Quick Hit: Disney Princesses as Cover Girls

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As explained at Visual News:

Many girls dream of being princesses and many also imagine a fairy tale of their face gracing the cover of popular fashion magazines. Young artist, Tumblr user, and admitted Disney fan, Mary (Petite Tiaras) gives us a mashup of the best of both worlds by designing covers for popular fashion magazines, such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Elle, with Disney princesses as cover girls.

See there for more examples. A big fan of Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate my Daughter, I loved the uncannily accurate satire, and couldn’t help but compare some real Korean magazine covers, compiled together each month by Eiffel in Seoul:

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Probably the biggest thing of note though, is the lack of Korean celebrities on any covers except Céci, which is a little disappointing. Lest the editors be accused of cultural imperialism though, Korean consumers actually tend to prefer Western models and celebrities, at least in women’s magazines.

Also, I was hoping that seasoned pop-culture commentator Alice Jeong Turnbull (5), would be more scared than drawn to them (especially that “edgy” allure cover), but instead she told me that they were “nice”. Still, I suppose that’s an improvement over the usual “pretty”!

Happy New Year’s everybody!

Korean Gender Reader

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For anyone interested, auditions for the 3rd annual Busan performance of the Vagina Monologues will be held on the weekend of January the 7th and 8th at the HQ bar in Kyungsung (the performance itself will be at the end of April). See Busan Haps for the details.

1) Single Korean Female, 30. Not Seeking Marriage.

Over at Seoulist, Stephanie Kim has written a great article on the pressures Korean women her age come under to get married. An excerpt:

Much like writer Kate Bolic, I also left a long-term relationship at the age of 28. It is never an easy explanation as to why a relationship doesn’t work out, but more disconcerting than my ambiguous story are the perplexed looks on the faces of my more conservative friends, especially those who believe that certain things must happen at certain times in one’s life….

…My Korean friends tell me that there is a very bad stereotype for a man who dates and then leaves a woman in the twilight of her twenties, letting her waste away into what my Chinese friends call a Leftover Woman. This was hardly my case. My ex-boyfriend was, and still is, a wonderful man. Smart. Caring. Supportive. The easiest answer I can give as to why the relationship fell apart is that things did not “feel right,” and that I was not ready for the next level of commitment, the marriage-minded track. It’s a scary feeling we all experience: everyday you feel one step closer to fulfilling a perfectly planned life, and it’s damn comfortable, but deep in your gut something tells you that that’s not what you truly want. I simply had the courage to act on that feeling. Though I don’t regret my decision, the stereotypes I face every day remind me that I took a non-traditional path.

Read the rest there. Note though, that unfortunately her message is a little confused by her referring to herself as a “Gold Miss” (골드미스), which she mistakenly thinks refers to an unmarried woman in her thirties or above. As regular Grand Narrative commenter Gomushin Girl points out however, actually it refers to women also highly successful in theirs career and/or financially well-off (the Joongang Daily says an income of 40 million won or above is required), which you can read about in depth in this discussion of the Japanese origins of the term at Ampontan: Japan from the inside out.

(Sources: left, right)

Not that I endorse the use of the term in any way: as even the Joongang Daily indirectly concedes in that above link, Gold Misses have little in common besides their salary and marital status, and one wonders at all the media attention on them a few years ago considering there were only 27,000 of them in 2006 (2 years before the article was published).

The explanation is that a Gold Miss is simply an invented role model for 30-something unmarried women to aspire to, all the better to sell them products that (supposedly) help them achieve that goal; or in other words, it’s normative rather than descriptive. This financial motivation becomes obvious when you realize that Japan-based Ampontan overlooks that the term is actually suspiciously similar to the “Missy” (미씨) term first used in 1994, about which So He-lee explains in her chapter “Female Sexuality in Popular Culture” in Under Construction: The Gendering of Modernity, Class, and Consumption in the Republic of Korea (ed. by Laurel Kendall, 2002; my emphasis):

As soon as it came out [in a Seoul department store advertisement], it was adopted widely to indicate a particular kind of housewife, a married woman who still looks like a single woman. Even the copywriter was surprised at the speed with which this term took on social meaning and evoked specific images of women and femininity. “Missy” rapidly permeated the Korean language once the advertising industry recognized the consumerist implications of this target age groups’ flamboyant desires.

The essential condition of being a Missy is a preoccupation with being looked at….Another fundamental condition of membership in the Missy club is her professional job.

You could argue that that this was simply luck by the copywriter rather than being part of a grand conspiracy between advertisers and the media, but then both are constantly inventing new terms in order to find one that’s likewise happily adopted by the public, as the never-ending creation of new “bodylines” makes clear. Tellingly, the terms also tend to be quite broad and vague, conveniently leaving others free to further define them as they see fit: say, when they want to blame all Korea’s modern social ills on working women for instance, in an appalling Korea Herald report on “Alpha Girls” that I eviscerate here. So I think So He-lee is a little misguided in assuming that Missys’ “flamboyant desires” came before rather than after that 1994 ad.

