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.


…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.)


— 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).

Following School Crackdown, More Kids Punished for Acts of Affection

Wonder Woman Thwarted(Source; edited)

From Korea Realtime:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking Points: From Music Downloads to Sweaty Crotches

Feminist Media Criticism Problems(Source: Alyssa Korea)

Sorry for the lack of posts everyone. I’ve been absentmindedly researching many, not realizing that I hadn’t put pen to paper for a while. To remedy that, here’s some interesting links that add new information to previous posts of mine, but which didn’t really justify separate updates by themselves:

1. Will saving Korea’s music business end up killing it?

Korean Digital Music MarketIn an endnote to my recent “Why the Japanese Don’t Illegally Download Music. Much.” post, I wrote:

Like most articles praising the rapid rise of the Korean digital music market and the supposed success of Korean anti-piracy efforts, this article completely fails to mention how absurdly cheap Korean digital tracks are, as noted by Bernie Cho in the opening quote.

The next week, Yim Seung-hee at the Korea Joongang Daily wrote one of the most comprehensive articles on the Korean digital music market yet, noting a lot of resistance to government law changes aimed at raising prices. Here are just a few of the quick factoids to take away from it (source, right):

  • Music in Korea used to cost 73 won per download before the changes. That has now risen to 110 won, which is still less than one-tenth what iTunes costs.
  • Gangnam Style only earned 3.6 million won in online royalties in Korea, coming from 2.86 million downloads and 27.32 million streams, which works out to an average of about 10.7 won per download and 0.2 won per stream.
  • However, in the US, Psy received the equivalent of 2.8 billion won for 2.9 million downloads.
  • Meanwhile, one estimate says that the average indie musician earns just two-to-three-million won a year (about the same as most expat English teachers make per month).
  • Streaming accounts for 74 percent of online music spending in Korea (probably because of Korea’s ubiquitous broadband wifi), and downloads continue to fall. In contrast, in the rest of the world downloads dominate, making up 71 percent of the online market.

2. “Gaijin”

Leah of The Lobster Dance is featured in a (heavily-commented) Tofugu article about the usage of the word “gaijin,” which she has used in the past but now rejects. It begins:

Gaijin (外人, short for 外国人), or “foreigner” in Japanese, is a complicated word that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

Some people take the word lightly; when the Tofugu team was in Japan and a roller coaster we were riding unexpectedly malfunctioned, we joked that it was because the ride wasn’t designed to hold the weight of our giant gaijin bodies.

But for some people in Japan, “gaijin” can be a hurtful and alienating word. It can mean refusal of service at businesses, a barrier to entry for housing, or even threats of harassment or violence.

I thought that I’d reach out to some bloggers living in Japan to see what their thoughts on the word “gaijin” were. I got a lot of great, varied, and nuanced responses.

See “Korean Sociological Image #46: The Language of Exclusion” for a similar discussion surrounding the Korean term waegookin, or “foreigner,” with links to many other posts on the subject in the Korean blogosphere (as of 2010).

3. A Tasteless Ad, or Brilliant Marketing?

Johnny Walker is capitalizing on the 40th anniversary of Bruce Lee’s death by rendering him in CQI for a Blue Label commercial:

The ad features a startlingly lifelike computer-generated rendering of the revered martial-arts star, who died four decades ago. It has sparked ire among fans, who argue that Mr. Lee was a teetotaler and abstained from drinking alcohol for most of his life.

Critics see Mr. Lee’s personal stance as incongruous with an endorsement for a brand whose blended Scotches sell for more than $200 a bottle.

Johnnie Walker has defended the ad, saying it worked closely on it with Shannon Lee, Mr. Lee’s daughter.

Ms. Lee, meanwhile, told the Journal that while her father wasn’t a drinker, he didn’t think drinking was immoral. She also thought the video would be an “innovative way to get my father’s ideas out.”

See Scene Asia for the rest, or my “Raising the Dead: The Future of Advertising?” for a much better example featuring Audrey Hepburn, and many others in the comments (readers made me realize using dead celebrities in ads was surprisingly common). As for this example, I share The Ethical Adman’s criticisms that “there’s something really disturbing about dead celebrities being recreated to sell brands,” and that “it seems like the ultimate violation of a person’s integrity, at a time when they cannot even defend themselves.”

Most of all, I think it was incredibly hackneyed to use a teetotaler to sell alcohol, no matter how famous he was. And I just can’t believe how incredibly bad the CGI is, despite the accolades.

Lee Hyori Dazed and Confused August 2013(Source: Unknown)

4. Lee Hyori for “Dazed and Confused”: Appropriation or Appreciation?

See Audrey Magazine or Omona They Didn’t! for the details. Or, for a similar example by T-Ara last year, see “Thinking through Korean Appropriation of American Indians” at Sociological Images, which I made a big contribution to.

Meanwhile, I’m going to buy a copy to see if there was any rationale to that “vulgarity,” which I find rather charming myself…

5. Nine Goddesses are Hot for the Military

While writing my “Korean Sociological Image #72: Girl-group performances for the military” last summer, it proved surprisingly difficult to find actual embeddable videos of those. So, via Omona They Didn’t!, here are 3 with Nine Muses from earlier this year, who seem to be quite popular with the troops:

Pregnant Korean Bride6. Premarital pregnancy gets trendy

My 2008 post, Why Korean Girls Don’t Say No: Contraception Commercials, Condom Use, and Double Standards in South Korea, is still my most popular and most-commented, despite being based on 2003 data, and displaying what were then big, obvious gaps in my knowledge of Korean sexual mores. Hopefully I’ve filled most of those since, not least because one commenter pointed out that Koreans have always been quite tolerant of premarital pregnancies, so long as the couple planned to marry.

What’s more, according to the Korea Times, now they’re more common than ever. Some excerpts (source, above-right):

Celebrity couples such as actor Jang Dong-gun and his wife Ko So-young, and Kim Seung-woo and Kim Nam-joo, have admitted they walked down the aisle with the brides pregnant.

Actress Kim Bu-sun goes as far as to say she approves of premarital pregnancy.

