Another Attempted Sexual Assault by a Stalker Caught on CCTV

Estimated reading and viewing time: 6 minutes.

Two years after chilling CCTV footage showed a woman being stalked to her home, only escaping sexual assault by a hair’s breadth as her front door closed behind her on her would-be attacker, another case has just occurred in a different area of Seoul.

To my surprise, I’ve encountered no English-language news about it in the 3 weeks since the news broke. So, to compensate and raise greater awareness, I’ve translated the transcript of a YTN news report about it for you below. Following that, for context I’ve also included a chronological list of related news articles about stalking in Korea and recent law changes in the ‘Related Posts’ section:

[Exclusive] Another targeting of a woman on her way home… “He followed me all all the way to my front door!”

YTN, Wednesday June 15

Anchor:

새벽 시간대 한 남성이 홀로 걷는 여성을 뒤쫓아 집까지 따라 들어가려다 달아난 사건이 일어났습니다.

여성이 수상한 낌새를 눈치채지 못했다면 더 큰 범죄로 이어질 뻔한 상황이었는데요.

YTN이 관련 영상을 확보했습니다. 김혜린 기자의 단독 보도입니다.

During the early morning hours, a man followed after a woman walking home alone, ultimately running after her all the way to her home.

If she hadn’t sensed something suspicious was up, there’s no telling what might have happened.

YTN has gained a copy of the relevant security camera footage. Here is an exclusive report by reporter Kim Hye-rin.

[Reporter]

검은색 티셔츠를 입은 남성이 여성의 뒤를 바짝 쫓습니다.

곁눈질로 돌아봐도 아랑곳하지 않고 쫓아가는 남성.

두려움을 느낀 여성이 멈춰 서서 뒤를 돌아보자, 그제야 여성을 뒤쫓던 게 아니라는 듯 인근 건물로 향합니다.

여성이 다시 가던 길을 가자마자 이번엔 여성을 쫓아 전속력으로 달립니다.

여성이 사는 주택 대문까지 남성의 미행은 계속됐습니다.

[피해 여성 :골목길 시작되고 조금 더 걸어갔는데 그 남자가 진짜 저를 너무 바짝 쫓아오는 거예요.]

A man in a black t-shirt follows the women closely.

Even though he only ever seems to give her side-glances, he pursues her relentlessly.

When the woman, feeling scared, stops and turns around, he heads to a nearby building and acts as if he was not following her at all.

But as soon as she starts walking again and turns into another street he starts running after her.

In fact, he didn’t stop following her until she’d made it home.

[Female Victim: Once I walked into the alley I wanted to get away from him by walking a little further head, but he just kept following me closely.]

지난 6일 새벽 6시 반쯤, 남성은 서울 마포구 대흥역 개찰구에서 20대 여성 A 씨의 단독주택까지 도보로 10분 거리를 미행했습니다.

현관문을 열고 들어서는 순간 주택 대문을 넘어서는 남성을 발견한 A 씨.

현관문을 재빨리 닫은 뒤 경찰에 신고했지만, 사건 발생 열흘이 다 되도록 남성을 잡았단 소식은 없었습니다.

개찰구에서 교통카드를 찍은 명의자를 확인하는 데에 며칠이 걸린다는 경찰의 답변만 받았을 뿐입니다.

혹시나 남성이 다시 찾아오진 않을까 공포에 떨어야 했던 A 씨는 결국 정신과 상담까지 받았습니다.

[피해 여성 : 스트레스도 심하고 신경이 계속 곤두서 있고, 계속 긴장이 되어 있고…. 제 사건은 일주일이 넘도록 안 잡히고 있고. (경찰은) 영장을 두 번 받아야 해서 수일이 소요된다 이런 말씀을 하시는데 어제 답변을 받고 답답해서….]

The ordeal began at around 6:30am on Monday the 6th of June, when the man followed the female victim in her 20s for about 10 minutes from the ticket gate of Daeheung Station in Mapo-gu, Seoul to her detached house.

Once she made it to her home, he even climbed over(?)/went through(?) the front gate. The victim quickly closed her front door on him and reported the incident to the police, but there was no news until the man was arrested 10 days later.

Rather, after making the report, all the victim heard was that it would take a few days to check the station’s ticket gate records to determine which transportation card the man used and determine his identity.

(James—I think saying there was “no news” is slightly misleading, because as you’ll see below the victim was very much in communication with the police. Also, by no means would I ever default play Devil’s Advocate for them, but it’s not like they could *ignore* the legal requirement for two warrants before gaining access to those records, and in the screenshot of their texts with the victim below they do say they’ll notify her as soon as possible of any results of the investigation.)

Consequently, the victim, who had to remain in fear in the meantime that the stalker might come again, ultimately had to receive counseling.

[Victim: I’m under a lot of stress, my nerves are constantly on edge, and I’m still nervous. Nothing’s happened in my case in over a week. “Police: We have to get two warrants, which takes days.” Victim: The police told me this yesterday, which left me so frustrated.]

지난 2019년에는 서울 신림동 원룸에 사는 여성을 따라가 집에 침입하려 한 30대 남성이 붙잡히기도 했습니다.

이 남성은 원룸에는 들어가지 못했지만 공동 주택 현관문에 이미 들어온 상황이라 주거 침입죄가 적용됐습니다.

