Korean Sociological Image #83: Vintage Contraceptive Pill Commercials

Spending the weekend looking for 8 year-old contraceptive pill commercials, as one does, I ended up finding some adorable 38 year-old ones instead:

Take the title dates with a grain of salt: this brief post says that they actually come from 1982, 1976, and 1976 respectively, and the second at least is corroborated by very similar print advertisements appearing in 1976 newspapers. The writer gains further credibility by noting the names of the actors in the first (An So-yeong/안소영) and third ones (Yeon Gyu-jin/연규진 and Yeom Bok-soon/염복순), and by pointing out that the 1970s ones would have appeared in cinemas rather than on television—although as TV bans on contraceptive commercials weren’t actually lifted until 2006, then presumably the same goes for the 1982 one too.

Here’s what Yeon Gyu-jin (love his expression!) and Yeom Bok-soon ‘say’ in the last one, although I confess I’m a little confused by the end caption that says it’s a “contraceptive pill that you don’t take” (먹지않는 피임야):

M: 이봐, 이봐, 첫 아기는 아들이야. / The first one has to be a son.

W: 어휴, 어휴 아들 좋아하네. 누구맘대로. 딸이 좋단 말이예요. / Tsk. You like boys, but it won’t happen. I like girls.

M: 글쎄 아들이라니까. / Well, I said I like boys.

W: 어휴, 어휴 딸이란 말이예요. / Well, I said I like girls.

M: 당신같은 딸 낳아 누굴 또 속 썩일려구. 어휴…. / If we get a girl like you, she’ll be a handful…

W: 그럼 자기 나 닮은 아들, 딸 어때요? Then, how about a boy and a girl that look like me?

M: 에이,,에이.. 그게 당신맘대로 할 수 있어? Is that something you can happen just because you want it to?

W: 그건 저한테 맡겨 주세요. 제가 자신있으니까요.  You leave that up to me. I’m confident!

Korea Contraceptive PillCelebrating 50 years of the pill in — where else? — a nightclub :) Source.

However charming the commercials may appear now though, any nostalgia for simpler times would be misplaced, as in reality Korea’s population polices were every bit as systematic and draconian as China’s back then. What’s more, the state tended to view the pill as a temporary or supplemental contraceptive at best, much preferring one-shot and permanent methods. In the 1960s, that would be the “patriotic” and “ideal” IUD; by the 1980s, sterilization.

In light of that, these pill commercials become all the more exceptional(?) and intriguing. I’d appreciate any additional information readers can provide about them.

Likewise, it’ll be interesting to see what contraceptive commercials appear — or rather don’t appear — on Korean screens in the future as the Park Geun-hye administration grapples with Korea’s ironic world-low birthrate. Because on the one hand, it is regrettable that the former Lee Myung-bak administration saw no need to defend women’s access to the pill, and it is preposterous that his (re)criminalization of abortion — which simply puts women’s lives at risk — is likewise viewed by his successor as a viable method of baby-making. But on the other, because of course Korea is now a democracy, and finally aired its first condom commercials on television in July last year, and with a firm sex-is-fun message at that (in contrast to the PSAs that were briefly allowed in October 2004). Here’s hoping there’ll be a lot more coming this year too! ;D

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

What? She’s NOT Pregnant??!

Seeing Through Clothes and Arnolfini Portrait(Sources: left, personal scan; right)

Sorry for the slow posting everyone, admittedly somewhat ironic during the semester break. I’ve just been busy with a lot of offline work recently, and unfortunately for you readers it’s still ongoing.

Also, I’ve been fulfilling a New Years’ resolution to spend much more time in the bedroom with my wife. As in, I’ll turn off my computer at 10pm and lie in bed reading books, while she calls English teachers from her desk alongside me (she’s a recruiter). Now four weeks into 2014, she only occasionally tells me to fuck off back to my study and make more money from writing, so all is good.

