Korean Boys: “Wearing Hot Pants Says Something About You”

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A much more serious topic than it may sound, this article from Ilda Women’s Journal will definitely give you a renewed appreciation for the goals of the Slutwalk (잡년행진) movement.

Once it does though, unfortunately you’ll probably find yourself pretty frustrated with it too. For the author only really gives platitudes about the need for change, rather than provide any details about who those boys were, what they said exactly, and the sex-education program her and her colleagues were involved in.

But still, she’s right to be concerned about the messages children are receiving about sexuality when any elementary school boys both approve of and chastise attractive women for wearing revealing clothes. Let alone disallow “ugly” ones from wearing them:

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“못생긴 애들 핫팬츠 입지 말라”는 아이들 Children That Say “Ugly Girls Shouldn’t Wear Hot Pants”

여성의 노출’을 바라보는 십대들의 시선 Teenagers’ Views on Women Who Wear Revealing Clothes

So Yeong-mi, August 2010

(일다의 독자위원인 서영미님은 현재 십대들과 함께하는 성교육 프로그램을 진행하고 있습니다―Editor)

Editor: Ilda reader So Yeong-mi is currently involved in a sex-education program aimed at teenagers.

“선생님, 질문 있어요. 왜 여자애들은 그렇게 짧은 반바지를 입어요?”…“여자애들이 핫팬츠 좀 못 입게 해주셨으면 좋겠어요!”…“?????????”

“Teacher, I have a question. Why do women wear such short shorts?”…”If young women didn’t wear hot pants, that would be good.”

이게 도대체 무슨 문제란 말이지? 최근 들어 두 번이나 받은 질문이다. 고등학교 청소년 남자 아이들을 만났을 때 한번, 그리고 초등학교 남자아이들과 교육하면서 한번. 성장기 자신의 몸의 변화나 성관계, 임신/출산에 관련한 질문들이 대부분인 편이라 이 질문이 유독 기억에 남았다. 같은 반 여자아이들이 핫팬츠를 입지 말았으면 좋겠다니 이 무슨 말인가?

(Source, NSFW)

Why on earth are they saying and asking these things? This has happened to me twice recently. Once, from teenage boys at a high school, and the other from boys at an elementary school. Most of the questions I get are normal ones about their development, changes to their body, sexual relationships, pregnancy and childbirth and so on, but I especially remembered these. Why are boys saying that girls in their classes shouldn’t wear hot pants?

James – Because of the mention of female classmates, I’m assuming the boys were in mixed-schools then? But So Yeong-mi doesn’t mention how the girls reacted to such questions, an omission which hopefully means she taught the boys and girls separately.

뜬금없는 질문이 궁금해 스무고개 하듯 계속해서 질문을 주고받으며 질문한 의도를 파악하려 애썼다. 질문자는 한 명이었지만 반 아이들 모두가 동의하고 있었고 별로 웃기지도 않은 질문에 아이들은 자지러졌기 때문이다. 질문을 받은 내가 자신들 생각대로 웃어넘기지 않고 진지하게 계속 물으니, 나중엔 아이들도 제법 진지하게 맞받아쳤다. 그리하여 나온 결론은 같은 반 여자아이들은 핫팬츠를 입으면 안 된다는 것!

I was very curious why these questions came out of the blue, so I sort of played 20 Questions with the students to find out. Only 1 student [in each case?] asked, but all the other students thought it was hilarious, and they expected me to laugh along with them. I wanted to get to the bottom of that, and so later when they gave me feedback it emerged that they felt that girls in their classes shouldn’t wear hot pants.

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모자와 핫팬츠는 다르다? What’s the Difference Between Hot Pants and Hats?

“오크가 그런 걸 입는 게 말이나 돼요?” “Would Orcs Wear Hot Pants?”

판타지 소설이나 롤플레잉 게임에 주로 등장하는 괴물, ‘오크’족. 쭉쭉빵빵 몸매도 좋고 능력도 좋은 미녀캐릭터들에 비해 볼품이 없어 쉽게 무시당하고 힘만 센 캐릭터. 아이들의 설명에 의하면 이랬다. TV에서 연예인들이 입는 것과는 다르다는 것. 그건 당연히 ‘봐줄 만하다’는 것이다. 핫팬츠뿐만 아니라 미니스커트에도 역시 강한 불만을 표했는데, 이번에는 또 다른 이유를 제기했다.

