Quick Hit: Consent is STILL Sexy

Consent(Source: Heal Yourself, Skeletor)

I’m just sick of Bora’s boobs.

Okay…no, not really. They’re just a constant reminder of the curse of blogging about sexuality and popular culture. Thanks to them, “Consent is Sexy: SISTAR, slut-shaming, and sexual objectification in the Korean idol system” is literally my most viewed post—but also, per view, probably one of the least actually read.

You’d never think it took a month to research and write, and that I consider it one of my proudest blogging achievements.

Ironically for the frustration that causes now though, it too was born out of the frustration of two weeks of watching interviews of SISTAR members, naively hoping that they would reveal something about the extent to which they consented to—indeed, hopefully played an active role in choosing—the sexualized costumes, choreography, and so on provided by their management company. Instead, I was left with nothing more substantial than learning their favorite flavors of ice-creams, and a firm resolve never to watch any more of the crap that counts as most K-pop entertainment.

But finally, nearly a year later, I’ve just learned of two interviews where girl-group members were able to talk about their jobs like actual human beings.

The first, on the new show The Spokespeople (대변인들), where Rainbow’s Jisook, Stellar’s Gayoung, and Dal Shabet’s Subin, from roughly 8:00 to 26:00 (it’s—grr—unavailable in Korea; click here to overcome that) discussed their recent ‘sexy concepts.’ It’s a still a little frustrating in places, the MCs being “spokespeople” for the “weaker people who can’t speak out” apparently meaning that guests should shut up while the MCs speak for them instead, with poor Subin barely getting a chance to speak at all. But when they did, all three sounded quite genuine:

Next, as Asian Junkie put it:

Ex-TAHITI member Sarah Wolfgang (Hanhee) did an AMA on Reddit recently, where she answered questions on everything from a group member smelling like shit to eating disorders.

And you can read a breakdown of the interview there, including those eating disorders, her complete lack of input into her image, and the debts members are sometimes left with.

Finally, it’s not a recent interview, but The Learned Fangirl just did a review of Nine Muses of Star Empire (2012), which I also covered in last year’s post. While that documovie may sound dated by K-pop standards, it easily remains the most revealing look inside the industry, and I completely agree with the authors’ conclusion:

Interestingly, Billboard‘s Jeff Benjamin had a very different take than us on the documentary, calling it a film that would cause “k-pop haters [to] completely shift their paradigm.” We doubt that — instead it will make a manufactured music form seem manufactured. It’s a warts-and-all look behind the curtain of music industry, and is an unsentimental look at what it takes to create pop star fantasy.

Thoughts?

Related Posts:

When K-pop Gets Under Your Skin…

city of girls' generation gangnam(Source)

My latest piece for Busan Haps, on the contributions that K-pop has made to cosmetic surgery medical tourism.

I chose the topic because I’d always assumed that K-pop was easily Korea’s #1 cultural export. And, building on from that, that surely most medical tourists to Korea would be coming for cosmetic surgery. After all, what would this blog be without all the posts on dieting and body-image narratives in K-pop songs? On stars’ cosmetic, beauty, and dieting-related endorsements? Or, of course, on the ideals set by their bodies themselves?

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

First, because K-pop only accounted for just five per cent of the revenues from cultural content exports in 2013, as demonstrated in this Arirang news report from January. That worked out to $255 million, out of a total of $5.1 billion.

Korean Content Industry Exports for 2013(Source)

Next, because cosmetic surgery tourists only comprised seven point six percent of medical tourists in 2012. Yes, really.

When I wrote the article, I mistook that for the 2013 percentage, which isn’t available yet. But, assuming it remained the same (although the trend is for rapid growth), that would have resulted in a paltry $7.6 million in revenues in the January to November 2013 period, based on these figures that incorporate revenues lost from Korea’s surprisingly high numbers of outgoing medical tourists (unlike the grossly inflated KTO figures).

No wonder “a renowned business professor” recently dismissed the economic benefits of K-pop.

Frankly, another reason I chose this topic was because I expected I’d quickly prove him wrong. Instead, I soon found myself chagrined, forced to concede that perhaps he had a point.

But the long-term benefits? He’s dead wrong about those. To find out why, please see the article!