2) Questions on Korean LGBT Literature

As explained by Charles at Korean Modern Literature in Translation:

Chasing down a question from long-time commenter Charles (not me^^) and some interesting information about Yi Kwang-su, I came across some interesting work by Gabriel Sylvian at The Three Wise Monkeys, .

I emailed him some questions and the answers were interesting (and lengthy!) enough that I decided to run them individually, with some comments they evoke from me.

Gabriel, a grad student in Korean Literature at Seoul National University, founded The Korea Gay Literature Project  in 2004, and you can read more about him here. In any case, my first question was for background:

Read those questions and answers there, continued in Parts 2 and 3 here and here.

In other Korean LGBT-related news, a gay Korean man recently received refugee status in Canada because of the abuse and discrimination he would be expected to receive during his mandatory 2-year military service (see here also for more on sexual abuse in the military in general); anti-gay art caused a stir at a recent Seoul National University exhibition; and – sorry for not noticing earlier – the Korean gay movie 알이씨REC below came out last month, which you can find many links about here.

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3) Japan’s ‘Mancession

As Tokyo-based New York Times reporter Hiroko Tabuchi put it:

Very interesting in its own right of course, that Bloomberg article referred to is also particularly useful in contrasting the Korean government and businesses’ decision to fire women in droves in response to the financial crisis, as in the US and – now Japan – it was actually men that suffered more. Indeed, in the former working women came to outnumber working men for the first time in its history (see story #5 below also).

4) Another Reason to Hate Naesoong and Aegyo

Via Tumblr Kitty Kitty Korea (but actually written by Party in the R.O.K.):

I can’t count all the times I’ve said “I’m going home” and attempted to leave wherever I was, and the Korean guy would be like “Oh, no you don’t!” and grab my wrists or shoulders or take my phone or hold me against a wall so I was physically unable to get out. No, man, I’m not just saying I want to go to be cute; I want to go. It’s not until I start thrashing around and yelling at them that they let go, and then they just act really confused. (I’m guessing that it’s a thing for Korean girls to pretend they want to leave a man so they can watch him beg for them to stay. Korean couples go on all sorts of weird power trips I just don’t get coming from the relatively sane world of American dating.)

Read there for her discussion of what lay behind that confusion. Also, I don’t mean to cause and/or perpetuate negative stereotypes about Korean men, and should be(!) the very last person to ask for dating advice, so please let me know how that does or doesn’t match your own dating experiences.

Update – By a wonderful coincidence, 5 minutes after I published this post this one appeared at Seoulbeats, about how seemingly every Korean drama features the male lead grabbing the female lead by the wrist and literally dragging her away with him like she was his property and/or child, despite her screams and protests. Sound familiar?

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5) What do Women’s Groups Think of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF)?

Not much, according to the Hankyoreh, citing:

…its passive approach in the cases of the comfort women who had been coerced to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese military during World War II and a sexual harassment victim who was dismissed from a Hyundai Motor subcontractor. In the latter case, the occurrence of sexual harassment was acknowledged in January by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, and the victim held a nearly 200-day sit-in protest in front of the MOGEF building when she was not reinstated. The ministry made almost no efforts to offer support, merely reiterating that it was “not within our legal authority to help victims.”

And also that:

In addition to its failure to do its job, the ministry has also added fuel to existing conflicts in the most bewildering of places. A case in point was its embarrassment after indiscriminately handing out “19 and older” ratings to songs with references to alcohol in their lyrics. Meanwhile, a late-night Internet shutdown system for those aged 16 and under has stirred up a controversy over violations of freedom.

Hey, I’m no fan of the Lee Myung-bak administration, and indeed I think its mixed performance in other areas of governance pale in comparison to its appalling record on women’s rights, which will be one of its most enduring legacies. Having said that, it’s a real struggle to find a Hankyoreh article that doesn’t criticize the present government in some form or another, whereas MOGEF does have a point about its relative powerlessness (it has only 0.12% of the total government budget for instance), the editor’s assertion that “if its authority is limited, then it can only survive by constantly raising issues and making its voice heard” proving my own point that this is the very impetus behind its constant censorship of K-pop (but not that I’m for that either!). Also, when Lee Myung-bak himself encouraged the firing of women in 2008 (see #3 above), then it deserves at least some praise for its recent efforts at job creation (source, right):

On December 23, MOGEF presented its plans to provide individually tailored job assistance programs for 130,000 people in 2012 before the Korean Youth Counseling Institute with President Lee Myung-bak in attendance.

The plan stipulates expanding the number of job training centers for women to 111 by next year and developing more in-depth programs for those with less access to employment opportunities, such as migrant women and women with disabilities. Furthermore, the Women Friendly City program, which currently counts 30 cities among its members and has received growing interest from regional administrations, will expand to 40 cities. MOGEF will also perform assessments, differentiating for gender, to measure the effects of such programs.

Read the rest at Korea.net. It does have to be acknowledged though, that still much much more is needed to boost female employment in Korea, as today’s final link – this comprehensive report from the Korea Herald – makes clear.

Oh In-hye: “I don’t regret wearing that revealing dress”

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Does actress Oh In-hye (오인혜) count as a pin-up grrrl?