문제는 집에 침입해 강력 범죄가 발생하지 않는다면 범죄 의도만으론 강하게 처벌할 수 없다는 점입니다.

신림동 원룸 사건 역시 재판부조차 성폭력 의도를 의심했지만, 남성은 징역 1년의 처벌을 받는 데에 그쳤습니다.

[이은의 / 성폭력 전문 변호사 : 따라가서 문을 열려고 했던, 사실 의도야 뻔해 보이기는 하지만 그 의도를 단정하거나 입증할 수 없는 상황(이라 의도를 처벌하기는 어렵지만,) 강간을 하기 위해 따라갔는지는 정확히 알 수 없으나 침입을 하기가 쉬운 대상이기 때문에 그 사람을 따라간 거는 확실하잖아요.]

현실적으로 범죄 의도만 놓고 처벌을 강화하긴 어렵지만 최소한 주거 침입죄에 대해선 형량을 높여야 한다는 목소리가 나오고 있습니다.

YTN 김혜린입니다 (khr0809@ytn.co.kr).

In 2019, a man in his 30s was caught on CCTV trying to enter the one-room apartment of a women living in Sillim-dong, Seoul that he had been following.

Although he was unsuccessful, he was charged with trespass as he had already entered the apartment building itself.

(JamesHere, it is curious—well, startling really—that the news report does not mention that the stalker was only prosecuted in response to overwhelming public pressure, nor that it was the catalyst for a recent law change forcing more active responses by police. Either way, given that the most recent victim had to remain in fear of a repeat encounter for so long, and that the stalker will still only be charged with trespass at most, clearly still much more needs to be done.)

A problem with such offenders is that unless an actual break-in or other crime actually occurs, prosecution is difficult when based on suspected criminal intent alone.

Consequently, in the Sillim-dong case, the man was only sentenced to one year in prison despite the judges having strong suspicions that he intended to sexually assault the victim.

[Lee Eun-euo, a lawyer specializing in sexual assault cases: In the Sillim-dong case, the man had clearly determined the inebriated woman walking home alone to be an easy target, so the criminal intention was obvious. But in addition to being difficult to prosecute based on intention alone, it is unclear whether rape or robbery was the goal.]

Realistically, it remains difficult to strengthen punishment based on criminal intent alone. But there are voices that call for at least harsher sentences on trespassing to be made.

YTN Kim Hye-rin reporting (end).

Related Posts:

  • Raped, assaulted, nowhere to find help: Foreign women speak out about their experiences of sexual violence in Korea (14/01/2022, The Korea Times)
  • S. Korea will now immediately detain stalkers who threaten their victims (16/12/2021, The Hankyoreh)
  • Police again draw fire for inadequate response to stalking case (13/12/2021, Yonhap)
  • Stalking in Korea (01/12/2021, r/korea@reddit)
  • Daily reports of stalking sharply increase after implementation of anti-stalking law: police (18/11/2021, The Korea Herald)
  • Stalking perpetrators to face up to 5 years in jail under new law (21/11/2020, The Korea Herald)
  • New law strengthens punishment for stalkers, expands reach (21/10/2021, The Korea Herald)
  • 9 out of 10 stalking suspects go unpunished (24/04/2021, The Korea Herald)
  • Korean law 101 stalking and protective measures (14/10/2020, 안현주 변호사 Hyunjoo Ahn@YouTube)
  • Policeman arrested for housebreaking, attempted rape (18/10/2019, The Korea Times)
  • It’s attempted rape, not just trespassing: K-stalker in viral video gets charge changed as South Korean police bow to public outrage (31/05/2019, South China Morning Post)
  • Court to decide arrest of ‘Sillim-dong CCTV’ rape suspect (31/05/2019, The Korea Herald)
  • Stalking crimes rise with lax punishment (05/11/2018, The Korea Herald)
  • “Another day, another story on South Korean media portraying violence against women as if it’s something romantic or playful” (16/08/2018, Hawon Jung @allyjung)
  • “Cute Lines for Cute Girls”: Street Harassment Framed as Fun (02/02/2013)

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

When “How to Own the Room” is Really Just a Lesson in Male Privilege

‘People skills’ advice which ignores backgrounds only exposes the lie that what works for white cishet men automatically works for everyone else too

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes. Image source (cropped): Cottonbro @Pexels.

I have a confession to make: I sometimes watch a YouTube channel called Charisma on Command. But please don’t be fazed by the name—“The Game” it is not, and its videos on topics like networking and public speaking can benefit anyone. So selective is my viewing though, that I often forget just how centered on cishet men the channel really is. Which, to be clear, is absolutely not a bad thing. But it does indicate a strong potential for biased perspectives, as recently became evident to me through their May 2022 video “How to Command Respect If You’re Short” below:

I realize it may seem unfair to bring a critical feminist lens to a video that was likely only intended for men. But most of its tips still appear to apply regardless of sex, leaving viewers with the reasonable assumption that women are just as free to use them. Whereas in reality, there are a number of sexist obstacles in their way, to the extent it may actually be more prudent for many women not to use the tips at all.

So, paralleling a now infamous 2013 Quora piece in which the white author believed he was simply giving ‘lifehacking’ advice, but was ultimately providing more of a demonstration of how white privilege operates, let’s highlight three of those obstacles here, taking advantage of the opportunity offered by the video to show how male privilege works.