“My premarital pregnancy was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Kim says. “If my daughter becomes pregnant, I will host a party in her honor.”

She believes people should embrace single mothers, whom she considers a minority in need of attention and care.

Nice to hear, considering the Ministry of Health and Welfare defined unwed mothers as “ignorant whores” as recently as 2010 (technically, it was “low levels of education [and] impulsive sexual drives”). Continuing:

But 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.

Read the link for the rest. Note  that this doesn’t mean Koreans are necessarily becoming more tolerant of cohabiting couples however (and who face a lack of suitable accommodation anyway), nor of pregnancies that don’t lead to marriage.

7. This Dude’s Response To Female Crotch Sweat Shame Is Perfect

See Bust for more. Fortunately, I haven’t seem any similar products advertised here yet, and perhaps that’s because there will never be a market for them, as Korean women generally don’t sweat as much as those of other races. This was discussed in my 2010 “Hot Sweaty Korean Women” post, about a rare Korean commercial that did feature a Korean woman sweating:

Please note I also made some overgeneralizations about Korean (women’s) exercise and gym culture in that post though, and would write it very differently today. But on the plus side, readers soon corrected my mistakes, and it (hopefully) remains useful for the journal study on Korean attitudes to dieting it references.

Also, for a related 2009 post on why Koreans generally don’t wear deodorant, its marketing, and the implications for Korea’s kkotminam (“pretty flower men”), which I recently updated and does still hold up today, please see “The Scent of a Man: What deodorant commercials tell us about Korean metrosexuality.”

Thoughts? On any of stories above?

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


…[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!


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.


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.



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)


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)


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!)


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!

Horror Stories(?) About Korean OBGYN Clinics

(“Pretend not to know”, “Pretend not to go”, “Pretend it’s the first time”. Push! Push! {1997}. Source)

This was the most read society news story on Naver last week, undoubtedly because of the recent announcement that the pill is to be made prescription only (a similar article was #5), which will naturally require more visits to OBGYNs. I have my own article about that coming out in Busan Haps next month (update: here it is!), but in the meantime see here, here and here for further details, as well as Korean Gender Reader posts from June.

Without discounting the genuine negative experiences outlined below, for the sake of balance let add that my wife has had no problems with those OBGYNs she’s dealt with since her first pregnancy, nor this 19 year-old student who wrote about her first visit to a clinic for her university newspaper (although it’s true she was given some strange and/or unnecessary tests). Also, it seems somewhat naive of patients to be surprised at questions about their sexual experience, and a little churlish of them to complain about them.

Update — in addition to many helpful, practical reader comments on this post below, and on the previous one about the student’s visit, let me recommend this one by a friend on Facebook:

…to be honest, I think most women expect a trip to the gyno to be awkward, that’s par for the course. However, many of the questions mentioned in the article were definitely way out of line. I’ve come across some less than sensitive (aka prejudiced and or judgmental) docs here.. I just assumed their overly-direct statements/questions were just a translation issue. Obviously not!

One disheartening aspect of women’s clinics is that you have to speak to a nurse (or sometimes just the receptionist) first, often in crowded reception area, to explain why you’re there. They often ask for all your symptoms, check your weight and blood pressure and when you had your last period in front of countless strangers. One clinic I went to had an LCD screen with the waiting patients listed in order of their turn.. including the reason why there were there… So much for privacy! It just adds another layer of humiliation to an already uncomfortable situation.

That being said- there are some amazing gynos here. I hope these problems can be properly addressed- no one should have to feel ashamed in front of their doctor. The danger here is that women will stop seeing doctors about their gynecological/sexual health out of fear of embarrassment and risk greater health problems.

“성경험 유무는 왜…? 굳이 그것까지” 굴욕의 진료, 산부인과

“Why do they ask about sexual experience? Is that really necessary?” Humiliating Treatment at OBGYN Clinics

엄지원 / Uhm Ji-won, The Hankyoreh, 2 July 2012

여성이 불편한 산부인과 / Women find gynecology clinics uncomfortable
접수대부터 진료·시술까지 / From reception to treatment and surgery
의료진 노골적 발언에 민망 / OBGYNs make suggestive, embarrassing comments
사전피임약 처방전 필요한데… / The pill requires a prescription…
여성들 심리적 부담 커 고민 / Psychological pressure on women increases
환자 배려 의료지침 등 필요 / OBGYNs need guidance on bedside manners

지난 6월 정부는 사전피임약을 전문약으로 분류하는 약사법 개정안을 발표했다. 이 법안이 국회에서 통과되면 여성들이 산부인과를 찾을 일이 더 많아질 수 있다. 이를 두고 여성들은 산부인과에 가는 것 자체가 눈치 보이는 사회 분위기를 지적한 바 있다.

This June, the government announced that it was considering amending the Drugs, Cosmetics, and Medical Instruments Law to reclassify the pill as a prescription medicine. If passed by Congress, it will mean women will have to visit OBGYN clinics much more often. In light of this, women have been pointing out the [bad] atmosphere at them.

한국여성민 우회가 산부인과 진료 경험이 있는 여성 210명을 상대로 설문조사한 결과는 ‘외부의 시선’ 못지않게 산부인과 진료 자체에 대한 여성들의 두려움이 실제로 광범위하게 퍼져 있다는 사실을 확인해준다. 설문 특성상 응답자의 신상과 구체적인 피해 일시·장소 등을 밝히진 않았지만, 여성들은 산부인과에서 겪은 수치와 불편을 설문지에 빼곡히 적었다.

Korean Womenlink conducted a survey of 210 women who had received treatment at OBGYN clinics, and the results confirmed not just the endurance of public stereotypes that all women visiting OBGYN clinics had STDs, but also that women’s fears in visiting them were well-founded. The survey was anonymous, and respondents were asked to provide no details of the times or places in which they’d been made to feel embarrassed or humiliated, but many still felt compelled to write a great deal about their negative experiences.


신지은(가명·36)씨는 얼마 전 산부인과에서 느낀 굴욕감이 생생하다. 아이를 낳고 정기검진차 방문한 신씨에게 의사는 은근히 ‘수술’을 권했다.

