Korean Sociological Image #66 – Inventing Labels for Women’s Bodies

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Introduction – Objectification Done Right

This may be an old ad, but it’s just a great introduction to my Gender Advertisements in the Korean Context lecture. I’ll probably still be using it 10 years from now.

First, because it shows the value in spending a couple of extra seconds to really look at an ad. Most readers probably immediately notice the faux scratches and blotches on it, reminiscent of a phone screen overlay, but it’s easy to overlook that Kang Dong-Won (강동원) and Kim Tae-hee (김태희) themselves are also supposed to resemble the advertised phone. Once you notice that his collar resembles the reflection on the screen though, then you’ll quickly realize that his grey button represents the dial, and that her black belt buckle matches the cover of the entry port, the curve of her breasts the back of the phone at the top. It’s really quite clever.

But still: if they’re supposed to resemble the phone(s), then why weren’t models of equal heights used? Or why wasn’t the layout of the ad rearranged and/or Kim Tae-hee photoshopped to make her look as tall as Kang Dong-won? Either would have been quite easy, as this second phone ad with the two of them makes clear (source).

To explain, I raise Erving Goffman’s concept of “Relative Size”, or the fact that, if random men and women are paired off together, then in 1 in 6 cases the woman would be taller than the man, whereas in advertisements it’s as low as 1 in 200. Later, I consider the obvious rejoinder that Kang Don-won and Kim Tae-hee were primarily chosen for their celebrity status, discussing why 65% of Korean advertisements feature celebrities, whereas it’s only 10% in most other developed countries. Finally, there’s also the concept of “Licensed Withdrawal” to mention, one aspect of which is how men are often shown providing virtual shields for women.

Bearing all that in mind, what does this Samsung SHW-A210S Shape Phone on the right remind you of (source), released back in November 2010? Specifically, the side, which according to Samsung is a particularly attractive feature of the model?

S-lines Will Sell Anything

What? You didn’t guess Uee (유이) of the girl-group After School (애프터스쿨)? Well, clearly that must be your own fault, as Samsung not only said it’s specifically designed to look like her profile (source), but this and this blogger agree.

Perhaps these screenshots from the phone’s promotional website will help:

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Alas, Samsung was really just attempting to capitalize on Uee’s star power, and on men’s interest in seeing and women’s interest in having an “S-line” (again, the copy makes that explicit). Lest we forget though, that actually means a great set of tits and ass, and it’s testament to the saturation of the term in Korean advertising and popular-culture that Samsung could get away with linking it to a completely unrelated inanimate object.

But that’s not the main reason I’m highlighting the phone here – after all, it’s by no means the first time the S-line has been used to sell one. The Wondergirls (원더걸스), for instance, did so back in 2008:

Instead, what makes this advertising campaign stand out is because on the one hand, Samsung is taking advantage of one body label to sell something, but on the other it’s attempting to replace that label a new one of its own creation – the yoptae (옆태), or “profile”.

The Invention Process

Actually, the campaign starts quite innocently, with Uee simply sketching profiles of things, finishing by announcing that it’s now “The Age of the Profile”. Later on in the campaign, visitors to the website would be encouraged to submit their own sketches and photographs in a competition:

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But not before viewers were show which kind of profile the campaign was really focused on. Skip ahead to 0:40 for fashion tips on how to show it off:

Next, Men’s Health cover model (source) and fledgling drama star (and friend of Rain!) Jung Sueng-kyo (정승교) is shown working on his own profile. And you’ve just got to hand it to Samsung for thinking of something that can be applied equally to men and women:

Instead of running with that equally-opportunity objectification though, we’re quickly back to women’s profiles. It’s difficult not to wonder if advertisers are just a little too used to using women’s bodies sometimes:

Context – The Profit Motive

Usually, when Korean body terms are explained to non-Korean audiences, then they’re made out as simple equivalents of English ones, the S-line and now profile substituting for the “hourglass figure” for example. But unlike that term, which I’d wager goes back to at least the infatuation with corsets in the 1800s, the S-line wasn’t even around when I came to Korea in 2000: jjookjjook-bbangbbang (쭉쭉빵빵) was used instead. Moreover, not only are so many invented these days that it’s difficult to keep track, but the pace and especially audaciousness with which this is done in Korea is nothing short of outstanding (source, below right).

(Update:  I may be mistaken about how old the hourglass term is –  Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen, for example, only mention the “Grecian Bend” in Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness {1992; p. 75}. But surely it dates back to at least the 1950s?)

You are probably already familiar with the unbelievable example of the X-line for instance, which is literally only possible in Photoshop, but you may be surprised to also learn that companies are also constantly trying to get the public to redefine “established” terms too, lingerie company Vivian (비비안) hoping to make the V-line better known as the line between a women’s breasts rather than a triangular jaw (which Kwangdong Pharmaceutical sells – yes really –  “Corn Silk Tea” to help you obtain). On top of that, Yes’ (예스) lingerie company and W Magazine would rather have that area of a woman’s body known as a Y-line and W-line respectively…while in turn other companies still would rather have the Y-line mean a woman’s back.

And that alphabet soup is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to that competition for buzzwords and (re)definitions that will stick with consumers. But unfortunately there’s only so much I could fit on a Powerpoint slide!

Media Promotion

Of course, the media and Korean public are well aware of this – the combined image on the left of that slide is testament to that (I added the two on the right). But in my own experience, usually the latter finds the situation more humorous than concerning (a generalization I’d be very happy – but don’t expect – to be proven wrong), while the former merely “reports” on the new body labels (and others like “Gold Misses” – more abstract perhaps, but still very much designed to get women to buy things), only very rarely criticizing the process and/or its effects. In so doing, it serves to simply promote the term, whether that’s in direct collusion with the companies or otherwise.