Image source (cropped): Cottonbro @Pexels.

All three are related to overall advice point “#2: Be a big presence” (3:04), starting with “Option 1: Be the loudest person in the room” (3:10). In the video, comedian Kevin Hart naturally makes that look very easy in his talk with male sports commentators. But for the vast majority of women in more mundane, less public professions who are, say, looking for more of a voice in work meetings? The unfortunate reality is that not only are they usually underrepresented in them, but they’re also generally expected to talk less than the male attendees too. So normal and routine can this feel to men and women alike, even attempts to achieve simple gender parity can raise shackles and accusations of female bias—let alone for a woman deliberately attempting to be “the loudest in the room.” Just see for yourself, through the many excellent points and links raised in a convenient recent Twitter thread posted by regular meghan 나영지 (@ruemcclammyhand):

Source: regular meghan 나영지 (@ruemcclammyhand)
Source: Michael Farrell (@mikefarrell); see here for the linked article at In These Times.
Source: CyberLuddite (@WispyNeckbeard); see here for the linked article at PBS.

As with all of the tips offered in the video, none of this context entirely precludes women from still taking them up. In this particular case for instance, I’m sure there’s much to be said for women “leaning in” and getting the attention they deserve, chauvinistic bosses’ and coworkers’ opinions be damned. (You tell me.) But the point remains that women face difficulties that men may not realize exist. So too with “Option 2: Use expansive hand gestures” (3:37) and—I regard them as the same really—“Option 3: Freely use neutral space” (4:24), which again ignore how strongly we’re all socialized against women doing either. As Niall Richardson sums up very well in Transgressive Bodies: Representations in Film and Popular Culture (2010, page 78):

…the question of “taking up space” is not the same when it transfers across the gender divide. From an early age women are taught to restrict their bodies and retreat while men are encouraged to dominate the space. Consider this vivid description from a Marge Piercy novel in which performers in a drama workshop are instructed by the teacher how to perform gender for the forthcoming play:

She demonstrated how men sat and how women sat on the subway, on benches. Men expanded into available space. They sprawled, or they sat with spread legs. They put their arms on the arms of chairs. They crossed their legs by putting a foot on the other knee. They dominated space expansively.

Women condensed. Women crossed their legs by putting one leg over the other and alongside. Women kept their elbows to their sides, taking up as little space as possible. They behaved as if it were their duty not to rub against, not to touch, not to bump a man. If contact occurred, the woman shrank back. If a woman bumped a man, he might choose to interpret it as a come-on. Women sat protectively, using elbows not to dominate space, not to mark territory, but to protect their soft tissues.

Another confession: actually, I only found Transgressive Bodies while (unsuccessfully) searching for a very similar page from Nancy Henley’s groundbreaking 1977 work, Body Politics: Power, Sex, and Nonverbal Communication, which frankly instantly came to mind when I saw the video title. For your interest, and because this classic deserves to be far better known, let me also include the following photos of pages 38-39:

Let me also pass on the first hit in my search, City Living: How Urban Spaces and Urban Dwellers Make One Another by Quill R. Kukla (2021, pages 261-262), who: shows how such micro-behaviours and norms extend to the macro; makes observations about the similar constraints on various races and classes; and indeed who goes on after the below to discuss that notorious Quora piece on white privilege:

A wide range of factors help determine who can access and participate in a purportedly shared space…. The color of our skin, our perceived gender identity, and our perceived class (regardless of our actual economic situation) all affect how we can move through and use space…. People whose bodies are read as female are trained from a young age to avoid streets at night, to travel in groups, and to adopt defensive and self-isolating bodily positions in order to avoid sexual attention from men (Young 1980). This training not only shapes their bodily movement through space, but prevents many social micro-interactions of the kind that make up city life; women cannot risk minor friendly passing interactions with men for fear that they will escalate.

For more on the macro, or more specifically how our transportation, streets, buildings, rooms, even the very chair you may be sitting on to read this may all be designed, built, or created under the assumption you’re a middle-aged cishet white man, I also highly recommend Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-made World by Leslie Kern (2020; my brief review here).*

*(Update: Published in 2021, “Mother of Invention: How Good Ideas Get Ignored in an Economy Built for Men” by Nadia Idle also sounds interesting.)
Image source: Yan Krukov @Pexels

Finally, for women to try “Option 4: Use platonic touch” (4:57) on men, they would not confront a sexist obstacle per se. More, a sexual reality: that cishet men, for good reason, are just wired to frequently misinterpret friendliness from women as sexual interest—let alone physical touch. But of course, there are issues with men using platonic touch on women too, which few men are going to start ignoring due to the video (although, confusedly, it does feature 2 male-female encounters among the dozen male-male ones).

And yet again a sexist obstacle emerges anyway. As most workplaces are male-dominated, especially as you move up the hierarchy and encounter figures you most need to impress, simple numbers ensure that men are far more likely to have opportunities to try this tactic on other men than women will on other women.

Or do they? I have a final confession to make: I am not the most ambitious of Charisma on Command subscribers, having very, very limited opportunities to use any of their tips in my own career. I have obvious limits in placing myself in working women’s shoes too. So, if I’ve dropped the ball asking myself what it might be like for women applying this video’s tips, please let me know. But either way, there will always be value in having such conversations about whether ‘universal’ tips genuinely apply to non cishet white men, and I look forward to continuing this one with you in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter!

