Announcements: A Rare Film About LGBT Asian-Americans, Bras for a Cause, and a Survey on Street Harassment in Korea

Spa Night(Source: Kickstarter)

Some worthy causes which would really benefit from just a little of your time or money this week:

Spa Night – A Korean-American Film about Coming Out

From the Kickstarter Page (my emphasis):

WHY THIS FILM IS IMPORTANT

I have always associated Korean spas with my childhood, my family, and my Korean identity. As a kid, I would go to the spa with my dad. It was a cultural ritual; we would clean ourselves.

A few years ago, I discovered that Korean spas in Los Angeles are used as a space for underground gay sex. As a gay Korean-American man, this discovery felt strange, thrilling, and very wrong! It’s very easy for me to separate my identities. I can either be Korean or gay. But here is this place where I have to deal with my identities at the same time. I’m forced to be whole.

I knew immediately that a Korean spa would be the perfect setting for a film about a gay Korean-American identity. There aren’t enough films out there about Asian-Americans, let alone LGBTQ Asian-Americans. It’s important to me that I share this story so that people understand that we exist and that our community holds a diversity of people, voices, and experiences.

If this sounds like something you’d like to support, please do so soon: as I post this on Tuesday morning Korean time, unfortunately it’s still $7000 short of its $60,000 goal, with only 3 days left to go. See Kickstarter for further information, or the Facebook page.

Bras for a Cause 2014Bras For a Cause

From the Facebook Event Page:

Bras for a Cause (Seoul) is a fun event in November that raises money for the Korea Breast Cancer Foundation while promoting breast cancer awareness. According to the KBCF, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer affecting Korean women.

Please contact the Korea Breast Cancer Foundation if you are aware of a breast cancer sufferer in your community who has been unable to receive surgery or treatment due to financial hardships. They offer funding for breast cancer surgery anticancer and radiation treatment after a patient undergoes evaluation. The Korea Breast Cancer Foundation is dedicated to helping encourage patients with breast cancer to continue treatment despite financial difficulties and to helping them escape the pain of breast cancer.

Survey on Street Harassment in Korea

Via Hollaback! Korea:

Have you been to Korea in the last year? Please respond to this important global survey on street (sexual, gendered, racial, homophobic) harassment. It takes about 10 minutes but contributes in a very important way to spreading awareness of this issue. Please spread widely.

Please participate in our global study of street harassment by following [this link]. We appreciate your participation!

See the links for more information, or here for my February story about Hollaback! Korea itself.

Hollaback Korea(Source: Facebook Group Page)

As always, if any readers also have any event, worthy cause, video, or just about anything else they’d like to promote, please just shoot me an email (but please add as many pictures and details as possible!) and I’ll add it in a later post.

Korean Sociological Image #87: Normalizing Interracial Relationships

An extended commercial for Yoplait ‘Yopa’ yogurt, featuring five quick, humorous stories of foreign men in relationships with Korean women.

It’s unremarkable in itself, and frankly not all that funny, although I did love hearing the “Do you want to eat noodles at my place and go?” line again at 1:10. But that’s precisely the point: by making no big deal of the men’s ethnicities, and showing Korean women dating, living with, and even—heaven forbid—explicitly wanting to have sex with them, the commercial helps to normalize such relationships among the Korean public. Whereas just last year, one Korean television station effectively portrayed entering into a relationship with a foreign man as a sex crime—adding to the Korean media’s long history of depicting them as sexual deviants and rapists, from whom weak and gullible Korean women need protecting.

Starring five men from the Abnormal Summit show, who form part of “a panel of eleven non-Korean men, living in Korea, who debate [in Korean] on various topics and Korean culture, through the eyes of a foreigner,” this marks just the third commercial in the last ten years that has positively presented such relationships (that I’m aware of; see Korean Sociological Image #47 and #65 for the other two). In contrast, there have been numerous ones with positive depictions of Korean men in relationships with foreign women, especially during and after the Misuda show of 2006-2010 (in many ways a female equivalent of Abnormal Summit), although there’s also been a strong tendency to portray the women as sexual conquests (especially in K-pop).

Do any readers know of any more examples, whatever the sexes? Do you think we’ll have to wait another four years for another commercial like this one?

Update: Here’s a quick translation and explanation of the video.