One of those books is Seeing Through Clothes by Anne Hollander (1980 ed.), picked up in Nampo Book Alley. Bursting with revelations for — ahem — complete beginners to art-history, I was especially surprised to learn that the woman in Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait above-right isn’t pregnant, despite the strong impression of that I’ve had for a good quarter-century or so. So, with apologies for not reading something more Korea-related on this occasion, please allow me to pass on what I’ve learned, starting with pages 109-110 (my emphasis):

Because of the desirable quality of a big female stomach for so many centuries [James -- The shift in emphasis to the bosom would come in the late-seventeenth century], pregnancy was not represented in art by showing a distended belly, even in genre scenes. If an unmistakable indication of pregnancy were intended, it seems to have been customary to show an otherwise unwarranted disarrangement of clothing: stays unlaced a little from the bottom for example, or corsets left off entirely and extra loose folds of smock noticeable in front….The swelling abdomen was too conventional a female attribute to be useful for specific references to pregnancy. Giovanna Arnolfini, in Van Eyck’s famous double portrait, often thought to be pregnant, is in fact demonstrating how a young bride’s fashionable slim soldiers and chest might be set off by an equally chic abdominal swell, exaggerated on purpose to display the fur-lined green excesses of her gown. Her own desirability and her husband’s riches both show; a well-known mode of bourgeois female self-presentation.

In this particular style of dress, a woman’s belly provided the central accent point of her costume. It was the place where the balance was struck between elaborate headdresses and dragging skirt — or, for virgins, DresdenTriptych rightbetween a dragging skirt and a long mane of hair [James -- Compare the right panel of the Dresden Triptych, by the same painter; source]. The domelike belly was not only erotically pleasing but elegant; it connoted elegance rather than fruitfulness. In the nude art that corresponds to this kind of fashion, it would also have done so.

More on those last points in a moment. First, given the common false conception (no pun intended) of a pregnant wife, again I was surprised that greater attention wasn’t given to that in the voluminous Wikipedia entry on the painting:

Although many viewers assume the wife to be pregnant, this is not believed to be so. Art historians point to numerous paintings of female virgin saints similarly dressed, and believe that this look was fashionable for women’s dresses at the time.[32] Fashion would have been important to Arnolfini, especially since he was a cloth merchant. The more cloth a person wore, the more wealthy he or she was assumed to be. Another indication that the woman is not pregnant is that Giovanna Cenami (the identification of the woman according to most earlier scholars) died childless,[33] as did Costanza Trenta (a possible identification according to recent archival evidence);[16] whether a hypothetical unsuccessful pregnancy would have been left recorded in a portrait is questionable. As mentioned above, some viewers have argued that the woman in the portrait is already pregnant, thus the protruding belly. Harbison, however, maintains her gesture is merely an indication of the extreme desire of the couple shown for fertility and progeny.[34]

Note 32 leads to Chapter 4, pp.105-6 of The Arnolfini Betrothal: Medieval marriage and the enigma of Van Eyck’s double portrait, by Edwin Hall (1994):

The comparative approach I advocate for elucidating the meaning of the London panel is readily exemplified with reference to the female figure’s supposedly pregnant state. Documented as early as the Spanish royal inventory of 1700, this mistaken inference continues to be drawn by modern viewers seeing the picture for the first time. But among those familiar with Franco-Flemish works of the fifteenth century a consensus has developed that this is not the case, for virgin saints, who obviously cannot be pregnant, also appear gravid in many contemporary representations. The woman in the London panel has thus often been compared with the Saint Catherine in the right wing of Van Eyck’s Dresden Triptych, who is similarly portrayed (Fig. 48), as is the bride in the marriage vignette of Rogier’s Seven Sacraments Altarpiece (see Fig. 21) as well as the Virgin and one of her attendants in Israhel van Meckenem’s Marriage of the Virgin (see Fig. 50). And a protruding belly is seen in many female nudes, including again virgin saints, as in a depiction of the martyrdom of Saint Catherine in the Belles Heures (Fig. 49).[25] Whether or not this feature is explained by fifteenth-century perceptions of idealized feminine beauty, these images clearly reflect some contemporary Flemish convention whose precise meaning is no longer readily apparent.

Dressed Maja vs. Nude Maja(Source)

Another revelation from Hollander is that nudes tend to be posed and/or presented as if they were still wearing the fashions of their era, which incorporated sexual standards and symbolism which may no longer apply today (e.g., those “erotically pleasing domelike bellies”). One consequence is that we “may even mistake an erotically intended image [of the past] for an idealized one — if it lacks the shapes, proportions, and details we are accustomed to responding to in contemporary life” (p. 88; this is given as an example). Another is the gravity-defying breasts of the Nude Maja on the cover I scanned; ironically, again something I’m only noticing for the first time (my emphasis; p. 91):

One of the most telling features on the nude maja’s body is that it seems to show the effect of corseting without the corset — which, on the other hand, is very definitely present in the dressed version. The high, widely separated breasts and rigid spine of the recumbent nude lady are as erotic as her pubic hair fuzz or sexy smile. Her breasts indeed defy the law of gravity; and her legs, accustomed to appearing through the lightweight and rather narrow skirts of the day Visualizing Beauty Gender and Ideology in Modern East Asia[James -- It was painted circa 1797-1800], are self-consciously disposed for effect, like those of a twentieth-century woman. It is the emphatic effect of her absent modish costume that makes her a deliberately sexual image.

