Sunday Fun: Bottoms!

Hidamari Sketch EscherGirlMy 8 year-old daughter Alice is really into comics these days, often hiding our home phone under her pillow to keep reading when she’s supposed to be asleep. To my chagrin, she couldn’t care less if the female characters have huge eyes though, and/or no noses. But yesterday, I noticed the above while she was watching the opening to the anime adaptation of Hidamari Sketch. It was a great opportunity to start teaching her about female characters’ typical poses too.

Cue 20 minutes of giggling at the bottoms in the Escher Girls blog, which ultimately had the whole family trying—and failing—to imitate some of the pictures (although I was pretty good myself actually). Naturally, we quickly skipped past some of the more inappropriate ones, and Alice still has no idea why female characters are so often drawn in a “boobs and butt” style. But at least she’s aware of the phenomenon now, and, with gentle prodding from me, will hopefully think more about it herself as she gets older.

For now though, she’s still very much a 8 year-old girl, and I can hardly fault her for that. Much of those 20 minutes were also spent by her and her 6 year-old sister Elizabeth saying “와! 예쁘다…” (Wow! They’re so pretty…), and today this post took a long time to write because she kept on stopping me to tell me all about the characters in Hidamari Sketch. Including Yoshinoya above, who’s supposedly a high school teacher (sigh)…

Policing the Student Body: Sookmyung Women’s University students told to cover up

Sookmyung Women's University Festival Dress Code(Source: TVChosun)

Watching a news report about the controversial new dress code for last week’s festival at Sookmyung Women’s University, I was surprised to hear that it was the student union that was responsible, and aghast to learn that it was under the assumption that wearing revealing clothes leads to more sex crimes against women.

Fortunately though, at least the report itself ended with a commentator from the Korean Institute for Gender Equality Promotion and Education, who pointed out the potential for victim-blaming from such misguided beliefs. As so few other reports mentioned that (I’ve only found one other), I thought it was worth highlighting here.

Alas, there were technical issues with the sound in the online video, and rather than fixing those MBN just decided to delete it. But the transcript is still available:

Anchor:

숙명여대 총학생회가 축제 기간에 입을 수 있는 복장 규정을 마련했는데, 치마 길이와 심한 노출 등을 규제하고 있습니다. 성 상품화에 젖은 대학문화를 자정하겠다는 취지인데 논란이 일고 있습니다.
주진희 기자입니다.

For the university festival period, the Sookmyung Women’s University student union has set rules for students’ dress, regulating the length of skirts and the amount of exposure. This attempt to regulate university culture, which is steeped in sexual objectification, has raised a lot of controversy.

Reporter, Ju Jin-hee:

친구 얼굴에 물풍선을 던지거나 인간 두더지 게임을 하며 학업 스트레스를 날립니다. 해가 지면 캠퍼스에 주점이 설치되고 축제 분위기는 무르익습니다. 주점마다 자극적인 문구와 공연으로 치열한 호객 행위가 벌어집니다. 여성 속옷인 가터벨트를 찬 가정부 그림을 이용한 홍보지부터 성적인 은유를 함축한 메뉴판까지. 노골적으로 성을 상품화한 축제로 변질될 우려가 일자, 축제 시작 전 숙명여대 학생회는 혹시 모를 불상사를 막자며 복장 규정을 강화했습니다. 허벅지의 절반을 드러내는 치마는 금지. 만일 입으려면 속바지를 착용하도록 했습니다. 가슴골이 보이거나 속살이 비치는 의상은 물론이고, 옆트임이 있는 치마도 금지했습니다. 만일 어겼다가 적발되면 벌금을 내도록 했습니다. 이해가 간다는 반응의 학생들도 많지만…

During the day, doing things like throwing water balloons at students’ faces and playing whack-a-mole with them is a way of relieving stress at festivals.

But once the sun goes down, the festival atmosphere takes a more adult turn, with students promoting their departments with eye-catching posters and performances and making money for them by selling alcohol [James: With flow-on benefits for their MTs and so on].

In this vein, [the Department of Art and Crafts] made a provocative poster with a maid wearing a garter belt, and a menu with suggestively-named foods.

Sookmyung Women's University Maid and Menu(Sources: Kookje; Goodbuyselly)

Because of worries about such increasing sexual objectification in festivals, the student union set rules about clothing in order to avert any incidents.* These include: only being allowed to show 50% of the thigh; having to wear shorts under a mini-skirt; and mesh tops, dresses showing cleavage, and those with side-slits [James: Is that the right term?] all banned, with offenders being fined.