A virtual unknown before she wore that dress at the opening ceremony of the 16th Busan International Film Festival, she is certainly not above using sex-appeal to advance her career. But of course, that is not something to celebrate in itself. Rather, it can only be considered at all empowering if the woman involved simultaneously exalts in her sex appeal (to both men and women), whether as sexual object, subject, role model, or all three. And above all, she must a) be explicit about what she’s doing (or at least not deny it), and b) not stray out of character by, say, infantilizing herself with cutesy aegyo in the first endorsement deal she lands.

By those criteria, actually very few female celebrities qualify, no matter how much they’re touted as confident, independent, and daring by the Korean media. Oh In-hye did remain a possibility though, as mentioned at the end of my November post first outlining the concept of pin-up grrrls, and as far as I know hasn’t been blessed with the opportunity to behave like a 13 year-old in a TV commercial yet.

All hinges on her own personal explanations/justifications then, which is why this recent interview of her caught my eye. However unlikely-sounding, could she also be considered a role-model?

Alas, once I started translating it, my respect for her plunged faster than her neckline. For not only does she again claim that her choice of dress was completely random, and that she expected no reaction to it whatsoever, but she’s particularly disingenuous when she claims to be worried that her image would detract from the message of her two movies in one Red Vacance, Black Wedding (붉은바캉스, 검은웨딩), as in fact both are essentially soft-porn poorly disguised as art-house cinema (see the NSFW trailer below; tellingly, downloads of the movie are extremely easy to find). Indeed, now I’m more convinced than ever that the dress was actually a deliberate and surely collaborative effort to draw attention to the movie, as first suggested to me by an audience member at a recent lecture I gave in Daegu (apologies for not remembering your name sorry!).

And on that note, apologies also for the irritating faux informal and friendly tone of the reporter, which remains in the original Korean. Unfortunately, as I lamented back in November, beggars can’t be choosers for interview sources. Especially on this topic!

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“I Don’t Regret Wearing That Revealing Dress”

Issue-maker Oh In-hye, main star of Red Vacance, Black Wedding, Dreams of becoming a “humanist actress”

Busan Focus, December 6th 2011, p. 23. Reporter: Jang Byeong-ho.

“There have been big changes since the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). At the time things were just crazy, but now I’m quite relaxed. Things have returned to what they were like before BIFF”.

On the 5th, I met Oh In-hye at a coffee-shop in Seoul, the actress who has been in the spotlight for wearing such a striking dress at BIFF earlier in the year. I couldn’t help but be curious at how she felt about being at the center of such controversy.

“Before I went to the film festival, I thought my visiting it would just be reported as “An actress called Oh In-hye attended”, she said, but to her it was her first time, and an amazing experience. Also, while she was very hurt by malicious news reports and what netizens wrote about her, she confidently said to herself  to “have no regrets”, and that “If I am to go again to the opening ceremony of a film festival, I’ll wear a revealing dress again. But perhaps revealing just a little less though!” (laughs).

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Also, Oh In-hye is thinking about using the interest in her as an opportunity, “It’s all water under the bridge. Instead, now I have a goal of changing my revealing image. And if I have a goal, I should work on it, right?” she openly and honestly revealed, a complete contrast to the sexy demeanor she possessed when she was wearing the revealing dress [James – having a goal isn’t sexy???]. But she also said that she was worried that her revealing image would distort the message of her coming movie Red Vacance, Black Wedding, coming out on the 8th of December.

Oh In-hye has yearned to be an entertainer since she was very young, but didn’t set on an acting path until the relatively late age of 22 [James – she is 27 now]. From 2 to 3 years ago, she has worked without an agency, and firmly said that she “has no plans to join one. I want to be a humanist actress, not just an entertainer who makes issues”.

Finally, she admitted that the director Lars von Trier and the actress Penelope Cruz, Oh In-hye revealed that “increasing my acting ability by studying a lot of acting is my biggest homework!”, leaving this reporter curious about her [James – new?] honest and forthcoming persona (end).

To play Devil’s Advocate, Korean news reporters are notorious for sometimes simply making news up, let alone being very sloppy with their fact-checking. But nevertheless, Oh In-hye’s claims that she would loudly and proudly wear an almost equally-revealing dress at the next film festival are undermined by her wearing a more demure one at BIFF’s closing ceremony. On the other hand, she did wear a very revealing one just a few days after this interview, but that again casts serious doubts on her claims to be worried about “her revealing image [distorting] the message of her movie”, which came out just the day before.

In short, nothing in the interview can be taken at face-value, and frankly now I’m a little embarrassed to present it here. Sigh. Rest assured though, that from now on I’ll be a little more discerning when I hear that a female celebrity has bared all to a reporter, and – as always – would appreciate readers passing on any they find by more reliable sources (including of male celebrities!).

Korean Police Can Now Give Restraining Orders on the Spot

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It’s just a short article, tucked away on page 6 of the Busan edition of the November 10th Focus (below). But still, it’s always nice to hear that a new domestic violence law is actually being enforced:

Abusive husband ‘officially isolated’

First incident since implementation of special exemption law

After the implementation of a special exemption law which includes domestic abuse punishment that allows police at the scene to officially isolate the persons concerned in the event of serious domestic abuse, the first case in the Busan area has emerged.

