(KICKSTARTER) My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book

Texan in Tokyo(Source, all images: Texan in Tokyo)

I’ve been asked to pass on the following:

Deciding to move across the world for “love” is easy. People do it all the time. Thriving in that new country (without sabotaging your relationship), on the other hand, is a bit more difficult.

EnterMy Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book.”

My Japanese Husband Thinks I'm CrazyThis comic book is the autobiographical misadventures of a native Texan freelancer (Grace) and her Japanese “salaryman” husband (Ryosuke): in comic form. From earthquakes and crowded trains, to hilarious cultural faux pas, it explores the joys of living and working abroad, intercultural marriages, and trying to make a decent pot roast on Thanksgiving.

Grace Buchele Mineta Texan in TokyoMy Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book” is being funded on the popular crowd-funding website, kickstarter.com, from July 28th to August 30th.

In the first 24 hours online, the book has been funded 73%.

Grace Buchele Mineta is a native Texan, founder of the hit blog “Texan in Tokyo,” and author of the autobiographical comic book, “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy.” She lives in Tokyo with her husband, Ryosuke, where she blogs and draws comics about their daily life.

I Read a Book: Susan Blumberg-Kason’s Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong (2014)

Good Chinese Wife CoverLet me be honest: Good Chinese Wife is not something I would normally read.

Susan’s ex-husband was Chinese; my wife is Korean. Susan’s relationship goes from friends to engaged in less than two minutes; we lived together for years, and had lots of wild sex before I proposed. Their marriage rapidly turned sour; we just celebrated our tenth anniversary. They married, had a child, and divorced way back in the 1990s; I’m really only interested in Chinese attitudes towards dating, sex, and marriage in the 2010s. And so on.

I’m still grateful for receiving a reviewer’s copy, organized by Jocelyn Eikenburg of the Speaking of China blog (see here for many more bloggers’ reviews). But first impressions? I expected it to be very outdated, and that it would have little to offer readers with Korean partners.

I was dead wrong, on both counts.

Good Chinese Wife begins in Hong Kong in the mid-1990s, where Susan is doing a graduate degree (she previously spent a year there as an exchange student in 1990). Then in her early-twenties, she soon becomes smitten with Cai, an older mainlander from Wuhan. She starts tutoring him English in her dorm room; unbeknownst to her, other students consider them already dating. This prompts him to open up and explain he’s already been married and has a child, revealing all as a prelude to showing he is now interested in dating Susan. Because in China, Cai explains, “couples traditionally only date if they plan to marry.”

This sounded very antiquated. But as it turns out, dating in China is still not at all like in the West, nor even Korea. In Behind the Red Door: Sex in China (2012), Richard Burger explains that even in the big cities, “serial dating” is frowned upon as immoral or promiscuous. Instead, “most Chinese women still believe it is best to date only man and to marry him. Once the man invites her on a second or third date, he is indicating that he’s serious, that he is hoping for an exclusive Behind the Red Door Sex in Chinarelationship, and that marriage might be on the cards.” Whereas for women, inviting her to meet her parents “means she expects to marry him, and Chinese men understand this arrangement.” What’s more, the average age of marriage for Chinese men was only 24 in 2010; for women, 22 (in Korea, 31.8 and 28.9 respectively).

So, I understood Cai. And, being head-over-heels ever since they’d met, why Susan quickly accepted his proposal, before so much as a kiss—it sounded sweet. Her frankness about her feelings and mistakes is also a definite charm, especially for someone who likewise fell very easily in love at that age.

But that’s only 36 pages into the book. For the remaining 300, sympathy turns to constant frustration and exasperation with Susan’s rushing into marriage, then her frequent acquiescence towards her increasingly controlling and abusive husband. These feelings are only amplified by knowing that she’s doomed to fail.

In an interview, Susan says her problems were more because “He told me from the get-go that he had certain conditions for our marriage. Those are things I ignored or thought I could eventually get him to change. That should have been my red flag, not the [6 months] in which we became engaged and married.” (Likewise many happily-married Koreans, for whom such whirlwind courtships are also common, would surely bristle at the suggestion that they should have taken things slower.)