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

Announcements

From Explorers and Missionaries to Vagabonds and Potential Criminals
(Source: Facebook Event Page)

Hello everyone. Just to quickly let you know about an upcoming presentation not to be missed, some worthy causes, and some Youtubers that deserve more promoting.

First up, next Saturday (the 25th), Matt VanVolkenburg will be giving a presentation in Seoul for the 10 Magazine Book Club titled “From Explorers and Missionaries to Vagabonds and Potential Criminals: Two Hundred Years of Teaching English in Korea.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the name, let me add that he’s the author of the Gusts of Popular Feeling blog…which I’m sure will have you scrambling to check out the Facebook Event Page before you even finish this sentence!

Next, via The Kimchi Queen:

99 Film‘s new queer movie “Butterfly” is being crowdfounded on GoodFunding aiming for 2 million won in donations (about 2 thousand dollars). 99 Film has used this method for other films (such as “20”) and they have been in general successful in getting their target funding goals.

About working in a (gay) host bar, see The Kimchi Queen for more (English) information, or go directly to GoodFunding for more information in Korean.

Next, via Hollaback Korea 할라백 코리아 comes Rainbow Teen Safe Spacesfourth letter to donors. It begins and ends:

Rainbow Teen Safe Space will soon be launched. The project has been focusing on fund-raising activities so far. Now it is time for a new round of dealing with organizational issues. On July 13, we had a meeting to talk about a new organizational structure for this project to be a common cause of the LGBT human rights movement. We decided to set up the secretariat and hire a full-time staff to set out the street counseling program in September. The secretariat will share the office with Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea. We are also in preparation to form an advisory committee of experts in various areas such as law, medical care, counseling and human rights…

…We haven’t reached our fundraising goal yet. For the street counseling activities to start on a solid foundation, please join our fundraising effort for Rainbow Teen Safe Space project. If you, donors’ help come together, it would be such a great strength to all of us.

See the link for much more information about its activities, the video above for a quick introduction (it’s in English), or here for its fundraising website.

Finally, I’ve been asked to promote a couple of video producers. First, a small, Daegu-based organization called Stompy Ruffers Cultural Fusion, which “takes Korean culture and blends it with American culture to create some fun and exciting products/events.” See here for more information about them, or here for a selection of their videos—including the “How to Order Food at a Korean Restaurant” one above, which I think would be better titled “But we’re speaking Korean!” after the Japanese version, and which I’m I sure all too many expats in both countries can relate to (Update: Actually, the Korean video came first sorry!).

Last but not least, from Stephanie Rosier (whom I have to thank for this post), also based in Daegu, who has been making video blogs about Korean culture:

I talk about everything you can imagine really. The blogs are an average of 20 minutes long and usually include various photographs and short videos of my adventures here. I can speak Korean at a conversational level (or Topik level 4 to be exact) so I have been able to talk to, and make friends with a wide range of Korean people, from hair dressers to grandmothers, and learn about Korea from an insider’s perspective.

See here for the blogs, or the above video for her “Spring Video Project: Asking Korean People 한국 사람한테 물어보자: 봄 동영상 계획”.

If any readers also have any event, worthy cause, video, or just about anything else they’d like to promote, please just shoot me an email (but please add as many pictures and details as possible!) and I’ll add it here or in a later post.

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)…

Korean Sociological Image #86: Sex and the Single Korean (Household)

ZigbangAs of last year, one in four Korean households had just one person. That was the same as Australia, and just shy of the US.

Yet just four years earlier, only Seoul was remotely close to that figure, with one in five. That wasn’t expected to rise to one in four until 2030, let alone the rest of country.

It’s a remarkable rise (one of the fastest in the world), and companies have been responding with such things as smaller food portions, more home-delivery services, and smaller appliances. And then there’s the start-up Zigbang (pron. jeekbang) founded in early-2012, which takes the hassle, legwork, and pitfalls (ㅋㅋㅋ) out of finding studio apartments through real estate agents by arranging everything online instead. If you’ve taken the subway recently, probably you’ve seen their ad above, featuring comedian Kim Ji-min (source: Platum).

Much more interesting though, are the ads you probably haven’t seen. Covering everything from the hassles of long commutes and living with one’s parents in your 20s and 30s, to gaining independence and sexual liberation, they provide an interesting look at some of the push and pull factors behind this singles trend. Most are amusing, and some are very, very Korean too. Here’s a small selection from Zigbang’s Facebook page:

zigbang nagging parents(Source: Zigbang Facebook)

Title: “I’m sick of this bloody nagging! I want the independence of my own place!”