Shin Ji-eun (not her real name), 36, vividly remembers visiting a clinic for a regular check-up after her child was born, where the doctor implied she should have surgery:

“출산을 한 뒤니 부부관계를 오래 유지하고 싶으면 이참에 수술을 하라”고 말했다. 그가 권한 것은 여성 성기를 성형하는 수술이었다. “배려인지 희롱인지 알 수 없는 제안”이었다고 신씨는 말했다.

“After having a baby, and seeing as you’re already here, you should have surgery on your genitals for the sake of your married life”, the doctor said [James – what kind of surgery isn’t specified]. “I didn’t know whether to take it as a joke or a serious suggestion” Ji-eun said.

실제로 설문조사에 응한 여성들은 진료가 시작되는 접수대에서부터 낙태경험 또는 성경험을 묻는 수치스런 질문을 받았다고 증언했다. 어느 여성은 “진료 접수 때 ‘냉이 많아져서 병원에 왔다’고 했더니, 접수대 간호사가 큰 소리로 ‘성병이네요’라고 말해 매우 불쾌했다”고 적었다.

Respondents to the survey reported being asked embarrassing questions about their sexual experience and having abortions even as soon as arriving at the reception desk. One woman said “I went to the OBGYN clinic because I was having a heavy vaginal discharge, and the nurse at the desk loudly said ‘Oh, you must have an STD!’, which mortified me.”

진료 시작 뒤에도 수치심을 주는 의료진의 발언이 이어졌다고 응답자들은 적었다. 특히 “성경험이 있느냐”고 묻는 의료진의 태도가 당혹스러웠다고 여성들은 밝혔다. 어느 여성은 “성경험이 없다”고 답했다가 “검사할 때 번거롭다. 솔직히 말하라”는 의사의 말을 들었다. “그 뒤로 가급적 산부인과에 가지 않는다”고 이 여성은 밝혔다.

The shaming experiences continue after treatment starts too, because of doctors’ comments. In particular, after being asked if she had sexual experience, and replying that she didn’t, one woman found her doctor’s reply – “Be honest. Otherwise the examination will be more complicated” – perplexing, and said she’d rather not visit an OBGYN again.


의료진이 성경험 여부를 묻는 것은 관련 진료에 필수적인 정보이기 때문이다. 그러나 성경험이 있든 없든 “왜 그런 정보가 필요한지 사전 설명 없이 다짜고짜 물어 불쾌했다”는 게 처음 산부인과를 방문한 여성들의 이구동성이다. 여성민우회 조사를 보면, 산부인과 방문 당시 성경험이 있었던 경우는 69.5%, 없었던 경우는 29.5%였다.

Before being treated, patients need an explanation of why being asked about their sexual experience was necessary. Without that, many women reported, they felt very embarrassed on their first visits to clinics.

Of the respondents, 69.5% had prior sexual experience, and 29.5% didn’t.

Top Left — Of 210 Respondents: 35.2% had no negative experiences, 64.3% did, and 0.5% didn’t reply.

Top Right — Of the 64.3% of women who reported negative experiences: 56.3% were related to fears and anxieties about their treatment; 30.4% to public perceptions [of OBGYN patients]; 3.7%  to questions about STDs; 3.0% to costs of treatment; and 6.7% to other things.

Bottom — Age at first visit to an OBGYN

자궁경부암 검사를 받으러 갔던 어느 여성은 “결혼 안 했으면 처녀막이 상할 수 있으니 검사하지 말라”는 의사의 말을 들었다. 자신을 배려하는 듯하면서도 ‘처녀성’ 운운하는 발언에 수치심을 느꼈다고 응답자는 적었다. “몇번 경험해봤나”, “최근엔 언제였나”, “첫 경험이 언제인가”, “남자친구 말고 섹스 파트너가 있나” 등을 아무렇지 않게 묻는 일은 점잖은 축에 속했다. 이들이 기록한 의료진의 어떤 발언은 그대로 옮기기에 민망할 정도다.

One woman who visited in order to be examined for cervical cancer was asked if she was married, “because if you haven’t, then you shouldn’t receive an examination that will break your hymen”; while possibly the doctor was just being considerate about her virginity, the woman still felt ashamed and embarrassed. Other embarrassing questions, like “How many times have you had sex?”; “When was the last time you had sex?”; “When did you lose your virginity?”; and “Do you have another partner in addition to your boyfriend”, don’t even begin to compare to what some doctors asked patients, which they reported were too shameful to write down in their surveys (source, right).

“성기 모양이 참 예쁘다. 남편이 함부로 하지 않는가 보다.” “가슴이 작아서 사진이 찍히려나 모르겠네.” “어린데 왜 산부인과에 왔을까?” 심지어 체모가 많은 것을 보고 “남편이 좋아했겠다”는 이야기를 들은 경우도 있었다.

“Your vagina is very pretty. Your husband wasn’t as rough as most men”; “Your breasts are so small I’m not sure they will even show in the mammogram”; ” You’re so young, why are you visiting an OBGYN?” and even, after seeing that a patient had lots of pubic hair, commenting that “Your husband must like it” are among some of the stories about doctors that respondents did provide.

환자보다 의사 중심으로 꾸며진 진료 환경에 대한 여성들의 성토도 이어졌다.

In general, respondents felt that the treatment environment was designed with doctors rather than patients in mind.

다리를 위로 향한 채 눕게 돼 있는 산부인과의 ‘진료의자’를 응답자들은 ‘굴욕의자’, ‘쩍벌의자’로 부르며 불쾌감을 표시했다. 한 여성은 “진찰대에 다리를 벌리고 올라가는 것 자체가 매우 불쾌해 다시 가고 싶지 않다”고 적었다.


Women showed how upset they were by describing the treatment chair, in which patients lie with their legs in stirrups, as the “Chair of Shame”, or the “Spreadeagle Chair”. One woman wrote “I never want to go in that chair again. Having to spread my legs like that is very upsetting.”

자궁암 검사를 위해 병원을 찾았던 여성은 “의사가 들어오기 전 속옷을 벗고 다리를 벌린 채 준비했고 뒤이어 들어온 의사는 아무 설명도 없이 진료도구를 질 내부에 집어넣어 검사했다”고 불쾌감을 드러냈다.

