Sex, Self-Confidence, and Social Activism: When Women Made Soju Ads

Korea’s first ‘femveritising’ campaign was a fun take on sexual double standards, and popular among women too.
uee heart(Source: Celebrity Republic)

A request from a reader:

      Hello Grand Narrative readers! I’m reaching out for some help for a research project I’m working on about female empowerment trends in Korea and opportunities for brands to play in that space.

I’m looking for recent examples of brands, organizations and entertainment personalities empowering girls and females through products, campaigns, messages or services in Korea, similar to Nike’s Seoul Women’s Race, Whisper’s #likeagirl campaign or femvertising campaigns abroad.

Unfortunately, these are hard to find as Korea hasn’t quite embraced the trend like other nations. As such, I’m also looking for the opposite — recent examples of who is doing it completely wrong and sending messages of conforming to male-informed and limiting traditional stereotypes?

Any help, examples, or opinions are greatly appreciated! Please email me at amynwilliams@gmail.com.

James: Alas, all the examples I can think of are quite old. Still, to get the ball rolling, and because I think its empowering aspects deserve to be much better known, let me take this opportunity to quickly mention the best, and possibly first and only well-executed one: Lotte Liquor’s ‘Think Casual’ campaign for Cheoum Cheoreom (“Like the First Time”) Cool soju, from back in Autumn 2009:

I admit, that hardly looked like a bra-burning moment. Nor even all that different to any other soju commercials before or since, for which a young woman dancing in revealing clothes is de rigueur. And Uee, then 21, was no fledgling feminist icon either, reveling in the increasing attention she gained through her objectification. (Albeit likely having little choice in the matter.)

Frankly, I completely dismissed it at the time.

But it was different. That “Am I really your first?” question, and the men’s reactions? Those may seem pretty innocuous from a Western perspective, but they still got netizens riled-up. As did messages in posters like the one below, easy to reject as just another soju pin-up if you—ahem—didn’t take the time to read the text. Because ultimately, not only was the campaign breaking strong taboos on openly acknowledging this thing called sex, but it was directly challenging the double standards for women too.

UEE Soju Cool Honest(The text reads: “Q: When you travel with your boyfriend, which is cooler: admitting it to your parents, or lying and saying you’re going on a trip with your university friends? A: Think Casual”. Source: Naver blog, untitled.)

Rather than backtracking in the face of the ensuing negative publicity however, the advertisers were justifiably proud of what they were doing, as explained by Olga Fedorenko in her chapter “South Korean Advertising as Popular Culture” in The Korean Popular Culture Reader (2014, p. 356):

…[Uee’s] ‘cool shot dance’ achieved a viral popularity, young women recording their own versions and posting them online. Many other [netizens], however, were offended by what they saw as encouragement of promiscuity, noting that Uee looked “too easy,” that her coolness about sexual matters was inappropriate for her young age and “innocent face.” As I investigated the campaign, I was surprised to learn that the advertising team behind it included a few young and well-educated women who saw the ad as empowering and were hoping that young people, whom the ad targeted to broaden the traditional demographics of soju consumption, would perceive it the same way. In other words…they pushed for individual sexual freedom against oppressive norms, and the ‘Think Casual’ campaign became a site for negotiating parameters of female sexuality. The advertising agency took a leading a role in challenging patriarchal mores — reflecting the worldview of advertising workers, who saw themselves as representing the worldviews of the target consumers.

To put those patriarchal mores in some perspective, ironically just this February Uee would again be chastised for admitting to sexual experience and desires, this time in real life. (Note: she was just about to turn 27.) Also, it’s female celebrities that have received the brunt of fans’ anger for all the dating ‘scandals’ of the past year.

That said, things may have reached a tipping point. Because, given their overexposure in popular culture, Korean celebrities are very much considered role models, who are expected to follow high moral standards accordingly. With so many revealed to be in relationships now though, and getting caught spending their limited time together in hotels, it’s just getting too difficult to defend the notion that us mere mortals can’t or shouldn’t be able to do the same, or pretend that we haven’t always been doing so anyway.

But that’s a subject for another post. In the meantime, good or bad, please pass on more examples of femvertising to amynwilliams@gmail.com, and/or mention them here, even if you can’t remember all the details. (I’ll follow them up.) Also, if it emerges that there haven’t really been any femvertising campaigns in the last six years, or at least none as provocative as this one, then I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts on why. Thanks!

Update: One more recent example of positive femvertising could be Zigbang’s campaign aimed at 20 and 30-somethings stuck living with their parents — something which again points to the need for evaluating empowerment in terms of its cultural context, and for preparing campaigns accordingly. But I still draw the line at anything that includes aegyo!