Do “Sexy Concepts” Actually Work?

Korean Girl-Groups Sexy Concepts(Source)

What? There’s been a spate of sexy concepts by girl-groups recently? Really?

Yawn. It’s been three years since I first noted that the financial imperatives of the K-pop industry meant that attention was everything, in which case “courting controversy with ever more provocative performances is a no-brainer” for management companies. And really, how are these latest examples any different to those of last summer, or those of late-2012? How is Stellar’s recent comeback with Marionette, say, any more shocking than RaNia’s debut with Dr Feel Good in 2011? How has the logic of manufactured outrage changed since 4Minute’s comeback with Mirror Mirror, if at all?

Beats me. So, not to imply anyone else hasn’t made any original observations, but I’ve had nothing to add to this latest storm in a K-pop teacup. Blogging, after all, is all about the delicate art of knowing when to shut up.

(“Restrictions Imposed on 18+ Controversial ‘Wide Leg Spread Dance’”, April 2011. Source)

Still, there’s always Korean commentaries that deserve much more exposure among English readers. One of which is this article by a team at News Jelly, who not only took the time to analyze the stats surrounding sexy concepts, but provided a handy interactive graphic too, with accompanying download links that just beg for the data to be spread much more widely. After all their hard work, passing it on here is the least I could do.

Here’s the first graph, of the numbers of girl-groups with sexy concepts (pink) vs. those without (orange):

Girl-groups with sexy concepts vs. those without -- numbersThe numbers of fan club members:

Numbers of Girl-group fanclub membersThe cumulative number of Youtube visitors after MVs’ releases, up to February 2014:

Numbers of Youtube Visitors until Feb. 2014The number of number 1 rankings on music shows:

Number of No. 1 Rankings on Music ShowsThe numbers of news reports about groups, up to one month after releasing a sexy concept:

The numbers of news reports about groups, up to one month after releasing a sexy conceptFinally, digital download numbers, within 2 weeks after being released:

Digital Download numbersOf course, much more information about the statistics would still be useful though, such as how sexy concepts were defined (although which songs have them and which don’t is provided in some Excel files). And it would be good to have additional graphs of girl-groups’ commercial endorsements signed, television show invites received, and concert tickets sold, which I’d argue are much more useful barometers of their success than absurdly cheap (legal) downloads.

That said, the verdict is in: sexy concepts produce little more than hype, and management companies would be well advised to avoid them for the remainder of 2014.*

But we all know they won’t. Until the next controversy then, here’s my translation of the accompanying article:

(*Update: In hindsight, I was little too enthused about finding actual data — and tired from all the translating — to realize that its flaws meant there wasn’t enough to support that conclusion. For more discussion of those, see Asian Junkie or Reddit.)

여자가수의 꼬리표? 어디까지 벗을 것인가 This is Female Singers’ Label? How Much More Will They Take off?

News Jelly, 3 March 2014, by Jo Gwang-hyeon (조광현)

2014년도 역시 걸그룹 선정성 논란은 잠잠해질 기미가 보이지 않는다. 속옷 같은 의상을 입고 엉덩이를 흔들거나 가슴을 쓸어 내리는 안무, 바닥에 엎드려 옷을 젖히고 노골적으로 처다 보는 눈빛을 보고 있으면 더 이상 그들의 음악은 들리지 않는다. 걸그룹 선정성 논란은 여전히 뉴스의 중심에 있다. 과연 그들은 무엇을 얻기 위해 그토록 선정적일까?

In 2014, the sexual controversies surrounding girl-groups show no signs of abating. With costumes that resemble underwear, dance moves involving shaking buttocks, stroking breasts, and flinging open clothes while staring into viewers’ eyes, it’s difficult to notice the music anymore.

Girl-groups are still at the center of the news. But what do they hope to achieve with such hyper-sexualized performances?

걸그룹 선정성 논란, 살 길은 섹시뿐? Girl-groups’ Sexuality Controversy: Is sexiness the only way for them to survive?

