South Korea’s Invisible Military Girlfriends

Turning Boys Into Men? The Performance of Gender for South Korean Conscripts, Part 5

The Longest 24 Months

(Source: HanCinema)

Wait for each other, or split up? It’s a dilemma as old as the military itself. In its modern Korean form, young couples have to decide if they will stay together for his 21-24 months of compulsory military service, with family members and friends competing for his few days of leave. And if they do stay together, lonely and miserable? She’ll worry that he’ll come back a patriarch, and/or have visited prostitutes; he’ll worry that she’ll sleep with his friends, and will wait in dread for a Dear John text.

To counter conscripts’ isolation, one measure developed by the military in 2015 was the provision of shared mobile phones. But they have limited functionality, and the Korean military still stands out for conscripts’ very limited ability to get in touch with people off-base, offering nothing like the level of contact most young couples would be used to. Physical visits are impractical too, most conscripts being sent to the DMZ, and/or far away from their hometowns or any other urban centers.

Which makes the following KT commercial so poignant:

For non-Korean speakers: both his mom and his girlfriend think the unknown number is just spam, so they hang-up when he calls. With the “olleh Love of Country Plan” though, now his girlfriend can see exactly who it is…only to hang up on him anyway because she’s on a date.

Never fear however, for she happily answers him the next time round. Perhaps the date didn’t go so well?

(Chrome users: Is this showing as grey in your browsers too, or just for me? The video is definitely there!)

I was confused by the phone plan at first, which seemed to offer no more than a glorified caller-ID. Pause the video to read the fine print though, and you can see it also offers 200 minutes of free calls and 200MB of data per month, provided the conscript obtains a “Love of Country Card” first. With that, it explains, he can call from KT phones on bases, from public phones, and even do video calls on a smartphone, and his nearest and dearest will be informed it’s him too. (Presumably, he would have to input a special number on the card first, like with old-style international phone cards.) And good for them.

(Note: The commercials are from early-2015, before the military started providing nerfed mobile phones to conscripts; I don’t know if this service is still available sorry.)

(Update: Thanks to Eames (@Eames29), who tells me it is:)

(Source)
(Source)

But the commercials got me thinking. I suddenly realized, I see military couples so rarely in Korean pop culture, and military girlfriends even less so. I wondered, is there a shared bond there in the collective Korean female psyche so to speak, that isn’t getting the attention it deserves? Or, with 250,000 men conscripted every year, and probably tens of thousands of them deciding to soldier on with their girlfriends, are military girlfriends’ experiences as diverse as the women themselves? Is it just me that has been overlooking them in Korean pop culture? Or, is it that, being so normalized and unremarkable, no one thinks to give them any attention at all?

(Source: MovieDiary)

I’d wager the latter. Despite their ubiquity, my Korean wife and friends can’t think of any specific terms for “military girlfriend” or “military couple,” and can’t think of any movies or dramas that focus on them either.* I myself can only think of one movie: the slightly old but still very watchable and relatable Crazy Waiting (기다리다 미쳐), a.k.a. The Longest 24 Months or Going Crazy Waiting, an intertwined story about four military couples, but which stresses the girlfriends’ perspectives (I’ll write a review in a later post in this series):

Yet our ignorance hardly settles the matter. One purpose of this post then, is just to throw all those questions out there, and to ask readers to share their own pop culture suggestions. As well as their own experiences of being in military relationships, and/or of people they know.

The second is to stress the importance of simply asking those questions at all.

Don’t just take my word for it though. Read some excerpts from “Militarizing Women’s Lives” by Cynthia Enloe, a short essay in The Socialist Feminist Project: A Contemporary Reader in Theory and Politics, ed. by Nancy Holmstrom (2002), which I just finished yesterday. And which has left me with such a buzz, I could quote from it all night:

One needs to take seriously the complicated militarized experiences of women as prostitutes, rape victims, mothers, wives, nurses, and feminist activists in order to make full sense of what happens when women are permitted in limited numbers to soldier in still-militarized militaries. To invest one’s curiosity solely in women as soldiers is to treat the militarization of so many other women as normal.