Another woman who went to a hospital to be checked for cervical cancer wrote “Before the doctor came, I took off my underwear and got up and spread my legs, and when he arrived he just quickly put an instrument inside me, without any warning or explanation.”

‘진정으로 산부인과를 걱정하는 의사들 모임’의 최안나 대변인은 “산부인과 진료는 특히 예민한 분야이므로 성경험 여부 등 구체 정보가 왜 필요한지, 진료 과정은 어떻게 진행될 것인지 상세히 설명하고 의견을 구하는 건 당연한 절차”라며 “산부인과의 진료 서비스가 많이 나아지고 있다고 해도 여전히 일부 환자 눈높이에 부족한 점이 있다”고 말했다.

Choi Ahn-na, a spokesperson for the Korean Gynecological Physicians’ Association (GYNOB) [James — a notoriously anti-abortion group of OBGYNs. See here for more information about them] explained that “Gynecology and Obstetrics are very sensitive branches of medicine, for which it is both normal and essential for OBGYNs to have detailed information about patients, as this determines both the treatment type and how it’s administered. However, while OBGYNs have improved their services a great deal, it is also true that remaining weak spots need to be dealt with, as well as how things looks from patients’ perspectives.”


여성민우회는 이달 중 1000여명에 대한 실태조사 최종 결과 분석이 끝나면 전문의·보건전문가 등과 간담회를 열어 환자를 배려하는 산부인과 의료 지침을 만들어 배포하는 등 ‘산부인과 바꾸기 프로젝트’를 이어갈 계획이다.

Continuing its “Transform OBGYN Clinics Project” [James — Yes, this is the first time it’s been mentioned in the article], this month Womenlink is following-up by surveying 1000 women. After analyzing the results with health specialists, it will produce and distribute a guide for OBGYNs for dealing with patients.

김인숙 한국여성민우회 공동대표는 “왜 여성들이 산부인과에 가는 데 부담감을 느끼는지 구체적으로 확인해 앞으로 더 나은 산부인과 진료 문화를 만들어 갈 것”이라고 밝혔다.

Kim In-sook, a co-spokesperson of Womenlink, said “We will determine exactly why women feel so stressed about going to clinics, with the aim of making a better and more welcoming environment for them there.”

<한겨레>는 ‘여성이 불편한 산부인과’를 ‘여성이 행복한 산부인과’로 바꾸기 위한 제보와 의견을 받아 관련 보도를 이어갈 예정이다.

(Editor): In order to make women feel comfortable with visiting OBGYN clinics, The Hankyoreh will continue to receive and report on women’s opinions and experiences of them.

Help Sought for Pregnant Rape Victim — Update

(Source: unknown)

Last month, a reader emailed asking for help and information about in-vitro paternity testing, after his wife was raped and became pregnant while they were already trying to have a baby. With his permission, I’m very happy to pass on the following update:

…We got the test results back today and the baby is ours. We are naturally overjoyed.

If, god forbid, you get a similar question from a reader in the future, I can report that Paternity Testing Corporation (PTC), recommended by commenter Maria, came through for us. I would insist that a third party be a go-between between the victim and the company though (or at least the Japan branch) because they don’t seem to be used to dealing directly with victims, and can come across as insensitive. Also they’re not a travel agent, and people should make sure they know what clinic they’re going to and how to get there. We almost missed our chance to get the test done because we didn’t realize the clinic was actually in a neighboring province that took two hours to get to from Tokyo.

The strange thing is, the company says they are opening a branch soon in Seoul, after we were told several times that in-vitro paternity testing is completely forbidden in Korea. So I wonder if the roadblocks we were running into in Korea were more about the people not really knowing the answers to our questions and trying to save face.

Or maybe PTC will be focusing on paternity testing of young children and not doing any in-vitro testing. Who knows…

James — and later in his email, he again thanks Maria especially for directing his wife and him to PTC, and to all the other commenters for their help and support!

Challenging Stereotypes about Abortion


Okay, maybe I have overdone it a little with that above image. Because I certainly I don’t mean to appear flippant about the subject of abortion.

But hear me out — something just snapped in me when I saw the unnecessarily sombre cover (and tone) of Womenlink’s new book on abortion below. Because in reality, most abortion patients and their partners report feeling more relieved than depressed and regretful, despite what you usually read about them in the media.

So, the humor of the Yoda-like, oddly-appropriate Engrish above felt like a very welcome antidote. As did the additional images of happy couples you’ll find throughout this post, used in lieu of much harder to find “relieved” (안심했다? 안심이다?) ones.

Also, it was ironic that something that set out to challenge stereotypes would confirm so many of my own in the process. Namely, that all too many Koreans are forced to seek abortions because of a lack of basic knowledge about contraception, and that women are still wary of keeping condoms on hand and/or insisting their partners use them, lest they “be regarded as a slut or an experienced and impure woman” (which in turn leads to the perception that contraception is only men’s responsibility).

But don’t get me wrong — these are minor quibbles really, and otherwise I have nothing but praise for the book!


‘낙태’ 사회적 배경을 이야기하는 이유, The reason why we talk about the social background of ‘abortion’

Ildaro, November 15th 2011

민우회, 낙태 사례집 <당신이 생각하는 낙태는 없다> 발간 의의, The Significance of the Publication of Womenlink’s Abortion Casebook There’s no such thing as the abortion you’re thinking of

필자 회색연필님은 비혼 페미니스트 방송 ‘야성의 꽃다방’ 활동가로, 현재 대학원에서 보건학을 전공하고 있습니다. [편집자 주]

The author, Grey Pencil, is a graduate student in health science and activist who is part of the unmarried feminist radio program “Wild Nature’s Flower Tea Room.” [Editor’s Note]

낙태 금지한 형법은 위헌‘ 헌법재판소 공개 변론, Constitutional Court public proceeding ‘for the criminal law that prohibits abortion’

지 난 10일 헌법재판소에서는 ‘낙태죄’의 위헌 여부를 두고 첫 공개 변론이 열렸다. 이번 소송은 2010년 부산에서 인공임신중절시술을 시행한 혐의로 기소된 조산사가 ‘낙태를 금지하는 형법 조항은 임부의 인간으로서의 존엄과 가치, 행복추구권, 평등권, 신체의 자유, 사생활의 자유, 혼인과 가족생활의 존엄 등을 침해하여 위헌’이라며 소송을 청구한 것에서 시작됐다.