Busan Seobu Police Station revealed on November 9th that a police officer dispatched to the scene used his authority to order isolation and a restraining order for a  Mr. Kim (43), currently in the waiting period [lit. “careful consideration period”] for a divorce, who had gone to his wife, who is raising their 5-year-old son, and assaulted her; a court later decided to keep those measures in place.

Mr. Kim is under suspicion of going to the house of his wife (32), with whom he is in a divorce suit, in Busan’s Seogu on November 1st at 12:05AM, asking, “Why didn’t you answer the phone?” and committing violence that included hitting her, which he did habitually.

The couple filed for divorce in September, and a court ordered that Mr. Kim be allowed to visit his son, of whom his wife has custody, once a week on the weekend during their 3-month waiting period, but Mr. Kim went to his wife’s house on weekdays and became violent.

His wife, while being assaulted, notified the police, and the officer dispatched from the Ami Precinct Station ordered Mr. Kim to leave the house, not to come within 100 meters of his wife’s home, and not to use electronic communication like a cell phone or email to contact her.  After a review, a judge decided on November 2nd to keep the measures in place.

The measures represent the first case in Busan since a special exemption law for domestic abuse punishment that gives front-line police officers the authority to take such measures came into effect on October 26th.

Front-line officers can appraise conditions like the seriousness of the violence, the use of a deadly weapon, or habitual beating, and then take official action, and if the suspect violates those orders, the officer can impose fines of up to five million won or imprison him or her for a maximum of two months (end).

(Thanks to Marilyn for the translation)

Korean Gender Reader

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Not only is this poster simply cool, but the 3rd Montreal AmérAsia Film Festival it advertises will playing during my birthday too. So why does it bug me so?

I think, because I’m so used to seeing women in such mildly Orientalist imagery, that for the life of me I can’t imagine an East-Asian guy with the same expression and pose. Or is that just me?

Either way, see the end of this post for some Occidentalist imagery to compare (and of course, I wish nothing but the best for the festival!). Meanwhile, here are this week’s links, and one long discussion:

1) The Photoshop issue

Paula, a professional model, responds to last week’s post on excessive and unnecessary photoshopping in Korea at Noona Blog: Seoul. Like she says, photoshopping is the photographer’s or client’s prerogative, but still: what’s usually done to her pictures can hardly be considered an improvement!

2) How Nicki Minaj kicked open the door for 2NE1

I confess, I never heard of Nicki Minaj before reading this post of Latoya Paterson’s at Racialicous. But now that I have, then I’m not going to forget anytime soon. I’m also convinced that there’s a genuine opportunity for 2NE1 (투애니원) to succeed in the US market where so many other K-pop acts have failed. As she explains (source, right):

After watching good artists try and fail to make it in the US market, I began trying to find a pattern. Why was this happening? The reasons vary – particularly because artists often use their entry to the US as a kind of reinvention, which can be risky – but a big component is that American marketers/listeners had no idea what to do with them.

But, luckily for 2NE1, they have a secret weapon: Nicki Minaj.

It may seem strange to look at Nicki Minaj as the the person who put a crack in the Billboard ceiling big enough for 2NE1 to break through to the top spot, but it is her inherent strangeness and genrelessness that is opening the door for other women artists to bend the rules.

And a little later:

Both Minaj and 2NE1 are also combatting societal scripts about what women of color can be. While Minaj occupies a space defined by feminist contradictions, she still actively defies the proper “place” for a black woman in the broader pop music space. Considering the limited spaces where black women are allowed to appear, it’s remarkable how Minaj has carved out a space for herself in both urban markets and the fashion industry. 2NE1 is facing off against stereotypes around Asian American women – particularly the submissive stereotypes that would push them out of the more aggressive sides of the pop and hip-hop scenes.

Read the rest there. Also, for anyone further interested in why BoA (보아) and Rain (Bi; 비) failed in the US, email me for a copy of “Playing the Race and Sexuality Cards in the Transnational Pop Game: Korean Music Videos for the US Market” by Eun-Young Jung in Journal of Popular Music Studies Volume 22, Issue 2, pages 219–236, June 2010, which covers both in some detail. Or, for something less academic, you may like this recent post on Girls’ Generation (소녀시대) by Natalie at Seoulbeats, which gave me a renewed appreciation of how different 2NE1 really are compared to most Korean girl-groups.

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3) There really is no difference between men’s and women’s maths abilities

For those of you that didn’t already know, the notion that there was any innate biological differences in maths ability between the sexes has long since been thoroughly debunked. But, as io9 explains:

Until now, there was [still] maybe a sliver of statistical data to support the existence of this gender gap — nothing remotely convincing, mind you, but just enough that the idea couldn’t be entirely dismissed out of hand. While most who studied the issue pointed for cultural or social reasons why girls might lag behind boys in math performance, there was still room for biological theories to be proposed.

Now though, a new study has debunked even that data too, as you can read about here.