(p. 293)

This focus is relevant to Korea too. Where, as I wrote in Part 1

[The current economy] is so terrible…that even women are showing interest in the limited—but growing—number of positions open to them, despite the extreme discrimination and harassment they face once inside.

…but I’ve yet to see much media attention on present-day military prostitutes (as opposed to comfort women for Japan and then for the USFK), let alone military mothers, wives, and girlfriends.

Continuing with Enloe:

If we adopt the mainstream media’s fascination with women-as-soldiers, and thus devote only meager attention and thought to all other militarized women, we will, by our own very inattention, I think, perpetuate militarized officials’ capacity to manipulate many women’s hopes and fears and skills. Any militarized government’s manipulative capacity has relied on most people not being interested in military wives; on most people holding as “trivial” the mixed feelings of military girlfriends; on most people turning military mothers, wartime rape victims, and military prostitutes into either abstract nationalist icons or objects of shame and exclusion. Inattention is a political act.

(Ironic image source, left: Ilbe)

…Women who serve militaries’ needs differently usually do not see themselves as bound together by their shared womanhood or even by their shared militarization. In fact, some militarized women will see their own respectability, income, or career chances thrown into jeopardy by the actions of other militarized women. Mothers of soldier-sons, for instance, do not have any automatic political affinity with women soldiers. A woman who is a military wife may go to considerable lengths to not ask about the women who work in the discos around his base. Feminists working to help women soldiers overcome the institutional barriers of sexual harassment and homophobia inside the military may not give much thought at all to women as militarized mothers, wives, and prostitutes.

…Military officials and their civilian supporters go to great lengths in order to ensure that each of these groups of women feels special and separate.

(p. 294, emphases in original; bold emphases mine)

Next, a rallying cry for this series, condensing thousands of my own words:

…militaries and their supporters in both government and the general public have needed not only women, flesh and blood creatures. They have also needed ideas, especially ideas about femininity. Just as important to the maintenance of military life as has been the ideology of manliness, just as important as parades, alliances, and weaponry, have been certain feminized ideas—”the fallen woman,” “patriotic motherhood,” “marital fidelity,” “racial purity,” “national sacrifice,” and sexualized “respectability.” Sometimes militaries even have needed a very particular version of the idea “liberated woman.”

(p. 295)

And finally, in the strange event that you’re not yet having a braingasm yourself, and aren’t emailing me begging me to use my photo-to-pdf app on the five-page essay:

Precisely because the U.S. Military has become so physically and ideologically influential in today’s [2002] post-Cold-War world, we do need, I think, to pay special heed to American manipulation of ideas about women and to the appeal that those militarized ideas have for so many women. In the late-1990s the American armed forces provided not only traveling trainers, but their own formulas for AIDs prevention and peacekeeping…Each one of these international training programs is providing a site for the export of American ideas about what should be expected of a man, what should be expected of a woman—not just of a woman in uniform, but a woman in a soldier’s home and a woman in a militarized off-base disco.

(p. 296; bold emphases mine)

And if that’s the case for the U.S. military overseas, why not for the Korean military in its own country? An institution that affects a far greater proportion of both men and women than the U.S. military ever will of U.S. citizens?

Please send me your thoughts. And, has anyone else seen Crazy Waiting BTW? Let’s (re)watch it in the next two weeks for my review! :D

(“Couple in Ewha on their last date before he left for military service, in September, 2007,” by feetmanseoul; used with permission.)

*Update) With thanks to Bunny Bones who commented on the blog’s Facebook page, there is a word for military girlfriends: “고무신/곰신” (go-mu-shin/gom-shin), which literally means “wearing rubber shoes,” but comes from the expression “고무신 거꾸로 신다,” (go-mu-shin goh-gguro shin-da), or “wearing rubber shoes the wrong way.” There’s also a term for military girlfriends whose boyfriends have finally returned: “꽃신” (ggot-shin), literally “wearing flowers.”