지난 2월, 걸그룹 스텔라는 사상 초유의 섹시 컨셉을 들고 컴백했다. 2011년 데뷔 이후 깜찍하고 발랄한 이미지였던 이들은 작정이나 한 듯 섹시를 들고 나왔다. 이후 스텔라는 각종 포털사이트의 실시간 검색어 1위를 차지했고 관련 기사는 쏟아졌다. 자극적인 안무와 뮤직비디오뿐만 아니라 음란물을 연상케 하는 사진과 영상은 폭발적인 관심을 불러일으킨 동시에 비난도 받고 있다.

실제 무명의 걸그룹이 단숨에 화제에 올라 가요차트 상위권에 오르는 모습을 자주 볼 수 있다. 섹시 컨셉은 음악성이나 뛰어난 외모가 아니면 주목받기 힘든 요즘 연예계에서 일약 스타덤에 오르기 위해 공공연한 전략으로 자리잡았다.

In February, Stellar made a comeback with a [for them] unprecedented sexy concept. But when they debuted in 2011, they had a cute and fresh one, so this change seems like a deliberate decision to sex up. Afterwards, they dominated the searches in portal sites, with a host of related articles spewing out. This wasn’t just due to the stimulating choreography and music video, but more to the pictures and videos that resembled pornography, which brought both great interest and a lot of criticism.

In reality though, you can frequently see middling girl-groups rise up the music charts almost overnight. Using a sexy concept is a well-known strategy for doing so in the entertainment world if your music’s quality isn’t high, and/or if you’re not exceptionally attractive.

뉴스젤리 소셜키워드 분석 결과 걸그룹과 관련 있는 소셜 키워드로 “티저, 섹시, 자극적, 노출, 공개하다” ‘와 같은 자극적이고 노출, 선정성과 관련된 단어들과 관련 있다. 여자가수이 음악으로 어필하는 것이 아닌 섹슈얼 이미지로 승부하는 모습이 기정사실화 되어 가고 있다.

News Jelly did an analysis of girl-groups and related keywords such as “teaser”, “sexy”, “stimulating/arousing”, “exposure”, “opening”, and others related to arousing exposure and sexuality. The results demonstrated beyond a doubt that the appeal of female singers is due to their sexual image rather than their music.

Sexy Concepts(Source)

그렇다면 과연 여자가수들의 섹시 컨셉은 정말 효과가 있는 것일까? So, sexy concepts are really effective for female singers?

2011년부터 2014년 2월 현재까지 음원을 발표한 2~5년차 여자가수들의 섹시 컨셉 여부에 따른 음반 판매량과 언론 노출 정도를 측정해보았다*.

(*가온차트 디지털 음원지수, 유튜브 공식영상 조회수, 뉴스 노출수 자체조사)

에이핑크, 2NE1, f(x)와 같이 독특한 컨셉으로 이미지 메이킹에 성공한 걸그룹을 제외하고 음원을 발표한 모든 걸그룹이 섹시컨셉을 내세우고 있었다.

Our analysis looked at female singers who had been in the industry between 2-5 years, and examined downloadable music releases from [January?] 2011 to February 2014 to determine if there was a relationship between sales figures and sexy concepts or not.*

(*For data, The Gaon Digital Downloads Chart, official Youtube visitor numbers, and numbers of news stories about the respective groups were used.)

With the exceptions of Apink, 2NE1, and f(x), which have their own unique concepts, all [the] girl-groups [examined?] used sexy concepts.

2012 Girl-groups Sexy ConceptsCaption: This chart compares girl-groups with and without sexy concepts in 2012, examining [James -- In order: Numbers of fan club members; Youtube visitors; Number of #1 rankings on TV music shows; Numbers of online news reports about the group, within one month after a song's release; and number of downloads, within 2 weeks after a song's release]. It shows that songs by girl-groups with sexy concepts were downloaded 7 million more times than songs by girl-groups without.

2013 Girl-groups Sexy ConceptsCaption: Looking at the results for 2013 though, only exceptionally revealing works have gotten the public’s attention; indeed, as time goes on the public seems tired of the excessive exposure war of the girl-groups. Whereas once it seemed a necessity or mission, now it seems to have overshadowed their music, and had a negative reaction.

Compared to the year before, there were close to twice as many girl-groups with sexy concepts. However, the results were different. Compared to girl-groups without them, [the differences are not that great], and in fact the number of downloads was less!