Many students responded that they understood these rules, but…

(James: It’s this line — “노골적으로 성을 상품화한 축제로 변질될 우려가 일자, 축제 시작 전 숙명여대 학생회는 혹시 모를 불상사를 막자며 복장 규정을 강화했습니다” — that sounds like victim-blaming. If better Korean speakers than I feel that’s a little extreme though, or a misinterpretation, I’d be very happy to be proven wrong!)

Interview: Sookmyung Women’s University Student:

“여대로써 많은 불상사가 생기지 않도록 엄격한 규제를 한 것에 대해서 찬성을 하고요. 그렇게 다 가리고 있는 건 아니잖아요.”

“Because this is a women’s university, I agree that regulations had to be made before an incident occurred. Students have been pretty blatant [about wearing revealing clothing and so on].

반면 비판 여론도 만만치 않습니다.

On the other hand, there were a lot of criticisms.

Interview, Kim Han-min, University Student:

“저는 솔직히 문란하다고 생각 안 하거든요. 그런 거 하나하나도 패션에 대한 자유가 될 수 있는데, 규제가 조금 심했다고 생각하고 있어요.”

“To be honest, I don’t think it’s lewd at all. This is about fashion and personal freedom, so I think the regulations are too harsh.”

전문가들은 여성의 짧은 치마가 문제될 수 있다는 사고방식 자체가 더 문제라는 지적입니다.

Experts pointed out that it’s the notion that women’s short skirts are problematic that is more of an issue:

Interview: Seong In-ja, Korean Institute for Gender Equality Promotion and Education

“고육지책으로 마련된 걸로 보이긴 하지만 또 한편에서의 우려는 성범죄 안에서 피해자에게 원인이 있다는 ‘피해자 유발론’으로….”

“These rules appear to be a desperate measure, and there is a genuine worry that they shift the blame of sexual crimes onto the victims…”

축제 문화를 자정하려는 취지에서 만들었지만, 좀 더 현실성있고 고민이 담긴 규정이 마련돼야한다는 목소리도 나오고 있습니다.

These rules appear aimed at regulating [excessively sexual] festival culture, but some voices are saying a much more realistic and nuanced approach is needed (end).

sookmyung-womens-university-festival(Source: Extreme Movie; edited for brightness)

Of course, that only skims the surface of the issues raised by the dress code (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for the ensuing debate), and it would be good if it turned to be motivated less by supposed crime prevention than avoiding pictures of students later appearing on Ilbe and so on (although again, should that dictate what students are allowed to wear?). If anyone likes, I’d be happy do some more investigating and translating to learn more.

In the meantime, I wisely invested my time in interviewing Peter Daley instead, a professor at Sookmyung (and expert on Korean cults), to gauge the atmosphere and his students’ reactions. To his surprise, they felt it was a non-issue that had been blown all out of proportion:

“I only found out about the dress-code through the article in the Korea Times….[a female coworker of mine] felt it was a bit draconian. The students are adults, but weren’t being treated as such…she also mentioned that some students do have larger breasts…are they going to be penalized just because they can’t hide that part of their anatomy?

…Contrast that with what my students said, and that was a different reaction entirely…I expected that [raising it in class] would lead to some kind of debate and that students would be passionate about it, but they just kind of laughed it off…they said only guys were worried about the rules [because they’d see less]!

He hasn’t taught at Sookmyung long enough to attend previous festivals, but, whether because of the new dress-code or not, he didn’t see students wearing anything particularly risqué last Friday (“Certainly nothing too different from what young Korean women normally wear in the summer, or at other university festivals.”). Nor did the security guards seem to be tasked with measuring skirts with rulers, as if they were teachers at a high school.

But if someone had seen too much thigh? Sookymung isn’t a school, and the students are no longer children. The last time grown women were penalized for what they wore, it was by the fashion police of the 1970s, during the military dictatorship.