Take, finally, this inane example from Star News, a transcript of which (from here) I’ve translated below. If you get confused by some of the dates mentioned in it, please note it was aired in November 2011:

스타 노출의 변화, 옆태가 뜬다? The way stars show off their bodies is changing, the “profile” look is now booming

[Y-Star] 스타들의 노출이 많아지면서 섹시한 앞태는 물론이고 일명 숨 막히는 뒷태라 불리며 신체의 뒤 라인이 주목을 받고는 했었는데요 이제 노출의 키워드는 바로 옆태가 됐다고 합니다. 새로운 섹시함의 상징, 옆태에 대해 <스타뉴스>가 알아봤습니다.

While stars have been showing a lot of skin recently, and of course people’s focus is on their sexy “front figures”, and most recently on their so-called breathtaking “back figures”, now a new body-revealing keyword is emerging – the profile. A new symbol of sexiness, Star News has investigated.

드라마 <브레인>를 통해 1년6개월여 만에 컴백을 알려 화제가 된 최정원.오랜만의 제작발표회에서 모습을 드러낸 것보다 더 화제가 된 것이 있습니다. 바로 옆태가 훤히 드러나는 파격 시스루 의상인데요

A year and half since her last acting role, Choi Jung-won has recently made a comeback in the drama Brain. At a press conference about it, the topic of how she looked was much more interesting than the drama itself, as she wore a striking see-through dress that was very revealing in profile.

[현장음: 최정원] 안녕하세요 <브레인>에서 지혜 역을 맡은 최정원입니다

[Choi Jung-won]: Hello everyone, I’m Choi Jung-won, and play the role of Ji-hyae in this drama.

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이날 최정원은 이번 시즌 트렌드인 토트 무늬가 가미된 블랙 원피스에 은빛의 과감한 킬힐과 우아한 헤어스타일을 더해 한층 성숙해진 매력을 과시했는데요

On the day of the press conference, Choi Jong-won showed off this season’s trend of a black one-piece with a jigsaw-like design; silvery, bold killer-heels; and had an elegant hairstyle, all of which combined to make to make her attractiveness all the more mature.

특히 옆태가 훤히 보이는 파격 시스루 원피스는 주위 시선을 사로잡으며 집중 플레쉬 세례를 받기도 했습니다

In particular, her profile, visible through her striking one-piece dress, received a lot of attention, getting lots of camera flashes.

이 아찔한 옆태노출패션은 작년 11월, 애프터스쿨의 유이가 선보이기도 했었는데요 일명 옆태폰이라 불리는 한 휴대폰 광고에서 보일 듯 말듯 옆태라인을 노출한 미니 드레스를 입고 옆태 댄스를 선보이기도 했었습니다

This dizzy profile-revealing fashion was also shown off by After School’s Uee last November, in a dance wearing a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t revealing mini-skirt in a commercial for the so-called “Profile Phone” (source).

그리고 월드컵 축하공연을 위해 무대에 올랐던 포미닛의 현아는 붉은 악마 티셔츠의 옆 라인을 과감하게 자른 의상으로 파격적인 노출을 해서 화제가 되기도 했죠

Also, in a public performance to congratulate soccer World Cup players, 4Minute’s Hyuna appeared on stage in a Red Devil t-shirt with the side cut away,  so revealing that it became a hot topic (see below).

지난해 유이와 현아에 이어 올해는 최정원 뿐만 아니라 많은 여배우들이 옆태를 내세운 몸매로 시선을 끌기도 했습니다

Following Uee and Hyuna last year, many actresses have drawn attention to their bodies by showing off their profiles, not just Choi Yong-won.

지난 10월 6일 개막한 부산국제영화제에서 파격적인 노출 패션으로 화제를 모았던 신인배우 오인혜.

This October the 6th, new actress Oh In-hye’s exceptionally revealing dress at the opening ceremony of the Busan International Film Festival also became a hot issue.

어깨는 물론 가슴을 거의 드러낸 오렌지 빛 드레스를 입은 그녀는 가슴라인과 등 라인을 노출한 것은 물론이고 아슬아슬하게 비춰지는 옆 라인은 보는 이들의 입을 딱 벌어지게 하기도 했습니다

Of course the orange dress showed off her shoulders, and almost completely exposed her breasts, but it was how dangerous she looked in profile [James – i.e., how close it was to also showing her nipples] that had people’s mouths agape.

그런가하면 지난 7월 14일 열렸던 부천 국제 판타스틱영화제 개막식 현장에서 가장 화제가 됐던 배우 곽지민은 앞트임, 뒤트임에 이어 옆트임까지 노출 포인트를 모두 갖춘 무한 노출 패션을 선보였는데요

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Also, at the opening ceremony of the Bucheon Fantastic Film Festival on July 14th, the hottest topic was actress Kwak Ji-min’s outfit, which, being open at the front, back, and the side, revealed almost everything.

[인터뷰: 곽지민] 반응이 그렇게 뜨겁게 될 지는 상상도 못했어요. 학교에서 특히 반응이 굉장히 뜨겁더라고요

[Kwak Ji-min]: I could never have imagined the reaction would have been so intense. It was especially heated at [the?] school. [Kwak Ji-min is 27, so I don’t know what school she’s referring to. Is she referring to a festival venue? – James]

Update: Thanks to (native Korean) Grace in the comments, who clarifies that Kwak Ji-Min is “referring to how popular that image is among schoolboys, saying that the reactions were hot from schools, i.e. the kids in school.”

드라마<내 마음이 들리니>에서 발랄한 캔디녀로 사랑을 받았던 황정음. 지난 5월 공개했던 섹시화보 제작발표회에서 언뜻 보면 평범해 보이지만 옆라인에 반전이 있는 의상을 입어 눈길을 끌었는데요 슬쩍 보이는 상체 라인이 더 아찔했다는 평가를 받았습니다

Hwang Jung-eum has received much love for her role as a vibrant and active candygirl [James – I’m told this means a young woman who’s cheerful and extroverted, especially someone who overcomes some kind of adversity] in the drama Can You Hear my Heart.  In May, at a press conference for her new sexy photobook, at a glance she appeared to be wearing ordinary clothes, but if you looked closer you saw that she was wearing eye-catching ones that showed off her profile, making you think of her upper body in a new light [James – see here for my translation of a blogger’s thoughts on how such “exposure” affects her career].