걸그룹이 섹시 컨셉을 내세워야만 살아남을 수 있는 것인가에 대해 일각에서는 가요 소비문화와 걸그룹 제작 환경에 비판의 목소리를 제기하고 있다.

기 획사 대표 A씨는 지난 2월 14일 CBS라디오 ‘김현정의 뉴스쇼’와의 전화 인터뷰에서 “요즘 가수의 주 수입원은 음원 판매와 방송을 통해 얻은 유명세로 이뤄지는 행사인데, 유명세를 타게 되면 행사 섭외도 많아지고 몸값이 올라가다 보니까 노출 경쟁이 더 치열해질 수밖에 없다”고 지적했다.

대중문화의 전반적인 흐름이 다양성을 즐기는 것이 아니라 더 강하고 자극적인 소비로 가고 있으며 가요 제작자나 가수들은 눈길을 끌기 위해 경쟁적으로 더 강한 섹시 컨셉을 카드로 제시한 것이다. 게다가 아이돌 그룹 한 팀을 데뷔시키려면 적게는 2~3억 원, 많게는 5~7억 원 정도가 들며 그렇게 만들어진 수백 팀 중에 한두 팀만 살아남는 ‘전쟁터’에서 두각을 나타내기 위해서는 “‘남들보다 더 특별한 것을 보여줘야 한다’는 강박증이 생길 수 밖에 없는 현실이다*. (2월 14일 CBS 김현정의 뉴스쇼 인터뷰 요약)

There are many critics of girl-groups that can only survive in the music industry through using sexy concepts.

On February 14th, “Mr. A,” an anonymous management company representative on the Kim Hyeon-jeong’s News Show on CBS Radio, stated in a phone interview that “These days, singers’ main source of income is through downloads of songs and appearances at events, but invites to those events only come once a group is already famous. This can’t but help increase the ferocity of the exposure wars between girl-groups.” [James -- A translation of the interview is available on Reddit here.]

The mass media these days is not about providing variety but getting consumers’ attention through products’ shock value. In this ever more competitive environment, using sexy concepts is a card girl-groups must play. In addition, as each idol group costs in a range between 200 to 700 million won to bring to debut, and so few of them ultimately survive, Mr. A continued, “To survive groups must show ever more unique or shocking things.”

섹시 컨셉을 바라보는 대중의 이중적 태도에도 문제가 있다. 수많은 미디어가 섹시코드를 질타하면서도 반면 걸그룹의 선정성 논란을 더 부추기는 자극적인 기사내용과 사진, 제목으로 경쟁을 과열시키고 있다. 즉, 소속사와 걸그룹은 자신의 인지도를 높이기 위해 ‘섹시 경쟁’에 뛰어들고, 인터넷 언론은 그 ‘섹시 코드’로 방문자 숫자를 늘리고, 방송은 그 ‘섹시 코드’로 시청률을 높이며, 대중은 언론과 방송을 통해 섹시 컨셉을 비난하면서 소비하고 있다. .

물론 ‘퍼포먼스도 음악에 중요한 요소다. 하지만 그렇다고 맹목적인 여자가수들의 섹시 컨셉은 성공을 100% 보장하는 마법의 열쇠가 아니다. 연예인은 자신이 갖고 있는 이미지와 콘텐츠로 소비되는 만큼 무조건적인 섹시 컨셉과 자극적인 노이즈 마케팅은 자신의 정체성을 만들어 가고 롱런 하는데 큰 걸림돌이 되지않을까?

There is also a problem of the media’s double-standards. Many media sources criticize girl-groups’ sexy concepts on the one hand, but on the other stir-up sexual controversy with suggestive photos and article titles. Management companies take part in the “sexy wars” to increase girl-groups’ popularity; internet media use the “sexy code” to increase visitor numbers and hits, television broadcaster also use the code to increase viewer ratings; and and he public consumes the sexy concept at the same time as it criticizes them.

Of course, music and performances are still important factors. But adopting a sexy concept is not a magical key to a 100% success rate. Entertainers are consumed for their image and contents, so in the long run unconditionally using a sexy concept, noise-making strategy for their identity will surely be detrimental. (End)

Korean Sex Ed Takes to the Road

(Source)

Korean sex education gets a bad rep on my blog, and deservedly so. But there are many professional and committed sex educators out there (I’ve met some!), and the quality and quantity of programs can vary quite dramatically between different schools and regions.