벅찬년 and Slut-Bitches: Feminization as a Slur in the Korean Gay Community

s(Source: Zeeto)

Like a lot of people, I don’t feel particularly comfortable being labelled. Once a label is stuck on you, separating it from your identity is like trying to scrape a price sticker from the bottom of a shoe — it takes ages and you can never seem to get rid of the damn thing entirely.

‘Feminist’ is one label I happen to like, partly because I chose to bear it…

(Gemma Varnom, The F Word)

Oh, but I do so love the label-makers. I love their audacity in insinuating that vaginas should be called ‘Y-lines’. I revel in their mysterious ability to see a women’s profile in that of a phone’s. I’m astounded at how they keep coming up with labels centered around critiquing women’s spending habits, but never around men’s. I relish discovering who has the chutzpah to homogenize the hobbies, spending habits, work ethics, and hopes and dreams of millions of women through their labeling of them, despite no more basis than the women’s shared academic and career success, ages, and/or income levels. I’m intrigued by how they come to possess the status and social capital to be taken seriously by marketers and the media.

I love the The Kimchi Queen too, for its excellent reporting on Korean LGBT issues, which is why I don’t cover them as much as I’d like to here sorry (I have to prioritize!). When The Kimchi Queen recently discussed the ‘벅찬년/bokchannyeon‘ label used in the gay community though, and linked to “an article that looks at the appropriateness of gays to use this word among themselves from the perspective of a female”, I took advantage of the opportunity to combine both interests.

But first, its definition. In itself, ‘벅차다/bokchada’ just means ‘too much’, as in ‘beyond one’s capacity’ and/or ‘overflowing’. As part of the slang-word discussed here though, The Kimichi Queen explains that:

According to the Korean gay dictionary, 벅차다 is used to describe gays who have many personal connections in the gay community. The first time I heard it, it was combined with 년 (bitch) to form 벅찬년…

[벅차다]…isn’t used really as a compliment. Rather, as the boundary between friendship and love can be ambiguous there are often worries about someone cheating on their lover. A 벅찬년 would often break up with a boyfriend soon after they started dating.

And now my translation of the article, from 너 나 우리 ‘랑’ — 동성애자인권연대 Web_Zine:

‘벅찬 년’, ‘보갈 년’에 대한 어느 레즈비언의 소고 / A Lesbian’s Thoughts on Using ‘bokchanyeon‘ and ‘Slut-bitch’

조나단(동성애자인권연대 웹진기획팀) / Jonathan [Yes, I’m a little confused by the male name too — James] (Gay Human Rights Association Webzine Team)

1 April 2014

모든 게이가 그런 것은 아니지만, 내가 만난 많은 게이들은 스스로를 여성화시켜 지칭한다. 트랜스가 아닌 시스젠더 게이임에도 섹스 포지션에 관계없이 자신뿐 아니라 친밀한 상대방을 ‘벅찬 년’, ‘웃기는 년’, ‘보갈 년’이라고 부른다. 그럴 때마다 시스젠더 레즈비언으로서 많은 생각이 들었다. 그 말을 들었을 때, 어떤 태도를 취해야 하는지, 그 말들은 언어 사용에 있어서 정치적으로 올바르지 않은 경우에 해당하는지 구분이 되지 않았다. 어떻게 바라봐야 할 지 정리가 되지 않은 상태에서 불쾌하거나 당혹스러운 경우도 있었고 함께 깔깔거리며 웃을 때도 있었다. 그러면서도 답답했던 것 같다. 그래서 여성의 날을 맞아 준비한 특집호에서 게이들의 대화에서 흔히 들을 수 있는 여성화자적 언어 사용에 대해 생각을 정리해 보고자 한다. 내가 들어본 적 있는 언어 사용에 한해서 말이다.

Not all gays are like this, but many I have met describe themselves as feminized. Despite being cisgender and not transgender, and despite being bottoms or tops, they call their partners ‘bokchannyeon‘, funny-bitch’, and ‘slut-bitch’. As a cisgender lesbian, I got to thinking a lot whenever I heard these terms. I wondered if it was really okay to use them or not, and what my attitude towards them should be. Until I’d decided, I either felt uncomfortable and upset, or I just laughed them off. But still, I felt a little frustrated and uneasy. So, in celebration of Women’s Day, for this special feature I’m going to talk about this common, [derogatory] use of feminized terms in conversations between gays.

대부분의 경우, 게이들의 여성화자적 언어사용은 자기 희화화의 성격을 띤다. 자기 희화화란 자신의 외모나 성격, 또는 자신이 겪은 사건이 의도적으로 우스꽝스럽게 묘사되거나 풍자되도록 만드는 것이다. 풍자는 다른 것에 빗대어 비웃으면서 폭로하고 공격하는 것인데, 왜 게이들은 자신들을 여성에 빗대어 표현하게 된 것일까?