I disagree. From Cai’s belief that women are especially “dirty” in the summer, once all but physically forcing an exhausted Susan to bathe in a rat-infested bathroom, to his bizarre, surprisingly submissive relationship with eccentric professor friend ‘Japanese Father’ (“He thinks it’s not good [for us] to have sex relations more than once a week”), most of Susan’s later issues with Cai could have been discovered if they’d spent (much) more time together before the wedding day—and/or resolved if an expensive wedding wasn’t already looming over them.

Still, it does make for a good page turner. There is also merit in studying a bad relationship to learn what to avoid, and much about this one that will already be familiar to those with Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese partners. New and expecting parents in Korea, for example, will sympathize with Susan’s expectations to conform to man yue, the belief that mothers shouldn’t bathe or go outdoors in their first month—it mirrors the Korean one of sanhoojori. Also, for those couples planning to move to a Western country, her discussion of Cai’s difficulties with adjusting to life in San Francisco will be very beneficial. Her avoidance of tiresome Orientalist stereotypes is especially welcome, with her ex-parents-in-law coming across as old-fashioned but lovely, and Chinese men portrayed no better or worse than Western ones.

That said, I am reminded of a book for couples I once flicked through, which encouraged them to discuss their expectations of marriage in great detail before committing. With checklists ranging from beliefs about circumcision and determining which cities were best for both partners’ careers, to dividing the housework and setting dating policies for potential teenage children, that approach would be much too calculating for most couples. Marriage, after all, is ultimately about making a scary but exciting leap of faith with someone. But when partners come from such wildly different backgrounds, and bring such different expectations into marriage? Susan’s experience teaches readers that for international couples in particular, perhaps they really should learn the answers to those questions sooner rather than later.

Good Chinese Wife back cover

One minor quibble was all the hyperbole. Not to diminish Susan’s genuine fears for herself and her son at times, but did it lead me to expect a story involving forged passports and bribed border guards(!). Also, I disliked the format of numerous short chapters, with so little happening in some that they felt like diary entries. But that is just a personal preference.

The verdict? Good Chinese Wife is well worth the US$14.99 cover price (16,410 won at What the Book), and a definite eye-opener about the value of reading more about relationships in this part of the world, especially with such limited options for reading about Korean ones specifically. Please do leave your suggestions (and reviewer copies!) for more like it, and/or for blogs.

Reader Request: Looking for people to share stories about relationships in Korea

Couple ShoesI’ve been asked to pass on the following:

Looking for people to share stories about relationships in Korea

*********Have you fallen in love in South Korea? Battled cultural differences and other pressures to be with someone you never would have met anywhere else? Found the freedom to do things, meet people, or be someone you wouldn’t have dared to at home? Kept things going long-term and long-distance? Decided that dating in Korea is just too daunting and put that side of your life on hold while you’re here? Worn a couple shirt?

If you have a great story you’d like to share about dating, relationships and sex in Korea, I’d love to hear from you.

I’m making a documentary about how living in Korea can affect relationships, and I’d like to interview people with experiences that been delightful and difficult, wonderful and weird, sour and sweet.

It would be great to speak to partnered and single, cis- and trans-gender people, from a variety of backgrounds, and with a range of preferences and interests, including:

  • Korean people with experiences with other Korean people and people from other countries;
  • Non-Korean people with experiences with people from Korea and other countries;
  • People in monogamous and non-monogamous relationships with one or more partners;
  • People happy or unhappy not to be in a relationship;
  • People who have made their homes in Korea;
  • People who are in Korea on a temporary basis.

The film will be inclusive, non-judgemental and sex-positive, allowing the stories to act as an honest look at the unique experience of looking for, holding onto and losing companionship in Korea. To this end, and because I intend it for gallery screenings, the film probably won’t be a traditional talking-heads documentary. Instead, I’ll try to respond creatively to the themes of the stories people tell me, especially when the storytellers wish to remain anonymous. If you’re happy to appear on camera, that’s great, but if you’d like to share your story and would rather not have your face, voice or name be part of the film, I’ll find ways to accommodate those wishes.