As the students explained, in fantasy novels and role-playing games the monster that appears the most frequently is the orc. Unlike beautiful female characters, with great abilities and voluptuous bodies (and usually useless armor – James), orcs are essentially faceless characters that can easily be disregarded. What entertainers wear on TV is different though, and, of course, it’s worth watching.

But it’s not just hot pants that the boys had problems with girls wearing, but also miniskirts. They gave a second reason for that.

“옷이 그러면 그렇고 그런 거 아니에요? 위험할 수도 있잖아요.”

“Doesn’t wearing clothes like that say something about you? And it’s dangerous too!”

아이들은 여성인 내게 “선생님도 그런 옷을 입냐”며 “도대체 왜”냐고 야단이었다. 한 학생이 모자를 쓰고 있기에 “너는 왜 모자를 쓰고 있냐” 물으니 “그냥 좋아서”라고 가볍게 얘기했다. 그럼 “핫팬츠나 미니스커트를 선택해서 착용하는 것은 무엇이 다르냐” 물으니 “그건 당연히 다르다”고 소리친다. 적절한 대답이 없을 때 아이들은 대개 화를 낸다.

(Source)

The students asked me, a woman, “Do you wear clothes like that?”, and, in a critical tone, “Why on Earth do women wear those?”. So, to one student who was wearing a hat I asked “Why are you wearing that hat?”, to which he casually replied “Because I like it”. So then I asked “How is that different to choosing hot pants or a miniskirt”, and got the retort that “Of course it’s different!”, the student becoming angry that he didn’t really have a proper answer.

그날 종일은 아이들과 좀 더 많은 시간을 들여 ‘개인의 취향’에 대한 이야기를 나누었다. 서로의 취향을 존중하고 이해해야 하는 이유를 찾아보며 남/녀를 탈피한 다양한 관계 속에서 역할활동까지 해봤다. 그러나 그 날의 아이들에게는 이미 모자와 핫팬츠의 ‘선택’이 다르지 않다는 것을 이해시키는 것이 어려워 보였다. 너무나 견고한 그들만의 ‘패션철학’이 놀라울 따름이었다.

I spent all day with the students, and shared a story about personal tastes with them. Then we did roleplaying, breaking away from normal man/woman and girl/boy ones, in order to better understand and respect each other’s personal tastes. It was difficult to make them understand that wearing hot pants was a choice, no different to wearing a hat, and I was very surprised in how unwavering some of their attitudes to fashion were.

우연히 비슷한 시기에 만난 이 집단 아이들만의 문제였을까. 교육이 끝난 후 평가시간에 이 에피소드를 털어놓으니 유난히 남자아이들 교육을 진행할 때 그런 질문이 많이 나온다는 실무자들의 의견이 있었다. 예쁜 사람이 입으면 괜찮고, 아니면 안 괜찮고, 짧은 옷을 입으면 위험하고 야한 어떤 것이라는 10대 초반의 아이들의 논리. 고등학생 이상의 청소년 들을 만났을 때만 해도 성인과 비슷하게 생각해나가는 시기여서 그런가 생각했는데, 초등학생들에게서까지 강한 불만으로 표출되어 나오니 그냥 웃어넘길 일이 아니라는 생각이 들었다.

I wondered if this way of thinking was just confined to the groups of students I taught, so afterwards I asked other sex-ed teachers involved in the program, and they confirmed that they get similar questions and opinions from especially male students. The logic of boys in their early teens was that if pretty girls wear hot pants and so on it’s okay, but if they’re not pretty then it’s not, and that [in either case] such clothes are both too revealing and dangerous.

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Now, if I’d asked high school students and so on, who think like adults, then I wouldn’t have been surprised, but once I learned that even elementary school students are saying such things then I realized that this was no laughing matter.

고 민지점은 성인들이 갖고 있는 편견이나 고정관념들이 고스란히 아이들에게도 답습된다는 것이다. 또한 그 연령이 대폭 낮아졌다는 사실도 놀랄만한 일이다. 그 어린 학생들마저도 ‘여성’의 몸을 검열하고 있다는 사실에 주목하지 않을 수가 없는 것이다.

Children are picking up adults’ prejudices and biases, although it is surprising that they’re doing so at such a young age. And we can’t help but notice that even these children too think the female body is something to inspected and evaluated.

우리가 어떤 일을 할 수 있을까 What can do we do about this?