In most cases, gays’ use of feminized words is to make fun of themselves. It involves making fun of one’s body, one’s personality, and/or an incident one went through, and exaggerating it to make it seem more ridiculous and funny. This is satire: mocking or attacking something by comparing it with something else. But why do gays choose to compare themselves with [heterosexual] women?

흔히 듣는 가설은 사회적으로 남성보다 낮은 지위에 있는 여성과 게이 자신의 지위를 동질화 시켜 생각하기 때문이라는 것이다. 그렇다면 애교처럼 들리는 여러 종류의 ‘~년’은 물론이거니와 성매매 여성을 낮게 보고 이르는 말인 ‘갈보’에서 변화된 ‘보갈년’의 사용은 그렇게 ‘퀴어(Queer)’가 동성애자 자신을 지칭하게 된 것 같은 역사를 품고 있을 수도 있다. 퀴어(Queer)는 ‘이상한, 괴상한’을 의미하는 단어로, 이성애자들이 동성애자를 얕잡아보며 부르는 말이었다. 그러나 ‘정상적 기준’에 의문을 제기하며 우리 자신을 이상한 사람, 퀴어라고 적극적으로 수용한 것이다. 게이들의 이야기를 듣다 보면, 자신이 ‘여자’같다며 놀림을 받았다는 말을 자주 들을 수 있다. 그런 배경을 놓고 보면, 어쩌면 비슷한 맥락의 역사적 배경을 가지고 있다고 볼 수도 있겠다.

An often-heard explanation is that, in a patriarchal, heteronormative society, gays think of themselves as having the same inferior rank or status as heterosexual women. In this sense, not just several kinds of ‘bitch’ terms, albeit which can be cute sometimes (like when referring to the use of aegyo), but also the use of ‘slut-bitch’ (which came from ‘galbo‘, which means female prostitute) are used derogatively to describe something that deviates from the male, heterosexual ideal, just like ‘queer’, which means ‘strange’ and ‘weird’, has been historically used to refer to gays and lesbians. [Yet it is also true that] gays and lesbians have questioned that ideal by embracing the word. Also, many gays can recount being teased by being called women. Considering that background, such [positive, challenging] attitudes might also play a role in their use of bokchannyeon.

Rainbow japan galbo (Rainbow endorses Meiji Seika’s Galbo’ chocolate in Japan. Source: Hstereo)

그럼에도 불구하고 왜, 순간적으로 불쾌감이 들었을까? 두 가지 이유를 생각해보았다. 첫째는 남성이 발화했기 때문이다. 게이라도 남성으로서 교육받고 자연스럽게 남성으로서의 지위를 누려온 사람들이 여성비하적인 언어를 발화한 것이다. 둘째로 우스꽝스럽게 여겨지는 지위에 나 자신이 놓이고 싶지 않았기 때문이다. 희화화되어 유머를 위해 빗대어지는 대상이 내 정체성에 해당되는 것이 불쾌했기 때문이다. 비장애인 이성애자 사이에서 서로를 농담처럼 ‘호모’나 ‘애자’라고 부른다고 할 때, 동성애자들과 장애인이 불쾌감을 느끼듯이 말이다. 하지만, 불쾌감으로만 끝나지 않고 답답했던 것은 실제로 그들이 여성만큼이나 차별받고 있음을 알기 때문이다. 그리고 커뮤니티 문화에 정치적 잣대를 들이대는 것이 소위 먹물이 들어, 옳고 그름의 문제로만 현상을 바라보려고 하기 때문인가 싶어 망설여졌기 때문이다.

Despite that, why do I immediately feel bad whenever I hear the word? For two reasons I guess. First, because it originated with men. Although they are gay, they still grew up as men and enjoyed male privilege, and it’s in this context that they use such a misogynistic term. Second, because it puts me in an uncomfortable position, as the humor derives from disparaging a part of my identity [i.e., disparaging women]. Between non-disabled heterosexuals, when they call each other ‘homo’ or ‘aeja’ [a degrogatory term for disabled people], homosexuals and disabled people feel uncomfortable; I feel the same way about bokchannyeon and so on.

I don’t feel frustrated just because of these words; I also get frustrated because I know that gays get discriminated against just as much as women. But from what I know about the gay community in Korea, if I raise this with gay men I worry that they would misinterpret me, thinking that I see using the words as just a black and white issue.

글이 마무리로 향하고 있는데도, 역시 어떻게 결론을 내어야 할 지 조심스럽다. 되도록 사용을 자제하는 것을 부탁하는 것으로 마무리 지어야 할 지, 그럴 자격이 있는 것인지도 잘 모르겠다. 웅에게 같은 기획으로 글을 의뢰했는데, 웅의 결론이 궁금할 뿐이다. 화두는 던져놓고 무책임하게 마무리하는 것 같지만, 평소 같은 생각을 한 적이 있는 분이라면 댓글로 의견을 들어보고 싶다.