And on that note, thank you for the indulgence of any art-history majors still reading, and I’d really appreciate any suggestions for further, much more recent reading on the links between historical and contemporary ideals of body image — or rather, the representations in popular-culture thereof (Ways of Seeing by John Berger {1972} is good of course, but frankly I found the final chapter on that to be its weakest, and of course it’s also old). Naturally, anything on Korea in particular, and for one I’d be interested in hearing if Visualizing Beauty: Gender and Ideology in Modern East Asia edited by Aida Yuen Wong (2012; source) is worth buying for instance, which I’ve been wavering about because it only has two chapters on Korea. Or are there any other possibilities, in Korean (but not this one!) or in English? Thanks!

Why Did Allure Korea Take 10 Years to Have a Korean Cover Model?

Shin Min Ah, First Korean Cover Model for Allure, August 2013(Source: Unknown)

Basically, because its Korean readers wanted and expected foreign cover models. No matter how many commenters may try to shoehorn narratives of racism and cultural imperialism into those preferences.*

See my latest Busan Haps piece to learn more, or alternatively go straight to the source: the 2009 Korean Journalism Review article “Glocalization of International Women’s Magazines in Korea: Global-local nexus in the production process” written by Oh Hyun-sook of the Yonsei Communication Research Institute, upon which most of the first half of the article is based.

Meanwhile, related to the second half, Carol Dussere, a commenter in the Every Expat in Korea Facebook group noted:

When I first moved to Korea in 1988, all of the models used in sexy ads on the subway were non-Asians. It definitely carried the message to Korean men that non-Asian women were readily available.

This confused me, as I read years ago (and have often repeated since) that restrictions against foreign models weren’t lifted until as late as 1994. Checking, I found the following on page 103 of  “Neo-Confucian Body Techniques: Women’s Bodies in Korea’s Consumer Society” by Taeyon Kim, Body & Society, June 2003 vol. 9 no. 2 97-113:

In June 1994, changes in laws allowed the Korean advertising industry to use foreign models and celebrities, which led quickly to a sharp increase in the use of foreign models to sell domestic wares.


This is repeated on page 7 of  “Perpetuation of Female Beauty Stereotypes through Korean Mass Media: Emancipation or Objectification of Women?” by Jee, Min-Joo. and Oh, Byoung-il. in a paper presented to the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in 2006 (although both are based on Byun, Eun-mi {1997}, ‘Foreign Supermodels Emerge as Fashion Stars on TV Commercials’, in Korea Newsreview Vol. 26{5}: p. 32-3). However, it didn’t necessarily mean that Carol was wrong, and indeed I also found the following, tantalizing line in “Gender Role Portrayals in American and Korean Advertisements” by Roxanne Hovland et. al., in Sex Roles, December 2005, Volume 53, Issue 11-12, pp 887-899:

The use of foreign models in advertisements has been popular since the Korean government lifted restrictions on the use of foreign models in 1989.

Sophie Marceau Korean Advertisement 1989And only then did I really notice the continuation of the “Neo-Confucian Body Techniques” article, which resolves everything quite nicely (right: French actress Sophie Marceau advertising LG cosmetics in 1989; source):

No longer were only foreign products sold to Koreans with a foreign face, now even domestic products were marketed to Koreans by the likes of Cindy Crawford, Meg Ryan, and Claudia Schiffer.

When I have time, I’ll try to find some Korean language sources to confirm, and to pinpoint the exact year of the law changes (but even if they do confirm it was 1989 rather than 1988, Carol can certainly be forgiven for her ever so slight inaccuracy 25 years later!). Until then, I’d appreciate any extra information readers can provide, and/or any comments on my article.

*Of course, racism and cultural imperialism are indeed factors to consider here. I’m just a little tired of patronizing, contradictory assumptions of passivity and unwillingness on the part of (especially female) Korean consumers if they enjoy foreign cultural products (are they *forced* to buy them somehow?), and/or that they’re somehow being duped by Caucasian men on Madison Avenue when they do so.

Korean Sociological Image #79: The Anti-Communist Hyundai Car

Anti-Communist Hyundai(Source: Moreska. Reproduced with permission.)

