1) Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Circumcision in Korea
Whether you’re for or against male circumcision, there’s no sugarcoating some shocking facts about the practice in Korea.
First, consider why it is was taken up so enthusiastically after the Korean War. Not so much for its perceived health benefits, but more because it was seen a way to catch up with the medical practices of the developed world (i.e., the U.S.). Indeed, it was done so wholeheartedly that now more than 90% of Korean men between the ages of about 12 and 40 are circumcised, far higher than the U.S. rate.
Despite being world-leaders in numbers of procedures performed however, unfortunately Korean doctors are actually woefully ignorant about the practice, as Seamus Walsh explains at Asadal Thought:
What I find truly incredible is that the same misconceptions and outright false beliefs that were held about circumcision in the 50s – effects on sexual performance, prevention of STDs, cleanliness etc – are still so prevalent in Korea today, regardless of the fact that the rest of the developed world has moved on in its attitudes and knowledge, making such beliefs redundant.
Also, one of the journal articles he examines concludes that:
The mistaken and outdated notions of South Korean doctors about circumcision…seem to be a leading contributory factor to the extraordinarily high rate of circumcision [there].
Next, as most English teachers in Korea are probably well aware, Korean parents (painfully) get their sons circumcised in their early-teens rather than as babies. And finally, in what I regard as the most damning indictment of the practice, those parents often do so for no more compelling reason than the fact that all their sons’ friends are getting it done, as surveys of the parents make clear.
Update: By a wonderful coincidence, a related article from the Canadian medical website CMAJ appeared in my Google News Alerts as I was typing the above. Here’s what it says about South Korea:
…South Korea…may be the only country on earth where the majority of men are circumcised but not as infants, and do so for reasons unrelated to health, religion or aesthetics. According to one paper, almost 85% of males 16–39 years old are circumcised in South Korea, the vast majority around the age of 12 (BJUI1999;83:28-33).
No one can say for certain how the country came to embrace circumcision so quickly — the procedure was basically unheard of there in the 1940s — though the prevailing theory is that South Korean men were influenced by circumcised American soldiers during the Korean War in the 1950s. “Within a decade, South Koreans came to believe that practicing circumcision was ‘advanced and modern,’ just like the American soldiers,” US sexologist Robert Francoeur wrote (http://gkorea.nayana.com/s1.html). “If Americans did it, it must be good.”
In the 1960s, South Korea’s doctors made a big push for circumcision, launching a widespread media campaign promoting it as better for hygiene and health. Since then, the practice had become the cultural norm. “Korea has no religious background, it is nevertheless practiced during adolescence, largely initiated by peer pressure,” states the South Korean study. “Therefore, it has partly become a ‘rite of passage’ and is fully integrated into present Korea culture.”
2. Homophobia in K-pop
No, really. As Megan at Seoulbeats explains:
Just take a little time and browse some K-pop videos on YouTube. Odds are, on at least one video by a boy group, you’re going to see a comment along these lines:”See, this is why K-pop and Korea are superior to America! Because boys can look and act like this and not be accused of being gay!” This is hardly anything to celebrate. In fact, this is precisely the problem. People pretend that homosexuality doesn’t exist. It wouldn’t matter if a boy group member snogged his bandmates in public (ahem, Heechul), because it’s nothing. It’s just fanservice, they’re just close like brothers, is all. No way my oppas are gay! Even if an idol was to stand up on a table and scream at the top of their lungs that they were gay, it would mean nothing. This acceptance of behavior commonly pegged as gay in the West isn’t acceptance at all. It’s discrimination so strong it assumes that homosexuality doesn’t even really exist.
Maybe I’m just prejudiced by coming from New Zealand, where the only time men touch is when they’re fighting or playing rugby, and where if a guy doesn’t don’t like beer, cricket, or rugby then both the men and the women will think he’s gay, but still: I think the physical affection and pink clothes are something to celebrate. Also, please correct me if I wrong, but I’d argue that it’s overwhelmingly foreign audiences that are making such comments about Korean male singers, whereas the question of their sexuality wouldn’t be an issue in Korea itself.
I definitely agree with Megan though, that the corollary of allowing such a wide range of gender-bending (skillfully exploited by G-Dragon [지드래곤] throughout his career; hence the sticker above!) considerably narrows the range of what is regarded as genuinely homosexual behavior, although I think she’s putting it much too strongly when she says that people deny that possibility altogether (despite what the foreign media says, few Koreans now deny that homosexuals exist). Indeed, that that possibility is still very much open is evidenced by so many male celebrities making a lot of homophobic comments recently, lest their clothes and behavior cause people to question their sexual orientation (which to be fair, Megan also discusses).
3) Science Blogging at its Finest
Remember last month, when one of my favorite blogs I09 told you about a study published in the latest issue of Hormones and Behavior, that concluded that women’s facial features and estrogen levels correlate with their self-reported desire to have children? Since then, two science bloggers wrote even-handed critiques of the study, to which the author of it responded with a blog post of her own.
In short, this was the internet was invented for, and you can read more about those exchanges at a follow-up post at I09 here.
4) The More Egalitarian the Society is, the More “Innate” Biological Differences Disappear
Back when I was an undergraduate student, I read The New Sexual Revolution by Robert Poole (1994), which would come to have a big influence on how I viewed the nature/nurture debate regarding differences between the sexes. As the introduction on Amazon explains:
In this controversial study of gender differences, Robert Poole outlines the recent research which has strongly challenged the notion that men and women would be equal if only they were brought up in the same way. The research has revealed that the brains of men and women are different in distinct ways and that it is these differences which account for much of the mental, emotional and psychological variation between the sexes.
To be sure, after four years of writing about gender issues I’m much more in the nurture camp now, and indeed I regularly make arguments about the influence of one’s environment in gender socialization myself. However, I do still think that there are some innate – not learned – differences between the sexes, especially men’s greater hand-eye coordination and spatial ability mentioned in the book’s introduction, which Poole suggested may be why men prefer playing computer games to women.
Then I read on Sociological Images about spatial ability tests given to two tribes in Northern India, the Karbi and the Khasi. As the post explains:
- The Karbi are patrilineal. Only the men own property, and they pass that property to their sons. Males get more education.
- Khasi society is matrilineal. Men turn their earnings over to their wives. Only women own property, which is passed along only to daughters. Males and females have similar levels of education.
And whereas the Karbi men were much better at spatial ability than the women, the difference between the Khasi men and women was negligible.
For sure, it’s just one study, and there are also methodological issues to consider. But if the result holds true, and the relationship can be confirmed by a wide range of other groups, then it will definitely force me to reassess some beliefs about male/female differences I’ve held dear for the last 17 years!
5) Gay-Han-Min-Guk: Gay Culture in Korea
For the last two years, I’ve been referring readers wanting a good quick history of Korean LGBT issues to a paper by Professor Douglas Sanders of the University of British Colombia, a noted author on human rights and LGBT issues, and as it happens also the first openly gay person to speak at the UN. And I still will, but now I’ll also link to this post by Michael Hurt and Josh Forman at Groove Korea, which does a good job of filling in the last two years (and much more).