Related, also consider this post of mine from 2008 about how gender differences in maths ability show a direct relationship with a countries level of sexual equality (i.e. the more egalitarian the less – if any – difference there is), and #4 here on a recent, albeit very limited survey that suggests that men’s greater spatial ability similarly decreases the more power women have in a society.

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4) Obligatory post about that sex survey (or, sexuality and parenthood in Korea)

For those of you that have been living in a cave for the last week:

South Koreans are the least sexually active among people in 13 countries surveyed in an international online poll, a global pharmaceutical company said Monday.

Eli Lilly and Co.’s Seoul office said Korean couples over 34 have sex an average of 1.04 times a week, citing the survey based on data collected from 12,063 people worldwide including 1,005 South Koreans.

Read the rest at the Korea Herald, and some discussion of it at the Marmot’s Hole. Personally though, I’m extremely wary of surveys like these, especially if I know nothing about their methodology. What’s more, when just a 5 minute search of my books – let alone Google – reveals dozens of figures ranging between 1 and 2-3 times a week for US married couples, then “news” articles like this, poring over differences of national differences of less than 0.1% a week, is clearly only good for headlines.

Another problem is that the term “married couples” doesn’t take their ages into account, whereas – however politically incorrect it sounds – it’s well known that women’s libidos generally decline in their 30s, whereas men’s stay the same.  Also, it doesn’t take into account whether the couple has had children or not, which is a huge deal in Korea.

Why? Well, with the proviso that I haven’t studied sexuality in specifically Korean marriages as much as I should have by now, and that of course the Koreans I’ve spoken to about it aren’t a representative sample, I and especially my wife have spoken candidly about it with many (she’s worked from home for 5 years, and has known many couples in the 3 apartment buildings we’ve lived in), and I don’t think it’s just confirmation bias on our part when they consistently speak of having sex more like once per month or even year, and consider that perfectly normal.

But to be sure, it’s difficult for any married couple to get back into the swing of things after having a child. As explained on p. 362 of Our Sexuality (2002), by Robert Crooks and Karla Baur for instance (source, right):

In the first three months after delivery, over 80% of new mothers experienced one or more sexual problems, and at six months 64% were still having difficulty. The most common concerns were decreased sexual interest, vaginal dryness, and painful intercourse. An author of a book about pregnancy warns women to be prepared for their sex lives to be “downright crummy” for up to a year. “Mother Nature” is using her entire arsenal of tricks, from hormones to humility, to keep you focused on your baby and not on getting pregnant again”.

Things like breastfeeding can be a bit of a turn-off too, as Jenny at Geek in Heels is finding:

I also now have tremendous difficulty seeing my breasts as sexual objects. Yes, I know that women’s breasts are designed to feed and nourish the young, and any sexual uses should be considered secondary functions. But the sudden transition from years and years — from the moment I donned my first bra — of their being sexual objects to asexual tools that spend hours each day dangling from the mouth of a babe (or from the ends of a breast pump) is pretty brutal. Whenever my husband looks at them with *that look*, all I can think is, “These floppy things? Can we lay off of them because you’re only reminding me of the kids and that does little to turn me on.”

Yes, the boobies will be expelled from all sexual acts — by my request — until I can start disassociating them from my children.

Just as, and maybe even more important are the lifestyle changes, especially the lack of sleep. Factor in Korean men working such long hours too, to the extent that the Ministry of Health and Welfare notoriously told them to go home at 7pm on Wednesdays to, well, fuck their wives, and the fact that there’s a huge prostitution industry in Korea (see here for the ensuing effect on marriages), then it’s easy to appreciate why Korean marriages in particular might be relatively sexless after the birth of a child.

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Having said that, Korean marriages shouldn’t invariably be doomed to sexlessness though. Consider the following from p. 361 of Our Sexuality (my emphasis):

Couples are commonly advised that intercourse can resume after the flow of the reddish uterine discharge, called lochia, has stopped and after episiotomy incisions or vaginal tears have healed, usually about three to four weeks. However, most couples wait to resume intercourse after six to eight weeks following birth.

Also:

Typically, women and men with more positive attitudes about sex in general show more sexual interest and earlier resumption of intercourse than do others with more negative attitudes about sexuality.

In other words, US couples at least generally expect to and want to resume regularly having sex again after the birth of a child, whereas Korean couples expect to have it much less often, if at all. In saying that, I hate to perpetuate a “US/West = Good, Korea = Bad” dichotomy beloved of expat blogs, but when very similar lifestyles and attitudes produce the same result even in “sex-crazed” Japan too, then it’s time to call a spade a spade:

While Japan has an enormous sex-related industry, married couples don’t seem to do it that often (According to a Durex Survey, Japan ranks last internationally in terms of sexual activity.) And this would be the case in many modern societies as well. So for the last two years, author Sumie Kawakami gathered interviews of various Japanese women to depict this one aspect of society: Her latest book, Goodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman by the superb Chin Music Press portrays eleven sex lives in painstaking detail.