So yes, perhaps the students really should have been angrier.

busty girl problems korean fashion police(Sources: Busty Girl Comics, 추억의 편린들)

But I’m not one of them, and can’t presume to know their needs and feelings better than they do. Also, Daley concedes that without this year’s dress code, fashions at previous festivals may well have been more extreme, and indeed fashion photographer and blogger Michael Hurt said on Facebook that things at his own school’s festival are “getting insane,” although again that banning isn’t the solution (reprinted with permission):

But I think [the message it sends, that girls’ worth is all in their looks] is precisely the point that this culture is struggling with right now. One of the reasons they dress this way, and this is even hinted at in the quotes lifted from the students for the [Korea Times] article, is that they have really come to commodify value themselves in terms of their sexuality, the expressions of which are primarily guided by over sexualized images in the media. I think something needs to be done to counteract this tendency, but this culture is lacking in terms of concrete strategies to do so besides banning or making rules. I think the same is true in the US to a lesser extent, but both cultures seem to have a problem dealing with where the line should be without having to litigate it.

I’d be grateful if readers could supply any more details about events at Sookmyung; for instance, although the student union came up with it, I’m sure that the dress code was actually at the behest of the university administration. Also, I’ve never attended any Korean university festival myself (I always have two young kids to look after, and teach at a very Christian university far from home), so I’d be very interested to hear what they’re like. What are your experiences and impressions? Have you heard of dress codes elsewhere? Do you think, even if you don’t agree with the ban, that something like it was inevitable?

Update) Among many other relevant and interesting posts by Michael, make sure to check out “The Cultural Politics of Short Skirts in Korea.”

Update 2) I realize the irony of only quoting two middle-aged men for this article, but, well, you get what you pay for sorry(!) that can’t be helped with my family and day job down here in Busan unfortunately. Most of the links do include input from the students though, and if readers would like me to investigate further then I’m happy to focus on finding a student’s perspective to translate (here’s a good candidate).

Update 3) Some interesting related reading: “Dress Codes for Girls: Are Teachers the New Objectifiers?” at Ms. blog, and “Say Goodbye, Skimpy. Film Fest on the Alert for ‘Overexposed’ Actresses” at Busan Haps.

Update 4) Here, here, here, and here are some more Korean articles that look interesting.

Korean Sex Ed Takes to the Road

(Source)

Korean sex education gets a bad rep on my blog, and deservedly so. But there are many professional and committed sex educators out there (I’ve met some!), and the quality and quantity of programs can vary quite dramatically between different schools and regions.

This latest initiative, to bring sex education to isolated communities, sounds like one of the better ones.

Unfortunately, this poorly-written report doesn’t really do it justice, with many frustratingly vague terms. Please take this into account when you read things like how the education provided teaches “the dignity of life” for instance, which I hope doesn’t mean that Korean children are learning that abortion is evil (although it was made illegal 4 years ago, so I have some genuine concerns). Also, the report claims that the bus is aimed at “island” communities, but the literal center of the country doesn’t seem a very good place to start visiting those, so I’m guessing that “isolated” communities was meant instead.

(Thanks in advance for any corrections or better translations from readers)

Wriggle: Korea’s First Sex Education Bus

10 April 2014, by 신국진/Shin Gook-jin, JB News

“성은 숨기는 것이 아니라 책임이 필요한 것으로 아동•청소년 연령에 맞게 맞춤 교육을 하겠습니다.”

“Sex is not something that should be hidden, but it does require responsibility. So, we will provide an age-appropriate sex education to children and teenagers.”

충북도내 도서 지역 아동•청소년의 건전한 성 가치관을 심어주기 위해 지난 8일 개소한 이동형 성문화센터 체험관 ‘꿈틀’이 10일 첫 운행을 시작했다.

성교육이 가능하도록 버스를 개조한 ‘꿈틀’은 이날 청원군 남일초등학교를 찾아 4~6학년을 대상으로 11일까지 맞춤형 성교육을 실시한다.

김향자 충북도 이동형 청소년성문화센터 팀장은 “지난 8일 개소하고 처음으로 이동형 센터 운행을 시작했다”며 “남일초를 시작으로 올해 도내 전 지역을 돌며 400회 교육을 할 계획”이라고 말했다.

Taking to the road on the 10th in North Chungcheong Province, the “Wriggle” sex education bus will instill a healthy set of sexual values in children and teenagers living in isolated island communities.

Remodeled as a sex education bus, the Wriggle’s first stop is Namil Elementary School, where it will teach 4th-6th graders (11-13 year-olds) age-appropriate sex education until the 11th.

Kim Hyang-ja, team leader of the North Chungcheong Province teenage sex education center, said “This is Korea’s first moving sex-education center. After Nam-il Elementary School, we plan to make 400 trips this year.”