As described by the photographer Moreska:

“This bizarre prize giveway ad, with a Hyundai car and hidden-treasure puzzle, circa 1985, features an ‘anti-communism’ prize – first prize, Hyundai car; second prize, set of steak knives; third prize is your fired….oops wrong contest – the first prize is a “anti-communist” Hyundai vehicle and the second prize is a “unification” prize….down the list there’s a Mount Paekdu prize and Mt. Kumgang prize. A really weird one.”

This reminded me of the “Consumption is Virtuous” (소비가 미덕이다) slogan I once read in a Korean newspaper from the late-1970s, back when economic development was explicitly conflated with national security. Previously, I’ve overemphasized how much that sentiment still applies today, not realizing that government and the media actually began to criticize (alleged) overconsumption by the 1990s, in what were really just thinly disguised attacks on women’s new economic rights and freedoms (and important precursors to the “beanpaste girl” {된장녀} stereotypes of the 2000s). This ad though, demonstrates how things were indeed very different just a few years earlier.

Or does it? Moreska, whose Flickr feed is a treasure-trove of retro Koreana, points out how strange it is — so it may have been the exception rather than the rule, even before Korea democratized in 1987. Can any Korean history buffs help out?

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

A reading list for Korean Feminism 101!

An Intimate Affair Pin-up Grrrls(Sources: left, right)

Thanks very much to the 10 Magazine Book Club for being such a great — and forgiving! — audience last weekend. As promised,* here are the books I mentioned in it, as well as some of the websites.

First, there was An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality by Jill Fields (2007), then Pin-up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture by Maria Buszek (2006, which I talk about in much greater depth in Parts 3 and 4 respectively of my Revealing the Korean Body Politic series (which, in turn, is an extended version of my presentation). Although at 375 and 444 pages each, they’re not for the faint-hearted, both are still very accessible, and definitely reward the effort put into studying them.

Of the two, Pin-up Grrrls was much the more eye-opening for me personally (note the ensuing tagline of my blog!), giving a unique perspective and context on US feminism in the 20th Century that deserves a lot more attention. For a taste, see here for a short essay cum summary of the book, and here, here, here, and here for my own Who are the Korean Pin-up Grrrls? series it inspired.

Transnational Sport Gender Meda and South Korea Feminist Cultural Politics in Korea(Sources: left, right)

Next, I highly recommended “Feminization of the 2002 World Cup and Women’s Fandom” by Hyun-Mee Kim in Feminist Cultural Politics in Korea, ed. by Jung-Hwa Oh, 2005, pp. 228-243, for an understanding of the radical role the 2002 World Cup played in changing prevailing Korean attitudes to objectification and women’s sexual subjectivity. In hindsight though, that and most of the chapters in the book are a little dated now, so a better choice is probably Transnational Sport: Gender, Media, and Global Korea by Rachael Miyung Joo (2012) instead. I haven’t read it myself yet, but you can see here and here for reviews.

In the presentation, I used Kim’s chapter to argue that the intensely objectifying, body-centric nature of the current Korean Wave represented a confluence of commercial and governmental interests in exploiting women’s bodies, a precedent for which was set by the — for want a better way to describe it — patriarchal accommodation with and co-option of that feminization of the 2002 World Cup. This in turn was preceded by a long history of girl-groups entertaining foreign and then Korean troops, and at one point the exhortation by the Korean government for women to prostitute themselves to the USFK for the sake of acquiring then much-needed foreign exchange. For more on the former see here, and on the latter see Sex Among Allies: Military Prositution in U.S.-Korea Relations by Katherine Moon (1997).

Unfortunately, I don’t have Moon’s book, but I do have — and was blown away by — Militarized Modernity and Gendered Citizenship in South Korea by Seungsook Moon (2005; yes, a different Moon!), which provides a lot of context. In particular, it’s essential to know about the military regimes’ population control policies, which were every bit as draconian as China’s one-child policy, in order to understand modern Koreans’ attitudes to abortion and contraception. And, once you do read it, you realize that the language I used above was by no means simply hyperbole for the sake of making a point!

Militarized Modernity Sex Among Allies(Sources: left, right)

If you’re more interested in the surge in male objectification in the last decade though, see Korean Masculinities and Transnational Consumption by Sun Jung (2010), or for an online essay see Stephen Epstein’s and (again) Rachael Miyung Joo’s “Multiple Exposures: Korean Bodies and the Transnational Imagination” in The Asia-Pacific Journal last year. The latter also covers — no pun intended! — entertainment companies’ strategic exposure of girl-group members’ legs, and I discuss the role of that in the rise of ‘ajosshi fandom’ and ‘uncle fandom’ here.