RELATED POSTS

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

June Book Club Meeting: “Korean Teachers” by Seo Su-Jin, Thursday June 30, 7pm

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

The semester is finally winding down, I’m finding free time to research and write, and I’m happy to announce that I will have new posts for you very soon (thank you for your patience!). But in the meantime, great minds continue to think and…er, read alike, which brings me to this month’s book: Korean Teachers by Seo Su-Jin (Harriet Press, Aladin, Amazon), first published in Korean in 2020 and then in English in March this year. In short, it’s a quick, very readable, and very contemporary book about four Korean teachers in a Seoul university, which anyone who’s ever worked a Korean hagwon, school, or university will instantly be able to relate to, as well as students of Korean too. But as the synopsis from the publisher Harriet Press explains, really it’s about much more than that:

Winner of the Hankyoreh Literature Award, Seo Su-jin’s debut novel follows four Korean language lecturers at Seoul’s prestigious H University over the course of an academic year. Readers will spend one season with each of the four protagonists—Seon-yi in the spring, Mi-ju in the summer, Ga-eun in the autumn, and Han-hee in the winter—getting a close glimpse into the challenges and joys of sharing a new language and culture with students from abroad.

As readers delve into the story of each woman and the unique paths they have chosen to become a Korean lecturer, they watch Seon-yi, Mi-ju, Ga-eun, and Han-hee deal with a myriad of social and ethical challenges that accompany their job and their personal lives. From asserting themselves as modern-day career women braving sexism from both students and coworkers, to the shocking revelation that students, too, are treated unfairly as some are deemed to be more ‘desirable’ than others by H University. Some of the teachers had to bow to these pressures, but what fate would befall those who fought against the grain? Each of these women must ultimately find her place as a conduit between her students and an increasingly multicultural Korean society.

Praised as a novel that questions why highly educated women are still facing the formidable hurdle of ‘becoming somebody’ in Korean society, Korean Teachers is gratifyingly piquant as it skillfully peeks into the lives of contemporary women and how they challenge the societal norm where gender discrimination is ever so prevalent.

For further information, both about the book and more about the reality of conditions for Korean university teachers, please also check out this author interview in the Korea Times and this dedicated Reddit thread.

If you’re interested in attending, please contact me via email, or leave a comment below (only I will be able to see your email address). I will contact you to confirm, and will include you in the club reminder email with the Zoom link a few days before the event.

Finally, below is a SPOILER FILLED list of suggested discussion topics and questions that we use to loosely structure meetings. But the meetings are still very small and informal really, and, to help me ensure they’re as safe a space as possible, there’s a limit of 12 participants including myself. So please get in touch early to ensure your place (and give you time to read the book!).

See you on Zoom!

Update: With many parallels to the issues for Korean teachers raised in the book, the Yonsei’s Korean Language Institute Union is currently in the second year of its dispute with Yonsei University.

Update 2: For the July 28 meeting, we’ve chosen Violets by Kyung-sook Shin (2001, trans. 2022). A separate announcement will be made later, but in the meantime please enjoy these reviews from The Guardian and Books and Bao:

♥♥♥

General Questions/Thoughts

  • Anyone who’s ever worked a Korean hagwon, school, or university will instantly relate to the teachers’ many complaints about their management, bureaucracy, and students. Do you have any similar experiences to share?
  • How about similar experiences as a Korean language student?
  • The teachers in the book all have different opinions on the appropriate levels of how social to be with students, how difficult to make their courses, and what the students’ needs are. Which teacher’s opinions are most like your own?
  • Did anyone else find the romanized Korean words pretty difficult to follow at times? I wish the original Hangul had also been included alongside them, and am frustrated that so few translations of Korean works provide these!

Spring Semester—Seon-yi

  • If you were a teacher, what would you do if you discovered that your adult students were surreptitiously taking (appearance focused, but non-sexual) pictures of you at your workplace and uploading them to social media?
  • Obviously, Seon-yi is very upset that Quan is ultimately going to be deported, losing all the considerable money he and his wife Phuong invested in coming to Korea. It also results in a mass exodus of Vietnamese students, for which she is unfairly blamed. Should she have handled it differently? Could she have handled it differently, seeing as, ironically, she was the only victim among the teachers who didn’t file a police report?

Summer Semester—Mi-ju

  • Have you, or someone you know, made a similarly egregious case of misgendering someone? What happened and what were the consequences?
  • How could Mi-ju have avoided her own mistake?
  • In Korea, my students invariably struggle with my attempts to use even the most basic sexuality and gender-inclusive language in the classroom, and would much prefer I stuck to simply he/she and assuming everyone is heterosexual (admittedly, most of my students are low-level; by no means is their reluctance necessarily due to ignorance or homophobia). What have been your own experiences with using such language in Korea, or indeed in any country where little thought is given to political correctness, let alone preferred pronouns?