The first term did ring a bell for my wife (I’ve yet to ask my friends), but not “wearing flowers.” That’s probably because, Bunny Bones explained, it’s from 규찌툰 (Gyuzzi-toon), a now defunct but still very much available webtoon about a military couple.

(Source: Wikitree)

Now I sense that, outside of rare mainstream film and TV portrayals, there may be a whole wealth of alternative pop-culture representations of military couples and girlfriends out there. And if so, I’d be very happy to be proven wrong about their invisibility!

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“우리는 할수 있다!”

With permission, allow me to present Jen Lee’s Korean version of the iconic “We Can Do It!” poster:

(Source: nabichan@instagram)

I know: you’ve just got to have one, right? Unfortunately though, Jen, whom many of you will already know and love as the author of the Dear Korea webcomic, doesn’t offer it as a poster yet. But I’m hoping that so many of you will join me on her Facebook page in demanding one, that she’ll just have no choice but to find a way to print and sell them online ;)

Meanwhile, I hope you all had a great International Women’s Day (which is also my birthday BTW!), and sorry for not having a post up on Monday—I’ve just been very busy with the start of the new semester, and my wife has just started a new job too. But I’ll be back to my normal posting schedule next week.

See you then!

Update: In case you can’t get access to Jen’s personal Facebook page, please try her at her Dear Korea one or at her Instagram instead.

Update 2: It’s working! To help Jen work out the logistics, please click on this one-minute poll to give her an idea of what size you’d prefer, and if you’re inside or outside of Korea.

Update 3: Success!

Feminazi Killjoys Target Cute Children’s Song

And I’m one of them:

%ec%95%84%eb%b9%a0-%ed%9e%98%eb%82%b4%ec%84%b8%ec%9a%94

(Source: Instiz)

Here’s a transcript:

‘아빠 힘내세요’라는 동요 아시죠.

Anchor: You know the song Cheer Up Father, yes?

어깨 축 쳐진 아빠에게 아이들이 용기를 줬던 노래인데 이 노래가 양성평등을 저해한다는 판정이 나와 문화관광부가 해명자료까지 내는 소동이 벌어졌습니다.

This is the song which gives encouragement to exhausted, depressed fathers, but it has been recently criticized for hindering gender equality. In response, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism issued a statement clarifying what the song is really about.

무슨일인지, 박철현 기자가 보도합니다.

Park Cheol-hyon reports:

“아빠 힘내세요, 우리가 있잖아요”

1997년 발표된 동요 ‘아빠 힘내세요’입니다.

“Dad, cheer up/be strong, you have us”: this is the children’s song released in 1997.

“IMF때 굉장히 많이 들어봤고요. 아이들이 보자마자 불러줬을 때 저절로 힘도 났고..”

Cho Hong-joon, Person on the street #1:

“I heard this song a lot during the IMF Crisis. It  cheered me up when my kids sang it to me”.

그런데 문화관광부는 이 노래가 우리 사회 양성 평등 의식을 해치는 대표적인 사례 중 하나라는 연구 결과를 발표했습니다.

However, in a statement of research results released by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, this song was given as an example of something hindering gender equality awareness.

이 노래가 경제활동을 하는 것은 남성이라는 고정 관념을 키워준다는 겁니다.

This song encourages the notion that it is only men that should partake in economic activity.

특히 엄마가 요리하면서 아빠를 기다리는 만화 동영상은 여성은 가사 노동만 한다는 선입견을 심어줄 수 있다고 지적했습니다.

In particular, a popular accompanying video for the song depicts women cooking while waiting for their husbands, perpetuating traditional gender roles.

[James: Actually, only one of videos shown in the report does that; it can be viewed here.]

“여자들도 많이 일을 하고 더 힘들어요. 여자가 들어봤을 때는 별로인 것 같아요.”

Park Hyeon-joo, Person on the street #2:

“Women work a lot, and it’s harder for us. When they hear it, women don’t care for this song.”