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Moreover, even the physiological difficulties may not be as great as they may appear. As commenter Jo recently mentioned on another post for instance, and which is confirmed by similar anecdotes in my books:

I remember watching a documentary about breast feeding, an interview was shown with a wet nurse, she said that she gains great pleasure from breast feeding, even breast feeding other people’s babies. She was asked if the pleasure was at all sexual, and she replied that it was a mildly sexual experience for her. – touch, sexual feelings, pleasure are extremely complicated, the feeling toward a family member and a sexual feeling are not necessarily dichotomous, this may be a construction, there may be some, very un-sinister, overlap, in this case allowing for ‘uncle fans’ to deny the sexual element of their affection, and for touch between father and daughter to be slightly confusing. Maybe we should try not to separate ‘sexual feelings’ from all other feelings.

Also, I can’t find the source sorry, but distinctly remember reading somewhere that many mothers and fathers actually get incredibly turned on at the fact, which is quite logical when you think about it. But don’t get me wrong: I absolutely don’t intend for the above quote to be an indirect critique or comment on Jenny’s experience and feelings about breastfeeding. Rather, just again to stress that nothing is set sexuality-wise, and how crucial societal and personal attitudes are.

And on that note, again I can’t stress enough that of course there will be many exceptions to all the above, and that it’s overwhelmingly based on just what my wife and I have personally heard from Korean couples. So, please let me know how that matches – or doesn’t match! – your own experiences and/or what you’ve heard, and, now that my winter vacation has started (메롱~), I promise not to be so reticent in the comments if you do!

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5) White female academics suggest minority women with white men are sluts and gold-diggers

From Shanghai Shiok:

A reader, frustrated with how I constantly deny that my white male/Asian female relationship follows certain “societal streams,” pointed me to an article which he believed would enlighten me on the nature of my relationship and others like mine.

The article summarizes a new study which is flat out absurd, insensitive, bigoted, and racist — but since it’s conducted under the dignified umbrella of academic research, it’s perfectly acceptable to put these ideas out there.

Two privileged white female academics get together and make powerful statements about women who they deem unprivileged. These nuggets of wisdom include the suggestion that unprivileged women exchange their bodies for the material benefits and social status associated with the privileged white men whom these academics feel are most suited to their own caste. At a minimum, their study “proves” that privileged white women (like themselves) wouldn’t jump into those white guys’ beds as quickly as those coloured hussies. After all, they have statistics to prove it.

Read the rest there, and you may also find my “Real & Presumed Causes of Racism Against Interracial Couples in Korea” post interesting.

Finally, I can understand wanting to make a university more “international”-looking, but this Korean homepage probably overdoes it:

In contrast, the English and Chinese websites both feature the same 10 Caucasian guys, and 1 Southeast-Asian(?) one!

Guess Who’s Going to a Lim Jeong-hee Concert? ㅋㅋㅋ

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Apologies for the rare personal post, but an hour ago I hadn’t even heard of the concert, so I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself right now!

Unfortunately for any readers that are also fans though, it looks like there’s only about a dozen tickets left, but you may be able to get one of them tonight if you and a Korean-speaking friend are prepared to navigate the appalling website (on Internet Explorer). Tickets cost 41,000 won.

But if you’ve never actually heard of Lim Jeong-hee (임정희), then see here for my translation of one of her songs, and thanks again to commenters there for recommendations for more of her music to listen to. As for Ali (알리), by a complete coincidence I heard of her for the first time today(!), albeit in a negative way because of the poorly-chosen name of her latest single. I’ll certainly still give her and her music the benefit of the doubt though, and again would really appreciate any suggestions for music of hers to listen to.

And on that note, let me post this without any further ado, just in case there really any more fans out there. If so, then let’s meet up afterwards! :)

Update 1: I forgot to mention that there’s actually two concerts, one at 4 and one at 7:30. There’s probably more tickets available for the 4pm one.

Update 2: Ali has recently revealed that she is a rape victim.

The Origins of “Ajosshi Fandom”?

Did you know that middle-aged sexual harassers often claim that they were just being affectionate, touching the victim simply as if they were their own daughters? Naively perhaps, I had no idea, so I didn’t give this commercial a second thought when it came out in 2005. But armed with that knowledge, I can certainly understand why it would have made so many women uncomfortable, as pointed out by Park Hee-jeong (박희정) in her article on the commercial that I’ve translated below, and which was echoed by numerous commenters.

Then it hit me. If all this was already well-known by the Korean public in 2005, then it takes no great leap of the imagination to see how middle-aged men’s sexual attraction to 15 and 16 year-old girl-group members could so quickly and readily be framed in the same terms just a couple of years later, albeit more as an avuncular (uncle) love rather than a paternal one for some reason.

That would remain the case for the next few years, as you can read about in depth here, here, here, here, and especially in Soo-ah Kim’s article “The Construction of Cultural Consumption Way: The Discourse of Uncle Fans with the Girl-Idol Group” in Media, Gender & Culture, 15 (2010): 79-119 (“소녀 이미지의 볼거리화와 소비 방식의 구성: 소녀 그룹의 삼촌 팬 담론 구성”, 미디어, 젠더 & 문화), as she was one of the very few prominent academics challenging that consensus at the time. Only upon a perceived spate of sex crimes against children in July 2010 would the media begin (and I stress only begin) acknowledging the sexual element, and how that could be problematic.

