December Book Club Meeting: “I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokpokki: A Memoir” by Baek Se-hee, Wednesday 21 December, 8:15pm KST

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes.

To round off our last book club meeting of the year, may I present I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokpokki: A Memoir by Baek Se-hee, first published in 2018 and recently translated into English by Anton Hur. Described as “part memoir, part self-help book, and completely engrossing,” by The Korea Society, I Want to Die “is a book that captures the edgy relationship many millennials and Gen Z-ers have with hopelessness, hunger, and the pressure to be perfect.” It also provides, according to Willow Heath of Books and Bao, “a window into the mind of someone with depression, and a hand on the shoulder of anyone who suffers with it themselves,” and I just can’t wait to read it!

Please see LibraryThing, The StoryGraph, GoodReads and the videos below for reviews, and then, if I Want to Die still appeals, I’d like to invite you to our meeting on Wednesday 21 December, at 8:15pm Korean time. If you are interested in attending, please contact me via email, or leave a comment below (only I will be able to see your email address), and 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. At the same time, I will also post a SPOILER FILLED list of suggested discussion topics and questions below, which we’ll use to loosely structure the meeting (so please watch this space!).

But I want to emphasize that they will definitely only be suggestions, as I stress that the meetings are very small and informal really. And also, to help ensure that they remain as safe a space as possible, that 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!

♥♥♥

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

EVEN MORE Upcoming Zoom Lectures and Webinars You Should Totally Register for ASAP

I swear original posts ARE coming. If only there weren’t all these distractions…

Reading time: 4 minutes. Image source: Photo by Fausto García-Menéndez on Unsplash

First, on Thursday 8 December at 10:00 Korean Time, Jackie Kim-Wachutka (Ritsumeikan University) will be talking about her book Zainichi Korean Women in Japan: Voices. More information and registration available here and here:

Presenting the voices of a unique group within contemporary Japanese society—Zainichi women—this book provides a fresh insight into their experiences of oppression and marginalization that over time have led to liberation and empowerment. Often viewed as unimportant and inconsequential, these women’s stories and activism are now proving to be an integral part of both the Zainichi Korean community and Japanese society.

Featuring in-depth interviews from 1994 to the present, three generations of Zainichi Korean women—those who migrated from colonial Korea before or during WWII and the Asia-Pacific War and their Japan-born descendants—share their version of history, revealing their lives as members of an ethnic minority. Discovering voices within constricting patriarchal traditions, the women in this book are now able to tell their history. Ethnography, interviews, and the women’s personal and creative writings offer an in-depth look into their intergenerational dynamics and provide a new way of exploring the hidden inner world of migrant women and the different ways displacement affects subsequent generations.

This book goes beyond existing Anglophone and Japanese literatures, to explore the lives of Zainichi Korean women in Japan.

Next, also on Thursday 8 December, at 19:00 Korean Time, Gavin Campbell (Doshisha University) will present a Modern Japan History Workshop titled Modern Girl, Modern Geisha: Interwar Popular Entertainment and the Geisha of Kyoto. The Zoom link is https://u-tokyo-ac-jp.zoom.us/j/82336610079, and the password will be available here from December 5:

In 1927 a new building cast long shadows over the tiled roofs and narrow alleys of Kyoto’s Pontocho geisha district. Four stories framed by steel girders and clad with fashionable yellow bricks, the building dwarfed tea houses of wood, tile and paper. Inspecting it from across the river, an observer would have quite naturally wondered how much longer Pontocho’s narrow streets would echo the shamisen’s twang, the geisha’s song, and the quiet rustling of kimono over candle-lit tatami mats.

But in fact Pontocho geisha were thrilled. After all, they were the ones who had built this startlingly modern kaburenjo as a multi-purpose entertainment hall. It housed a large theater to showcase their district’s annual “Kamogawa odori,” it gave geisha and their maiko apprentices space for classrooms, and it boasted a large hall the public could rent out for dances, banquets or other fun. This new kaburenjo, then, was one prominent way Pontocho’s geisha adapted to a rapidly changing popular entertainment landscape.