On November 10, the first public arguments over criminal abortion began at the Constitutional Court. This case began after a midwife who was indicted on the charge of carrying out a procedure to terminate a pregnancy in Busan in 2010 filed suit, saying, “The criminal law clause that prohibits abortion violates a pregnant woman’s dignity and value as a human, her right to pursue happiness, right to equality, bodily freedom, privacy, and the dignity of her marriage and family life, and thus is a violation of the constitution” (source, right).

형법 270조 1항(업무상 동의낙태죄)은 임산부의 동의를 얻어 낙태시술을 한 의사, 조산사 등을 형사처벌하도록 규정하고 있다.

Criminal Law Article 270 Clause 1 (Professional Abortion with Consent) stipulates that doctors or midwives who receive the pregnant woman’s consent and perform an abortion will receive a criminal penalty.

이날 변론에서 청구인과 법무부는 낙태죄의 실효성 여부와 임산부의 자율권 침해 여부 등 쟁점을 두고 첨예한 의견 대립을 보였다. 청구인 측은 임부의 자기결정권을 주장했고, 법무부 측은 태아의 생명권 존중을 내세웠다.

At the proceeding on this day, the claimant and the Ministry of Justice showed sharply conflicting opinions on the issues of the effectiveness of the abortion law and the violation of the autonomy of pregnant women.  The claimant’s side insisted on the right to self-determination of a pregnant woman, and the Ministry’s side advocated respect for the right to life of a fetus.

현재 대한민국에서 낙태(인공임신중절)는 ‘불법’이다. 그러나 지난 몇 십년 간 낙태는 암암리에 이뤄져왔고, 사회적으로 큰 문제가 되지 않았다. 그러나 ‘저출산 문제’가 대두되면서 정부는 낙태율을 줄이기 위해 지금까지 쉬쉬하던 ‘불법’ 행위를 집중적으로 단속하기 시작했다. 그리고 작년, 낙태 근절 운동을 벌여온 프로라이프 의사회의 고발로 몇몇 병원과 조산원이 검찰에 고발돼 징계를 받으면서, 낙태를 둘러싼 찬반 논쟁이 촉발되었다.

Currently, abortion (the artificial termination of a pregnancy) is “illegal” in the Republic of Korea.  However, for the past few decades abortion has been done in secret, and it hasn’t become a big societal problem.  As the low birth rate problem comes to the fore, however, the government has begun to intensively crack down on this formerly covered-up “illegal” activity in order to reduce the rate of abortions.    Also, last year, as several hospitals and maternity clinics were reported to prosecutors and punished through the accusations of a pro-life medical association that has campaigned for the eradication of abortion, controversy has been sparked surrounding the pros and cons of abortion (source, right).

이러한 시점에서 한국여성민우회는 낙태의 당사자이면서도 정작 논쟁에서는 배제되었던 여성들의 목소리를 모으기 시작했다. 그렇게 모인 22명의 여성의 이야기를 엮어 올 가을, 낙태 관련 사례집 <당신이 생각하는 낙태는 없다> 발간되었다.

At this time, Korean Womenlink began to gather the voices of women, who, though they are the actual people whom abortion directly concerns, had been excluded from the argument.  The stories of women gathered like this were woven together and this autumn, the abortion casebook “There’s no such thing as the abortion you’re thinking of” was published.

여성들이 말하는낙태란 무엇인가’, What women say “abortion” is

사 례집은 낙태 경험이 있는 여성들을 인터뷰하고, 그 내용을 바탕으로 총 22명의 여성들의 이야기를 낙태 결정의 순간과 낙태를 하는 순간, 낙태 그 이후의 경험들 그리고 피임에 관련된 부분과 상대(남성)의 이야기 등으로 구분하여 엮었다.

Women who’ve had an abortion were interviewed, and from that material, a total of 22 women’s stories are divided up into the moment they decided to get an abortion, the moment they got it, their experiences afterwards, and a section about birth control and their (male) partner’s story, and these parts are woven together in the casebook.

사례집에 실린 각양각색의 배경을 가진 22명의 여성들의 이야기는 모두 다 다르면서도 같았다. 낙태를 하게 된 상황이나 상대에 대한 생각 등은 모두 다 달랐지만, 다들 ‘낙태는 어쩔 수 없는 선택이었다.’는 점과 ‘다른 여성들에게 힘이 되고 싶다’는 마음은 같았다. 그랬기에 이 어려운 이야기들을 선뜻 나서서 이야기할 수 있었던 것이리라 생각한다.

The stories of the 22 women of various backgrounds in the casebook are all different yet the same.  The situation in which they chose abortion or their thoughts about their partners are different, but all of them had the same feeling that, “Abortion was the only option,” and, “I want to be a source of strength to other women.”  I think that may be the reason that they were able to come forward and tell their difficult stories willingly (Caption, right: 한국여성민우회에서 발간한 낙태 관련 사례집 <당신이 생각하는 낙태는 없다>; The abortion-related casebook published at Womenlink {source}).

태아를 생명권으로 보아 생명을 우선시하느냐, 아니면 산모의 선택을 존중하느냐는 논쟁은 단순히 ‘낳을 것인가, 낳지 않을 것인가’의 ‘낙태’ 행위에만 초점이 맞춰져 있다.

The debate over whether to put life first out of consideration for the right to life of a fetus, or to respect the choice of a pregnant woman, is focused into the act of abortion as simply, “have the baby, or not.”

보건의료학적 측면에서 보면 태아=생명이기 때문에 낙태는 비난받아야 한다는 결론이 난다. 그런데 보통 보건영역에서 정책을 결정할 때 단순히 건강만을 위한 것 외에도 사회경제적 요인도 같이 고려하여 판단한다. 여성의 낙태 문제 역시 보건 영역에 속하는 것으로 볼 수 있지만 희한하게도 ‘낙태’만큼은 사회-경제적 요인은 간과하여 판단하고 있다. 윤리적인 이슈가 이미 형성되어 있어, 낙태 행위 그 자체만을 놓고 이야기하려 하는 것이다.