그동안 충북에서는 청주와 충주에 각각 1개소씩 마련된 고정형 청소년성문화센터가 운영됐다. 이렇다보니 지역적 접근성이 떨어지는 도서 지역 아동•청소년은 제대로 된 성교육을 받기가 힘들었다.

충북도는 이를 해소하기 위해 지난해부터 3억여원의 예산을 들여 ‘꿈틀’을 마련하고 운영에 나선 것이다. 꿈틀 체험관에는 다양한 성 콘텐츠가 교육 연령대에 맞춰 교육할 수 있도록 구성된다.

In North Chungcheong Province, there are two teenage sex education centers, in Cheongju and Choongju. But these are difficult for students in islands communities to get to, depriving them of a sex education.

In order to solve this problem, last year 300 million won was budgeted for the Wriggle sex education bus. In it, children can receive information about various sex-related issues and receive age-appropriate sex education.

좁은 공간에는 ‘삐뽀삐뽀’, ‘미디어와 성’, ‘성 상품화’, ‘요람’, 사춘기 용품’, 사랑방정식’, ‘다양한 가족’, ‘우주속의 나’ 등의 프로그램으로 성을 알기 쉽게 표현했다.

심장 소리를 들으며 입장하는 체험관은 난자를 찾아가는 정자의 모습을 보며 교육이 시작된다.

한미화 강사는 “6억분의 1의 경쟁을 뚫고 내가 태어난 것이란 의미를 알려주는 의미”라며 “체험관에는 태아가 형성되는 과정은 물론 산모 배속에 위치한 태아의 태동까지 느낄 수 있는 체험도 가능하다”고 말했다.

Korean Sex Education Bus Inside(Source)

In the narrow space, children can easily learn through watching programs like ‘Ambulance Siren’, ‘The Media and Sex’, ‘Sexual Objectification’, ‘Cradle’, ‘Puberty Products’, ‘Love Equation’, ‘Various Family Types’, and “The Universe and Me’.

While listening to the sound of a heartbeat, they can see how sperm find the egg [James: A bit outdated—eggs are quite active in seeking out sperm too!].

Instructor Han Mi-hwa said, “Children can see from how 1 out of 600 million sperm finds the egg, to fetal development, and even feeling what it’s like to have the baby kick.”

아이들은 체험관 안에서 성교육 외에도 다문화 가정, 한부모 가정, 조손가정 등 현재 사회에서 발생할 수 있는 가족 구성단위도 교육 받는다.

또한 학교를 중심으로 형성된 사회 시설에서 아이들에게 안전한 곳과 위험 곳을 보기 쉽게 마련했다.

체험관 속에서 40여분 간 진행되는 교육 외에도 유아에게는 인형극을 통한 재미있는 성교육을 하고 초등학생에게는 성장과정에 따른 몸 변화의 이해와 생명 존엄성에 대한 교육이 진행된다.

In addition to sex education, children can also learn about various family types, such as multicultural families, single-parent families, children living with their grandparents, and so on, all of which are occurring as our society develops.

Children can also learn about places around their schools and neighborhoods which may be unsafe.

In roughly 40 minutes on the bus, preschool children can learn sex education through playing with dolls, and elementary school students can learn about development, the changes to their body, and the dignity of life.

중•고등학생에게는 앞으로 성적 자기결정권, 청소년 성매매 등 현실을 인식하고 성 평등에 대한 교육이 진행된다.

게다가 부모와 교사에 대한 교육도 마련해 아동•청소년 성폭력 예방 및 지도법, 성의식 개선 등의 프로그램을 운영할 계획이다.

김향자 팀장은 “연령에 따라 알아야 되는 성은 모두 다르다”며 “교육 대상이 누구냐에 따라 맞춤 교육이 가능하도록 모든 시설이 완성돼 있다”고 말했다.

From now on, middle and high-school students can learn about their sexual rights, prostitution, and sexual equality. Moreover, there are also plans to provide sexual violence prevention programs, and education to parents and teachers.

Kim Hyong-ja explained, “As what you need to know about sex is different at different ages, so too the education varies”, and that “it is possible to provide appropriate education for all ages.”

한편 꿈틀은 (사)청주여성의전화에서 수탁 운영하며 교육신청은 충북도 이동형 청소년성문화센터(043-223-7953)로 하면 된다.