Scholars of interwar Japanese culture have largely overlooked geisha in favor of department stores, cafes, and movie palaces, and the cabaret dancers, actresses and “modern girls” that all seemed to be making the geisha obsolete. Focusing on Kyoto’s Pontocho geisha district, this paper instead argues that geisha creatively adapted to new forms of mass spectacle and popular entertainment. Geisha are, in short, a fascinating and overlooked constituent in the emergence of “the modern.”

Then, on Monday 12 December from 20:00 to 21:30 Korean Time, Katrien Jacobs (Chinese University of Hong Kong and Ghent University) will lead a Centre for Research on Culture and Gender lunch seminar titled Tit-for-Tat Media and the Hong Kong Meltdown, (register and more info; Facebook event) in which she will discuss:

…a polarization in social media discourses and sexual politics in the field of online activism. Political activists across the political spectrum are using online visual cultures as “extreme speech” to target each other and as a mechanism of emotional release and social cohesion. The talk will zoom in on the role of sex-focused visuals used during the Hong Kong Anti-Extradition movement of 2019 and coinciding with “a highly radicalized “laam chau” doctrine. (“If we burn, you will burn with us”). It will outline the wider techno-political contexts of these visuals and also make a plea for archiving and studying them despite their highly contentious and “rubbish-like” nature. It will discuss research methods of “historicizing” and “humanizing” this imagery by positioning them as catalysts for radicalized movements, geo-political transformations and sexual well-being. At the same time, it will ponder a shift in a researcher’s methods of online ethnography from open and affective encounters or observations towards a cautious handling of highly polarized and politicized materials.

Finally, on Friday 16 December from 17:30 to 19:00 Korean Time, Dr. Alisa Freedman (University of Oregon) will give a talk titled  Japan on American TV: An Alternate History of US Fascinations and Fears of Japan. More information and registration available here and here:

This talk explores political, economic, and cultural issues underlying depictions of Japan on US television comedies and the programs they have inspired. Since the start of regular broadcasting in the 1950s, US television programs have taken the role of “curators” of Japan, displaying and explaining selected aspects for viewers. Beliefs in US hegemony over Japan underpin this curation process. Drawing from my book  Japan on American TV, I will take a historical perspective to understand the diversity of TV parodies about Japan and show how these programs reflect changing patterns of cultural globalization and perpetuate national stereotypes while verifying Japan’s international influence. I will suggest strategies for using TV comedies as research and teaching tools to gently approach racism, cultural essentialism, cultural appropriation, and other issues otherwise difficult discuss. Television presents an alternative history of American fascinations with and fears of Japan.

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

Why is Korea’s Largest Marriage Agency Only Targeting Women?

Potential customers are put off by unequal sex ratios, and Duo already has more female customers than male ones. So what gives?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes.

I know, I know—I’m not even divorced yet, and I’m already looking at marriage agencies. But the reality is that Duo’s latest campaign ads are just impossible to avoid on Korean public transport at the moment. And the obvious emphasis on attracting female customers in them, for a service ostensibly about providing those women with as many romantic encounters with male suitors as their finances allow, should give everyone misgivings. For it’s not like correcting an excess of male customers is the motivation.

This concern may still sound odd. “Sweet,” I’d wager, is what usually comes to mind when most people see Duo ads. Indeed, I only did a double-take at this one at all because I happened to be reviewing my translations of a lavishly-illustrated, feminist Korean book about paintings of nude women (as any normal person does on the subway), and, glancing up, was immediately struck by how unlike those paintings the ad was. For actor Lee Shi-won/이시원‘s look back at the viewer doesn’t exactly scream pandering to the male gaze. Nor did all the other Duo ads on the subway carriage I could see from my seat, some of which just had Lee alone, and only one of which had model Noh Seong-Su/노성수 looking back with her.

Source: Duo.

Then my stop was coming up. And you don’t exactly need to have read Erving Goffman’s Gender Advertisements to be realize what the ‘relative sizes‘ of Lee and Noh in these ads signify in the ads I saw once I stood up:

But so what? What is the issue exactly, about Duo prioritizing women?

Well, the last time I checked in 2020, Duo had more female than male customers then, at a ratio of something like 6 to 4 or 5.5 to 4.5.