이어 지난 7월 한 패션매거진 화보를 공개한 윤은혜는 옆 라인을 살려 상의를 탈의하고 손으로 가슴부위를 감싸 안은 파격적인 포즈로 화제가 되었죠 그리고 상체 위주의 옆태 라인을 강조하던 다른 스타와는 달리 하체 옆 라인을 과시하며 아찔한 각선미를 보여 주기도 했습니다

In July, Yoon Eun-hye became a hot topic by showing off her profile in a photoshoot for a fashion magazine, undressing her upper body and embracing herself, covering her breast with her hand. Unlike other stars that emphasize the top half of their profiles, Yoon Eun-hye mostly shows off the bottom half of hers.

이렇게 과감하게 옆 라인을 노출해 제대로 된 S라인을 뽐내는 스타들이 많았는데요 새롭게 떠오른 노출의 키워드 옆태! 적정한 선을 지킨 옆태 노출로 진정한 아름다움을 뽐내길 바랍니다.

There are now many stars that have been showing off their well-made S-lines through boldly exposing their profiles like this, making “profile” the new exposure keyword! But let us hope that nobody overdoes it, only showing off sincere beauty by exposing their profiles (end).

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If you were confused by the second to last paragraph, then you weren’t the only one: as is clear from the image above (seen in the video), Yoon Eun-hye’s photoshoot was actually in October, and the other pictures can only be said to emphasize the bottom half of her profile (alas, not her bottom itself) in that her legs are physically longer than the upper half of her body. But speaking of Yoon Eun-hye, and to end on a positive note, by no means does all the above imply that Korean celebrities feel compelled to show off every new body term out there, nor – if they do decide to – that they can’t exploit them for their own ends, and/or simply to feel sexy. For much more on that, please see here!

(For all posts in the “Korean Sociological Image” series, see here)

Gender, Consumerism, & Advertising: The Sociological Rabbit Hole

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Opening my “Gender Advertisements in the Korean Context” lecture these days by talking about erections, I’m loath to end it on something as deflating as domestic savings rates. But then so often am I asked questions afterwards like…

Why are there such sharp distinctions in the ways men and women are presented in ads?

Why are women portrayed passively, weakly, dependent, childishly, and in awkward, unnatural poses to a much greater extent than men?

Why, despite being written about North American advertisements in the 1970s, does Gender Advertisements have such resonance in Korean advertisements today?

…that in my latest version for the 4th Korea-America Student Conference at Pukyeong National University (a highly-recommended 4-week exchange program by the way!), I decided to address the last by providing the data to backup my argument that it was largely because of a shared experience of housewifization. In the actual event though, the students wisely decided that they’d much rather get lunch than ask any more questions, so let me give a brief overview of that argument here instead:

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In short, housewifization is the process of creating a labor division between male workers and female housewives that every advanced capitalist economy has experienced as it developed, essential and fundamental to which is the creation of a female underclass that acquiesces in this state of affairs, finding self-identity and empowerment in its consumer choices rather than in employment. Lest that sound like a gross and – for the purposes of my lecture – rather convenient generalization however, then let me refer you to someone who puts it much better than I could. From page 60-61 of this edition of The Feminine Mystique (my emphases):

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The suburban housewife – she was the dream image of the young American woman and the envy, it was said, of all woman all over the world. The American housewife – freed by science and labor-saving appliances from the drudgery, the dangers of childbirth and the illnesses of her grandmother. She was healthy, beautiful, educated, concerned only about her husband, her children, her home. She had found true feminine fulfillment. As a housewife and mother, she was respected as a full and equal partner to man in his world. She was free to choose automobiles, clothes, appliances, supermarkets; she had everything that women ever dreamed of.

In the fifteen years after World War 2, this mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary culture.

And then this from page 197 of the 1963 edition:

Why is it never said that the really crucial function…that women serve as housewives is to buy more things for the house… somehow, somewhere, someone must have figured out that women will buy more things if they are kept in the underused, nameless-yearning, energy-to-get-rid-of state of being housewives…it would take a pretty clever economist to figure out what would keep our affluent economy going if the housewife market began to fall off.

Ironically, by 2009 more women would actually be working in the US than men. But rather than the result of enlightened attitudes, this was primarily because layoffs were concentrated in largely male industries like construction, and I am unconvinced that the above dynamic no longer applies there.

In Korea however, the exact opposite happened. Moreover, while by no means are modern Korean notions of appropriate gender roles a carbon-copy of those in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, even if Korean women themselves are saying that the parallels between Mad Men and Korean workplaces are uncanny(!), the fact remains that in a society where consumerism was once explicitly equated with national-security, there also happens to be the highest number of non-working women in the OECD. It would be strange if the gender ideologies that underscore this decades-old combination were not heavily reflected in – nay, propagated by – advertising.

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This is a simplification of course, one caveat amongst many being that the Korean advertising industry is actually heavily influenced by the Westernized global advertising industry (see this post on the impact of foreign women’s magazines in Korea for a good practical example of that). But, also raising the sociological issues of Convergence vs. Divergence, and the role of Base and Superstructure, the main purpose of my finishing my lecture with that explanation is to leave audiences with encouraging them to think for themselves, by giving them just a tantalizing hint of how deep the sociological rabbit hole goes.

Yes: it’s a cliche, but Gender Advertisements is very much a red pill. In particular, consider what greeted me at work just two days after giving the lecture:

I don’t know their names sorry (anyone?), but I was struck by the different impressions left by the man and the woman’s poses. Whereas he seems to be engaging the viewer’s gaze, the finger on his chin implying that he is actively thinking about him or her, in contrast the woman’s “bashful knee bend” and “head cant” make her appear to be merely the passive object of that gaze instead.