This latest initiative, to bring sex education to isolated communities, sounds like one of the better ones.

Unfortunately, this poorly-written report doesn’t really do it justice, with many frustratingly vague terms. Please take this into account when you read things like how the education provided teaches “the dignity of life” for instance, which I hope doesn’t mean that Korean children are learning that abortion is evil (although it was made illegal 4 years ago, so I have some genuine concerns). Also, the report claims that the bus is aimed at “island” communities, but the literal center of the country doesn’t seem a very good place to start visiting those, so I’m guessing that “isolated” communities was meant instead.

(Thanks in advance for any corrections or better translations from readers)

Wriggle: Korea’s First Sex Education Bus

10 April 2014, by 신국진/Shin Gook-jin, JB News

“성은 숨기는 것이 아니라 책임이 필요한 것으로 아동•청소년 연령에 맞게 맞춤 교육을 하겠습니다.”

“Sex is not something that should be hidden, but it does require responsibility. So, we will provide an age-appropriate sex education to children and teenagers.”

충북도내 도서 지역 아동•청소년의 건전한 성 가치관을 심어주기 위해 지난 8일 개소한 이동형 성문화센터 체험관 ‘꿈틀’이 10일 첫 운행을 시작했다.

성교육이 가능하도록 버스를 개조한 ‘꿈틀’은 이날 청원군 남일초등학교를 찾아 4~6학년을 대상으로 11일까지 맞춤형 성교육을 실시한다.

김향자 충북도 이동형 청소년성문화센터 팀장은 “지난 8일 개소하고 처음으로 이동형 센터 운행을 시작했다”며 “남일초를 시작으로 올해 도내 전 지역을 돌며 400회 교육을 할 계획”이라고 말했다.

Taking to the road on the 10th in North Chungcheong Province, the “Wriggle” sex education bus will instill a healthy set of sexual values in children and teenagers living in isolated island communities.

Remodeled as a sex education bus, the Wriggle’s first stop is Namil Elementary School, where it will teach 4th-6th graders (11-13 year-olds) age-appropriate sex education until the 11th.

Kim Hyang-ja, team leader of the North Chungcheong Province teenage sex education center, said “This is Korea’s first moving sex-education center. After Nam-il Elementary School, we plan to make 400 trips this year.”

그동안 충북에서는 청주와 충주에 각각 1개소씩 마련된 고정형 청소년성문화센터가 운영됐다. 이렇다보니 지역적 접근성이 떨어지는 도서 지역 아동•청소년은 제대로 된 성교육을 받기가 힘들었다.

충북도는 이를 해소하기 위해 지난해부터 3억여원의 예산을 들여 ‘꿈틀’을 마련하고 운영에 나선 것이다. 꿈틀 체험관에는 다양한 성 콘텐츠가 교육 연령대에 맞춰 교육할 수 있도록 구성된다.

In North Chungcheong Province, there are two teenage sex education centers, in Cheongju and Choongju. But these are difficult for students in islands communities to get to, depriving them of a sex education.

In order to solve this problem, last year 300 million won was budgeted for the Wriggle sex education bus. In it, children can receive information about various sex-related issues and receive age-appropriate sex education.

좁은 공간에는 ‘삐뽀삐뽀’, ‘미디어와 성’, ‘성 상품화’, ‘요람’, 사춘기 용품’, 사랑방정식’, ‘다양한 가족’, ‘우주속의 나’ 등의 프로그램으로 성을 알기 쉽게 표현했다.

심장 소리를 들으며 입장하는 체험관은 난자를 찾아가는 정자의 모습을 보며 교육이 시작된다.

한미화 강사는 “6억분의 1의 경쟁을 뚫고 내가 태어난 것이란 의미를 알려주는 의미”라며 “체험관에는 태아가 형성되는 과정은 물론 산모 배속에 위치한 태아의 태동까지 느낄 수 있는 체험도 가능하다”고 말했다.