하지만 황당하다는 반응이 많습니다.

But many people replied that the criticisms were nonsense.

“노래는 노래일 뿐이지, 거기에 그런 의미를 부여한다면 그게 더 문제..”

Jeon Byeong-rok, person on the street #3:

“This song is just a song, it only becomes problematic if you read too much into it.”

노래를 만든 현직 초등학교 교사 한수성씨는 가사는 아내가 썼고 이 노래로 국무총리 표창까지 받았다며 황당해했습니다.

The song writer Han Soo-seong, who is an elementary school teacher, said that the lyrics were written by his wife, and pointed out that he received an award from the Prime Minister for it.

“가사가 그렇게 깊은 뜻을 담고 있는 지 몰랐습니다. 말도 안되는 거죠”

“I don’t think that the lyrics have that deeper [sexist] meaning. It’s ridiculous to say so.”

논란이 커지자 문화관광부는 양성 평등 교육에 참고하라고 진행된 연구 결과일 뿐 유해 가요로 지정한 건 아니라고 해명했습니다.

In response to the controversy, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism clarified that the research was only conducted to further the cause of gender equality, not naming and shaming. (End.)

This report is actually a few years old. But the topic still regularly pops up in my Google Keyword Alerts and on Twitter, albeit usually only leading to Ilbe and DC Inside users having a good laugh at the feminazis. Emboldened perhaps, by the Ministry’s criticisms falling on such deaf ears.

Because it’s still taught to just about every Korean child, even those too young to understand it:

Demanding it of guests is still part of the repertoire of the variety-show hosts, used to elicit infantilized gender performances from girl-group members. For instance, from 20 year-old Yoo-a of Oh My Girl below (which is not to say her tears aren’t genuine):

It’s still such an ingrained part of Korean culture, that even insurance company employees will name their project teams after it, and the media will raise it in reports about the dutiful daughters of male politicians (as well as commenting on their beauty):

yoo-seung-min-yoo-dam-daughter(Source: Asiae)

And finally, because Korean fathers still work among the longest hours in the world, and wish they could be home in time to see their families. As this recent feel-good advertisement makes clear:

Who else but a feminazi would deprive Korean fathers of such a small source of joy?

But wait. Most of those examples above aren’t exactly compelling reasons to continue teaching the song to children. What’s more, even if you still don’t find the song problematic, or how it’s used, there remains the inconvenient fact that MOTHERS WORK TOO:

%ec%95%84%eb%b9%a0-%ed%9e%98%eb%82%b4%ec%84%b8%ec%9a%94%ea%b0%80-%ec%97%ac%ec%84%b1%ec%b0%a8%eb%b3%84-%eb%ac%b8%ed%99%94%ea%b4%80%ea%b4%91%eb%b6%80-%ed%95%b4%eb%aa%85%ea%b9%8c%ec%a7%80(“Women work a lot, and it’s harder for us. When they hear it, women don’t care for this song.”)

Is Park Hyeon-ju referring to work inside the house, outside, or both? A song about the former would hardly challenge traditional gender roles. Yet even that would be an improvement on something that only acknowledges the work of men. Twenty years after Cheer Up Father was written, it’s high time to acknowledge its flaws, and to begin teaching children something much more inclusive.

My suggestion is for the government to arrange a national songwriting competition. It should be determined by popular vote (the public tends to be better judges of what’s catchy), with the winning entry to replace Cheer Up Father in kindergartens and elementary schools.

Do any readers know of any examples like that from other countries? How did they go?

Update: A friend mentioned it would be a pity to lose such a catchy song, and jokingly suggested replacing appa “아빠” (father) with eomppa “엄빠,” a combination of appa and eomma “엄마” (mother) which is actually a word already, although one of those ones everyone knows but has never actually used. But I’d be all for that, especially if the videos and songbook illustrations were changed accordingly. While using the word would be awkward at first, much of this blog is about Korean companies’ and the media’s proclivity for inventing new labels and buzzwords, many—most—of which were also very awkward at first, but some of which have definitely stuck. So why not?