For more about those advertising poses, see here and here, especially on how they arguably make the person performing them subordinate in many senses, and – regardless of those arguments – the empirical evidence that women do them in advertisements much more than men. Indeed, while that advertisement was perfectly benign in itself of course, and you possibly nonplussed at my even mentioning it, just a little later that week I saw this similar image with Han Ye-seul (한예슬) and Song Seung-heon (송승헌) in a Caffe Bene advertisement, outside a branch opening close to my apartment:

A close-up:

Granted, the head cant helps frame the couple, and the ensuing contrast between the two models makes for a more interesting picture. But neither explains why it’s more often found on women than on men. Moreover, primed to look for more examples from then on, for the rest of July I saw plenty of advertisements featuring women by themselves doing a head-cant, and a few with men by themselves doing one. But when a man and woman were together?

Call it confirmation bias, but it became a slightly surreal experience constantly only ever seeing the woman doing it (it’s one thing to know about something like that in an abstract sense from academic papers, quite another to experience it for yourself). Here’s an example from a recent trip to Seoul:

A close-up:

Another with Lee Min-jeong (이민정) and Gong-yoo (공유) in Seomyeon subway in Busan:

One more with Wang Ji-won (왕지원) and Won-bin (원빈), commercials of which are playing on Korean TV screens at the moment:

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Finally, with Jeong Woo-seong (정우성) and Kim Tae-hee (김태희):

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Only after 4 weeks(!) of looking, did I finally find a possible example of the opposite in Gwanganli Beach last Saturday (with Song Seung-heon {송승헌} and “Special-K girl” Lee Soo-kyeong {이수경}):

Having told you about the difficulty I had in finding such an ad though, then Murphy’s law dictates that you’ll probably see one yourself very soon; if so, please take a picture send it on, and I’ll buy you a beer next time we’re both in the same city. But it wouldn’t surprise me if I don’t actually hear from anyone until September!

Update 1: Literally just as I typed that last, the headline that “Women till stereotyped in TV ads” appeared in my Google Reader. I should feel vindicated, but I actually find the study described quite superficial, the conclusions meaningless without reference to that fact that roughly 75% of Korean advertisements feature celebrities. Still, I’ll give the National Human Rights Commission the benefit of the doubt until I see Korean language sources.

Update 2: The Korea Herald also has an article on the study, but it’s virtually identical.

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Gender Advertisements in the Korean Context: Public Lecture, Tuesday March 8th 7:30pm, Royal Asiatic Society, Seoul

(Sources: SeoulBeats & personal scan)

See here for the details. Alas, with just 1 hour available then there’ll be little opportunity to do more than summarize what I’ve already written in my “Gender Advertisements in the Korean Context” posts unfortunately (see the right sidebar), but hopefully my very visual presentation will be a much more fun introduction to the topic then reading those tens of thousands of words would be. And it’ll be great to finally meet Seoul-based readers, and to hear your own opinions face to face.

What’s more, it’ll also be my birthday next Tuesday. So you have to come!

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Vintage Gender Socialization?

What was the first thing that went through your mind when you saw the above advertisement?

Me? Why Nazi-occupied Colorado of course.

No, really. Specifically, the end of the following segment from Chapter 6 of Philip K. Dick’s classic alternative-history book, The Man in the High Castle (1962):

…Her shift at the judo parlor did not begin until noon; this was her free time, today. Seating herself on a stool at the counter she put down her shopping bags and began to go over the different magazines.

The new Life, she saw, had a big article called: TELEVISION IN EUROPE: GLIMPSE OF TOMORROW. Turning to it, interested, she saw a picture of a German family watching television in their living room. Already, the article said, there was four hours of image broadcast during the day from Berlin. Someday there would be television stations in all the major European cities. And, by 1970, one would be built in New York.

The article showed Reich electronic engineers at the New York site, helping the local personnel with their problems. It was easy to tell which were the Germans. They had that healthy, clean, energetic, assured look. The Americans, on the other hand — they just looked like people. They could have been anybody.

One of the German technicians could be seen pointing off somewhere, and the Americans were trying to make out what he was pointing at. I guess their eyesight is better than ours, she decided. Better diet over the last twenty years. As we’ve been told; they can see things no one else can. Vitamin A, perhaps? (source, right)

Of course, regardless of hierarchy and relationship, people do need to point things out in the distance to each other sometimes. But in advertisements featuring both sexes in Phil K. Dick’s time however, somehow it always seemed to be the men that were pointing things out to then women, as noted by sociologist Erving Goffman in Gender Advertisements in 1979:

On the positive side though, the second thing the advertisement reminded me of was a social studies textbook that I read in my final year of high school (back in 1993), which noted how rife such imagery was in earlier editions of a science textbook that I also happened to be using. But which had long since been removed, and indeed subsequent studies based on Goffman’s work – Belknap, P., & Leonard, W. M. (1991), “A conceptual replication and extension of Erving Goffman’s study of gender advertisements,” Sex Roles, 25(3/4), 103-118  for instance – confirmed that examples in advertisements were (by then) also so rare that it was not even worth looking for them. And much more recent studies of Korean advertisements (listed here) have come to much the same conclusions of them too.

But still, they do occur occasionally. Anybody remember this commercial I analyzed last September for instance, of which even just the visuals alone convey the message that only men are serious and thoughtful enough to be put in charge of your finances?

To which now can be added the ad I saw on the subway this morning, which feels like it’s at least 30 years out of date. Or is that just me?

p.s. Yes, I’m aware that, technically speaking, Colorado isn’t occupied by Nazis in the book, but is rather in a buffer zone between the Japanese “Pacific States of America” and the Nazi “United States of America.” Alas, that wouldn’t have had quite the same impact as an opening line however!

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Women’s Typical Poses in Advertisements: A Pain in the Neck?

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Something about Kong Hyo-jin (공효진) got me all hot and bothered last week. And no, I don’t mean her lingerie photoshoot for Calvin Klein.