Korean Sex Education Bus Inside(Source)

In the narrow space, children can easily learn through watching programs like ‘Ambulance Siren’, ‘The Media and Sex’, ‘Sexual Objectification’, ‘Cradle’, ‘Puberty Products’, ‘Love Equation’, ‘Various Family Types’, and “The Universe and Me’.

While listening to the sound of a heartbeat, they can see how sperm find the egg [James: A bit outdated—eggs are quite active in seeking out sperm too!].

Instructor Han Mi-hwa said, “Children can see from how 1 out of 600 million sperm finds the egg, to fetal development, and even feeling what it’s like to have the baby kick.”

아이들은 체험관 안에서 성교육 외에도 다문화 가정, 한부모 가정, 조손가정 등 현재 사회에서 발생할 수 있는 가족 구성단위도 교육 받는다.

또한 학교를 중심으로 형성된 사회 시설에서 아이들에게 안전한 곳과 위험 곳을 보기 쉽게 마련했다.

체험관 속에서 40여분 간 진행되는 교육 외에도 유아에게는 인형극을 통한 재미있는 성교육을 하고 초등학생에게는 성장과정에 따른 몸 변화의 이해와 생명 존엄성에 대한 교육이 진행된다.

In addition to sex education, children can also learn about various family types, such as multicultural families, single-parent families, children living with their grandparents, and so on, all of which are occurring as our society develops.

Children can also learn about places around their schools and neighborhoods which may be unsafe.

In roughly 40 minutes on the bus, preschool children can learn sex education through playing with dolls, and elementary school students can learn about development, the changes to their body, and the dignity of life.

중•고등학생에게는 앞으로 성적 자기결정권, 청소년 성매매 등 현실을 인식하고 성 평등에 대한 교육이 진행된다.

게다가 부모와 교사에 대한 교육도 마련해 아동•청소년 성폭력 예방 및 지도법, 성의식 개선 등의 프로그램을 운영할 계획이다.

김향자 팀장은 “연령에 따라 알아야 되는 성은 모두 다르다”며 “교육 대상이 누구냐에 따라 맞춤 교육이 가능하도록 모든 시설이 완성돼 있다”고 말했다.

From now on, middle and high-school students can learn about their sexual rights, prostitution, and sexual equality. Moreover, there are also plans to provide sexual violence prevention programs, and education to parents and teachers.

Kim Hyong-ja explained, “As what you need to know about sex is different at different ages, so too the education varies”, and that “it is possible to provide appropriate education for all ages.”

한편 꿈틀은 (사)청주여성의전화에서 수탁 운영하며 교육신청은 충북도 이동형 청소년성문화센터(043-223-7953)로 하면 된다.

김향자 팀장은 “꿈틀은 앞으로 학교를 비롯해 지역아동센터, 시설 등 교육이 필요한 장소에는 모두 갈 것”이라며 “최고의 교육 효과를 얻기 위해 모든 강사들이 노력 할 것이다. 교육을 받는 시설에서 적극적인 협조로 아이들에게 성이 무엇인지 제대로 교육이 됐으면 좋겠다”고 당부했다. / 신국진

Wriggle is managed by the Cheongju Women’s Hotline. For inquiries about coming to your area in North Chungcheong Province, please call the teenage sex education center at 043-223-7953.

“In addition to schools, Wriggle is available to come to community children’s facilities and so on where needed. We will strive to provide the best education.” Kim Hyang-ja said, and that “If we positively cooperate to provide education at facilities, we can properly teach children what sex is.”

Corée du Sud La quête du galbe

Corée du Sud La quête du galbe Eva John(Source)

For French speakers, a Libération article about body image and cosmetic surgery in Korea that I was interviewed for recently. Many thanks to Nouvelles d’Asie ‏for and A G on Twitter for passing it on, and for the above photo.

Unfortunately, it’s one Euro for a month’s access. But you can’t ask for much cheaper than that!

Update: The article is freely available now.

Korean Sociological Image #84: What is the REAL reason for the backlash against Korean women?

Misandry Large 1Misandry Large 2Misandry Large 3(Source: Unknown)

Whenever one group suddenly starts competing with another for jobs, there’s going to be a backlash. That’s just human nature.

Especially if one group has any real or perceived advantages in that competition.