I don’t know if this ratio was affected by the pandemic. But regardless, more women competing for fewer men clearly disadvantages them. That extra level of competition also incentivizes charging women more for the same services offered men. Which indeed Duo, and most of the over 1000 other registered agencies out there, do so with a gusto.

Moreover, Duo, already experiencing massive drops in sales in the mid and late-2010s, almost made none at all in 2021 thanks to the pandemic, as marriages and childbirths, still inexorably tied together in Korea, dropped precipitously. Which, once again, was something the subway carriage wasn’t subtle about reminding me:

So, although Duo clearly retains the financial resources for its latest massive campaign, I speculate that it may actually represent a doubling-down on financially discriminating against young women. And, given Duo’s position as a industry leader and model, I have concerns about what this will have on Korean dating, gender roles, and marriage norms.

Not convinced? Really, it’s only a matter of degree. Please see my in-depth investigation from 2020 for a plethora of evidence on how that sexual discrimination has in fact been occurring for decades. And don’t let me forget the influence on body-image either: just a few months ago, one agency focusing on wealthy clients, with nearly half a million customers, came under fire for its strict financial criteria for admitting men, but only requiring a members’ vote of 3.6/5 on appearance alone to admit women. I also invite readers to consider that demanding women pay more to date men than vice-versa,* and deliberately skewing their customers’ sex ratios to justify this, is surely yet another form of “pink tax” that perpetuates the gender gap.

*(I realize that the norm in Korea is for men to pay on dates; no social issue that is interesting isn’t complicated!)

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

MORE Upcoming Zoom Lectures and Webinars You Should Totally Register for ASAP

Reading time: 4 minutes. Image source: Photo by Fausto García-Menéndez on Unsplash

Am really far too busy…must resist…but neither spirit…nor flesh…is willing…

So, let’s just make letting you know about interesting online presentations and webinars I’m attending a regular thing from now on.

In chronological order then, with the first one starting just tomorrow (hey, I only just found out about it myself!):

On Wednesday 23 November, 18:00-19:30 Korean Time / 10:00-11:30 CET, the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism will host a live briefing for the release of the book Masculinity and Violent Extremism. More information and registration here:

Update: Here’s a recording of the webinar. One of the presenters, Professor Michael Flood, told me it’s going to be made into an open-access book soon too. I’ll keep you posted! :)

Next, on Tuesday 29 November, 12:00 Korean Time, Chuyun Oh (San Diego State Univ.) will give a talk about her book K-pop Dance: Fandoming on Social Media. More information and registration here and here:

Then on Friday 02 December, 09:00-10:00 Korean time / Thursday, December 1, 16:00-17:00 (Pacific), Hagen Koo will talk about his book Privilege and Anxiety: The Korean Middle Class in the Global Era. More information and registration here and here:

Finally, on Thursday and Friday, 08 and 09 December, 11:30-19:00 Korean time, 13:30-21:00 AEDT, the jam-packed Queering the Korean Wave: An International Symposium will be held, with multiple presentations spread over the two days. See here for more information and registration:

What are you waiting for? ;)

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

9th Busan Women’s Film Festival to be Held This Friday and Saturday

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes.

Curiously unconcerned about consulting with me first (I know, right?), the organizers of the Busan Women’s Film Festival scheduled this year’s event to open on the day of my divorce hearing.

This somewhat complicates my own attendance. But don’t let that stop you!

Obviously if your Korean is good, then you’re spoilt for choice. As for non-Korean speakers though, unfortunately I’ve yet to hear if any of the Korean films will have English (or even hangul) subtitles available, and frankly doubt there will be. (Update: The organizers have confirmed only the two foreign films will have subtitles.)

However, there is the English-language The Ants and the Grasshopper screening on Friday night, and the French-language L’événement on Saturday afternoon. With translation apps or plugins, reserving tickets for either and arranging the bank transfers seem pretty straightforward.

So what are you waiting for? ;)

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

There are More Entry-level Korean Women Journalists than Men These Days. So Why do Most Leave the Industry in Less Than 10 Years?