Related Posts:

Korean Students Challenging Slut-Shaming and the Madonna-Whore Complex

ewha-madonna-whore(Source: ‏@smile_ystkyrk)

Today’s post is a collection of encouraging images and words from the incredibly woke students of the Ewha University Women’s Committee (이화여성위원회/@ewhalovewom), which were used in their 16th Feminism Festival.

I hope you’re inspired by them, and I’d love to hear of any similar examples, and/or of anything else you’d like translated. Especially if they’re related to my birthday International Women’s Day that is coming up in a couple of weeks, and will help spread the word about Korean events :)

ewha-16th-feminism-festivalThe title of the festival poster reads “Becoming a slut.” (Lit. “The technology/method of weaving/making a slut.”)

(Source: @ewhalovewom)
ewha-madonna-whore-2(Source: ‏@smile_ystkyrk)

From a noticeboard at the event.

ewha-madonna-whore-3(Source: @ewhalovewom)

It reads:

A word for a “male slut” doesn’t exist. If you search for it on Google, you’ll only find “transvestite.”

“Slut”: there’s no more powerful word for criticizing women. It has the power to destroy them. In practice, it is used in so many ways to attack women.

We are going to think about that at this festival. Everyone’s situation is different, but we need to talk more about the words “slut” and “prostitute,” and to redefine them. When even the most trivial things about women are used to attack them as sluts, rather than avoiding the word shouldn’t we instead reconsider the images the word evokes?

Although what we have written is not eloquent, please enjoy reading it.

Let’s begin the 16th Feminism Festival!

ewha-madonna-whore-4(Source: @ewhalovewom)

ewha-madonna-whore-4aIf you don’t look naturally at the many varied forms of women’s lives, but only look at them through one twisted lens, then that is a form of misogyny. In the end, it’s not that people hate women living alone or studying abroad per se. I think it’s more that people look suspiciously at women who are not under the protection of their families, calling them sluts.

“Nobody can avoid being accused of being a slut.” (Hee-da)

ewha-madonna-whore-4bHow can it be convincing when you say that “The cause of sexual violence has nothing to do with women’s exposure” on the hand, but on the other hand say to women “Don’t wear such revealing clothes”?

“DON’T DO THAT. Don’t do that!” (Yeol-mae)

ewha-madonna-whore-4cIf you talk about women working as tenpro* by just using that label, as if they were just numbers rather than real women with real names, then you’re dehumanizing them and indirectly criticizing them. Instead, we can talk about why they became tenpro, and how come that kind of profession exists.

“Even if they are numbered, their names are not numbers.” (Bam-cha)

*This means “high class prostitute”; am embarrassed to say this was the first time I’d ever heard of this surprisingly common word.

ewha-madonna-whore-4dA teacher and a prostitute. Or, a prostitute and a teacher. I hesitate at the point where these two subjects meet. But the more I hesitated, the more I thought I should write about this. This is about my fear and insincerity when I met a prostitute.

“This is about those things.” (Sung-hyeon.)

ewha-madonna-whore-4eTo victims of sexual violence, people commonly recommend saying that they were virgins. They have to prove that [they didn’t deserve it a little by showing that] they are not bitches, they are not women who exploit their sexual attractiveness, they are not women who just play around and don’t listen to people, and that they are not the kind of women who deserve to get raped, and so on.

“Our society’s S-line.” (Rumble.)

ewha-madonna-whore-4fTo a woman, labeling her a “prostitute” is like a warning to other women, which forces those other women to act modestly and appropriately. Ultimately, it functions to control women.

“A phase of the university festival.” (Yeon-o)

ewha-madonna-whore-5(Source: ‏@smile_ystkyrk)

This one, a test for whether you’re a saint, a kimchi-girl, or a slut, looks like a lot of fun, but formatting it for this post looks a little difficult sorry. But I’ll happily try if anyone asks.