From a health-care perspective, because a fetus = life, one comes to the conclusion that abortion must be criticized.  However, in the usual domain of health care, when making policy decisions, other socioeconomic factors besides simple health must be considered when making a judgment. Women’s abortion question could of course be considered in the domain of health care, but strangely, only in abortion’s case, socioeconomic factors are being ignored when making a judgment.   The ethical side of the issue is already formed in people’s minds, so the casebook attempts to discuss the act of abortion itself.

그렇기에 이번에 민우회에서 발간한 낙태 사례집은 이러한 ‘낙태’ 행위만을 보지 않고, 낙태를 둘러싼 ‘사회적’ 배경이 그녀들에게 어떤 영향을 미쳤는지를 당사자들의 목소리를 통해 잘 보여주고 있다는 점에서 큰 의미를 갖는다고 본다.

That’s why the abortion casebook that Womenlink published doesn’t just look at the act of abortion, it shows what kind of effect the societal background that surrounds abortion has on these women through the voices of the people involved; for this reason, it is meaningful.

흔히, 낙태를 하는 사람들은 ‘성적으로 문란하다.’, ‘순결하지 못하다.’, ‘미혼 여성들이 많을 것이다.’라고 생각하는데, 사례집에서 드러난 바로는 그렇지 않았다. 모두 우리 주변에서 볼 수 있는 평범한 사람들이었고, 비혼 여성이 많을 것이라는 생각과는 달리 오히려 기혼 여성들의 낙태경험이 많았다.

Commonly, people that have an abortion are thought of as “sexually promiscuous,” “impure”, or “probably mostly unmarried women,” but according to the casebook, that isn’t true.  They are all average people we can see around us, and different from the unmarried women that were expected, many married women had experiences with abortion.


혼인 유무를 떠나, 그들에겐 낙태는 어쩔 수 없는 ‘강요된 선택’의 문제였다. 기혼 여성의 경우, 육아를 둘러싼 경제적, 사회적 여건에 때문에 낙태를 선택할 수밖에 없었지만, 자식들을 기르면서도 마음의 상처를 안고 살아간다. 비혼의 경우 역시 크게 다르지 않다. 역시 젊은 나이라 경제적인 기반 등 아이를 낳아 기를 준비가 되어있지 않을뿐더러, 사회적 ‘낙인’ 때문에 산부인과에서도 애초부터 아이를 낳을 선택권이 주어지지 않는 경우가 많았다.

Whether or not they were married, abortion was an unavoidable “forced choice” to them.  For married women, because of the economic and social conditions surrounding raising a child, they couldn’t choose anything but abortion, but they live with that pain in their heart even as they raise their other children.  Unmarried women are also not very different.  They are young, of course, and so lack a financial base, so not only are they not prepared to have and raise a child, but there are many cases in which, because of their social label, they are not even given the right to choose to have the baby, even at an ob-gyn.

사례집에 실린 여성들 모두, ‘낳고 싶었지만 낳을 수 없는 상황’이 문제였다고 이야기한다. 낙태는 개인의 기호가 담긴 선택이 아니라 사회가 강요한 ‘선택’이었던 것이다. 사회는 저출산을 문제 삼으면서도 왜 여성들이 아이를 낳지 않으려하는지를 보지 않고 그저 낙태를 선택한 여성에게만 손가락질 한다.

The women in the casebook all say the problem was that they “wanted to have the baby but couldn’t in that situation.”  Abortion was not a matter of personal preference, but a “choice” forced by society.  Even as society makes an issue of the low birth rate, it doesn’t ask why women don’t want to have children, it just points the finger at women who have chosen abortion.

임신은 남녀가 함께 관여해서 발생하는 문제이고, 해결 역시 남녀가 같이 풀어야 될 문제이다. 하지만, 원치 않은 임신이 닥쳤을 때, 결국 책임지는 사람은 ‘여성’이 된다. 그렇기 때문에 여성에게는 임신이 갖는 의미가 굉장히 크다. 그럼에도 불구하고 사회는 이러한 임신의 문제가 단순히 여성이 10개월짜리의 고생으로 인식되고, 거의 대부분의 여성들이 감당하는 향후 20년간의 양육문제는 인식조차 하지 않는다.

Pregnancy is a problem that occurs with both men and women’s participation, and its solution should also be an issue that a man and woman resolve together.  However, when an unwanted pregnancy happens, the woman becomes the person who takes responsibility.  Because of this, pregnancy is very significant for women.  Despite this, society considers this issue of pregnancy as simply 10 months of hardship for a woman, and doesn’t even recognize the following 20 years of raising the child that is mostly done by women (source, right).

이로 인해, 임신 사실 조차 달갑지 않은 여성들도 많을 것이다. 미혼의 임신은 순결이데올로기와 맞물려 미혼모라는 이유만으로 손가락질 당하고, 그 자식마저도 편견으로부터 자유로울 수 없다. 그 뿐 아니라 경제적인 뒷받침도 미비하다. 기혼 여성이라도 크게 다르지 않다. 육아는 전업주부든, 직장여성이든 누구에게나 가벼운 문제가 아니다.

For this reason, there will be many women to whom the very fact of their pregnancy is unwelcome.  Unwed pregnancy is [negatively] connected to the ideology of purity, and so they are scorned just for being unwed mothers, and even their children are not free from prejudice.  Not only that, economic support is also inadequate.  Even married women are not much different.  Child-rearing is not an easy problem for anyone, full-time homemaker or career woman.

직 장여성의 경우는 더 버거운 문제이다. 임신과 동시에 직장에서는 그만두기를 강요당하고, 출산 이후 재취업이 쉽지 않아 임신을 더 꺼리게 만든다. 그 뿐인가, 맞벌이가 대세인 요즘에도 탁아시설 등의 인프라는 갖춰주지도 않고 여성 개개인에게 모성만을 강요하여 워킹맘이 슈퍼맘이 되도록 요구한다. 이런 상황에서 사회적으로나 경제적으로나 열악한 상황일 경우 누가 낳아 기르려고 하겠는가.