노출이 많은 옷을 입은 여성과 그렇지 않은 여성을 간단하게 이분화 시키고, 거기에 아름다움이라는 가치를 연결시킨 잣대로 평가하는 것은 아이들도 어른들과 크게 다르지 않았다. 다만 아이들의 용어로 표현하고 있을 뿐이었다. 이를 우스갯거리로 사용하는 아이들을 보고 있자니 솔직히 조금 화가 나기도 했다. 그리고 그와 동시에 우리 스스로 반성해야 될 때가 아닌가 생각해보게 됐다.

Children splitting women into simply those who wear very revealing clothes and those that don’t, and judging their value only in terms of their appearance, is little different from what adults do. But although the children just used these terms jokingly, to be honest I still got a little angry with them.

Yet at the same time, we really need to examine ourselves too.

대중매체에 대한 비판을 하려던 차에 최근 10대 청소년 연예인들을 상대로 60%가 신체 노출이나 과도한 성적 행위 장면을 강요했다는 기사들을 보게 되었다. 한 언론과의 인터뷰에서 가수 이은미는 음악성 보다 외적인 면에 더 관심을 갖는 사회 분위기를 우려하며, 성적인 면이 강조된 걸그룹의 노래, 의상, 춤에 환호하는 이 사회를 ‘몰상식의 극’이라고 표현했다. “초등학교를 졸업한지 몇 년 되지 않은 아이들을 벗겨놓고 대 놓고 섹시하다고 박수를 치거나, 꿀벅지, 꿀복근 같은 용어들을 사용하는 대중문화를 보면 소름이 끼친다.”는 것.

(Source: unknown)

I was about to blame the mass media, as recently I’ve read reports which say that 60% of female teenage entertainers have claimed to have sometimes been forced to wear revealing clothes and/or do sexual dances and so on. And in an interview of the singer Lee Eun-mi (James – Not one of those teenage entertainers; she was born in 1968), she said she was worried about a society that considered external appearance more important than musical quality for singers, where girl groups’ sexual dances, songs, and outfits where cheered…she used the term “thoughtless/careless”. She said “I freak out at the thought that just a few years after they graduate from elementary school, young male and female entertainers are being praised for taking off their clothes and being talked about in terms of their ‘honey thighs‘ or six-packs.

쏟 아지는 대중매체의 벗기기 논란은 새삼 어제오늘 일도 아니건만, 아무 손쓰지 않고 있었음에 반성하게 된다. 상품화되고 대상화되고 있는 여성들의 문제를 공공연히 문제 삼지 않았던 것이 일상생활에까지 주변 사람을 대상화하고 외모로써 평가하는 지금의 일을 만든 게 아닌가 하는 생각에서다.

But these trends in the media didn’t just appear overnight – they were allowed to flourish by the public’s inattention and lack of concern. This way, we have come to consider the commercialization and objectification of women as a normal part of our daily lives.

아 이들의 생각을 넓게 펼쳐주진 못할망정 오로지 외모로써 사람을 평가하는 우리 사회에서 우리가 어떤 일을 할 수 있을지 함께 고민해봤으면 좋겠다. 우리가 그동안 무심코 내뱉었던 말들이 아이들에게 어떤 영향을 미치게 될지 생각해보면서 말이다. 문제가 수면으로 드러난 지금이야말로 왜곡된 미와 과장된 외모 중심의 평가들로부터 벗어나 아이들에게 더 많은 관심을 가져야 할 때다. 아이들뿐만 아니라 사실은 우리 모두를 위해서 말이다.

It’s difficult to broaden children’s minds, but we do have to make an effort to stop judging each other on our appearances. We have to consider what has been the effect on our children of this focus, this excessive emphasis on appearance. Not just for them, but for society as a whole (end).

My post title aside, I don’t mean to generalize about all Korean boys, and given the author’s vagueness then what she says about them really needs to be taken with a grain of salt. So, to get a better overall picture, I’d really appreciate anything any teachers can tell me about what their own young students have ever said about such things (alas, it’s been a while since I’ve taught children or teenagers myself).

And to end on a positive note, was anyone else reminded of the above semi-response to such sentiments? Now I have a renewed sense of appreciation for that too!^^ (See here for a discussion of the song’s lyrics and meaning)

13 thoughts on “Korean Boys: “Wearing Hot Pants Says Something About You”

  1. I’m a guy who fully supports the aims of slutwalk and the right of women to wear revealing clothing, but I have some sympathy for the boys, especially the younger ones, here.