Underneath, people are encouraged post about taboos and unwritten rules they’ve heard. The three examples at the top read:

  • “Don’t go on a working holiday to Australia, people might misunderstand [your reasons for going].”
  • “Isn’t that lipstick shade too slutty-looking?”
  • “Don’t wear that short skirt!”
ewha-madonna-whore-6(Source: ‏@smile_ystkyrk)

Apologies that the festival was actually held two years ago BTW, as eagle-eyed readers will already have spotted. But those images still resonate, which is probably why they somehow surfaced in my Twitter feed last week. So too this tweet below, which I think is speaking about stereotypes of passive Korean women, but am not sure if it’s critiquing them or perpetuating them sorry (even my wife struggled with its meaning). Hence this post, just in case in was the latter!

asian-women-western-women-false-dichotomyRelated Posts:

Why Korea Has so Many Celebrity Endorsements, and Why That’s so Important for Understanding Korean Pop-Culture

korean-celebrity-endorsement(Source)

To find out, please check out my journal article “Just beautiful people holding a bottle: the driving forces behind South Korea’s love of celebrity endorsement”, which has just been published in Celebrity Studies. There’s only a very limited number of e-copies available unfortunately, so please get in touch if you have any problems accessing it.

Part of a special cultural report on (South and North) Korean celebrity, it’s only 4000 words long, which, alas, makes it at least 4000 words too short for the topic. I’m especially gutted that I had to cut out a paragraph about the “Metal Tray Karaoke Room” segment of the first season of Happy Together. So, let me mention it here instead. For if you really want to understand the strong humanizing streak in Korean celebrity culture I discuss, which underlies why there’s just sooo many ads featuring them, then there’s no greater example than that of a variety show which:

  • regularly featured A-list celebrities and/or sex symbols (e.g. Cha Tae-hyeon, Son Yae-jin, and host Lee Hyo-ri below)…
  • wearing traditional high-school uniforms…
  • in a set made of egg cartons…
  • singing obscure children’s songs…
  • and getting metal trays dropped on their heads if they made mistakes.

It also just happens to exemplify just about everything I love about Korea:

All that said, only having 4000 words to work with (actually supposed to be only 3500, but my long-suffering editor gave up on me) does force you to—ahem—get to the point, and to only cover the bare essentials. If you have any questions about the article then, and/or would just like to know more about anything covered in it, please let know in the comments, and I’d be very happy to get into greater detail.

korean-variety-shows-scripted(Source)

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Voyeur (보여) by Na-mi (나미): Lyrics and Translation

na-mi-voyeur(Sources, edited: Mediapaper, YouTube, Bonik)

I’m going to let my hair down this week. And I do enjoy covering Korean artists or groups who deserve to be much better known by English speakers. Even if they reward me by disbanding as I type this, or by never replying to my tweets.

Here’s hoping I get a different reaction from Na-mi, probably the coolest ajumma you’re ever going to meet. Allow me to present her dance/club anthem Voyeur, released in November 2013:

One of the most popular and famous disco singers of the 1980s, if you’ve spent longer than a month in Korea you will undoubtedly have heard one of her songs. Most likely, this one:

Naturally, I first heard it myself via Lee Hyo-ri:

T-ara did a version in 2012 too:

For Korean speakers, here’s a quick taste of her history:

Before Voyeur, Na-mi last performed live in 1992, and last released any new music in 1996. So you’d have imagined her comeback would have been a very big deal indeed. Unfortunately though, Voyeur just didn’t take off. Na-mi has faded back into obscurity since, closing her Twitter account and rarely updating her YouTube channel.

In hindsight, Euro-dance-pop was unlikely to appeal to her middle-aged fans. And you need more than one song and a remix to sustain the interest of any youthful converts.