I hope to collect stories in December and January, and am happy to travel anywhere in Korea to conduct interviews.

If you’d like to know more, or if you’re interested in taking part, please get in touch at relationshipsinkorea@gmail.com

Ben

Reader Request: Korean-Western Relationships and Gaining Acceptance from the Korean Parents

Korean-Western Relationships(Sources, edited: left, middle, right)

The following was originally posted as a short comment to Korean Sociological Image #78: Multicultural Families in Korean Textbooks; for the sake of giving it more exposure, and thereby hopefully more chances of finding a solution, I encouraged the author to expand it into this separate post. If anyone can give her advice, especially those who’ve been in similar situations (please post anonymously if you prefer), and/or can direct her to helpful websites, she would be very grateful:

*********My name is Jess.  My backstory is a depressing picture of humanity, so we’ll skip it.  I complete my schooling and earn my certification in 8 months.  My grandmother owns a massage therapy and alternative health shop, and I am set to join her in her practice.  I hope to expand the business and hopefully retire her (if I can convince her to) before continuing my formal education.  I have two beautiful, bright little girls.

H grew up in Southern California.  I don’t understand the “generation” terms very well, but his parents moved here from Korea.  He is a nurse (or a murse, he jokes), and works in the ICU of a hospital in the city he lives in.  For the sake of anonymity, I’ll skip a lot of his backstory as well.  I live midstate, he lives in the Northern part of the state.

We met in a bar.  It’s a very funny story, but I can’t seem to tell even a bit of it without writing six pages.  Basically, boy meets girl, boy hits on girl, girl tries to scare off boy with picture of her offspring and fails.  Miserably.  I spent the first half of our friendship trying to put him off.

The first time he ever called me, we talked for three hours.  And this set the precedent. We had regular, lengthy conversations about immediately relevant things:  who we are, what we do, how our minds work, etc.  I’ve never felt so picked over in my life.  I don’t think he expected to find a person like me in the stereotype I inhabited… just as I didn’t expect to find someone like him.  Neither of us expected it, and I think that’s why it happened.  We fell in love by accident and were fighting it all along for various reasons.  He seemed terribly conflicted all the time.  He would ask me repeatedly to date him—which I would decline—then turn around and insist that I not get attached to him.  It never made sense.

Long story short, 6 or 7 months ago, we started seeing each other more regularly.  The more I saw him, the more I found that I was falling for him.  I was careful.  I wanted to be sure that what I was feeling was real and not a byproduct of a past failure or the fact that he was a challenge.  When I was certain of what I was feeling, I began to try to understand what was going on in his head.  Eventually, I realized that his mixed signals weren’t purely because of him.  It wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough in his mind.  I realized that he wasn’t ALLOWED to have me.  That didn’t make sense.   The end result was the same, though, I wasn’t an option for him.  Shortly after this, he admitted that he didn’t like me seeing anyone else.  In short order, we were exclusive.  Not only was I seeing him more, but now we were only seeing each other.

Over the year that we had known each other, our relationship shot through so many levels unimpeded, I’ve never felt anything like it.  It was honest, right from the beginning because neither of us expected ANYTHING to evolve from it, let alone an exhilarating friendship or compatible romance.  I knew all along H couldn’t have a relationship with me, but it wasn’t until after I was good and head over heels that he hinted at the real reasons why we couldn’t be together.  When he did, our relationship started shifting.  We began mourning.  It got to be too much.  It wasn’t fair.  I tried breaking it off multiple times.  The first time, he didn’t call me for three weeks.  After nearly a year of talking to him regularly, it was a stark adjustment.  I resolved myself to letting it go and getting on with my life.  Then, I think it was the end of June.. he called me in the middle of the day.  He had a long drive ahead of him.  He was alarmed by how much he missed me.  I was alarmed how high my heart soared hearing his voice.  I didn’t even realize how badly I needed that.  He “accidentally” told me he loved me.  I gritted my teeth and brushed it off, just immensely soothed that he had no intentions of disappearing, still.  That was all it took, though.  One phone call and we were right back to seeing each other.