Of course, that’s just scratching the surface of ajosshi (아저씨; middle-aged man) fandom, and I certainly don’t want to imply that middle-aged men’s interest in young girl-groups can’t be anything but sexual. Nor that when it is sexual though, that that’s fine for 20 and 30-somethings, but somehow wrong or “unnatural” when coming from older men. Either way, the crucial thing is that it’s acknowledged, and that the impact of —and consequent possible restrictions on—entertainment companies using underage performers to cater to this sexual interest are considered.

This “just like my daughter/niece” rationalization though, is a complete denial, and deserves further exploring: finding it in two different contexts can’t just be coincidence. In particular, I think that that it may—and I stress may—be much more common of Korean harassers than of those from other countries, and would appreciate it if readers could confirm or deny this.

Meanwhile, Park Hee-jeong’s article is more about the memories of such harassment the commercial evokes, and especially on the “beautiful flowering”-type gender socialization contained within the narration. I think she overstates the latter a little when she discusses how awkward the reality of puberty is for girls though, as it’s certainly no picnic for boys either, with other family members likewise invariably embarrassing them or making them feel uncomfortable as they develop. Also, when she implies that wet dreams are celebrated as a sign of manhood, then it’s clear that actually she knows very little about raising teenage boys. But still, it’s a very eye-opening short article, and thanks again to the reader that passed it on to me:

딸의 미소는 남성들의 판타지일 삼성생명 TV광고인생은 길다

A Daughter’s Smile is Only a Male Fantasy, Samsung Life Insurance ‘Life is Long’ Daughter Version

저녁 식사 자리, 등을 두드리는 아버지의 손길에 딸은 불편한 얼굴을 보인다. 알고 보니 처음 착용한 브래지어가 신경이 쓰였던 것이다. “장조림 많이 먹어라” 하며 다독이는 아버지의 말에 딸은 수줍게 미소를 짓는다.

As a father and daughter sit down to eat dinner, he gives her an affectionate pat on the back and says “Eat up!”. But we see that this makes her uncomfortable, as she is wearing her first bra, and later she gives an embarrassed smile to her father.

삼성생명의 TV광고 시리즈 ‘인생은 길다’ 중 딸 편의 내용이다. 화면이 진행되는 동안, 광고에서는 아버지의 목소리로 “딸의 인생은 깁니다. 어느새 여자가 될 것이고, 사랑을 하고, 결혼하고 엄마가 될 것입니다” 라는 나레이션이 흐른다.

In this commercial, part of the Samsung Life Insurance “Life is Long” series, the daughter is the focus. In the background, the father narrates “My daughter’s life will be long. Before I know it, she will be a woman. She will fall in love, she will get married, she will become a mother”.

(Source: Handsome in Pink)

훈훈한성장의 확인?

Affectionately noticing how his daughter is developing

이 광고는 딸의 성장을 깨닫는 아버지의 마음을 다루고 있다. 훈훈하고 감동적이어서 ‘눈물까지 흘렸다’는 아버지들의 이야기도 들리는 걸 보면, 많은 남성들이 이 광고의 정서에 공감하고 있는 듯하다.

In this commercial, the father notices that his daughter is growing up. Seeing as many men have been so moved by it as to be almost crying, it is indeed a warm commercial that plays on one’s heartstrings.

그러나 한 켠에서 불편한 감정을 호소하는 여성들의 목소리도 흘러나오고 있다. S씨(28)는 광고를 보며 느꼈던 불편함을 이렇게 말한다. “브래지어를 한 등을 만지는 모습이나 움찔거리는 딸의 모습이 싫었어요. 그 상황에서 느꼈을 기분 나쁜 감정이 떠올라서. 실제였다면 그 상황에서 결코 딸은 웃지 못하죠.”

On the other hand, women are expressing feelings of awkwardness with this commercial. Miss S (28), said it made her uncomfortable, and that “I hated it when the girl shivered after being touched on the back by the father. That feels nothing but bad. Daughters wouldn’t be able to just laugh about it, yes?”.

우리 사회에서 딸들에게 성장, 특히 ‘성적인 성장’은 훈훈한 경험이 되지 못한다. 광고 속 딸도 브래지어를 한 등에 아버지의 손이 닿자 깜짝 놀란다. 십대 여성들에게 성적 성장은 부끄럽고 감추고 싶은 일처럼 되어있다. 브래지어 자체도 몸의 건강과는 상관없이 가슴을 보정하고 감추기 위한 것이지 않은가. 그런 면에서 브래지어를 착용하고 긴장하거나 누가 만지기라도 할까봐 안절부절 못하는 딸의 모습은 훈훈하기 보다는 차라리 안타까운 모습에 가깝다.

In our society, growing up, especially sexual development, is by no means a warm and wonderful experience for girls. In this commercial, even the daughter is shocked and surprised by the father touching her on the back. After all, the bra itself is for hiding and adjusting one’s breasts, regardless of how healthy one’s body is [James – I think this means it is taboo for women not to wear a bra in Korea]. Moreover, worrying about having one’s bra touched [James – Or noticed and/or pointed out?] is a source of tension and stress for girls, making the scene more something to be lamented than as an example of fatherly affection.