Still, it’s my party, and I’ll dance to the coolest 58-year-old I know if I want to. If you want to join in, here’s my translation of the lyrics to help you sing along:

나미—보여 (Voyeur)

아련히, 너 한동안은 없었어

다 잊었다고 생각한,널 보고 있었어

Looking back nostalgically, you weren’t here for a while

I thought I’d gotten over you completely, but really I was still watching you

Chorus:

외로이, 혼자 있는 그림자

잘못 본 게 아닐까, 다시 찾아왔어 난

I’m your voyeur 보여, 너밖에 없잖아

I’m your voyeur 보여, 내겐 너뿐이야

보여 보여 보여, 날 찾아 왔잖아

보여 보여, 이젠 날 놓지마

I was lonely, I saw your shadow everywhere

Maybe it was just my imagination, but I came to find you again

I’m your voyeur, voyeur, I have only you

I’m your voyeur, voyeur, you’re the only one for me

Voyeur, voyeur, voyeur, you came to find me

Voyeur, voyeur, don’t let go of me now

아직도, 날 떠난 네가 그리,워

흔들린 너의 표정이 내 마음을 움직여

Even now, even though you left me, I miss you

Your shaking expression moved my heart

(Chorus)

보여 보여 보여 보여 보여 보여

Voyeur, voyeur, voyeur, voyeur, voyeur, voyeur

(Chorus)

And as an extra bonus, these videos too:

The Remix:

Behind the scenes:

The dance routine:

If readers know of any other singers, groups, or songs that deserve more attention, especially if they seem a little yahae, then please let me know in the comments. I can’t guarantee I will cover them sorry—a weekly posting schedule leaves little room for maneuver—but if I like them then I will definitely try!

17-Year-Old Tzuyu: “A Special Gift for Korean Men”

Turning Boys Into Men? The Performance of Gender for South Korean Conscripts, Part 4

twice-tzuyu-kookmin-bank-a-special-gift-for-korean-men-1       “Do one thing everyday, that scares you.”

My personal motto adopted from Wear Sunscreen by Baz Luhrmann (1999), without which I wouldn’t be in Korea now. Nor have had sex in a lot of strange places.

Now a middle-aged parent though, it’s difficult finding scary things to do during my daily routine. So, I force myself to take photos of interesting ads in public. It’s just terrifying you see, knowing that everyone in the bank or subway carriage will peg me as a perverted samcheon fan.

Did I mention that all Korean phones have a faux shutter sound by law?

This ad however, seemed well worth my pain and shame. Much like Chou Tzu-yu’s ads for LG last year, taken when she was only 16, it can take a moment to realize she’s not actually the product being sold here:

twice-tzuyu-kookmin-bank-a-special-gift-for-korean-men-2The header, with the red, reads “A special gift for Korean men.” The subheading in the center, with the black in bold, adds the Catch-22 that: “To qualify as a Korean man, you need a Kookmin Bank Korea Love Card”, which provides discounts at various cinemas, coffee shops, restaurants, language institutes, and stores.

Now that’s patriotism.

But humor aside, it would have been more accurate to say that only those with military experience qualify as “Korean men”, as the card is only available to current or former soldiers who had their physical after January 2007 (i.e., mostly 20-somethings). This link to the military is made more obvious in the following ad, the top line of which reads “Anyone Can Be a Youth That Loves Their Country!”, under which it says you can apply for a card at a military recruitment office in addition to KB banks:

twice-tzuyu-kookmin-bank-a-special-gift-for-korean-men-3(Source)

In fairness, even the most innocuous of Korean ads and government slogans often sound very much like propaganda when translated into English. Also, no-one is denying the great sacrifice made by young men doing their mandatory 21-24 months of military service. What clearly isn’t fair however, is how ad campaigns like these effectively label women, the disabled, openly LGBTQ individuals, conscientious objectors, and (until just 6 years ago) mixed-race Koreans as incapable of “loving their country”, which only serves to justify denying them various privileges given to former soldiers later.

Starting with this card. There’s many more reasons why women end up so excluded from Korean economic and political life of course, with modern, democratic Korea being ranked a shocking 115th out of 145 countries in gender equality by the World Economic Forum. But examples like this one undoubtedly form part of the process.

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