Now that I’m nearly finished, I’m hesitant about making a conclusion. I’m not sure if I have to ask gay men to stop using that term, and/or if I’m even in a position to ask them. So, I’ve asked Woong to also write about this, and I wonder what his conclusion will be. I’m going to finish here then, by just having raised the topic. Please let me know what you think in the comments (end).

How Misogyny Shows Up in the Queer Community(Source: Everyday Feminism)

And she did indeed get a few brief comments; if people would like me to translate those, and/or Woong’s (much longer) article, please let me know. Either way, apologies as always for any mistakes in the translations, and thanks in advance for any corrections. Also, please note that, beyond the article I’ve translated, I have personal no knowledge of the terms described and how often and/or why they’re used in the Korean gay community (or not), so I’d very much appreciate being educated about the subject. Are things like in the “How Misogyny Shows Up in the Queer Community” cartoon that the above panel is from, posted just last week on Everyday Feminism? Or would that be an exaggeration? Thanks!

(Update) A friend on Facebook responded:

“I’ve also noted quite a bit of misogyny among gay male and mtf transgender message boards and anonymous forums made for Korean-speakers. I thought that might be what this blog post would be about, but this is more about language use. (That overt hatred towards straight cis-gender women was kind of fascinating, if depressing to observe >_< ) It’s been a while since I looked at those websites, but as best as I can recall such sentiments consisted of things like:

  • jealousy towards straight women for being able to express romantic interest towards or openly flirt with desirable males
  • annoyance at straight women for demanding attentions and considerations they (straight women) would expect from straight men
  • a great deal of annoyance towards a certain sector of straight women for romanticizing/straight-washing/sexualizing gay relationships for their own purposes
  • annoyance at straight women for conceptualizing gay men as accessories (blame sex and the city :P) and ignoring those who aren’t fabulous or good looking
  • annoyance and even anger at cis-women for having what they (mtf transgenders) do not

Of course, this is all filtered through my interpretations of the motivating forces behind the disparagement of and anger towards women expressed in thise forums.”

She admits though, that:

“I have some doubts as to how relevant my observations are…Like, at best they’re indications that gay men are not immune to the social cues/examples they are presented with in male-spaces of society at large. Cuz that’s what a lot of biased language really is, isn’t it? You are provided with some pre-made, mass-manufactured molds, and you get used to throwing everything that fits into that mold and in turn strenghthening your belief in it. Ish?”

Korean Sociological Image #89: On Getting Knocked up in South Korea

Korean Births Out of WedlockAs in, how many Korean women are pregnant when they walk down the aisle? How many get married after giving birth? How many mothers don’t get married at all? And how have public attitudes to all those groups changed over time?

I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to find out. It’s been surprisingly difficult, apropos of a subject many couples would prefer to keep under wraps.

It all started with this Arirang news report, thanks to the interesting way it framed Korea’s low birthrate problem:

An aging population and low birthrate — two problems that Korea and Japan have in common and are trying to solve.

And since having children out of wedlock is considered socially unacceptable in either country, the focus is on encouraging people to get married.

So the countries share similar problems, but do the people of Korea and Japan share similar views on marriage?

A report by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs says NO…

(Arirang, December 4, 2014; my emphasis)

My first thought was that a focus on marriage made a lot of sense. From that chart alone, you can guess that there is considerable prejudice against single mothers and their children in South Korea, to the extent that Korea was (and is) notorious for overseas adoption. In 2008, Seoul National University Professor Eun Ki-Soo saw a direct relationship between such attitudes and Korea’s low birthrate problem:

According to the International Social Survey Program (2002) and Korean General Social Survey (2006), Korea “had one of the highest number of respondents who believed ‘people who want children ought to get married.’ The only countries that scored higher than Korea were the Philippines and the United States, but the differences in the scores were not statistically significant….In the face of such strong social norms regarding marriage and reproduction, young people who are unable to marry also may not feel like they can have children. Such a phenomenon is manifested in contemporary Korean society in the form of a low fertility rate”

(Eun, pp 154 & 155; see bibliography)

Likewise, two weeks ago the Park Geun-hye Administration pinpointed the cause of Korea’s low birthrate “to be the social tendency to marry late”, and announced that it aimed “to buck that trend by rectifying the high-cost marriage culture in Korea, increasing the supply of rental housing for newlyweds and expanding medical insurance benefits for couples with fertility problems.” (Note that the number of marriages in 2014 was estimated to be a record low, with 50% of 30-somethings seeing marriage as “dispensable”.) Last week, Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs researcher Cho Sung-ho reaffirmed that “it is necessary to support young people so they can experience dating, marriage and childbirth without too many difficulties”, and that “In order to do that, creating quality jobs and support programs for job seekers must be introduced as part of measures to tackle the country’s low fertility rate” (source, below: The Hankyoreh).Please Have More Babies

Yet in saying young people need support, surely Cho is is just reiterating Korea’s — and other developed economies’ — biggest social problem of the 2010s (and likely 2020s)? And what use is there in making it easier for young Koreans to get married, when married couples aren’t having enough children in the first place?