Rather, it was her ads for Uniqlo (유니클로), all over Busan at the moment. Surely, I thought, the creative team could have anticipated how their ads would look on the side of buses, and designed something that didn’t look like she was literally squashed into them?

But then I caught a subway train on Line 2, every carriage of which was decked out like this:

And suddenly I realized that her squashed appearance wasn’t an accident:

Still, what’s the big deal?

Well, just try it for yourself. Assuming that you have, and that your neck no longer hurts, then now you too may be wondering why her head was placed so awkwardly. Moreover, why is it overwhelmingly women that have this “head cant” in advertisements too, albeit not usually tilted quite so much?

(Sources: unknown)

Sociologist Erving Goffman believed it made women look subordinate, and hence that the disparity was evidence of sexism. But as I already discussed that back in February, my original aim here was just to pass on further evidence of the sociological pattern.

Yet the more I looked at the ad, the more I liked it despite myself. And I wanted to know why.

One possible reason, I thought, was Kong Hyo-jin’s luxuriant, flowing hair, another recurring theme of advertisements. Combined with her hands on her hips, it reminded of this ad with Kim Ah-joong (김아중) especially:

(Source: unknown)

And in particular, the wind effect:

…makes it look as though whatever she is looking at (presumably a male viewer) is powerful enough to nearly blow her away while she marvels at him and waits for his approach. She doesn’t look like she intends to act, but rather like she hopes to be acted upon–sexual but still submissive.

As discussed in detail here. But of course that wouldn’t apply to all cases of women with windswept hair in advertisements, and so I did a little investigating. And just guess what I found was #1 in “The 13 Most Common Female Courtship Signals and Gestures” in my Korean edition of The Definitive Book of Body Language (p. 290)?

Basically, that says that when women see a man they are interested in, the first thing they tend to do is start touching their hair, as raising their arms allows them to more easily give off pheromones via their armpits. I’m surprised that it doesn’t also mention that it would also serve to thrust their chests out a little too, and that as women tend to have longer hair than men then touching it also shows off that secondary sexual characteristic; but it does note that even women with short hair do it, so that latter may not be all that important really.

The head cant though? It’s more complicated, and for a little while I confused it with number 7 on that list (pp. 293-4):

But which is not actually referring to the head cant, but rather how women will raise their shoulders and look at the object of their affection while he’s preoccupied, suddenly looking away when he looks at them (which in turn makes him secretly look at them afterward, according to the book). Apparently, the round shape of their shoulders is suggestive of breasts also, which is not as ludicrous as it sounds considering breasts themselves likely evolved (to such a disproportionately large size for primates) through looking similar to buttocks.

Still, I did know that a tilted head showed interest in something or someone though (sexual or otherwise), and sure enough I soon found this (pp. 231-2):

Apologies for lacking the time to properly translate all of the above scans; if anyone would like me to, I’m quite happy to later in the week. In the meantime, it basically says that in addition being an expression of interest, tilting the head also serves to expose the neck, the obvious submissiveness of which is exaggerated by also having the effect of making the person shorter and/or smaller, which is quite the opposite of standing up straight to emphasize our height when we want to compete or fight with others in some sense.

Finally, it notes that it is often seen on women in advertisements, although it doesn’t say why. Upon reading that though, I finally realized what many of you probably knew all along: Kong Hyo-jin is in that pose because it’s sexually appealing to men, as easily confirmed by this, this, and this article on dating advice, and that’s why I was drawn to it I guess.

Hell, even knowing all that, I still like it!

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t problematic. Or rather, that seeing that pose so often on women in advertisements isn’t. After all, there are many many other ways to appeal to heterosexual men, some quite the opposite of looking submissive, so it’s strange that that particular one would be so common (and, related, that you find women taller than accompanying men in ads much less than in real life). Moreover, why is the ad designed for a male gaze too, when presumably the intended consumers of the women’s clothes advertised are women?

But I started this post because Kong Hyo-jin’s pose looked so strange, and just because it did ultimately prove to have a logic is not to say that women in advertisements aren’t still frequently placed in some bizarre, awkward poses nevertheless. Consider the other Uniqlo advertisement in the series on the bus for instance:

(Source)

Next, on the subway:

And finally, the full length version:

Now, despite deconstructing advertisements for over 3 years, just like everyone else in a developed country I too am exposed to 500-1000 advertising messages a day. So some common advertising themes I just simply get used to, a sure sign of which is that I originally thought that this was the more normal and natural-looking of the 2 advertisements, and hence had no intention of writing about it.

But in fact, it’s anything but “natural”. Again, I invite you to adopt Kong Hyo-jin’s pose for yourself just to see how strange it really is.

The crucial thing is her arms: one folded over the other, it reminds me most of a gesture that you’ll frequently see on new students and colleagues and so on on their first days at schools and workplaces. Just like on the woman below on page 103 of The Definitive Book of Body Language:

As I first mentioned here, the logic behind it is that when someone is nervous, then their instinctive reaction is to protect their exposed fronts using whatever comes to hand, be they bags, books, folders…or of course their own arms. Meeting people with folded arms doesn’t exactly create a warm and open first impression though, and so with the other partially open, hanging arm, they try to express that at the same time.

Yes, it is indeed an awkward compromise, but even having read the 1989 edition of Body Language above at the age of 13, and being perfectly aware of what I was doing (and why) thereafter, nevertheless I still couldn’t stop putting my arms like that on my first days at all 6 of my high schools (in 3 years in 3 countries). For those lacking self-confidence, as I did back then, it is an amazingly powerful instinct.

In Kong Hyo-jin’s case however, while I guess the expression of nervousness does accentuate an image of submissiveness, it’s just too much of a compromise to expose one part of the body – the neck – while protecting others with the arms. It also contradicts her “bashful knee bend” too, which I discuss here.

But why? I confess I simply don’t know, being a little mentally subdued after having to reconsider my original opinions about the first ad so much. Now seems as good a time as any then, to throw the floor open to readers, who may see something that I’ve missed and/or have alternative explanations!^^

Gender Advertisements in the Korean Context: The Mile High Club

( Source )

Quick question: for want of a better word, what vibe do you get from the above image? How does it make you feel?