같아서 만진다

“I touched her because she’s like my daughter”

여성들이 이 광고를 보면서 느끼는 불편함의 한 켠은 ‘몸을 만지는’ 행위에 있다. 우리 사회에서는 가족이라든가 친하다는 이유로 타인의 몸에 손을 대는 행위가 쉽게 용납이 되는 경향이 있다. 나이 지긋한 분이 성희롱 가해자로 지목되면 “딸 같아서 만진 건데 잘못이냐?”는 변명(?)이 나오는 것도 그런 이유다.

One reason women feel uncomfortable watching this ad is because of the act of the daughter’s body being touched. That is because our society approves of and/or grants permission to men touching them in a friendly manner, like they would their own family members. Indeed, when an older male is accused of sexual harassment, often he fastens on to the excuse that “Can’t I affectionately touch someone like my own daughter?”.

그러나 성장을 기뻐한다는 의도로 몸을 만지는 일들이 자식들의 입장에서는 기분 나쁜 일이 되기도 한다. P씨(30)는 초등학교 시절 가슴이 나오기 시작한 걸 흐뭇해하던 아버지가 맨 가슴을 만진 일에 상처를 받았다고 한다. “아버지야 나쁜 의도가 없으셨겠지만 기분이 나쁘고 싫었거든요. 기분 나빠하는 걸 귀엽게 여기는 게 더 싫고 화가 났지만, 별 수 없었죠.”

While one can touch children because you’re pleased with how they’re growing [James – I highly doubt this is meant in a pedophilic sense. But the next sentence definitely does sound strange though], from children’s perspective it can feel quite bad. Miss P (30) said that when she was in elementary school and her breasts had started appearing, her father touched them in a pleased way [James – as in, “Wow, my girl’s growing up!”] and that this [emotionally] hurt her. “My father didn’t mean anything bad by it, but I still felt bad and hated it. My father thought it was cute though, which just made me angry and hate it all the more, although I couldn’t do anything about it”.

“딸 같아서 만진다”는 말이 통용되는 사회에서 삼성생명의 광고는 많은 여성들에게 불편한 기억을 환기시킨다. 광고 속에서는 의도된 스킨십이 아니었지만, 불편해하는 딸의 모습을 아름답게 바라보는 시점 자체가 이미 여성들을 불편하게 만들고 있는 것이다.

“I just touched her like I would my daughter” is an excuse used so much in Korean society, that this Samsung Life Insurance commercial evokes many uncomfortable memories in women. In particular, having something that would in reality be so uncomfortable for the daughter, to be just cutely dismissed instead, already makes women feel uncomfortable. Even though the father’s intention was not skinship [James — i.e., not sexual. See #2 here for more on what “skinship” is].

(Source: Women and Career)

여자로서의 인생?

Life as a woman?

광고의 마지막에 수줍은 미소를 짓는 딸의 모습은 그래서 불편할 뿐만 아니라 현실적이지도 못하다. 성적인 변화를 부끄러워하고 수줍어하는 십대여성의 모습을 아름답게 여기는 것은 남성들의 판타지일 뿐이다.

The commercial’s final scene with the girl shyly smiling is not just uncomfortable and awkward, but unrealistic. The notion that a teenage girls’ sexual development is beautiful is just a male fantasy, whereas in reality it is embarrassing and often full of shame.

무엇보다 딸의 성장을 대표할만한 것이 어째서 브래지어가 되어야 하는가. ‘여자’ ‘사랑’ ‘결혼’, 딸의 인생을 한정 짓는 말의 진부함은 더 말할 필요도 없다.

More than anything else, why on Earth is a bra considered so representative of daughters’ development? And there’s no need to limit her future to simply the old-fashioned goals of becoming a woman, of falling in love, and getting married either (source, right: unknown).

바 꿔서 생각해보자. 이를테면 처음으로 수염이 나거나, 첫 몽정을 한 아들을 두고, “어느새 사랑을 하고, 결혼을 하고, 아빠가 될 것입니다” 라며 흐뭇함을 느끼는 어머니의 모습은 쉽게 연상되는 이미지는 아닐 것이다. ‘아들의 성장’이 가지는 이미지는 성적 성장, 가정을 이루는 것 등에 국한되지 않기 때문이다.

Let’s try changing the sexes. Instead of a son’s first shave or wet dream being a sign of manhood, let’s imagine a mother sitting in front of her son thinking “Before I know it, he’ll fall in love, get married, and become a father”. Unlike daughters, when you think of sons growing up, you don’t only think of their sexual development and of them becoming parents themselves.

삼성생명의 ‘인생은 길다’ 시리즈 광고를 두고, 흔히 접할 수 있는 보통 사람들의 모습을 담고 있는 ‘리얼리티’ 광고라 한다. 그러나 그 리얼리티 속에 실제 딸의 성장과 느낌은 박제되어 있다.

Samsung Life Insurance’s “Life is Long” series is widely seen as very touching and realistic. But [hidden] in that [fabricated] reality are daughters’ real feelings and development (end).