Over the next few months, we just had to admit to ourselves that we did love each other.  There wasn’t anything we could do to change it.  He finally told me in detail the reasons why his family wouldn’t approve of me.  I began making every attempt to understand it.  I never stopped.  We never stopped seeing each other, but we were always worried about the anvil of his family hanging over our heads.  Even if we found everything we needed in each other, when that anvil dropped the bond was doomed.

It unraveled when he went to his cousin’s wedding.  He noticed that his uncle was so proud and happy looking at his son and new daughter-in-law.  He remembered the way his father looked, at his brother’s wedding.  H realized that he wouldn’t have that if he stayed with me.  None of this was fair.  He was torn.  He felt he was wasting my time.  He broke it off with me.   I was shocked.  He had changed gears again.  He had gone from needing reassured that it wasn’t changing for me, to disappearing.  It lasted a day.  I was a mess; he called me hoping to help me out of it, and ended up worse himself.   In my attempts to cope, I had started writing a letter.  I knew my letter wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind, but I just wanted to know WHY it had to be this way… I didn’t tell him about the letter.  But his mind (as always) was in the same place mine was.  He asked me if I wanted to send one.  I’ll state for the record, that this was a stupid idea born of two distressed minds, but I did.  The letter was just as positively received as he imagined it would be.  His mother cried.  His father jumped to conclusions that were so far from possible that it let me know just how shocked and appalled they were.  This was extremely upsetting for them.  But… they did tell him that they couldn’t control him.  He decided to stick to his guns and call it over.  I was left coping.  I had a simple birthday gift I’d had waiting for the next time I would see him.  I almost didn’t go, but I took it to him, deciding that I was going to leave quickly.

I’m not sure which of us asked to talk, but we ended up curling up to talk about it.  In my attempts to not be emotionally manipulative or force my needs on him, I had not told him how much time I’d spent researching the issue.  I hadn’t told him that I’d looked up language lessons in the area, how far ahead I had thought and how prepared I was to sustain this effort for as long as it took, if he wanted me.  I’m not sure if I was right or wrong, but it meant that he was unaware.  He asked me to stay.  I took him to the place that I grew up.  I showed him key places from my childhood and teen years. He took me to a Korean restaurant.  His fortune cookie read, “Discover your companion’s world.  Two worlds are better than one.” Which is exactly what he had spent all day doing.  Mine said, “Time is precious, but truth is more precious than time.” Which is exactly what I had been trying to explain to him all weekend.  We had an uncomfortable laugh.   By the end of the weekend, his thoughts and emotions were scattered again.  He wanted to call his brother.  I didn’t know what that would solve.  I just wanted him to stop and think about what he was doing for once, because the whole time he had just been making it worse by getting ahead of himself and freaking out.  If he wanted it to work, he needed to be calm and sure.  If he didn’t want it to work, there was no need to alarm his family more.  I would just leave.  I made him stop and think about what he wanted to accomplish.  We pulled out our schedules to figure out when we both had a good chunk of time.  We made tentative plans for me to meet his brother (who lives out of state).  He told me not to get my hopes up.  To just calm down and be chill for a while.  I couldn’t agree more.  This has been taking up entirely too much energy.  It’s time to get back to bantering, laughing deviously, outwitting each other, and discussing things of no import until we have to worry again.

I’ve spent a long time pondering, reading, and learning, trying to find a way around the problem.  It’s not really about who I am as a person.  I feel no pain from the absoluteness of how they look at me.  It’s what I am.  I’m not Korean.  I have children.  I am not at all what they would want for their son, their family.  I can’t change what I am, but I know we are not the only people in this situation.   I haven’t found many articles about the problems in my particular situation.  Usually, racism is full of hatred and cold-hearted callousness.  I have found MANY instances of couples overcoming and succeeding despite situations like that… but I haven’t been able to find many stories about families like H’s–just enough to have hope; not enough for a thorough understanding.  Their disapproval isn’t like that.  They aren’t hateful.  They aren’t callous.  This causes them pain.  I have a lot to offer, but to say that I’m not what they expected… that’s an understatement of epic proportions.  The advice that I seek is how to bridge that kind of a gap.  I’m looking for anything that might help.  I’m looking for people who’ve been in a situation like this and found success, I want to know what they’ve DONE or avoided doing.  Even if not exactly (his parents are individuals, too, there’s no tried and true approach), each success story I can find could offer a pearl of wisdom to guide me through this. (END)