In career women’s case, it is a more unmanageable problem.  When pregnant, they are forced to quit, and re-entering the workforce after giving birth is not easy, so they are reluctant to become pregnant.  Not only that, even in this time in which dual-income families are the general trend, infrastructure like day-care facilities are not provided and each woman is pressured to be maternal, and so working  moms are asked to become super moms. In this kind of situation, when both the social and financial situations are inadequate, who would want to have and raise a child?


남자들도 수술대에 앉아 본다면…If men also tried sitting on that operating table

무엇보다 낙태에 대한 정부의 태도가 여성을 재생산의 측면에서 보고 있다는 점은 무례하고 후진적이다. 출산율을 올리기 위해 낙태를 금지하는 정책을 편다는 것은, 여성을 자아실현 등의 욕구가 있는 한 개인이 아니라, 아이를 낳는 존재로서  ‘관리’해야 하는 대상으로 간주하는 것이다.

More than anything, the government’s attitude towards abortion looks at women from a reproductive aspect, which is disrespectful and backwards.  Implementing a policy that prohibits abortion in order to raise the birth rate is considering women not as individuals with desires like that of self-realization, but as beings that give birth and thus objects [in the sense that they are the targets of an action] that need to be managed

과거의 인구조절정책을 봐도 그렇다. 인구가 많았던 시절에는 낙태를 쉬쉬했으며, 남녀 모두 정관수술이나 난관수술 등을 권장하고 강요했다. 그러던 정부가 20~30여년이 지난 지금, 이제는 출산률을 올리기 위해 ‘낙태’를 금지하겠다는 것이다.

Past population-control policies show this as well.    At the time when the population was large, abortion was done quietly, and men and women were encouraged or compelled to have vasectomies or tubal ligations.  Twenty or thirty years have passed and now the government that did that has resolved to prohibit abortion in order to raise the birth rate.

사실, 낙태를 반대하는 입장에서는 ‘낙태는 피임만 잘 하면 줄일 수 있다’고 말하는데 나는 일부는 동의한다. 사례들을 살펴봐도 남녀 모두 피임법을 잘 몰랐던 경우가 많았다. ‘피임’이라는 개념 자체를 몰라서 덜컥 임신이 된 경우들도 있었고, ‘질외사정법’이던가 ‘체온주기법’과 같은 피임 성공률이 낮은 방법을 사용하고 있었다는 점이다.

In truth, I agree in part with the anti-abortion position that says, “We can reduce abortions just by using birth control well.”  Looking at the casebook, there were many instances in which neither the man nor the woman knew much about birth control.  There were cases in which they didn’t know of the very concept of “birth control” and so unexpectedly became pregnant, and also those who were using types of birth control with a low success rate, like the “withdrawal method” or the “body-temperature cycle method.”


최근에 성교육이 많이 보급되었다고 하지만, 위의 사례들을 보면 아직도 성교육이 부족하다는 생각이 든다. 한편으로, 피임이 완벽히 성공할 것이라는 우리의 생각과는 달리 실제로 100% 피임은 불가능하다는 사실도 인정해야 한다.

Sex education has become quite widespread these days, but looking at the cases above, one gets the impression that sex education is still deficient.  On the other hand, different from our belief that birth control will be perfectly effective, we must recognize the fact that 100%-effective birth control is not truly possible.

성관계 시 작용하는 남녀 간의 권력구도 역시 짚고 넘어갈 필요가 있다. 사례들을 보면 여성이 피임도구 사용에 대해 이야기할 수 없는 상황이 많았다. 피임 성공률이 가장 높은 콘돔을 사용하자고 이야기 할 때 ‘헤픈 여자’, ‘경험 있는 순결하지 못한 여자’로 치부될까봐 말하지 못하거나 남성 쪽에서 콘돔 사용을 꺼려한다는 이유로 사용하지 못하는 식이다.

There is also a need to deal with the power structure between a man and woman who start to have sex. Among the cases, there were many in which the woman was in a situation in which she couldn’t talk about using birth control.  She couldn’t say anything because she was afraid that if she suggested using a condom – the birth control with the highest success rate -she would be regarded as a “slut” or an “experienced and impure woman”, or she didn’t use a condom because the man was reluctant to (source, right: unknown).

자신이 준비되지 않았음에도 불구하고 남성의 요구를 차마 거절하지 못하고 성관계를 맺은 사례도 많았다. 그리고 심지어 부인에게 정관수술 했다고 거짓말하는 남편들도 있었다.

There were also many cases in which the woman couldn’t bear to refuse the man’s demand and so had sex even though she wasn’t ready. There were even men who lied and told their wives that they had had vasectomies.

이처럼 가부장제하에서 ‘순결이데올로기’와 맞물린 남녀 간의 권력구도가 여성에게 상당히 불리하게 작용함을 알 수 있었다. 그러나 사례집에서 나타난 여성의 임신 상황에 대처하는 남자들의 태도는 미숙하기만 했다. 걱정해주고 함께 고민하는 남자들도 있었지만, 나 몰라라 하고 사라지는 경우도 적지 않았다. 그런 남성을 만난 어떤 여성은 ‘남자들도 그 수술대에 앉아 보면 좋겠다.’고 말한다. 오죽하면 그런 이야기를 했을까 싶다.

In this way, we see that in a patriarchal system, the power structure between men and women, which is connected to the “purity ideology,” is considerably disadvantageous to women.  However, in the casebook, the attitude of the men who are dealing with the women’s pregnancies is merely one of inexperience.  There were men who were anxious and who worried with the woman, but there are also not a few instances in which the man did nothing and disappeared.  One woman who met a man like that said, “I wish that men would try being on that operating table.”  She must have had a hard time, for her to say that.