Part of this Korean Air advertisement, how about with the caption:

From departure to arrival, only dignified services for our dignified guests.

Or with the fine print:

When you land, you should be in the same delicate condition as you were during take-off. That’s why our delicate service with a smile remains constant throughout the flight until you reach your destination.

In particular, do you find it demeaning to the steward in any way, or women in general?

Does the fact that only 11% of Korean Air stewards are men influence you in any way, Korean Air only hiring men from within its own ground staff since 1997, but women also from the general public?

And finally, do you get the same vibe from this Gucci advertisement? Why or why not?

( Source: the Fashion Spot {NSFW})

Alas, I have no information about the Gucci advertisement unfortunately (I would be grateful if any readers could enlighten me), but the Korean Air advertisement at least ran in magazines and newspapers worldwide in March 2008, and I recall finding it vaguely disturbing when I saw it in the Asian edition of The Economist at the time, but not quite being able to put my finger on why exactly.

And as it turns out, I wasn’t the only one, commentators from Singapore to London either baffled by it, finding it “hilarious that Korean Air published it in a Western magazine,” thinking it demeaning to women, and/or hoping that in Korea itself “it’s some kind of image of empowerment.” But I didn’t personally see anything sexual in it however, and so – forgive my naivety – originally didn’t quite get this unspecified newspaper author who commented that they were “glad that she is wearing a scarf, which is part of her uniform, and not something else.” Moreover, I certainly didn’t think it looked like she was about to perform fellatio either, unlike the author of Copyranter:

KOREAN AIR: How May We Service You?

Korean Air: You think our turbines have suction power…

The ad copy (click image) reads, in part: “That’s why our delicate service (no teeth!) with a smile remains constant throughout the flight…” Now, the ad was scanned from the March 31st Asian edition of Newsweek. And as tipster Juditha wrote, there certainly is a cultural difference with how female flight attendants (and really, all females) are perceived in Asian culture. But. Still. If the airline keeps running ads in this vein (sorry!), their male passengers are not going to stop at unbuckling just their seat belts.

But hey, we all make mistakes, and it’s not like there weren’t some distinctly sexual overtones to the advertising campaign as a whole; with thanks to fellow blogger Logan Row for pointing it out, note the symbolism at 0:19 in the commercial below for instance (and quite a common theme in wine advertisements!):

What is the logic of the Korean Air advertisement then? Well, as commentators in those above links pointed out, what Korean Air is trying to say in it is:

…that their attendants will go the extra mile for their guests. The pose that the flight attendant is striking is how traditional Korean hostesses would serve guests in their own homes. It is a traditional Korean (and to an extent Japanese) form of humility and hospitality

And that it’s a reference to the:

…Korean (and Asian) custom of bowing in front of your elders, parents, to people you respect, or in general to show deference to someone and submission. (ie students serve their teachers drinks/food on their knees) Its a position of servitude not necessarily the same ‘on your knees’ sexual connotation we have in the US. Obviously all of this still is problematic as far as the the female subjugation at the will of the Korean Air clients and basically almost just as offensive. But I thought that cultural reference was probably really important as well, as Korean, and other Asian cultures would read it with that in mind.

And finally that:

it conjures up being treated like royalty – in the old days the servants of royalty had to kneel and bow at all times when presenting the king with food/drinks/documents and then scoot out the door, never showing their backs. it is a sign of respect. with that said, this should not run anywhere outside East Asia as it can be misconstrued by everyone else.

( Source: the Fashion Spot {NSFW})

However, unfortunately it was. And unlike in Korea where cultural factors mean that the advertisement is not necessarily demeaning to women, a person’s social status usually trumping factors like how (literally) highly they are placed in an advertisement (see here, here, and here), having any group regularly placed lower than another in advertisements tends to be problematic in Western culture, for reasons the late sociologist Erving Goffman outlined in Gender Advertisements (1979):

Although less so than in some, elevation seems to be employed indicatively in our society, high physical place symbolizing high social place. (Courtrooms provide an example) In contrived scenes in advertisements, men tend to be located higher than women, this allowing elevation to be exploited as a delineative resources. A certain amount of contortion may be required. Note, this arrangement is supported by the understanding in our society that courtesy obliges men to favor women with first claim on whatever is available by way of a seat. (p. 43)

And also:

Beds and floors provide places in social situations where incumbent persons will be lower than anyone sitting on a chair or standing. Floors are also associated with the less clean, less pure, less exalted parts of the room – for example, the place to keep dogs, baskets of soiled clothes, street footwear, and the like. And a recumbent position is one from which physical defense of oneself can least well be initiated and therefore one which renders very dependent on the benignness of the surround. (Of course, lying on the floor or on a sofa or bed seems also to be a conventionalized expression of sexual availability) The point here is that it appears that children and women are pictured on floors and beds more than men. (p. 41)

Granted, the Gucci and Calvin Klein examples of this above are particularly provocative, but you can see more normal ones in this “Ritualization of Subordination” category of Goffman’s framework at The Gender Ads Project if you’re interested. Moreover, in light of those, I’m no longer entirely convinced that the Korean Air advertisement isn’t still problematic despite its cultural context: after all, with the proviso that men usually look rather awkward in poses that are sexually appealing on women (as hilariously demonstrated here), I personally find it very difficult to imagine a man in place of a woman in the Korean Air advertisement, although I fully concede that that may be due to my own socialization process leading me to believe that it is more “natural” with a woman, or even simply my familiarity with the advertisement, that happened to feature a woman rather than a man. Or is it not just me?

( Source: WallyWorld )

Regardless, this is by no means the first time that Korean advertisers or advertising agencies have produced advertisements that are appropriate for and/or logical to Koreans, but completely confusing and even offensive overseas. Not that only Korean companies are guilty of doing so of course, but they are the focus here, so let me leave you with 2 examples, the most notorious of which is probably Korean cosmetic maker Coreana’s (코리아나) use of Nazi imagery in 2008, about which you can read more at Brian in Jeollanam-do here, here, and then here (and the video is still available at Adland.TV).