In Korea, the targets are young women, who are exempt from doing two years of military service. They are often made scapegoats for young men’s inability to get work, rather than blaming the government which just reaffirmed that it’s only men that must spend so much time out of the workforce, and/or lose opportunities for further education and gaining extra qualifications. Previously, former conscripts were compensated with extra points when applying for jobs with the government or public organizations, but that policy was ruled unconstitutional in 1999, on the grounds that it was discriminatory. Repeated attempts to reintroduce it have failed.

(To clarify, I’d prefer an end to conscription and the creation of professional armed forces instead, despite the difficulties Taiwan is currently having with that.)

Ironically though, the backlash in much of the 2000s was not due to women taking over “men’s jobs”. In fact, it was the other way round, with a significant number of men losing better paid, advancing, more secure, regular work and being forced to compete for the irregular jobs that were—and still are—primarily done by women. You can see this in following slides I used in my last presentation (see here for the source and a more detailed explanation).

First, here are graphs showing the percentage rates and numbers of all workers (both men and women) doing regular and irregular work over time:

Korea Regular vs. Irregular JobsTo be clear, the above graphs give no indication that it was primarily men that lost those regular jobs, and were forced to take up irregular ones instead. However, unstated is the fact that women with regular work were already targeted for layoffs in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, with the result that they took up irregular work in droves before 2002. So it’s a safe assumption.

What’s more, there’s the next graph, which shows the the percentage rates and numbers of men and women doing irregular work. As women’s rates barely changed, the implication is that the regular jobs men lost weren’t taken over by women:

Korea Irregular Jobs Men vs. WomenWith rates settling in 2004 though, it’s a bit of a stretch to blame the ongoing backlash in 2014 on the shift (although it certainly echoes in popular culture, with today’s freshmen—of both sexes—espousing the negative stereotypes). Today’s generation of young, job-seeking men are much more used to the difficulties of finding regular work, and certainly have no objective reason to fear or resent working women.

Or do they? See my next slide, a screenshot from this Arirang news video:

Korean 20s Economic Participation Rate 2013 ArirangWhat’s more, Yonhap just reported that the gap has continued to widen—in fact, that the crossover occurred as early as 2010. As translated by koreaBANG (my emphases):

The trend in the employment rate of female to male workers in their twenties over the last 4 years has made a historic reversal. Due to so-called ‘female power’, the gap is getting larger.

According to the National Statistics Office’s statements on the 19th, the employment rate of 20-something female workers last year was 57.8%. This is 2.1 percentage points higher than their male counterparts(56.8%)…

…Since 2010, the employment rate of female workers in their twenties has been higher than their male counterparts.

In 2010, the employment rate of female 20-something workers, at 58.3%, surpassed the rate of males by 0.1%. In 2011, the lead increased to 0.4%, and in 2012, as women lead by 1.5%, the gap continues to widen.

The rate of economic participation of female 20-somethings was 62.5% in 2011, then rose to 62.9% in 2012. Conversely, the men went from 64% down to 62.6%, being surpassed by the women for the first time by 0.3%.

The labor market is changing little by little as women obtain higher levels of education and more positions in the workplace.

In every part of society, the female tornado is blowing strong even in specialized careers, and women are making considerable advances.

A gap of 2.1% hardly sounds like a “tornado” of “female power” to me, and much more like natural variation. But I can understand how news of women’s “considerable advances” might rankle, especially in the context of Korea’s lowest twenty-something employment rates since 2000, and the numbers of students deferring graduation nearly doubling in the last two years. It’s not at all difficult to empathize with a male graduate stuck working at (say) a convenience store, frustrated at how some women he went to university have regular jobs because they gained skills and qualifications during the two years he was stuck in the military.

Still, likely that’s not the only reason he’s angry:

Korean Gender Ratio 1981-2012(Source: Cinnamon Ginger Tea; reprinted with permission)

Put simply, most of Korea’s extra boys are now men, and many of them can’t find girlfriends and wives. Most likely, precisely those who lack the steady jobs and money to be considered good partners.

Yes, I know what you’re all thinking, so let’s not mince words. I mean they can’t get laid.