Parents:

  • “When on Earth are you going to…”
  • “Because of you, your younger sister can’t get married…[she can’t get married before you do]…”
  • “Look at Mi-sun next door, she’s already had two children…”
zigbang 9pm news(Source: Zigbang Facebook)

“Even if I finish exactly on time, I only ever get to see the 9pm news.”

In reality though, that’s not necessarily because of long commutes:

Continuing:

zigbang sister borrowing clothes(Source: Zigbang Facebook)

“Is she my sister or is she a thief? I have to get my independence before people find out…[how I live]!”

I'm 30, a curfew is unacceptable(Source: Zigbang Facebook)

“I’m 30! A curfew is too much!”

By coincidence, Kim Ji-min is 30 in Korea, or 29 in “Western age.” Apropos of that, these next two ads have a much more adult slant…

zigbang blind dates(Source: Zigbang Facebook; alternative version here)

“I have a 100% success rate on blind dates.” Presumably, because she has her own place to take them home to.

zigbang do you want something hot to eat(Source: Zikgbang Facebook; alternative version here)

I think the text is badly chosen: literally, it says,”Do you want to eat noodles and go?”, which would mean the object of her affections is already at her place, whereas “Do you want to go eat noodles at my place?” would make much more sense (update: actually, the line is from a movie—see below). But either way, the double-entendre is obvious, and if not then a helpful Korean “R18″ symbol makes it clear.

Which is interesting in its own right, and a good counterexample to my recent post on Sookmyung Women’s University students being given a dresscode. Because whereas our natural reaction to such news may be to label Korean society as sexually conservative, or to shoehorn narratives of progression onto to it because of these ads, really there’s abundant evidence of both. Also, even if one does find some definitive, profoundly conservative aspect of Korean sexuality, it can be very modern in others—just like everywhere else.

Even more remarkable though, is that those last two yahan ads made it from the confines of Facebook to Seoul subway stations, all the better to corrupt Korean youth. Here’s two photos of them by reader Thibault Deckers, whom I have to thank for inspiring this post:

zigbang blind dates stationzigbang do you want something hot to eatAds don’t necessarily reflect a change in social attitudes of course, nor necessarily spark one, but I think the sheer numbers of single households are surely having effects. One recent article found that 70% of 30-somethings prefer their own company for instance, and I too have noticed that my students will no longer react in horror upon learning that I always go to the cinema alone (I prefer sitting in the front row).

What changes have readers noticed? I’d be especially interested to hear about knock-on changes in attitudes towards cohabitation, given how difficult it was to find a reader to find interviewees for his MA thesis on that just a few years ago (as in so scared of being found out that they would frequently cancel, not that they didn’t exist). Or do you think this is all exaggerated, not least by companies like Zigbang?

Update 1) I forget to mention that despite Zigbang’s focus on 20-30 somethings, most people living alone in Korea remain middle-aged professional men, and elderly women living in poverty. Likely, the latter don’t use Zigbang at all, but it would be interesting to know how much of its business comes from the former, despite being ignored in its marketing.

Update 2) With thanks, a clarification to that confusing line about noodles. It’s from the 2001 movie One Fine Spring Day:

Here’s a video with the scene, and an explanation:

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

Korean Sociological Image #85: Just One 10 Minutes…to Improve Your Spouse’s Specs

Korea Gender Roles Marriage Specs(Source: Jinvas, left, right; edited)

Two notebook covers, found by reader Stephanie Rosier at her local Kyobo bookstore. As she explains on the blog’s Facebook page, the left reads, “If I study for ten more minutes, my [future] wife’s face will change,” and the right, “If I study for ten more minutes, my [future] husband’s job will change.”

Of course they’re just notebooks, and just for fun (although I do hope it’s adults they’re aimed at!). But they’re also a reflection of how deeply “specs” (스펙) like certain jobs and physical standards dominate matchmaking discussions among Koreans these days. Whereas back in the 1980s, it was older family members or family friends that would size up children’s potential spouses for arranged 선 (seon) matches like this, nowadays hard economic times mean that young people can be just as pragmatic and calculating as their grandparents were.

Meanwhile, what’s “Just One 10 Minutes?” you ask? :D

Related Posts:

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

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.