Before moving on to women and girls again though, as one does, note that Sun Jung’s book is also essential for anyone further interested in the (very related) rise of kkotminam (꽃미남), which I did a lot of work on a few years ago here and here.

Korean Masculinities The Lolita Effect(Sources — left; right: author’s scan)

For more on the increasing objectification of teenage girls in Korea, I recommend first reading The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It by M. Gigi Durham (2008) for some international context; then, especially if you’re a parent, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein (2011), which is much more related than it may sound; and finally, my (self-explanatory) Reading the Lolita Effect in Korea series, especially Part 2: The role of K-pop and the Korean media in sexual socialization and the formation of body image.

(Update: As mentioned in the presentation, also see Gusts of Popular Feeling here for more on the perceived spate of sex crimes against children that led the public to seriously question previously uncritical media narratives of ajosshi fandom.)

The next two books I mentioned were Measured Excess: Status, Gender, and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea by Laura Nelson (2000), then The Home Front & Beyond: American Women in the 1940s by Susan Hartmann (1983). The first is essential reading for anyone wanting to know more about the 1990s in Korea, and in particular the frequent government and media campaigns against over-consumption (in practice aimed almost exclusively at women, these were important precursors to the “beanpaste girl” stereotypes of the 2000s). Meanwhile, unfortunately Susan Hartmann’s book is difficult to get a hold of, but if you do you’ll find it’s a wonderful, very comprehensive introduction to the decade (I’d love to get those on the 1920s, ’30s, and ’50s also, albeit all by different authors). And, as I discuss here (and will expand upon in a later post), the minefield of contradictions presented to women as they were encouraged to remain “feminine” despite entering practical, “masculine” wartime industries in large numbers, yet also being criticized for being so wasteful, frivolous, and unpatriotic for beautifying themselves, is eerily reminiscent of the double-standards and backlash arising from women’s rapid entrance into the part-time workforce in the last decade in Korea also.

Measured Excess The Home Front and Beyond(Sources: left, right)

Finally, see the end of this post on male objectification for those scans of Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen’s prologue to their Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness (1992), which should convince even the most die-hard skeptic of the genuine influence that advertising has on us, no matter how sophisticated and aware we like to all think we are.

If anyone would like more information and/or to discuss the books and websites mentioned above, and/or some specific part of the presentation, then please just let me know in the comments. Of course, they’re just a handful of what would be required for such a reading list really (4 of the 10 mentioned don’t even have anything to do with Korea!), so I’d be very happy — and grateful, frankly — if readers would rather recommend, seek information about, and/or discuss any Korea-related book instead really. After all, I’m sure it would useful to get new perspectives on those we’ve already read, and/or to get recommendations for good ones we haven’t! :)

*(Sorry for the long delay with this post, but unfortunately I have a very good — and somewhat graphic — excuse!)

Announcement: Red Maria (레드마리아) Screening Saturday, December 8

I’ve been asked to pass on the following:

★ YOU MUST RSVP via Email: womens.global.solidarity@gmail.com ★

In Korea, Japan and The Philippines, there are many women with diverse jobs and her stories. Among them, this film focuses on women who are called housewives, sex workers, dispatched workers, migrant workers, comfort women, homeless and so on. The camera tracks them as they go about their everyday lives. These women have never met one another, and their lives look quite different from one another. However, their lives are connected across national borders by the one thing they have in common. That’s their bodies and labor. How can such different forms of labor be linked to the women’s bodies in such a similar way? As we search for answers to this question, we are forced to confront another question: ‘the meaning of labor’ as an ideology that is reproduced in society.

* Entrance Fee: by donation at the door

* Languages: Korean, Japanese, Tagalog and English with English subtitles

* Naver map: http://me2.do/GDOEbSP

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/370272919729052/

The screening will be held at the Colombian Mission Center.
Please note the center is very close to exit 4, and not on the University’s campus.

To get to the center:
1) Take line 4 to the Sungshin Women’s University Entrance 성신여자대학교입구) stop.
2) Go out exit 4 and a building with a traditional Korean roof (hanok) will be in front of you.
3) Go into the building and up to the second floor.

★ Due to a limited number of seats, you must RSVP to womens.global.solidarity@gmail.com and you will receive confirmation when your seat has been reserved.