Autumn Semester—Ga-eun

  • I liked the point about Ga-eun being popular with the students partially because she teaches low-level classes—whereas as you advance, progress becomes much more difficult and frustrating, and this gets reflected in lower student evaluations for those trying to teach you more difficult stuff. This is reflected in my own evaluations!
  • Are there points where Ga-eun is too accommodating of Tanya’s depression? Which sounds cold, so let me rephrase it: are there instances where accommodating Tanya’s mental health needs ultimately defeats the purpose of her attending the classes at all? To further explain: in a “Korean Gender” summer school course I taught once, I required students to give a presentation, having learned from my own favorite lecturer 20 years earlier that being able to give presentations is a much more useful and necessary skill than writing essays, and that gaining confidence in public speaking, does, well, ultimately require actually speaking in public at some point. Then I was confronted with a student who was able to give a perfectly fine presentation, but only to me alone—which placed me in quite a dilemma.
  • What do you think of Hye-seon’s method of warning Ga-eun of the possible consequences of her illicit relationship with Yuto? Seeing as it shocks her into quitting her job, then I’m guessing not very highly. But how would you have handled it instead?

Winter Semester—Han-hee

  • I respected Han-hee’s realism in this story, her having no illusions about the chances of taking up comfortable university positions in England after her English husband Jacob’s absence from academia for four years. Ironically then, the notion of a PhD holder settling for teaching at a kindergarten, one of the standard, entry level ESL jobs for foreigners in Korea which most do straight after graduating, felt anything but realistic.
  • Were the problems with her physical health ultimately her own fault? How badly did she need to continue working in the late stages of her pregnancy? Certainly, it seems clear that she wouldn’t have been hired at H University again, which is why she wanted to prove how essential she was. But would getting a similar job elsewhere later, at a commensurate or slightly lower pay and level, really have been that difficult? Or am I completely underestimating the sexism and difficulties faced by mothers hoping to return to the workforce?
  • I admired Han-hee’s grit too, in resolving to wait for years if necessary for the sake of justice. But in light of what happens at H University in the next story, do you think in the end she will give up and move to the UK with Jacob?

Short-Term Winter CourseSeon-yi

  • Did anyone else cringe at how immature the international students sounded, finding them more like high-school children than adults?
  • Do you think that, again, Seon-yi will be made a scapegoat, in this case by both H University and the media?

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

May Book Club Meeting: “I’m Waiting for You: And Other Stories” by Kim Bo-young, Thursday May 26, 7pm

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes.

For this month’s meeting, we’re covering I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories by SF giant Kim Bo-Young (2021), translated by Sung Ryu and Sophie Bowman. As described by Amazon:

Two worlds, four stories, infinite possibilities 

In “I’m Waiting for You” and “On My Way,” an engaged couple coordinate their separate missions to distant corners of the galaxy to ensure—through relativity—they can arrive back on Earth simultaneously to make it down the aisle. But small incidents wreak havoc on space and time, driving their wedding date further away. As centuries on Earth pass and the land and climate change, one thing is constant: the desire of the lovers to be together. In two separate yet linked stories, Kim Bo-Young cleverly demonstrate the idea love that is timeless and hope springs eternal, despite seemingly insurmountable challenges and the deepest despair.

In “The Prophet of Corruption” and “That One Life,” humanity is viewed through the eyes of its creators: godlike beings for which everything on Earth—from the richest woman to a speck of dirt—is an extension of their will. When one of the creations questions the righteousness of this arrangement, it is deemed a perversion—a disease—that must be excised and cured. Yet the Prophet Naban, whose “child” is rebelling, isn’t sure the rebellion is bad. What if that which is considered criminal is instead the natural order—and those who condemn it corrupt? Exploring the dichotomy between the philosophical and the corporeal, Kim ponders the fate of free-will, as she considers the most basic of questions: who am I?

For further reviews, please see Locus, Asia Media, London Korea Links (who advises against the audio version), and, of course, Books and Bao (from 1:52 if the video doesn’t automatically start there):

If you’re interested in attending, please contact me via email, or leave a comment below (only I will be able to see your email address). I will contact you to confirm, and will include you in the club email a few days before the event with a list of suggested discussion topics and questions that we use to loosely structure meetings. But the meetings are still very small and informal really, and, to help me ensure they’re as safe a space as possible, there’s a limit of 12 participants including myself. So please get in touch early to ensure your place (and give you time to read the book!).

See you on Zoom!

(Apologies for the very short notice this month BTW! Meanwhile, the book choice for the next month’s meeting, to be held on Thursday June 30, will be “Korean Teachers” by Seo Su-jin)

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

Recent Studies Show it’s Hands-On Fathers That Have More Children, NOT Fictitious Alpha Males. The Implications for Raising Birthrates are Clear.

One recent study demonstrates the more of their fair share of housework and childcare fathers do, the more children they’ll probably have; another, the many entrenched workplace and social welfare practices that prevent Korean men from doing so. Loudly challenging the stereotypes and gender norms that discourage them, however, should be a no-brainer for policymakers.

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes. Photo by Annushka Ahuja from Pexels.

A lot of things have to come together, for a successful dating, sex, or family life.

Sadly, those combinations elude most young South Koreans. Which is not to say you won’t still see plenty of couples out on dates in this warm weather, popping into love hotels, or families out for a stroll. But when you do, as @publiusterence points out in this insightful Twitter thread, notice also their expensive haircuts, clothes, smartphones, handbags, watches, strollers, and cars. Then you realize: some of the very best things about being human, which the vast majority of us deeply, instinctively aspire towards, are simply “becoming a privilege for the middle class and above.”

No wonder everyone else is so angry.