Simply put, Park Geun-hye’s announcement feels disingenuous, distracting from the difficult reforms of Korea’s patriarchal work-culture needed.

But my second thought was on the Korean women that do get knocked up. Specifically, those that do so before or without ever getting married, the only two groups I’ve ever heard the term used for (quick question: does anyone use it for married women, except in a humorous sense?). First, because that 2.1% rate of out of wedlock births is actually the highest it’s been in decades, albeit by no means because attitudes have softened over time:

Available statistics [Korea Statistical Yearbook #55, 2008] indicate 6,141 illegitimate child births in 1990 and 8,411 in 2007, representing, respectively, 0.66% and 1.69% of the total child births; a percentage rise that seems mainly due to the general fall in child births from 1990 to 2007 (931,602 in 1990, and 497,188 in 2007).

(Payen p. 72, my emphasis; see bibliography)

(For comparison’s sake, there were 403,500 childbirths in the first 11 months of 2014, while a February 4 estimate put the yearly figure at 430,000. Update: a February 26 report put it at 435,300, the second lowest level ever.)

Second, because despite everything I’ve written above, I was surprised that the the rate wasn’t higher still. Why? Partially, because of personal experience, one of my wife’s cousins having a child before getting married, but no-one in her village treating that as unusual or something to be embarrassed about (she later married and had a second child). And mainly, because that lack of a reaction was already explained by the following comment left by @oranckay on my 2008 post, “Why Korean Girls Don’t Say No: Contraception Commercials, Condom Use, and Double Standards in South Korea.” While the post itself has long since been completely rewritten, and the comments deleted (sorry!) because that meant they no longer made sense, you’ll soon see why I decided to save his one:

(Note that it was written in reaction to my surprise and confusion at public outrage at Korean female celebrities kwon sang woo son tae-young pregnancy marriagerevealed to be having premarital sex — how times have changed!(?) — but the lack of any negative reaction to regular announcements of celebrity pregnancies before marriage, one example mentioned in the post being Kwon Sang-woo’s and Sohn Tae-young’s that September {Source, right: Dramabeans}.)

…I think one needs to take into account that not all pre-marital sex is the same. There is a difference between just having sex and having sex with someone you are going to, or intend to, marry, and traditional/Joseon and even 20th Korea saw this as a big difference. Having sex on the premise of, and as consummation of, commitment, was the normal, socially acceptable way to have pre-marital sex. So valued was a woman’s virginity that a decent man could only sleep with her if he was ready to “take responsibility for her,” as the saying would go, and so on, because that’s what sleeping with her was supposed to imply. Fiction and non-fiction narratives (many known to me personally) are full of this kind of thinking. I know couples that decided not to have sex because they weren’t sure they were getting married, that didn’t have sex because he was going to the military and he wanted to be sure he’d come back alive before permanently “making her his,” as that would be too traumatic for her, and of couples that lived together (and obviously were having sex) before being married and it was acceptable because they were going to marry, had family approval, but couldn’t marry because maybe the girl’s elder sister wasn’t married off yet or they were both still in college but both sets of parents wanted to get them married after graduation, or one of those odd reasons. Maybe no money; whatever.

Anyway, the best example I can think of all this is classical Korean prose fiction (since that’s all I ever think about). There is plenty of premarital sex in traditional Korean prose fiction (“novels”), graphic in only a few exceptions I’m afraid, but we are at least told that it is happening. The reason this fiction wasn’t thrown into the flames at Confucian book burning parties (and there were Joseon poets who did indeed call for novels to be burned for their bad influence) was because whenever there is pre-marital sex the parties always end up married. In fact you know they’re going to marry before you get to the end because they slept together. The most readily available example would be “the most classic, all time” story Chunhyang Jeon. The most “대표적” Korean story of all time and it involves “happily ever after” pre-marital sex. So it’s one thing for a celebrity to have a bulging waistline at her wedding and another for a video to surface of her having a romp with one of her producers, for example, or even to shoot a fully nude bed scene in a feature film.

Update: Via KLawGuru, comes news that there used to be a law that was very much in the same vein, and which was only very recently repealed:

In 2009, a crime called “Sexual Intercourse under Pretense of Marriage” was ruled “unconstitutional.” It used to be a crime for a man to have sex with a woman by deliberately deceiving her into believing that he would later marry her. To learn more, click here.