***

Again, any specific advice readers can provide would be appreciated, and/or links. For the latter, off the top of my head I would recommend Speaking of China, AMWF Love, and possibly Texan in Tokyo, the last found while searching for images to accompany this post (and failing — unfortunately, I don’t like to use “ordinary” couple’s pictures without their permission!). Also, there are of course a great many blogs by Western women with Korean or Asian partners out there, some of whom may have written about meeting his parents at some point — if anyone knows of any specific posts, again Jess would be very grateful. Thanks!

Update: Speaking of China has provided a round-up of links with dating advice for Chinese-Western couples here.

Korean Sociological Image #78: Multicultural Families in Korean Textbooks

Korean Mulitcultural Family Korean Ethics Textbook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radio Interview Tonight, 7pm

Tonight at 7pm I’ll be on Busan e-FM’s Let’s Talk Busan again, this time talking about bans on alcohol consumption on Korean campuses, and then Korean weddings. You can listen on the radio at 90.5, or online here (please note that you’ll have to download Windows Media Player 10 first), and I’ll add a link to the archived version once it becomes available.

Sorry in advance for my voice (I’m still recovering from a cold), and I should finally be able to catch up with comments and emails tomorrow!

From the Archives: Bagel Girls, Banking, and Babies!

(Source)

…[the character of] Chi-Yong’s mother sees marriage as a way to achieve social advancement and material prosperity, as it was in the Victorian era. These ambitions have come to the forefront in Korea since the 1970s, due to rapid economic development and consequent aspirations to class mobility and consolidation during the last thirty years. This novel [Marriage/결혼 by Kim Su-hyeon, 1993] is a good illustration of how, given the pace of change of change in Korea, everybody has a different point of view on marriage, depending on their gender, class, and generation. The issue of communication across generations has become a serious matter. Generation is an important attribute of identity in Korea, like race in the United States. (My emphases.)

(So-hee Lee, “The Concept of Female Sexuality in Popular Culture” in Under Construction: The gendering of modernity, class, and consumption in the Republic of Korea, ed. by Laurel Kendell, 2002; page 146 of 141-164)

With apologies to So-hee Lee for variously attributing that quote to either her editor, to Hyun-Mee Kim, or to Nancy Abelmann over the years, it still very much applies 10 years later. It’s also why studying and living in Korean society can be so exciting sometimes.

For someone who’s been writing about the place for over 5 years though, it means that many of my posts need updating. Let alone mercifully deleted as reader feedback, further research, and greater use of Korean sources have exposed gaping holes in my knowledge and confident preconceptions. And from a practical standpoint too, links will die, embedded videos will get deleted, and my theme will always highlight recent posts at the expense of older ones, no matter how good they may be after going through my culling process.

With all that in mind, once a month I’ll be highlighting posts from the corresponding month in previous years. Not all of them of course (hey, I’ll still like some material to work with in September 2013 and 2014), and to some there’s no new news to add; I include them just to draw attention to for new and old readers, especially as they’ve since been slightly edited for this post with the benefit of several year’s of hindsight. Others though, I’m adding a great deal of new news and commentary below, as you’ll see.

Please let me know what you think!

2011

Alas, not really my own article, but about Grace Duggan’s for Bust Magazine. While I’d often criticized the body-labeling craze in South Korea previously, I didn’t realize just how offensive this particular term was until she pointed it out (source, right):

Sexualizing young women for having childlike features sets off all kinds of alarms, regardless of whether or not they are over 18. The “bagel girl” label does more than infantilize women. It compartmentalizes them by applying two irreconcilable ideals: looking like a baby and a full-grown woman at the same time.