김향자 팀장은 “꿈틀은 앞으로 학교를 비롯해 지역아동센터, 시설 등 교육이 필요한 장소에는 모두 갈 것”이라며 “최고의 교육 효과를 얻기 위해 모든 강사들이 노력 할 것이다. 교육을 받는 시설에서 적극적인 협조로 아이들에게 성이 무엇인지 제대로 교육이 됐으면 좋겠다”고 당부했다. / 신국진

Wriggle is managed by the Cheongju Women’s Hotline. For inquiries about coming to your area in North Chungcheong Province, please call the teenage sex education center at 043-223-7953.

“In addition to schools, Wriggle is available to come to community children’s facilities and so on where needed. We will strive to provide the best education.” Kim Hyang-ja said, and that “If we positively cooperate to provide education at facilities, we can properly teach children what sex is.”

Following School Crackdown, More Kids Punished for Acts of Affection

Wonder Woman Thwarted(Source; edited)

From Korea Realtime:

As Min-gun and Sae-young left their Seoul high school one fall afternoon, they strolled down a tree-lined street more than an arm’s length apart from each other. As they got further away from school, they gradually moved closer together until after a few hundred meters, Min-gun reached over to hold hands with Sae-young, his girlfriend of nearly a year.

If they had linked hands earlier in the day at school, they could have been punished under their school’s code on the Degradation of Public Morals, which prohibits such shows of affection.

Over the past few years, there has been a jump in the number of South Korean high school students punished for hand holding, hugging, kissing or other amorous acts…

Read the rest at the link. Confusedly, it follows a Korea Herald report last month that that the Education Ministry “would prohibit schools from taking disciplinary measures against students for being pregnant or in a relationship.” But Korea Realtime claims that this was only a request, as the Ministry neither sets nor enforces school rules.

Korean Room Cafe HallwayI’d appreciate it if anyone can offer a third opinion, and will try to find a Korean source to translate myself. If it turns out Korea Realtime is correct however, it would greatly surprise and unnerve me that even the Ministry can not prevent the expulsion of pregnant students. Surely that is an obvious violation of their human rights?

Either way, see here for my September post on ‘Room Cafes,’ which seem just about the only place some unfortunate teens can do that “hand holding, hugging, kissing or other amorous acts.” As such, let me reiterate that I’m very glad they exist, because:

…if some teenagers are going to [do those amorous acts] — and some are going to do [them] — then, all other options being barred…, it’s surely best that they do [them] in the safety and relative privacy of a new room cafe. Especially when the alternatives would be dark alleys behind their schools, or in the older, seedier variety of ‘DVD rooms‘ still out there…

Any teachers among you noticed your own schools becoming stricter in recent years? (Source, above)

Korean Sociological Image #78: Multicultural Families in Korean Textbooks

Korean Mulitcultural Family Korean Ethics Textbook

Over at Korean Circle and Squares, Emanuel Pastreich has scanned some pages of the Korean ethics textbook currently used in Korean elementary schools. He comments that the very existence of such an old-fashioned class is remarkable (as part of the daily program no less), and was especially struck by the efforts to address multicultural issues and the children of “multicultural families.” For example, the page above-right:

…relates a diary entry by Jeonghyeon, an elementary school student whose mother is Vietnamese. Jeonghyeon says she has no memories of her Vietnamese grandmother and grandfather and seems not to actually live in that complex multicultural family. Nevertheless, it is a tremendous improvement to create this space in which multicultural kids can exist within the official textbooks.

Ethnic Nationalism in KoreaClick on the image for more examples. Also remarkable about them is how, just 5 years ago, textbooks stressed how important it was that Korea remain ethnically homogenous instead. As described by Matt of Gusts of Popular Feeling in December 2008:

Korea’s ethics textbooks are to change, however — in part due to Hines Ward’s first visit to Korea after being named MVP in the Superbowl in 2006 — and North Korea, which has taken these ideas to frightening extremes, was not happy:

The words themselves take a knife to the feeling of our people, but even more serious is that this anti-national theory of “multiethnic, multiracial society” has already gone beyond the stage of discussion. Already, they’ve decided that from 2009, content related to “multiracial, multiethnic culture” would be included in elementary, middle and high school textbooks that have until now stressed that Koreans are the “descendents of Dangun,” “of one blood line” and “one race,” and to change the terms “families of international marriage” and “families of foreign laborers” to “multicultural families.” This is an outrage that makes it impossible to repress the rage of the people/race.