But to reiterate, just how common are those bulging waistlines at weddings? And (how) have people’s attitudes changed over time? After seven years, it was high time to do a proper follow-up on oranckay’s comment. I hit the books.

Chung-hyan Versions(Sources: left, 나는 수풀 우거진 산에 갔더니; right, Opeloverz)

Unfortunately, I was unable to find much at all about premarital pregnancy and childbirth specifically. Instead, I spent much of the next two weeks collecting and typing up a lot of fascinating, related information about attitudes towards virginity, premarital sex, sexual experience, cohabitation, and contraceptive use, forced as I was to deconstruct and think about all aspects of the phenomenon (read: desperately search for any related topics whatsoever in indexes). Then I realized that I was going about things entirely the wrong way, and should: a) devote a separate post to those next month; and b) rely on someone who’s already done all the hard work for me instead. Sure enough, just a couple of pages of the right book would literally speak volumes:

…In the mid-1980s, cohabitation was not rare. [Yoon Hyungsook, pp. 18-24] writes that three out of ten marriages concerned cohabitating couples, and that all these couples even had children at the time of their wedding. Although these couples were not officially married, it was “only” legally, not in the eyes of the villagers. The important point to mention is the fact that all these cohabitations were approved by both spouses’ in-laws, with the wife fulfilling her role of daughter-in-law as if she was legally married. When the wedding ceremony comes later, delayed because of financial difficulties, it confirms a relationship, ascertains the position of the woman in her husband’s family, and makes the couple fully adults in the eyes of society.

So, cohabitation did exist, was not rare, and was often a living arrangement used by people of poorer classes for whom marrying meant heavy expenses. Kendall (p. 123) writes that “by the 1970s cohabitation before marriage was common among village children who worked off the land and among rural migrants to the cities. It remains a common practice among urban workers.”

Spencer and Kim Eun-shil also delve on cohabitation in their studies about female migrant factory workers. But, while for women of Spencer’s research, this living arrangement was not the norm, it was most common in Kim’s research; a difference possibly related to the 20 years that have passed between the two studies and changes of attitudes and practices in relation to marriage and cohabitation (1970-1990).

(Payen, pp. 87-88. Kendall and Spencer books mentioned are below; see bibliography for Kim.)
Getting Married in Korea Cover Yogong Factory Girl Cover(Source, left: Google Books; right, Amazon)

Of course, I acknowledge that the above is just a indirect confirmation of oranckay’s comment really (although that is still valuable), and I can’t possibly do justice to Payen’s thesis on cohabitation in Korea here, nor on how and why it’s actually become less common since the 1990s. In the comments section below though, Gomushin Girl provides a good summary of one of the most important factors behind that shift:

[One] important aspect here is the socioeconomics of it all . . . earlier research like Kendall’s and Spencer is looking at a Korea that was either still relatively poor or just emerging as a major economy. They’re already reporting a very class-based variance in attitudes towards premarital sex and pregnancy [and cohabitation—James], with higher socioeconomic status associated with lower acceptance. I’m not surprised to see that as Korean wealth increased, people increasingly adopted attitudes associated with wealth.

Also, we shouldn’t be left with an overly sanguine, no nonsense image of attitudes to premarital pregnancy in the past either, as the opening to a Korea Herald article about adoption linked earlier attests:

In 1976, a 17-year-old Korean girl gave birth to her first child. A few months before the delivery, she had been forced to marry the man who raped and impregnated her.

“That was the norm at the time,” Noh Geum-ju told The Korea Herald.

“When you get pregnant as an unmarried woman, you have to marry the father of your baby. Other options were unthinkable.”

(The Korea Herald, 28 January, 2014)

Update: Here’s another example from a celebrity couple, currently involved in a domestic violence case:

Seo Jung-hee [a former model and actress] said her husband [comedian-turned-clergyman Seo Se-won] sexually assaulted her at the age of 19, so she had to marry him, and she had been his virtual prisoner for 32 years. She said she was too afraid of him to seek a divorce and had to endure because of the children.

(The Chosun Ilbo, 13 March 2015)

I also read that, traditionally, if a suitor was spurned by his intended bride, he could consider raping her to secure her family’s consent. Mostly, due to the shame involved, but of course the imperative was all the greater if she became pregnant. I can’t remember the exact reference sorry (I will add it if I do), but I did find the following:

…The “proper” women must remain chaste, and the requirements of being chaste are utterly crazy. As a rule, a traditional Korean woman carried a small silver knife. The knife is for self-defense, but not the kind of self-defense that you are thinking. The knife is there to kill yourself with if you are about to be “disgraced”. Realistically, “disgraced” means “raped”. However, technically “disgraced” meant any man other than your husband touching you.