Granted, that may make it sound no more harmful than any other “line.” But, as I explain in a later comment, in the context of how it’s actually used it ends up sounding almost pedophilic:

…there’s nothing wrong with looking young per se.

But consider who the label is applied to: not, say, women in their 30s and 40s and older, for whom – let’s be real – wanting to look younger than they are is understandable (hell, for a 35 year-old guy like me too), but rather it’s women barely on the threshold of adulthood that are being praised for looking like children. And, not to put too fine a point on it, what the FUCK is great about a 21 year-old looking younger than she is? And when her body is simultaneously praised for being developed? That is a seriously flawed ideal to aspire to, and, moreover – as I hint at in the post – it’s no coincidence that it occurs in an environment with strong expectations of childish behavior from women too. Indeed, the end result strongly reminds me of child and teenage female manga characters, with personalities appropriate for their age, but somehow the sex drives and physiological development to act on them of women 10-15 years older.

(Source)

Meanwhile, by coincidence just yesterday I finished the excellent An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality by Jill Fields (2007), which explains how the word “glamour” — where the “gul/글” in Bagel Girl comes from — came to be closely associated with large breasts by Hollywood in the 1930s to 1950s. Something I’d previously chalked up to a Japanese and then Korean mistranslation of the word, see the above pages for more on that, or all of Chapter 3 on brassieres at Google Books here.

If I do say so myself, I’m very proud of the way I describe my feelings when child singers do aegyo:

…cutesy aegyo is bad enough coming from a 21 year-old singer, but simply surreal when you see it done by a 14 year-old.

Yes, surreal, not merely awkward and inexperienced: essentially, you’re watching a child pretending to be an adult pretending to be a child.

Thank you very much.

Thanks again to the (necessarily anonymous) reader who wrote about her experiences, and I’ve had dozens of inquires about the Seoul clinic she used since. Please just email me if you ever need to know the details yourself.

(Source)

2010

Once someone points out the “head cant” to you, it just can’t be unseen. Usually inoffensive in itself though, and frequently done simply for photographic and stylistic reasons (which I’ve under-acknowledged in the past), it’s the fact that it’s overwhelmingly women it that makes it problematic. Just one of a number of typical poses for women in ads, ultimately it serves to reinforce gender stereotypes.

Probably, that’s why these recent Giordano ads stood out to me: in the example above for instance, Shin Min-a (신민아) is the one in control, staring at the viewer, while So Ji-sub (소지섭) is distracted (it’s usually the guys that are presented as more focused). And, desperately seeking examples of pro-feminist advertisements for a TED presentation I may be giving next month, in which I have to — grrr — conclude with a positive message rather than just criticize, this made me realize that feminists and advertisers don’t necessarily have to be at odds with each other. Just a sense of balance by the latter would be a huge step forward.

Really about “lewd” advertisements, 2 years later (this June) I translated another article about how their numbers had surged 3 times over the previous 12 months. With no apparent sense of irony, just about every news site that reported on that had so many examples themselves that the text was difficult to read.

One of my most popular posts, anybody (especially men) who thinks street harassment isn’t a problem should just reflect on the opening cartoon, let alone female readers’ comments about their own negative experiences.

(Source: unknown)

2009

A short, harmless commercial for Shinhan Bank at first glance. But, once you take the time to analyze it, it has a clear message that men do the thinking at Shinhan while the women simply look good. Indeed, it’s such a classic example of gender stereotyping that I’m still using it in presentations today.

Here’s the slide I would present after providing that analysis:

But in the next presentation, I’ll be updating it with the recent news that the banking industry still has the largest gender pay gap in Korea, with women making an average of only 57% of what men make.

Not that I’m against skin by any means. But these remain very sweet ads!

Again one of my most popular posts, ironically soon after writing it trends in the Korean entertainment and music industries meant that Koreans would replace Caucasians in many of the modelling roles that sustained those Occidentalist stereotypes. Also, in my own (admittedly limited) experience, there’s far fewer Korean male – Western (invariably Caucasian) female pairings in popular culture now, after a spate of them in the years after Misuda first appeared. (There were never very many of the opposite.)