That may sound facetious, and/or that I’m laughing at them. I’m not. Because fourteen years ago, frankly I was in a very similar situation myself. After graduating, I too couldn’t find a good job, and had to work three part-time ones just to scrape by (when my Doc Martins got holes in them, I had to put cardboard in them every day until I could afford new ones; yes, really). Needless to say, I didn’t have much time for dating, and wouldn’t have been very successful if I did.

I felt trapped.

Fortunately, I had the privilege of being able to take up a well-paying job (for a 24 year-old) in Korea, and, desperate in more ways than one, I took advantage of that just six months after graduating. So, while I can definitely empathize with how my students must feel today, on the other hand I can only imagine what it must feel like to never have the option to escape that I had, with no prospect of a partner or steady job for your entire twenties or beyond.

Still, I wasn’t spewing hatred about New Zealand women back in 2000, and likewise most of Korea’s angry young men (or indeed, China and India’s) aren’t destined to be misogynists in 2014 either. Most do direct their anger at the government and chaebol that deserve it.

Unfortunately though, all too many seem to firmly believe in such charming stereotypes as ‘kimchi bitches‘ instead. Moreover, China and India’s own “angry young males” are already considered huge sources of instability, crime, and sexual violence in those countries. Why would Korea’s be any different?

Also, the data raises a simple but important question: do the statistics about twenty-something men and women’s economic participation rates take into account the fact that there’s actually far more twenty-something men than women out there? That while a greater proportion of women than men are working now, that more men than women may still be working overall?

If not, then that “tornado” of “female power” may prove to be nothing more than hot air. Which makes you wonder why the media seems so full of it…

angry-chinese-man(Source: GR × HERMARK)

Either way, of course I’m grossly overgeneralizing in this post, so please feel free to call me out on that, and add any important information I’ve overlooked (I acknowledge I’m no great statistician too, and would appreciate any additional sources of data). But I think these demographic realities do significantly add to the many, often quite legitimate reasons for many young Korean men’s sense of anxiety in post-crisis Korea (which is not to say that things are any rosier for young Korean women), and it’s also fair to say that anxiety seems to be manifesting itself in excessive, distorted, and/or caricatured critiques and stereotypes of women. So at the very least, I hope knowing about all the extra men out there provides some much-needed context to current employment statistics and women-blaming. In hindsight, it’s extraordinary that any discussions of either wouldn’t take them into account.

What have I missed?

Update: Meanwhile, note that Korean women’s overall employment rate remains one of the lowest in the OECD, and that this is one of the main reasons for its equally dismal birthrate. However, as reported by Asian Correspondent yesterday, the Korean government is not about to upset gender norms by making life any easier for working parents. Lest that sound like an exaggeration, recall that the previous Lee Myung-bak Administration also (re)criminalized abortion in order to raise the birthrate, a policy continued by Park Geun-hye (my emphases):

In a nationwide survey conducted by the Federation of Korean Industries in 2010, marriage was the leading cause for South Korean women to quit their jobs – not childrearing. According to the poll, females in general have a 37.8 percent higher chance to give up work after getting married than if they were single – a percentage that shoots up to 58.2 for those in their 20s. The likelihood, however, of married mothers to leave their jobs was only 2.9 percent higher than married women without children. The federation explains these statistics by saying it is due to the foundational social belief that females should be full-time homemakers…

…Despite these numbers, measures to change cultural expectations – that it is not only the woman’s responsibility to care for children – are being opposed. In January, the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Strategy and Finance rejected one of President Park’s campaign promises: mandatory paid paternity leave, or “Father’s Month.” Ministry officials quoted potential financial problems such as the depletion of employment reserve funding for the opposition against the bill. They added that they will work towards a resolution but are unsure how they will initiate it.

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

Media and Body Image Workshop, Bar Carmen, Seoul, Sunday 30th, 5-8pm

(Sources: left, center, right)

Yes, it’s back on, and I promise that none of my relatives will be in hospital this time!

Once again, please see Disruptive Voices’ Facebook Event page for more details and RSVPs, or if you’re not on Facebook then please feel free to ask any questions in the comments here, and/or to just turn up to Bar Carmen in Itaewon on the day. (Note that it’s not on the main drag though, but on the other side of the hill: see here or here for maps.)