There are a host of familiar, intractable reasons for this increasing bifurcation of Korean life. Too familiar, really. Who amongst you hasn’t already read how the economy in Korea is so polarized for instance, that singles say they simply lack the time and money to go on dates or have sex, let alone ever getting married and owning a home? Or how heavily the importance and costs of education (PDF) weigh on the decision to have children? Which only married people can even ponder really, so daunting remain the stigmatization and legal problems suffered by single mothers, as well as the strong taboos against having children if the parents have no intention to marry?

Is it any surprise that on the day of writing, a poll revealed that over half of 20-somethings don’t plan to have children after marriage?

And so depressingly on.

Photo by Alex Green from Pexels

Yet some of those reasons may also feel familiar, and personally and painfully so, because you’re in a similar position yourself—only you’re not in Korea. Which further begs the questions: to what extent are Korea’s own cultural and gender norms responsible for Korea’s world-low birthrate? Or, are they simply due to late-stage capitalism? How to tease the effects of each apart?

Such inquiries slide easily into a longstanding, ongoing sociological debate known as “convergence vs. divergence,” over whether the demands of capitalism force societies to adapt economically inefficient social, cultural, and gender norms as they develop, thereby making advanced capitalist societies resemble each other more over time, or whether some norms will endure regardless. Which is what makes the following graph, spreading rapidly on Korean Twitter, so interesting:

Source: Figure 16, “The Economics of Fertility: A New Era,” p. 32. Note that “Men” should more accurately say “Fathers.”

From the April 2022 “The Economics of Fertility: A New Era” by Matthias Doepke, Anne Hannusch, Fabian Kindermann, and Mich`ele Tertilt, a manuscript in preparation for the upcoming Handbook of Family Economics, unfortunately Korea is little mentioned specifically in the 129 page (but still fascinating) document. However, one of two potential takeaways is the seeming endurance and overwhelming influence of Korean cultural and gender norms. The dominant narrative projected by English-language commentators on Korean society after all, not least by myself, is that Korea remains a fundamentally sexist society. As BBC journalist Simon Maybin puts it in his August 2018 article, “Why I Never Want Babies,” with an iconic quote on this issue which I’ve often said myself (but am relieved to now have a much more reliable source for!):

A culture of hard work, long hours and dedication to one’s job are often credited for South Korea’s remarkable transformation over the last 50 years, from developing country to one of the world’s biggest economies.

But Yun-hwa says the role women played in this transformation often seems to be overlooked.

“The economic success of Korea also very much depended on the low-wage factory workers, which were mostly female,” she says.

“And also the care service that women had to provide in the family in order for men to go out and just focus on work.”

Now women are increasingly doing jobs previously done by men – in management and the professions. But despite these rapid social and economic changes, attitudes to gender have been slow to shift.

“In this country, women are expected to be the cheerleaders of the men,” says Yun-hwa.

Korean Sociological Image #92: Patriotic Marketing Through Sexual Objectification, Part 1

More than that, she says, there’s a tendency for married women to take the role of care-provider in the families they marry into.

“There’s a lot of instances when even if a woman has a job, when she marries and has children, the child-rearing part is almost completely her responsibility,” she says. “And she’s also asked to take care of her in-laws if they get sick.”

The average South Korean man spends 45 minutes a day on unpaid work like childcare, according to figures from the OECD, while women spend five times that.

“My personality isn’t fit for that sort of supportive role,” says Yun-hwa. “I’m busy with my own life.”

Also, for your interest, and because far more people need to be aware of Kaku Sechiyama’s excellent book, Patriarchy in East Asia: A Comparative Sociology of Gender (2015), here is his summary (p. 164) of Korean surveys from a decade earlier. As a reviewer noted, “it is in Korea (South and North) where motherhood is most pronounced, as is a household division of labor by gender”:

However, @publiusterence’s example also suggests looking beyond the headlines, as well as our preconceived stereotypes. For in addition to demonstrating that even in the progressive, supposed feminist utopias of Scandinavian countries, fathers still only do a third of the housework and childcare as mothers, a second, slightly contradictory potential takeaway is that regardless of the country, having fathers pull their weight more will invariably increase the fertility rate.

Source: Figure 16, “The Economics of Fertility: A New Era,” p. 32. Note that “Men” should more accurately say “Fathers.”

Does that make it also a potential point of convergence between capitalist societies? Admittedly, to posit it as such may seem misguided, as considering childcare and housework to be primarily mothers’ responsibilities is the very definition of a gender norm in itself. But the alternative, writing off all Korean fathers as simply lazy and sexist, is not exactly fair. Nor does it offer much in the way of solutions.

Instead, surely it is more helpful to point out the many structural factors that prevent Korean fathers from doing more work at home (whether they actually want to or not), as well as to point out practical steps that can overcome those.

Addressing the elephant in room first however, that last—let alone this post’s title—is not meant to imply that Korean policymakers aren’t already well aware of those many structural factors. Also, that they defy easy fixing, simply by virtue of not having already been done so. For an excellent summary of them, I recommend the second recent study, “Revisiting the Gender Revolution: Time on Paid Work, Domestic Work, and Total Work in East Asian and Western Societies 1985–2016” by Man-Yee Kan, Muzhi Zhou, Kamila Kolpashnikova, Ekaterina Hertog, Shohei Yoda, and Jiweon Jun in Gender & Society released just a month before that graph. Some highlights (my emphases):

Since the 2010s, the Korean government has introduced a series of family policies such as paid parental leaves, subsidized childcare services, and flexible working to help women and men to balance work and life. Public and social expenditure in Korea increased from five percent in 1990 to ten percent in 2012, but the figures were lower than the OECD average. Yet some scholars have classified the welfare regimes in Korea and Japan as [our “Conservative” type], given the fact that the governments in these countries work closely with businesses and corporations in providing social insurance and pension schemes; the result is a high degree of stratification among occupations and between the employed and the non-employed.

