even considered a good answer? If your mom was a a housewife but opened her own business from home is that good or did it take away from her time raising you? What if she had a high-powered career? What if it was higher than your father’s? I just don’t get it.

    Thanks for the shout out again with the book review… It’s some good stuff.

    • I’m just as clueless as you I’m afraid, although I have repeatedly heard that, for one, divorcees and/or children of divorcees are routinely discriminated against. Either way, it just goes to show how important and necessary the civil service recruitment process was.

      And also how naive I was to ever have applied for non-ESL jobs in Korean companies. I wouldn’t want to spend a day working for someone who cared for a moment about what my parent’s and siblings’ marital statuses and jobs and health and so on were, and just the tip of the iceberg for the inanities normal Koreans have to endure (extreme examples of which I saw here). Hell, no wonder even Samsung, supposedly Korea’s shining star and one of the best companies to work for in Korea, admitted that “Many workers still take it for granted that they have to tolerate anything in return for getting paid”.

      • Ha, two story leads from my site?

        I should clarify that yeah, I agree: the economics of sexism make it hard to blame the wife who stays too much, though which is worse: working hard to stay afloat, or suffering demeaning treatment constantly to stay a little above afloat and avoid embarrassment?

        But what do I know? Maybe this woman has left this man by now. The divorce rate is as you note, pretty high.

        Two more things:

        1. The just bear it: those examples are from conversations I’ve had with friends, students, and so on. It’s almost as if people go out of their way to urge people to do what they don’t want to… as if someone who’s been accepted to go on a working holiday visa and doesn’t want to go will be urged to go, and “just bear it” but someone who was accepted and is eager to go will be urged to stay and work a job for experience and crap pay and treatment and “just bear it.” It’s baffling how little, “What do you want to do?” is taken seriously by those around the people I talk to.

        2. Those questions in the last item are indeed nuts, and there were a couple of crazier ones I didn’t even mention… but as for Samsung: I did an informal survey of students in my Business Across Cultures class. They’re a bright bunch, though a small group. A student in a presentation asserted she and most Koreans her age want to work for Samsung. I asked the class if this was really true, given how many young people I know don’t want to, and they confirmed my disbelief: not a soul raised a hand besides the one who’d presented.

        Which is maybe telling you something about the students who gravitate to my classes, mind, and it’s only 7 students, but… most of the younger Koreans I know well have no desire at all to join the Borg.

        My thoughts on civil service exam abolition: well, if they’re trading it in for dumb, useless certificates (another waste of money and time) then boo; and interviews seems a weird way to encourage diversity, since people will tend to prefer applicants who are “like themselves” in a minimum number of ways.

        The real problem, of course, is motivation. The gist of some research I just plowed through last month is that extrinsic motivations (rewards, fear of embarrassment, employment opportunity) tend to lead people to seek the quickest, easiest, safest solution to a task…. ie. less innovation and diversity of approach. Intrinsic motivations tend to lead people to explore more alternatives and interesting possibilities… which may also lead to higher risk of waste or mistakes, along with the positive variety.

        But in civil service jobs, most every is motivated extrinsically, so… well, the results are, er, predictable.

        • Well, 1.5 leads. But yeah, normally I’d try to avoid using the same source, but then you have been pretty prolific the last couple of weeks!

          Just to clarify myself, I’m fully in agreement about how much blame the wife in an unhappy marriage deserves for staying in it (or not). And, as always, pretty much everything else you say too (great minds think alike and all) just adding to #1 that it’s amazing how at university, just at the moment when young adults might finally have a genuine opportunity to do something they enjoy, you find so many – nay, a majority in my experience – of students doing [or have done] majors they have absolutely no interest in, even strongly dislike. I’m not entirely sure why though: I do know that it’s very difficult to change majors in Korea, but I don’t know the logic behind their original decisions.

  4. From what I’ve heard, employment “exams” are anything but meritocratic. I can’t speak for the civil service ones, so you might be right about that, but I was told that even though people spend weeks/months/years studying for an exam, if they didn’t go to the right college, the employers won’t even look at the scores to begin with. Then the rejected applicants just think that they failed the exam.
    Is this an urban myth or is there truth to it?

    As for the under-reporting of rapes, I have no doubt. I don’t have any basis of comparison from other countries, but the police here (in my first-hand experience) are completely clueless, insensitive and inept (as may be the case everywhere). After a home invasion / sexual assault by a complete stranger 2 weeks after arriving in Korea, I was told by the police that:
    -In order to make sure nobody else assaulted me, I should probably only go outside between 9am and 9pm. (despite the fact that I have to be at work at 8:30)
    -The assaulter was probably just trying to get his sexual ‘fix’ with a foreign woman and that he probably poses no additional threat (despite vast amounts of research that say rapists strike over and over).
    -There was really nothing I could do to protect myself, so there was little use in trying. (uh, what?)
    They also implied that since I am from NYC, I should have known better. My school then told all of my neighbors what happened so that they could ‘protect me’.
    I guess my point is that I kind of wish I had never reported it. :-/

    • Oh, I am right about the civil service exams(!), but your points about entrance exams for private companies are also true…which just goes to show how important the civil service exams are/were.

      I’m sorry to hear about your experiences with the Korean police, and I don’t have a very high opinion of them either (particularly after this and this). But just to play devil’s advocate for a moment, I still always treat Korean media reports (in English and Korean) about them with a great deal of skepticism, as in particular there was a rape case involving a foreign victim in Ulsan last year which they actually handled very professionally, but The Chosun Ilbo printed a completely fabricated story about them which made them look both uncaring and incompetent. Not that I don’t think that doesn’t frequently actually happen of course, as your own case demonstrates, but I’m sure you see my point.

  5. Pingback: The Development of North Korean Modern Literature

  6. Adding to the Korean/western saga, in what must surely be a first in the k-pop idol world, Park Bom of 2NE1 named Jay-Z as her ideal man on a radio show (‘very royal, very handsome, very stable’ was the MCs commentary) . It’s not a new recording, but I just now found myself listening to it. I wonder when that will find its way into commercials.

  7. Re: the video, this is what I think is behind it: some producer thought, hey I can’t think of an MV idea for this shitty song that will get it much if any play on TV, but putting a white guy in the video and doing some snogging will get us a lot more hits online, which is how most kids watch videos anyways.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s