    Firstly, boys in the middle of puberty are full of hormones and new desires. It’s understandable that they are confused that sexual clothing does not equate to sexual availability. To be honest, saying that choosing to wear hot pants is just like choosing to wear a hat is an oversimplification. Although the basic message (a woman can wear what she likes without negative consequences) is simple, it’s not easy for a boy to understand the intersection of desire, fashion, peer pressure, personal freedom etc. that leads to female clothing choices. (It’s even harder for girls, of course, but I’m only talking about the boys here.)

    Secondly, constant arousal can be tiring. Perhaps they’re just exhausted of feeling unfamiliar urges every time they watch pop music or walk down the street. That’s no reason to restrict adult clothing choices, but they have a right to express their frustration and, as children, may not do this in a way we approve of.

    Thirdly, perhaps the boys were in their own way expressing a similar disquiet to yours (and mine) about the practice of dressing very young stars in very sexual outfits. They might not have done so in quite the right language, but they might be aware that something is not quite right about this, having seen older male relatives leering at half-naked girls their own age on the screen.

    Once more, women have the right to wear what they want and these boys should not be able to control them. All I’m trying to do here is understand where these young guys are coming from and express my concern that they should not be instantly labelled as simply ‘controlling’.

    • All very good points, which I wish I’d made myself. But just to play Devil’s advocate about the first point though, while saying wearing hot pants is just like wearing a hat is indeed an oversimplification, I have to admit it gave me pause too. At the very least, it would be a good starting point for discussions with kids, and for all we know about the details of the sex-ed program it may (hopefully) have been precisely that.

  2. Think about the poor mens!!!!

    The only reason they make that deduction is because the mainly male run media sends those messages. Boys, control yourself and your mouth, if you can’t, then go ask yourself why instead of making women further victims of your sexism and misogyny. :)

  3. Male-run media? Explain to me then why women’s fashion magazines edited by women are some of the biggest pushers of certain beauty standards.

    It is no more men’s fault that women are supposed to look a certain way then women’s — or, at the least, each sex is “to blame.”

    • One of the explanations proffered by this blog and many of the people who read it is simple: women endorse the wearing of provactive clothing because their culture tells them to do so, and it remains true not only in South Korea but the world generally that a lot of cultural norms carry a certain male bias, and will continue to do so until we’ve essentially erased gender norms, assuming we can/want to/will.

      The only difficulty with using that line of reasoning exclusively, though I’m sure some do, is that it removes all agency from women (and men). By using that explanation, a woman ONLY wants to dress provocatively because her culture says to, and because men like an easy look at legs and breasts. The same sort of explanation could tell us why men tend to endorse more violent behavior, or whatever. It sets up a world in which all people are essentially cultural robots, but we know that can’t be true otherwise fashion and other norms of behavior would never, ever change.

      I think where and when exactly it becomes fair to attribute clothing choices to things outside of culture, assuming that can be done, is a different discussion entirely from all this.

      • Sorry Luke, but if you get the impression that this blog as a whole says that “women endorse the wearing of provocative clothing because their culture tells them to do so”, then I’m afraid you’ve been completely misreading it. Personally, I can only recall ever saying something along those lines in relation to teen performers being forced by their managers etc. (see here for example), and indeed I actually wrote a post quite recently stressing how much agency women have.

        • In fairness, I had made a comment on that post asking for a bit of clarification, but never got it. If my comment on that post is correct, then indeed I’d have to disagree with what I just wrote. As it stands, I’m left wondering myself just where to place the line between which behaviors have as their deciding input culturalization, and which personal agency.

          I also tend to think that the finding of that line ought to be (probably already is) a central aim of this blog, and any other publication which focuses on socialization and behavior. Wherever on the spectrum that line might fall provides a broad set of answers for most of the questions posed here. So again, clarification would be helpful =).

          (James – For anyone interested in following this conversation, I did eventually respond to that comment!)

  4. Pingback: shocked « My Musings

  5. This is another case of overlooking the very obvious to try to come up with some “insights” into a study for the largely speculative field of gender studies. Why do many boys think (teen) girls wearing miniskirts and short pants is bad? Because that’s what bad girls wear. My HS girls who wear miniskirts and make-up are also more likely to be the ones who get caught for smoking and truanting and all sorts of other things. So, if an adult walks into a classroom and asks a good boy what he thinks of it, what’s he going to say in front of everyone, ‘Gee I’d sure like to get up the skirt of one of those girls my mum doesn’t want me to hang around with’?