The reason for this was the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, after which Korea underwent a revolutionary shift from having the most job for life, male breadwinner, “salarymen” in the world to having the most part-time and irregular workers in the OECD, as well as having one of the highest rates of self-employment. The important distinction is that those fortunate enough to secure “regular” jobs in large corporations make much more money and have far more fringe benefits than everyone else (hence all that money spent on children’s education; going to the right schools and universities is a must to secure such jobs). Also, as you can imagine, women make up most of the irregular workers.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels.

Continuing:

Our findings suggest that cultural norms interact with institutional contexts to affect the gender convergence in time use, and gender relations might settle at differing levels of egalitarianism. Furthermore, policies relying on family ties and women’s traditional gender responsibility for care provision, as in the case of Japan, Korea, and Southern European countries, will hinder progress in gender equality.

And today I learned:

In Japan and Korea, the gender gaps in paid and unpaid work time are large but the gap in total work time is relatively small; the gender convergence in paid and unpaid work time has been extremely slow and has even stalled.

Source: @BreeNewsome

Finally:

These findings reveal that policies relying on families as a key source of care provision, including those of Southern European countries, Japan, and Korea, prevent women from increasing labor market work and reducing their share of domestic labor. In addition, the persistently long work hours in Japan and Korea have created barriers for men to committing time in domestic work.

And yet, even if you can’t change the long working hours, the universal male military conscription, the general homosociality of Korean life, and so depressingly on overnight, something that can be put in motion is a clear, explicit, widespread government campaign at raising awareness about that graph, following by loud, well-publicized efforts at removing the outdated gender roles and stereotypes from our daily lives that sustain them.

This may sound somewhat naive, and certainly isn’t a magic bullet. Of course, various initiatives of this nature have already been going on for decades too. However, deepening them and enlarging their scope would be still relatively cheap, and uncontroversial. Moreover, given the direct correlation between fathers’ share of housework and childcare to the birthrate, what’s to lose for governments that have already spent billions on trying to raise the latter, to little effect?

Indeed, if as a selection of books recently reviewed in the Atlantic show, “social and political shifts are usually the result of sustained, unseen work,” then there is still far more that needs to be done before those shifts become visible:

Source: Wikitree via Naver.

For instance, when translating foreign language programs and films into Korean subtitles, government-television broadcasters shouldn’t be allowed to depict women usually using honorific speech (존댓말) to men and men usually informal language (반말) to women, an extremely common practice that is done regardless of the status of the characters and despite no such distinctions being made in the original language. (It was even done in The Return of Superman to BBC Dad and his wife here in Busan.) Likewise, private broadcasters who do should also be named and shamed.

In case it’s not immediately clear why, pop culture gatekeepers’ dogged determination in making sure that one sex is always portrayed as higher status than the other, is not exactly a good basis upon which to discuss a more egalitarian division of home responsibilities. A clear commitment by policymakers to do away with this practice then, would surely be helpful. Likewise, and finally, also a commitment to use gender neutral terms concerning childcare and housework standard practice for all government departments’ communications with the public. Because again, what possible harm could it do?

Source: YouTube.

I’ve written about this before, most recently in 2019 about a new term for stroller that removes the notion that it’s a mother that should be pushing it. Sadly however, I’ve yet to encounter that new term personally, as An Hyae-min also laments in their April 24 “Mabu News” column for SBS News. Some excerpts to finish with:

우리나라의 성차별 언어는 얼마나 될까요? 한국어는 독일어와 프랑스어처럼 성별이 박혀있는 언어보다는 상대적으로 성중립적이기 쉬운 언어 구조를 가지고 있습니다. 하지만 그럼에도 불구하고 한국어 곳곳에서 성차별적 언어를 어렵지 않게 발견할 수 있어요. 2018년 여성가족부가 조사한 <일상 속 성차별 언어 표현 현황 연구> 결과를 보면, 성차별 언어 표현을 한 번이라도 접해본 사람의 비율은 응답자의 90%가 넘는 수치를 기록했습니다. 특히 성역할에 관한 차별 표현이 91.1%로 가장 많았어요. 여성을 지칭할 때만 ‘여’ 자를 따로 붙이는 ‘여배우’, ‘여의사’, ‘여경’ 같은 단어들이 그런 예가 되겠죠.