Next, slightly more benign, there is that for the Samsung Sens notebook computer from September last year:

The logic of those with other, non-Sens notebooks having pig noses is that Korean 2-plug electrical sockets do indeed look a little similar, and I’ve heard that that’s traditionally what they were called too (but perhaps only by children?).  Regardless however, one wonders why they act like bafoons, and particularly why they’re all Caucasian when the commercial was filmed in a city as racially diverse as Sydney?

But a crucial difference between those and the Korean Air advertisement was that only the latter was intended for a global audience, and so the advertiser or advertising agency responsible should really should have known better. And now I’m curious: can anyone think of other cases where Korean advertisers or advertising agencies have made similar mistakes overseas? Alas, given the insular nature of the Korean advertising industry, probably not!

Update: Compare this advertisement for ANA airlines’ flights to Japan, from the February 2010 Hemisphere magazine (the in-flight United Airlines mag).

(For more posts in the “Gender Advertisements in the Korean Context” series, see here, here, here, here, and here)

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“Gender Advertisements” in the Korean Context: Part 1

(Source: SeoulBeats)

Be warned: Gender Advertisements, by the late sociologist Erving Goffman, is one of those books that changes your life forever.

Well, not life-changing like reading The Communist Manifesto inspired an Argentine ex-lecturer of mine to start shooting police officers. But you will pay much more attention to advertising messages, of which you already receive between 500 and 1000 every day. (Yes, it’s really that many.)

Of course, advertisements have changed considerably since the book was published in 1979, and are much less sexist overall. But indeed that’s precisely because of the attention given to them. Moreover, some elements have actually gotten worse, advertising to children for instance now an embarrassment compared to the relatively gender-neutral tone of the early-1980s (compare these to this, this, and this), and also there is now so much partial nudity in advertisements that several researchers argue that a new category has had to be added to Goffman’s framework to analyze it.

However, partial nudity isn’t objectifying or sexist per se: rather, it is the manner and context in which it is applied. And if that is the case, then you can imagine how problematic applying Goffman’s framework as a whole to Korean advertisements is, in which such different cultural codes operate.

Or do they? In at least one case, yes: social status usually trumps all other considerations in Korea, and so having one person (usually a man) elevated above another (usually a woman) in an advertisement, perhaps by him sitting and her reclining on the floor in front of him, by no means implies superiority, rendering that subcategory of Goffman’s “Ritualization of Subordination” category problematic (see here and here for examples). Still others, such as cute and/or childlike depictions of women, or having them staring off into the distance rather than directly back at the viewer (a subcategory of “Licensed Withdrawal”), are not necessarily sexist in light of East Asian notions of metrosexuality and politeness respectively, as helpfully pointed out by reader Melissa. And in point of fact the only analysis (Nam et al, 2007) that has looked at men as well as women in Korean magazine advertisements did find that Korean men were depicted much more childishly and “withdrawn” than Western men in them.

Still, while this point is easy to miss in posts that necessarily give only a few illustrative examples, surveys of depictions of men and women in advertisements using Goffman’s framework are made to determine if there are statistically significant differences between them as a whole. And, if those are found, then there are a number of different cultural and anthropological explanations that can be suggested in addition to feminist ones: Occidentalism, for instance, may have played a role in the above result, or the fact that it is quite acceptable for Korean 20-somethings of both sexes to behave in a manner that many Westerners might consider childish (see here for possible reasons for this). Alternatively, Nam et al (2007) found that Western women were much more likely than Korean women to be depicted in a lower physical position than men, such as by him standing and her reclining in a chair on on the floor, but while this could be interpreted positively (for Korean women), much more likely is the fact that status trumps all other considerations in Korea, and so to be physically lower than someone else by no means implies that one is the inferior. Accordingly, there were no statistical differences between Korean men and women in this regard.

Other differences however, like the fact that regardless of the social norms I’ve discussed, Korean women are still depicted childishly or withdrawn more often than Korean men for instance, are extremely difficult to account for other than in terms of their inferior social and economic status in Korea. Or in other words, while an individual advertisement depicting a woman like a child isn’t necessarily sexist in itself, that there’s more of them than there are of men is certainly evidence of sexism. Moreover, I fail to see how noticing discrepancies like this is somehow Eurocentric of me, or “looking at Korean society through Western eyes.” Which is not at all to say that Melissa argued that, but others have.

Update: Specifically, aegyo is often claimed as a form of empowerment that Westerners fail to appreciate. In which case, guilty as charged: when (usually) women act like children to manipulate (usually older, higher-ranked, and/or richer) men, how is that anything but wholly accommodating to a patriarchal system?

(Source: Unknown)

In response, in what was originally intended to be a single post here I wanted to discuss the problems Kang (1997), Hovland et al (2005), and Nam et al (2007) had with Goffman’s framework, the alterations they made to it, and the latter two’s discussion of how appropriate various categories of it were to the Korean context.

In particular, the last found that Western men and women were more likely to be depicted as partially nude than their Korean counterparts, but with allowances again for Occidentalism, and the fact that Korean female models will rarely appear in lingerie advertisements (of which the authors were unaware, and so didn’t account for), they argue that this is again evidence of sexism because in fact “many scantily garbed women [emit] a sense of independence and confidence.” While I’d be a bit more circumspect than that myself, fortunately having long since on moved on from the days when I automatically equated bikinis with feminist liberation, they do have a point, particularly in a society where the majority of women were too scared to wear them 5-10 years ago.

Also, I wanted to discuss the “female-stereotypical” depictions of Korean men in advertisements like Melissa identified, posing a challenge as they do to especially Western men’s notions of masculinity. Unfortunately however, for reasons of space and ease of reading those will have to wait for Part 2 and perhaps even a Part 3. Instead, having provided a grounding in this post, let me devote the rest of it to a practical example of another discrepancy in the ways men and women are portrayed in advertisements, one that I stumbled onto by accident in the process of investigating the Evisu (에비수) advertisement at the beginning of the post.