More recently, these issues again gained prominence with the election of Ms. Lee (born Jasmine Bacurnay in the Philippines) to South Korea’s National Assembly in April last year, the first naturalized citizen — and the first nonethnic Korean — to do so. As Choe Sang-hun wrote in The New York Times, public opinion is still is still far behind official policy:

And this year, for the first time, South Korea began accepting multiethnic Korean citizens into its armed forces. Before, the military had maintained that a different skin color would make them stand out and hurt unity.

But if government support has improved, Ms. Lee says, popular sentiment seems to have cooled. Korean men who sponsored foreign women as brides, only to find themselves abandoned by women who exploited them to immigrate to and work in South Korea, have organized against the government’s multicultural policy. Meanwhile, low-income Koreans accuse migrant workers of stealing their jobs.

The government itself stands accused of fostering xenophobia by requiring foreigners who come to South Korea to teach English to undergo H.I.V. tests, but not requiring the same of South Koreans in the same jobs. Last year, an Uzbek-born Korean made news when she was denied entry to a public bath whose proprietor cited fear of H.I.V. among foreigners.

Korean Woman's DNA DifferentThe Korean media also has some way to go, Matt noticing (in 2010) the headline “Korean Women’s DNA is Different” for instance:

Well now, I guess that may explain why Roboseyo “personally was told “foreign blood and Korean blood together has problems” [by] one of the nurses at a blood clinic[.]” It all makes sense now – Koreans’ DNA is different. What a simple, obvious explanation.

Actually, while the article tells us that “Questions arise each time Korean female athletes accomplish great things on the world stage,” it (sadly) does not follow up on the promise of the headline, instead dwelling on more mundane cultural and social influences. Mind you, the fact that “Korean women’s DNA is different” was a headline on the front page of a newspaper should go to show that the idea of genes and bloodlines was dominating the writer (or editor)’s thinking, and that they figured others would agree.

Fortunately, my Korean wife and I have met very few Koreans (openly) expressing that idea of pure genes and bloodlines, and fewer still that harassed us for mixing them. Also, as one of those “muliticultural families,” we’ve benefited from our youngest daughter jumping ahead in the waiting list for a place in a state-run kindergarten (albeit something which “ordinary” Korean parents may justifiably resent), and both our daughters receive a great deal of friendly attention when we’re out with them (not so much when they’re just with me — you’d never guess they had a Korean mother). Part of that is likely because half-Korean celebrities were very much in vogue a few years ago, but this popularity may now be waning.

How about any readers in interracial relationships or multicultural families? What positive or negative experiences have you had specifically because of this bloodlines-based view of nationalism, and/or related government policies?

Update: If you’ve come this far, I recommend following-up with The Culture Muncher’sA Multicultural Korea: Inevitable or Impossible?” also.

Update 2: Thanks to @dacfrazer, who passed on the must-read “There is more to my son than the fact he’s a ‘half’” at The Japan Times.

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

Is too Much Study Indoors Destroying Students’ Vision?

Busan Haps James TurnbullIn a word, yes.

To find out why 9 out of 10 Korean students require glasses, compared to only 2 out of 10 in the UK, check out my latest article for Busan Haps.

Korean Sociological Image #77: Sexualized Girl-Group Performances at Schools

Back in August, I wrote the following about girl-group performances for the Korean military:

With 300-350,000 new conscripts annually, one of the longest conscription periods in the world, and a grisly — but improving — record of bullying and abysmal living conditions, keeping the troops entertained can safely be assumed to have long been a big concern of the South Korean military. Accordingly, televised visits by girl-groups and entertainers have become a recognizable part of Korean popular culture, although note that it was originally US solidiers that they would perform for, as explained in the highly recommended read Koreans Performing for Foreign Troops: The Occidentalism of the C.P.C. and K.P.K. by Roald Maliangkay.

Given that context, then it’s natural that girl-groups — and boy-bands — would also come to regularly perform for schools too, albeit more obviously as a means of self-promotion than as a patriotic service. However, as a performance the next month by dance group Waveya (웨이브야) demonstrated, and today’s commentary on it at BuzzFeed highlights, perhaps they don’t always tone down their choreography for their teenage audiences.