    Yesterday was the matriculation test at my HS. I noticed two girls wearing MS school uniforms I didn’t recognise with really high miniskirts, of the type that would get them in serious shit at our adjacent MS. My first thought? Oh shit, two more troublemakers next year. Of course there are exceptions and in some cases it’s just her style, whatever, blah blah blah respect people’s styles. But usually it’s bad-girl style, which is why good boys would answer the way they did above.

  6. Huh. I think I realize now why I found this article so confusing when I read it last week.

    To my knowledge, I have never once been exposed to the concept of the slutwalk or the viewpoint that a woman’s clothing choice should depend entirely on her own preference regardless of anyone else’s opinion or reaction. It was such a foreign concept, I guess, that I failed do do any of the necessary reading between the lines.

    It seems I have a lot of thinking to do.

  7. Hello, this is my first comment here, but I’ve been reading for a while. Great blog!

    I think you really have to wonder how things would be in reverse. Say it became a fashion for older boys or young men to wear mesh shirts or cups everywhere they went. I have to say that I’d find it strange, it not outright offensive. The source of the problem that is especially accute in adolescence is always present; we just learn to deal with it as we become adults.

    The reason miniskirts make young teen boys uncomfortable is basically as Mark says: they remind the boys not only that women have sexuality, but that they themselves do, at least on a subconscious level. If the problem is framed in different ways (immodesty, inapproriateness, tastelessness), it’s just a reflection of value systems which have evolved out of the need to deal with the sexuality of all people when sexuality isn’t the topic at hand. The trouble now is the creation of a value system which seems liberal enough to both allow free expression of sexuality and disallow it whenever doing so is deemed inappropriate, in other words to protect the delicacies of those not born into this value system, without appealing to a standard that is either superficially arbitrary or derived from older, relativistic value systems.

    I’m neither intelligent nor patient enough to want to participate in the creation of such a system. As far as I’m concerned, don’t show butt cheek or hooch, and we’re good.

  8. Imagine walking into an executive’s office, and a female secretary greets you, what comes to mind is a lady dressed modestly and professionally, with her skirt reaching just knee length, right? Now what if I say that this is an x-rated film and instead it’s a ‘slutty’ secretary. Probably the only difference between the two images of the secretary would be a much shorter skirt and probably even some cleavage (keeping the person’s looks constant).

    The thing is, whether you want to believe it or not a woman’s legs are considered a sexual capital, and when women so so much legs by wearing hot pants and mini skirts. And when some women do wear these even in the cold winter, boys are left to wonder why such overt display of self sexualization, since they probably haven’t seen the reverse as much where guys walk around in public topless.

    Boys has always been boys and have never walked a day in the shoe of a woman before, and so will probably wonder things in relation to themselves, such as why are the shorts worn by women so unnecessarily short as compared to those worn by men? From all the leering from other older boys at girls who shows off her legs, as compared to one who would wear ‘male-length’ shorts, for can be easy for boys who haven’t fuly matured yet to conclude that it’s just purely for attention seeking purposes.

    Now, you say that a woman should be allowed to wear whatever they want, including hot pants, because of their choice right? Well they can, and they do. But if a boy were to exercise the same right of wanting to wear hot pants, both boys and girls will ridicule him right? so much so that guys hardly do it. Now try explaining that double standard when it comes to choice to your boys. Usually what I hear on why girls can wear short shorts and guys can’t is because girl’s are considered prettier and have nicer legs to show compared to guys, or in other words, a beauty discrimination, which could easily be carried out into the other context of pretty/ugly girl being allowed to wear hot pants or not.

    Another possible reason is that, in today’s world, overt display of male sexuality is considered taboo, disgusting, inappropriate and hence are suppressed (ok maybe with the exception of k-pop idols, since they are performers after all), but female sexuality is encouraged by even by women as it is considered empowerment, and freedom. Hence for a young boy who does not understand society’s double standards, he can only relate to himself and what he is taught about suppressing his sexuality, and may think that It would e similarly inappropriate and taboo for women; hence the angry/ passionate response.

  9. Pingback: The Connotations of Hot Pants | seoulbeats

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