One story during the Joseon Dynasty speaks of a virtuous woman who, because a boatman held her hand while helping her into the boat, either jumped out of the boat and drowned herself or cut off her own hand, depending on the version. It is unlikely that this story is true, but this was the moral code to which traditional Korean women were supposed to aspire. In a similar horrifying vein, rape-marriages – forced marriage to a man who raped you – happened regularly until late 1970s, since living with the rapist as a proper woman is better than living as a fallen woman.

(Ask a Korean!, December 3, 2008)

But we were talking about attitudes towards and rates of premarital pregnancy in the 2010s. Which, to conclude this post, naturally I would end up learning more about from the following Korea Times article than from my entire 20-year collection of Korean books(!). Some excerpts (my emphasis):

…premarital pregnancy is now humdrum, even among people who are not stars.

In a survey that consultancy Duo Wed conducted between June 1 and June 14, one-third of 374 newlyweds questioned said the bride was pregnant when they married.

Of these couples, 92.1 percent said their babies were unexpected…

Beautiful D-line…Changing perceptions on premarital pregnancy are also affecting other related industries: wedding dress rentals and tourism businesses.

A wedding dress shop director says she has recently noticed more pregnant brides-to-be.

“They look for dresses depending on the number of months they are pregnant,” says Seo Jung-wook, director of Pertelei, in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul.

“Women who are three to five months pregnant fit well into a bell-line dress, while those further into their pregnancy often look good in an empire-lined dress.”

Other dress shops have their own selections of “D-line dresses” in stock because of increased demand [which no longer have to be custom made and bought].

Sigh. I’d always assumed that D-lines were just a joke sideline (no pun intended) to Korea’s body-labeling and shaming craze. I should have known better.

Continuing:

…The tourism industry is also catching up with the trend. Instead of honeymoons, travel operators promote “babymoon” programs for pregnant newlyweds.

These programs avoid placing any burden or stress on the baby or the mother.

Kim Jin-hak, representative director of Honey Island, a tourism agency specializing in services for newlyweds, says the agency’s “babymoon” program is popular with brides…

(The Korea Times, July 23, 2013. Source, above: WStar News)
Babymoon(Source: Lotte Tour)

As always, this is just a start. For many follow-up posts, I plan to look at journal articles (which will probably be more fruitful), Korean-language sources, plus blogs about or often covering marriage and pregnancy in Korea, such as the sadly now defunct On Becoming a Good Korean (Feminist) Wife. Plus, of course, any readers’ suggestions (for books also!), which will be much appreciated.

Please pass them on, and/or tell me in the comments about any of your own experiences and observations about premarital pregnancy (and so on) in Korea. Do you personally know any women who were pregnant at their weddings? (Or were you or your partner yourself/herself? By all means, please feel free to comment or email me anonymously!) What were their family’s and friends’ feelings and reactions? Was the couple effectively forced to get married, in a case of “사고 쳐서 결혼” (lit., “marriage by accident,” or a shotgun wedding)? How about those of you with Korean partners? Did your foreignness make a difference? Thanks!

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

Bibliography

— Ki-soo, Eun “Family values changing—but still conservative”. In Social Change in Korea, edited by Kim Kyong-dong and The Korea Herald, 146-156. Korea: Jimoondang, 2008.

— Kim, Eun-shil “The Making of the Modern Female Gender: the Politics of Gender in Reproductive Practices in Korea”, (PhD dissertation, University of California, 1993) [Referenced by Payen]

— Payen, Bruno “Cohabitation and Social Pressure in Urban Korea: Examining Korean Cohabitants’ Behavior from a Comparative Perspective with France” (MA thesis, The Academy of Korean Studies, Seongnam, 2009).

“Sexy Concepts with James Turnbull”

Lee Hyori Bad Girls SBS Inkigayo 인기가요 25 May 2013(Source)

Ahem. But really, they’re just a very small part of my July interview with Colin Marshall for the Notebook on Cities and Culture podcast, where we also discuss:

…what Westerners find so unappealing about Korean plastic surgery; the associations of the “double eyelids” so often surgically created; why he used to believe that Koreans “want to look white”; the meaning of such mystifying terms as “V-line,” “S-line,” and “small face”; the uncommon seriousness about the Western-invented concept of the “thigh gap”; how corn tea became publicly associated with the shape of the drinker’s jaw; Korea’s status as the only OECD country with young women getting thinner, not fatter; Korean advertising culture and the extent of its involvement with the “minefield” of Korean irony; the prominence of celebrities in Korean ads, and why the advertisers don’t like it; how long it takes to get tired of the pop industry’s increasingly provocative “sexy concepts”; the result of Korea’s lack of Western-style reality television; how making-of documentaries about 15-second commercials make the viewers feel closer to the celebrities acting in them; why he doesn’t want his daughters internalizing the Korean sense of hierarchy; why an expat hates Korea one day and loves it the next; how much homework his daughters do versus how much homework he did; the true role of private academies in Korea, and what he learned when he taught at one himself; the issues with English education in Korea and the oft-heard calls for its reform; the parallels between English test scores and cosmetic surgery procedures; the incomprehension that greets students of the Korean language introduced to the concept of “pretending to be pretty”; and how to describe the way Korean superficiality differs from the Western variety.