Here’s a just taste of what middle and high-school students (aged 13-18) at the September 2012 Gonggam (Sympathy) Concert witnessed, hosted by the Gangwon Provincial Office of Education:

Waveya Boys' School

Naturally, I don’t have anything against Waveya themselves, and of course sexualized performances are just fine with adult audiences. Also, what boy-band or girl-group hasn’t overstepped the line on occasion, whether by accident or as a deliberate promotion tool?

Nevertheless, this particular performance seems not so much an imitation of some of the more risqué K-pop songs, as a deliberate mash-up of their most provocative choreography. Add that Waveya are a self-styled “sexy dance group,” and include pictures of themselves in skimpy schoolgirl outfits on their homepage, then it’s strange — and very telling — that they so regularly get invited to perform for children:

Should there be restrictions on explicit school performances? Whatever the girl-group or boy-band?

One argument against that is that teenagers can readily — and do — see music videos’ original sexualized choreography on their smartphones (let alone pornography), in which case toning things down would be both naive and pointless. And perhaps there’s some merit to that.

On the other hand, we are talking about adult women spreading their legs just 3 meters in front of teenage boys’ faces, a much more visceral experience than images or video can provide (sure enough, there were some complaints about the September performance). Also, regardless of whether you feel Waveya are being sexually objectified or not, or if that’s even a negative, if performances like this prove to be routine at Korean schools then they’d surely be a powerful socialization agent. Especially for what’s been described as the saturation of costumed, frequently scantily-clad female ‘narrator models‘ and ‘doumi‘ in daily life here.

That’s no exaggeration. But it’s also something very difficult to appreciate until you’ve seen it for yourself. To remedy both, please go directly to the source, a 2005 piece from Scribblings of the Metropolitician (my emphasis):

Doumi Helper Korea….Some parts of this topic have been covered in previous posts about the social status of women the commodification of their bodies, but I just wanted to point out a few things here visually. When I talk about the 도우미 (doumi – “assistants” who can be found in everything from grocery stores to ones singing rooms), people often ask me why they bother me so much. To reiterate a point I made in a previous post, it’s the saturation of the doumi into the realm of the everyday and mundane that is so insulting – to both the customers and the workers themselves (source, above).

Of course, I am making a value judgement and perhaps seem like I am engaging in a condescending discourse about these women. But I am not irritated because I “feel sorry” for them or I am fighting for some notion of their human rights; I simply think that the simple equation of baring flesh for the sake of selling toothpaste and razor blades just cheapens the whole enterprise for everyone. When I say this, I acknowledge that “sex sells” and that hot models are the standard eye candy of choice for trade, car, and electronics shows the world over. Still, hiring a model who is a larger-than-life figure showcasing a larger-than-life product or prototype somehow seems appropriate, whereas watching dozens of women who look like my cousin or niece hawking the most everyday and mundane of objects just seems ineffective and demeaning….

Narrator Models(Source)

What do you think? About anything mentioned in today’s post?

But whatever your opinion, please note that the boys in the audience don’t deserve the mockery they’ve been receiving on BuzzFeed and YouTube (remember: we were all teenagers once!), so please don’t repeat it. Also, because it is just a handful of performances by a dance group being discussed here, we should be wary of overgeneralizing to more mainstream music groups based only on their example. So, I’d really appreciate it if readers — especially public school teachers — could confirm how common or exceptional such full-on performances really are.

Update: Based on all your comments, both below (thanks!) and in the wider blogosphere, such sexualized performances are actually quite common in Korean schools (although Waveya’s is still more explicit than most). Here’s some representative commentary, by Party in the R.O.K:

…in every school I’ve worked at, sexy dance moves are totally acceptable in the school environment. Teachers have let the kids watch music videos before or after class that have made me blush, but no one else seems affected by the raunchiness. Also, when I taught at middle school, they would have joint assemblies with the high school girls and often do dance performances. My middle school girls would wear high heels and short skirts (nothing out of normal but still a little risque for school) but one time the high school girls did an After School-inspired dance that involved wearing almost invisible short shorts and high heels and straddling flags and getting low and practically twerking onstage… in front of an audience of parents and siblings and other teachers… while lots of male parents and teachers took videos with their phones… no one acted like it was weird at all. I felt like I was breaking a law just watching it! That is one thing about teaching in Korea that I will never be used to.

See my Reading the Lolita Effect in Korea series below also (especially Part 2), which discusses those issues in greater depth:

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)