“How sexist is the Korean language? Actually, Korean tends to be relatively gender-neutral compared to gender-studded languages ​​like German and French. Yet despite this, you can easily find many sexist terms in Korean. According to the results of a study conducted by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in 2018 on the status of sexist language expression in daily life, the proportion of people who have encountered sexist language at least once a day was recorded by more than 90% of the respondents. In particular, the expression of discrimination regarding gender roles was the highest at 91.1%. Examples of such words would be ‘actress’, ‘female doctor’, and ‘female police officer’, where the reference to the person’s sex is used only when referring to women who perform those roles [not the ‘default’ of men who do].” (Source, right: Geoffrey Fairchild; CC BY 2.0)

가족 호칭에서도 남편 쪽의 친척에게는 ‘도련님’, ‘아가씨’로 높여 부르지만 아내 쪽은 ‘처남’, ‘처제’로 부르고 있죠. 남성과 여성을 병렬적으로 배치할 경우에 ‘남녀노소’, ‘아들딸’, ‘남녀공학’ 등 남성이 먼저 위치하지만 비하하는 표현을 사용할 땐 ‘연놈’과 같이 여성을 지칭하는 말이 먼저 오기도 하고요. 심지어 여성이 앞에 와 있는 Ladies and Gentlemen을 ‘신사숙녀 여러분’으로 뒤바꿔 번역하기도 하죠.

“Even in family titles, relatives on the husband’s side are called ‘bachelor’ and ‘agassi/unmarried woman‘, but on the wife’s side they are called ‘brother-in-law’ and ‘sister-in-law’. Also, when men and women are placed in parallel in a neutral term, men are mentioned first, such as in ‘man and woman’, ‘son and daughter’, and ‘co-education’—even the English ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ is reversed in Korean. But when using derogatory combined expressions, words referring to the women come first, such as in ‘Yeonnom.'”

● 유모차 → 유아차
: 여성(母)만 포함되어있는 단어로 평등육아 개념과 맞지 않음. 아이가 중심이 되는 유아차가 성중립 언어라고 할 수 있음.

● 스포츠맨십 → 스포츠정신
: 스포츠를 하는 누구나 가져야 하는 스포츠정신에 남성(man)만 포함되어있는 단어는 성평등에 어긋남.

● 자매결연 → 상호결연
: 상호 간의 관계 형성의 사회적 의미를 ‘자매’라는 여성적 관계로 표현. 여성에 대한 인격적 편향성을 높일 수 있다는 점에서 차별적 표현

● Stroller → Baby Car: A word that contains only women (母) does not fit the concept of equal parenting. A child-centered infant car can be said to be a gender-neutral language.

● Sportsmanship → Sports spirit : A word that contains only men in the spirit of sports that everyone who plays sports should have is against gender equality.

● Sisterhood relationship → Mutual relationship : Expressing the social meaning of mutual relationship formation as a feminine relationship called ‘sister’. Discriminatory expression in that it can increase personal bias toward women

이러한 성차별적 표현을 바꾸기 위한 노력은 곳곳에서 보입니다. 위에 정리해 둔 건 서울시 여성가족재단에서 2018년부터 진행하고 있는 성평등 언어 사전의 일부 내용들이에요. 서울시에선 시민들과 함께 성중립 언어 개선안을 만들어서 공표하고 있죠. 국립국어원에서는 가족 호칭에 대해서 아내 쪽 친척을 남편 쪽 친척의 호칭처럼 ~님으로 부르는 방식을 권고하기도 했어요.

“Efforts to change these sexist expressions are everywhere. Listed above are some of the contents of the Gender Equality Language Dictionary, which the Seoul Gender Equality and Family Foundation has been running since 2018. The Seoul Metropolitan Government is working with citizens to create and announce a gender-neutral language improvement plan. The National Institute of the Korean Language also recommended that relatives on the wife’s side be called with the honorific ‘nim’, just like relatives on the husband’s side.”

가장 보수적인 언어가 통용되는 법령 용어에서도 성차별적 언어 표현을 성중립 언어로 대체하고 있습니다. 법 조문에는 여전히 ‘미망인’과 같이 성차별적 표현이 있거든요. 이를 바꿔보려고 한국법제연구원이 법률을 전수 조사해서 차별 언어를 검토하기도 했습니다. 지난달엔 법무부 디지털 성범죄 전문위원회에서 ‘성적 수치심’이라는 단어를 성 중립적 용어로 변경하라고 권고한 일도 있었고요.

“Even in statutory terminology, which is used in the most conservative languages, sexist language is being replaced by gender-neutral language. There are still sexist expressions such as ‘widow’ in the law. To change this, the Korea Legislative Research Institute conducted a full investigation of the law to examine the language of discrimination. Last month, the Ministry of Justice’s Digital Sex Crimes Committee recommended that the word ‘sexual shame’ be changed to a gender-neutral term.”

Korean Sociological Image #61: Stereotypical Gender Roles in Pororo

RELATED POSTS

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

How Korean Celebrity, Gender, and Advertising Intersect—Some Quick Key Points

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes.

But first, let me extend my warm thanks to Professor CedarBough Saeji (a.k.a. @TheKpopProf) for her invitation to talk on this topic to her class last week. Next, to her students also for their many interesting questions and observations, given to me both in person and as they live-tweeted the event!

As there were too many tweets to respond to individually afterwards however, and because most were related to some key points I’d ended up having to rush over because I’d wasted far too much time showing videos of time constraints, I decided to clarify them in a long thread instead. Please click to read, and, because the more in the discussion the merrier, please feel free to respond yourself, either on Twitter or in the comments section below.

Finally, seeing as we’re on the subject of talks, let me also remind everyone that if you too would like me to give one to your own class or organization, whether in person or via Zoom, then I’ll probably jump at the chance if our schedules work out. So please get in touch! :)

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)