Apologies in advance for not being much more succinct when I spoke (I’m, well…er..uhm…working on that), and by all means please feel free to ask me to clarify or elaborate on any of those topics.

Also note that Colin has interviewed over 30(?) other expats and Koreans, men and women, and Korea and overseas-based speakers for the Korean component of his series, all most of whom are much more articulate and entertaining than myself, so I strongly encourage you to browse his site. I myself was blown away by Brian Myers’ interview yesterday, which was full of insights and observations that all long-term expats will be able to relate to (and will be very useful listening for those thinking they may become one), and Bernio Cho’s is essential if you want to understand the Korean music industry better. And those are just the two I’ve listened to so far!

Korea and the World: My Podcast Interview

Brown Eyed Girls Japan(Source: Danny Choo; CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Korea’s entertainment industry has become extremely popular abroad and conveys the image of a modern and attractive country. Watch any K-Pop video and you see plenty of skin and sexiness; but look into Korean culture as a whole, and you witness the dominance of traditional values. Does the way women are depicted in Korean popular culture tell us something about gender politics in Korean society? How persistent are traditional gender roles? Does the entertainment industry empower women or does it merely represent the reality of gender patterns in Korea’s conservative society? To answer these questions and more, we sat down with media specialist James Turnbull in Busan.”

A big thank you to the good folks of Korea and the World, for being such pleasant podcast hosts back in November. Unfortunately though, frankly I had a terrible cold at the time, so apologies in advance if I sometimes sound a little incoherent during the interview!

Either way, make sure to also check out the interviews of Robert Kelly, Daniel Tudor, and Andrei Lankov, with many more to be added in coming weeks.

Update: If you’re interested in hearing more about K-pop specifically, also check out the first episode of Anonymous Said, a new podcast series in which the host aims to “talk to anonymous guests each week, and together…comment on recent events in Korea, and the experiences the guests have from behind-the-scenes of entertainment and life here.” This blog gets a brief mention at 21:50 (squee!).

Something Everybody Needs to Know About Yellow Fever

Yellow Fever Personal Zones(Source, left: Kevin Jaako, CC BY-NC 2.0. Source, right: Isabel Santos Pilot, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, edited)

Now, I’d be the last person in the world to victim-blame anyone who’s ever been the target of Yellow Fever. And I don’t doubt for a moment that the media is overwhelmingly responsible for creating and perpetuating the stereotypes that come with it. But for those men who bring those stereotypes with them to East Asia, there is one aspect of life here that is likely to further convince them of local women’s attraction to them. What’s more, it’s something so fundamental, so visceral, that frankly it completely fooled me too—even though I never shared those stereotypes, and definitely continued to treat Korean women as individuals. 

See here to learn what it is, and why it has impacts that go well beyond mere dating. While it’s really quite simple, and I think most people who deal with people from a foreign country or live in one are already aware of it on some level, I think it’s enormously helpful to have it spelt out—especially if you’re having a bad experience. Also, although again I stress it only plays a minor role in perpetuating Yellow Fever stereotypes, I think it’s one that tends to get neglected in most (English) discussions of those, which tend to focus on Asian-Americans.

I’d be very interested to learn if readers have had any similar experiences, and what you did about them. (Or if your students have; if mine are going overseas, I make sure to photocopy the relevant pages of this book for them!) Also, how does it play out with the sexes reversed?

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Presentation, Yonsei University, Friday 12th: “Give it to Me? The Impact of K-Pop’s Sexualization on Korean Advertising”

Sistar Rice Ad(Source: *cough* Ilbe)

The reason I’ve been so busy in recent weeks, and unable to properly reply to all your comments and tweets sorry. But, I’m happy to finally announce I’ll be presenting in the 2014 Situations International Conference, “Culture and Commerce in the Traditional, Modern and Contemporary Asian Music Industries” this Friday at 3pm, and I’d be delighted if any readers could make it.

If you can’t make Friday though, never fear, for there’s a host of much more interesting presentations than mine on Saturday, and I’m happy to meet up after the conference on Sunday too. Please just say hi there, or give me a buzz here or on Facebook or Twitter.

As for my topic, consider it a direct extension of this post. I look forward to your questions and comments!