Featuring Jung Yun-ho (정윤호; also know as “U-know”) of the boy band TVXQ (I don’t know who the woman is sorry), the first thing it reminded me of was this:

(Source: Shine So Cold)

Of which I wrote this back in November 2008 (update: since edited out sorry):

Personally, it took me a few moments to figure out what this advertisement is supposed to represent exactly: were the couple prisoners? No…why would their sunglasses be tied up too? How apart parts from a model kit then? No…then they’d be disassembled, and besides which the man appears to be raised from the white background a little, a rather awkward position for a model component. And then I realized that he’s actually standing, which would mean that the woman is too, although I can surely be forgiven for thinking that she’s lying down.

So probably they’re supposed to be like a Barbie and Ken doll set in a box, like you find in a toy store. But then why is the women tied down so helplessly, whereas the man, ostensibly also tied down, looks – as the photographer points out – firmly grounded and in control? I haven’t been looking (sorry!), but I dare say that Barbie and Ken dolls don’t leave the Mattel factory like that in real life. So why would the advertisers choose to depict them like that?

Granted, it’s a much more extreme example than the own with Yun-ho. But while I don’t mean to equate the two, that is indeed what it reminded me of, and the final question I pose is just as relevant.

But in terms of Goffman’s framework itself, probably this is more similar:

(Source: Tech Fatale)

And with that, let me add “participation shields,” a subcategory of Licensed Withdrawal, to add to all those others I’ve already elaborated on here, here, here, and here as well as those in this post. This is what Goffman (1979) had to say about it:

It is possible to look in on a social situation from a distance or from a one-way panel—a “participation shield”—and be little seen oneself, in which case one can, in effect, partake of the the events but not be exposed to scrutiny or address. A splitting up this results between some of the gains and some of the costs of face-to-face interaction. I might note that when one’s participation is thus shielded, simultaneous maintenance of dissociated side involvements would seem to be facilitated, since these could hardly intrude between oneself and one’s availability to the others in the situation – one not being available at all.

A ritualization of participation shielding occurs when one presents oneself as if on the edge of the situation or otherwise shielded from it physically, when in fact one is quite accessible to those in it. Still further ritualization is found in commercial posings. (p.70)

Then he gives examples of using walls as shields, then window frames, then various objects, then animals, and finally people:

…with the consequent opportunity to overlay distance with a differentiating expression, in the extreme, collusive betrayal of one’s shield. (p. 72)

Here are some examples he provides, from my scan of page 73:

And I think the Evisu advertisement is a good example of that last point, as Jung Yun-ho’s aggressive, confrontational stance is betrayed by that of the inquisitive, unconcerned expression of the woman partially hiding behind him. But lest I contradict myself and read too much into one image (and I’ll grant that those above are deliberately much more extreme cases), again let’s consider the discrepancies among the advertisements currently on the Evisu website. In particular, when the woman and Jung Yun-ho are by themselves, both have strong, confident stances, good examples of the “Independence/Self-Assurance” category first suggested by Kang (1997) and expanded on Nam (2007) which I’ll be discussing in Part 2:

(Source, all remaining images: Evisu)

So why then, in most of the few Evisu advertisements that have a man and a woman together, are the women relegated so to speak? But don’t just take my word for it. Instead, see all of them for yourself, starting from the most glaring example to the least:

Note also that only the woman has the “head cant” in each, which I discuss here.

But here is one example that is the complete opposite to all the above:

And I include this one also as it’s the only other one with two people, although strictly speaking it shouldn’t be counted:

Personally I think that the woman on the right above is not quite as “out of it” as she in her advertisements with a man, but I’ll grant that that’s open to debate, as is how much she is using the man as a participation shield in that second advertisement in which she is wearing black gloves. But that’s precisely the point: again, those are all the advertisements with more than one person in them on the Evisu website as a I type this (please note that the first one with Jung Yun-ho isn’t on the website though), and so please make your own minds up about whether there is a discrepancy in the way the men and women are depicted in them. Naturally, I think it’s obvious that there is, but if you agree and yet have a non-feminist, culturally-based argument for its existence however, then I’m all ears.

Meanwhile, a note on the sources for this post: if they look very familiar to regular readers, then that’s because there have been so few surveys of Korean advertisements made using Goffman’s framework. Moreover, even Nam et al’s (2007) is based on magazines from 2002 and 2003, hopelessly out of date for a society as fast-changing as Korea, and so I’ve long wanted to conduct my own survey(s) to compensate. That would involve far too much work for just one person unfortunately, and so if any readers are interested in co-authoring a conference paper and/or journal article on the topic, please let me know!^^

Goffman, E. (1979), Gender Advertisements.

Hovland, R. et.al. (2005) ‘Gender Role Portrayals in American and Korean Advertisements’, Sex Roles: A Journal of Research December 2005, pp. 887-899 (although I have a physical copy, unfortunately this is no longer downloadable; I’d appreciate it if anyone with library access could email a PDF).

Kang, M. (1997) ‘The Portrayal of Women’s Images in Magazine Advertisements: Goffman’s Gender Analysis Revisited’, Sex Roles: A Journal of Research December 1997 (ditto on downloading)

Nam, K. et. al. (2007)  ‘Gender Role Stereotypes Depicted by Western and Korean Advertising Models in Korean Adolescent Girls’ Magazines‘, Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, TBA, San Francisco, CA Online (2007), pp. 1-31.

Update: If you’ve enjoyed this post, then you may also be interested in this one at Sociological Images that describes how even the “physiology and anatomy” theme of a university website also genders the stances of the physiological representation of both sexes, the man standing straight, looking ahead, and having even weight distribution, but the female form being “almost classically passive, hands held behind her back, weight distribution uneven” in contrast.