낙태, 말할 있게 하라, Make it possible to talk about abortion

아직도 우리사회에서는 낙태에 대한 인식이 좋지 않다. 사례집의 몇몇 사례들에서 이야기한 ‘낙태 경험’에서 심지어 낙태를 시술하는 의료인까지도 사회적 통념의 틀을 벗어나지 못하고 있음을 잘 보여준다.

In our society, the perception of abortion is still not good.  The “abortion experience” section of several of the cases in the casebook shows that even some of the doctors who perform abortions can’t think outside the box of societal norms (Caption, above: 임신출산결정권을 위한 네트워크는 헌번재판소 공개변론일에 맞추어 ‘낙태 처벌 반대’를 주장하며 집회를 가졌다; A network for pregnancy and childbirth decision-making rights holds a gathering and argues for “opposition to abortion punishments” to address the public proceedings at the Constitutional Court).

낙태를 결심하고 병원을 찾은 여성들 역시 죄책감에 시달리고 말 못할 비밀을 갖게 되는데, 미혼이니 당연히 낙태를 선택할 것이라 생각한 의사며, 헤픈 여자라는 시선으로 싸늘하게 대한 간호사의 태도는 그들에게 낙태에 대한 부정적인 인식을 더욱 강화하게 만든다. 낙태는 축복받을 일도 아니지만, 어떤 측면에서는 ‘시선의 폭력’이라는 생각이 든다. 그리고 이런 식의 ‘낙인’들이 낙태 경험을 가진 여성을 더욱 더 말할 수 없는 존재로 만들어버린다.

Women who decide to have an abortion and find a hospital suffer from a sense of guilt and acquire a secret they can’t tell, of course, and while there are doctors who think that it’s natural to get an abortion because a woman is unmarried, the attitude of nurses who consider them sluts and treat them coldly further reinforces to them the negative perception of abortion.  Abortion isn’t a blessed event, but in some ways, this [attitude] seems like a “violence of perception”.  Also, those kinds of labels make women who’ve had abortions more unable to speak.


사실, 국내에서 낙태에 대한 정확한 수치를 파악조차 하기 힘들다고 한다. 국가에서 의료인과 일반 여성들을 대상으로 인공임신중절 실태조사를 했지만, 생각보다 적은 수로 나온다. 그만큼 낙태는 음성적으로 행해져왔고, 대책을 세우기도 쉽지 않은 상황이다. 여성의 낙태 경험을 이야기 할 수없는 사회적 분위기가 낙태를 ‘비현실적인 것’으로 만들어버린다. 하지만 낙태는 여성에게 ‘일어날 수 있는 사건’이다.

Truthfully, it is said to be difficult to even figure out the exact number of domestic abortions. Research on the artificial termination of pregnancy has been done targeting the country’s health care providers and average women, but the numbers were smaller than expected.  Abortion has been done that secretly; also, it is not easy to establish measures.  The social atmosphere in which women can’t talk about their abortion experiences has made abortion an “unreal thing.”  However, abortion is an event that can happen to women.

낙 태 경험을 드러냄으로써 낙태가 단순한 것이 아니라 복잡한 상황 속에서 내린 매우 어려운 선택이었고 큰 고통이었음을 세상에 이야기하는 것이 중요한 의미가 있다는 생각이 든다. 나 역시도 사례집을 읽기 전까지는 낙태를 경험했던 내 친구가 겪었을 고통을 깨닫지 못했으니까. 내 주변에는 낙태 경험이 없다고 생각했었다. 적어도 사례집을 읽기 전까지는 친구가 내게 낙태 경험을 이야기했다는 사실 조차 기억하고 있지 못했다.

Through the disclosure of experiences with abortion, it occurs to me that abortion is not a simple thing, but a very difficult choice made in a complicated situation, and telling of that great pain to the world has important meaning.  That’s because before reading the casebook, I too did not realize the pain that my friend who had an abortion went through.  I had thought that no one around me had had an abortion.  Before reading the casebook, at least, I hadn’t even remembered the fact that my friend had told me she’d had an abortion.


몇년 전, 방학이라 한동안 연락이 끊어졌던 친구가 개강 후 만난 내게 가볍게 ‘애 떼러 갔다 왔다’고 웃으며 이야기했던 적이 있었다. 그 당시의 나는 ‘아, 그랬구나’ 대수롭지 않게 넘겼지만, 사례집을 읽으면서 뒤늦게 그 친구가 내게 그렇게 이야기하기까지 얼마나 힘들었을지, 웃음 뒤에 숨겨진 그 친구의 아픔을 이제야 이해하고 공감할 수 있었다. 이런 낙태 경험을 공유함으로써 어쩌면 여성들끼리의 연대가 형성되고, 또 그렇게 여성들이 뭉칠 필요가 있지 않을까 하는 생각이 든다. 그런 의미에서 이 사례집 발간은 연대의 시발점이 되지 않을까 싶다.

A few years ago, a friend who I hadn’t been in contact with during a [university] break said to me, when we met after the start of classes,  “I went to have a baby removed,” lightly and with a smile.  “Oh, I see,” I said, passing over it as not a big deal, but while reading the casebook, I can finally understand and sympathize, belatedly, with how hard it must have been for her to tell me that, and the pain that was hidden behind her smile.   I think that through sharing these kinds of experiences, solidarity may be formed between women, and that women standing together in that way might be necessary.   In this kind of meaning, the publishing of the casebook could become a starting point for solidarity.

인간은 사회적 동물이기에 사회가 인간에게 미치는 영향력은 굉장하다. 그 맥락에서 낙태를 여성 개인의 한 문제로 볼 수 없을 뿐더러, 여성 개인의 문제로 국한시켜서 책임을 지울 수도 없다. 낙태를 금지(pro-life)냐 허용(pro-choice)이냐로 먼저 따지기 전에, 낙태를 둘러싼 입체적인 사회적 배경을 먼저 읽어야 할 것이다.

Because humans are social animals, the influence that society has on people is tremendous.  In that context, not only can we not look at abortion as an individual woman’s problem, but we also can’t limit it to an individual woman’s problem and thus saddle her with the responsibility.  Before quibbling over being pro-life or pro-choice, we need to first read about the multi-dimensional, societal background that surrounds abortion.

(Many thanks to Marilyn for the mammoth translation)