However, of course many of the stereotypes still do remain.

(Sources: left, right)

2008

When I read on Yahoo! Korea this week about pregnant Hollywood star’s “D-lines”, for a moment I did try to hold my tongue about seeing the label.

After all, this, for example, is just an advertisement for an event for expecting mothers (albeit one where likely body-shaping products are promoted); these D-line fashion shows were surely perfectly harmless; many of those Hollywood stars were indeed glowing, as was pregnant Moon So-ri (문소리) in Cosmopolitan last year; and finally, yes, I can see the humorous side — it is often applied to extremely obese men.

But although the Western media too promotes pampered celebrity mothers-to-be as ideals to follow, and I can certainly accept that pregnant women overseas may likewise feel under some indirect pressure to watch their weight, that post is about how pregnant Korean women were dieting as early as the late-1990s. One can only shudder at what things are probably like now.

Suddenly, talk of D-lines sounds a lot less funny.

One of my first attempts to grapple with the origins of the kkotminam phenomenon (꽃미남; lit. flower-beauty-man), which culminated in this piece by friend and ANU professor Roald Maliangkay 2 years later.

By coincidence, both of us will be quoted in a related news article to be published next week. Watch this space! (Update: and here it is!)

2007

And indeed there was. Unfortunately however, attitudes didn’t change with it, so fathers feel compelled by management to either ignore it entirely or to come back to work early, despite it only being 3 days (source right: unknown).

Note though, that the “paternity leave” in the original article I translated was a bit of a misnomer, it really meaning time off for a child’s birth. “Real,” paid paternity leave has been available since 2001 (or possibly 1995), but sources vary on specifics. Sung So-young in the Korean Joongang Daily, for instance, wrote in April 2011 that:

According to Korean law, all employees with a child under the age of 3 are eligible to take a year off to care for their children. Up to 1 million won ($919) in salary is provided monthly.”

But that is contradicted by a slightly later report in the Chosun Ilbo, which states that:

…those on leave can get up to 40 percent of their salary, or a minimum of W500,000 and a maximum of W1 million, and parents can take leave until the child is 6 years old.

And both in turn are contradicted by Lee Hyo-sik’s earlier report in the March 4 2011 Korea Times, which says:

Regardless of income levels, both male and female salaried workers are currently given 500,000 won per month during parental leave. This is expected to go up to one million won next year.

As for the maximum age of the children in order to be eligible, the same article states that it was 6 rather than 3. This is confirmed by an earlier February 2010 article by Kwon Mee-yoo, again in the Korea Times, which stated:

The Ministry of Labor passed a revision on Wednesday to the Act on Equal Employment and Support for Work-Family Reconciliation, or the Employment Equity Act for short, which will expand the range of workers eligible for parental leave. Now parents with preschoolers under six years old can benefit.

The leave allows employees to take a certain number of paid days off from work to care for their children. The parents can also take unpaid leave if they use up all of their paid days. This includes maternity, paternity and adoption leave. Currently, at private firms only workers with children 3 years old or less qualify for the leave.

Surprisingly, parents with adopted children weren’t eligible before this revision, and still, “only those who gave birth to or adopted children after Jan. 1, 2008 [were to be allowed] parental leave,” despite those (then) 2 to 6 year-olds obviously being of age. Which all sounds very tight-fisted, although logical during the worst of the financial crisis.

Kwon Mee-yoo also notes that it was in 2008 that the government increased the age restriction for (only) public servants, allowing them “to take time off for parental purposes if their children were under 6 years old.” I’ll assume that it previously only applied if their children were under 3 years old, like Kwon notes was the case for employees at private firms.

Finally, quibbles over details aside, Sung So-young’s and Lee Hyo-sik’s articles in particular remain excellent discussions of why Korean fathers are forced to avoid taking paternity leave, despite wanting to spend much more time with their kids. Against that though, just like in most other countries there’s still a pervasive attitude that childcare is primarily women’s work, with insidious manifestations in our daily lives.

And on that note, have a good weekend, and the Korean Gender Reader post will be up on Sunday!