It’s not as simple as just increased childcare responsibilities—Korea already has a record-low birthrate, and women journalists the world over have less children than women in most other professions. So what gives?

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes. Photo (cropped) by Dynamic Wang on Unsplash.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, I like to think, that a single industry so possessed by one sex, must be in want of dramatic reform.

Okay, I did force that Austen-like opener somewhat.

But when you realize that the entry number of Korean women journalists has started to exceed that of men in recent years, only for most women to leave the industry in less than 10 years? Also, that the ensuing absence of women mentors, and continued domination of newsrooms by masculine culture are, ipso facto, some of the main causes of that?

Perhaps awkward forced changes, such as quotas for board members of news organizations, are precisely what the industry needs.

I can’t pretend to possess insider knowledge in that regard, nor detailed solutions. But from now on, I can at least share everything I’ve collected about sexism and bias in the Korean media industry over the years to spread awareness, as well as anything new as it comes up. In particular, such a gold mine of information as Na Yeon Lee and Changsook Kim’s “Why Are Women Journalists Leaving the Newsroom in South Korea? Gendered and Emerging Factors that Influence the Intention to Leave” just published last month in Journalism Practice.

If your interest isn’t piqued just by the title alone, let me leave you with some telling quotes that demonstrate why it really should be,* and please get in touch if you don’t have access to a copy.

*Apologies for removing the numerous sources mentioned for the sake of readability. Please consult the original for those, many of which sound just as interesting and informative as this one!

Just four years, ago MBC anchorwoman Lim Hyeon-ju caused a sensation by defying the rule that female news anchors weren’t allowed to wear glasses on the job.

First, on why I think quotas are absolutely necessary:

…in South Korea in 1996, JoongAng Daily, one of the largest South Korean newspapers, employed only 24 women journalists out of a total of 402 journalists. Soon after, the percentage of women journalists began to surge so that by 2020 women accounted for about 32.8% of the total number of journalists. However, most women journalists were younger and about 10% of women journalists were in top-management positions.

And:

In South Korea in recent years, although the entry number of women journalists has exceeded that of men journalists , there were only 7 women out of 138 (5.07%) board members among the 29 major news organizations.

Next, on why a gender balance in news media is so important:

The under-representation of women journalists in newsrooms is regarded as problematic based on findings of previous studies that the gender of journalists influences their reporting practices as well as the content of news coverage. For example, a recent study found that news organizations where women journalists occupy positions at editorial levels were more likely to have covered the “#Me Too Movement” than organizations without women editors in high positions. In fact, previous studies have repeatedly reported that with fewer women journalists, portrayals of women as well as marginalization of women’s concerns are themes often overlooked in news stories. Therefore, if women journalists consistently exit the news industry, their voices in covering newsworthy topics will likely disappear along with recommendations for improved newsroom policies and culture.

Moreover, in the absence of upper-level women journalists…

…several studies have shown that while the number of women journalists has increased, characteristics of newsrooms as masculine domains remain entrenched. In fact…“Young women journalists decided to resign because of men-centered culture and they felt they had less attention than men journalists from their organizations.” [Also], although there has been an increase in the number of Korean women journalists in recent decades, the traditional model of newsrooms based on a male model that expects strong work commitment and unusually long hours has not substantially changed. In addition, in South Korea, women journalists often face work-family conflicts after marriage due to society’s concepts of the traditional gender role of women, influenced by Korean cultural standards.

Photo by Anh Tuan To on Unsplash.

And finally, in conclusion:

…the results of this study show that the three most important factors in women journalists’ leaving the newsroom are (1) the weakening of social status, (2) a newsroom dominated by masculine culture, and (3) additional online workloads.

…although more and more women journalists have entered the news industry, the masculine newsroom culture has not changed because most of high-level positions in news media organizations are still held by men journalists. Interestingly, in-depth interviews, conducted…with nine young women journalists who resigned with less than 10 years of experience, revealed they had voluntarily left because they were unable to “find a role model who overcame the male-centered culture of a journalist society and the organizational culture of newspaper companies.” Their responses indicate that women journalists in South Korea continue to be perceived as “often excluded from the internal networks established by men.” Also, they are less likely than men to have the benefit of mentors.

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