What a Lovely Big Shiny Purple One My Man Has!

whisen-air-conditioner-advertisement-han-ye-seul-song-seung-hun(Source: Korea Times, 25/02/2009, p. 20; see full advertisement here)

A classic case of sociologist Erving Goffman’s notion of “The Ritualization of Subordination” in depictions of the sexes together, although you don’t need to have heard of either to tell who’s the boss in this particular advertisement!

One slightly less obvious point of interest though, is Han Ye-seul’s (한예슬) use of the “bashful knee bend,” a common motif for women in advertisements, and which according to Goffman:

…can be read as a foregoing of full effort to be prepared and on the ready in the current social situation, for the position adds a moment to any effort to fight or flee. Once again one finds a posture that seems to presuppose the goodwill of anyone in the surround who could offer harm. Observe…that a sex-typed subject is not so much involved as a format for constructing a picture (Gender Advertisements, 1976, p. 45).

Which I read as it being used in advertisements to show women feeling safe and secure in the presence of their male protectors, in this case Song Seung-heon (송승헌). And why not? To claim that the depiction of that natural feeling is sexist in itself is absurd, but Goffman’s point was simply that the knee bend, and a host of other means of active/passive dichotomies in depictions of the sexes like that—such as men almost always being portrayed as taller than women, far more than in real life—were still overdone in advertising, and not exactly compensated by images of women as assertive, aggressive and/or as instructors, superiors and leaders either.

Or at least in 1976; as that last link explains and the advertisement on the right (source: popseoul) with Lee lee min ho levisMin-ho (이민호) makes clear, things have certainly changed a great deal since, having one person on a bed and/or lower than the other also being a common way of showing ranking. Which is not to say that—now that you have it in mind—you won’t still find many many examples of women with the knee bend in advertisements (or, indeed, in a bed).

But even more interesting though, is the fact that it is Song Seung-heon at all that is advertising the Whisen (휘센) air-conditioner, for actually I only noticed the ad because is the first Korean one for an air-conditioner that I’ve seen in which a man is the center of attention. Sure, that they’re dominated by women is no surprise, as it’s also true of their Western counterparts, albeit to a much lesser extent (but a difference one would expect given Korea’s deeply patriarchal society). But then bear in mind that the process of  modernization that electronics and electric appliances still epitomize—especially in a society as development-obsessed as Korea—has always involved “housewifization” and the nuclearization of the family, and so while it’s certainly true to say that owning one’s first washing machine in the 1960s in the UK, say, was also a definite signifier of status and upward mobility, Korean advertisements for the same should be placed in the context of a society where consumerism has been equated with national security, and in which the lowest numbers of women in the world work (for a developed society).  Hence not only are Korean examples almost hyperreal advertisements for modernity itself, but so far they’ve overwhelmingly featured female-centered narratives, Korean housewives’ need for the self-fulfillment that Betty Friedan saw that their purchase provided being all that more the greater here, and other manifestations of which would be an obsessive focus on real-estate speculation and on children’s educational achievements.

Which might sound a little to take in all at once, but I assure you, once you’ve seen a few examples like the one below then you’ll get a sense of how surreal they consistently are, and why this deserves explanation (and have also reminded me personally of how advertisements really are a reflection of the zeitgeist of an era). So, why the change in that particular advertisement?

My first thought was because it was for the “Luxury” (럭셔리) model, as the instant I learned that in fact a scene from science-fiction novel I read as a teenager came to mind, which opened with a conversation between a couple in which the woman explained to her fiance that, while women did the bulk of shopping, men still bought the important expensive things like houses and cars. As it happens, the couple were in a decidely backward parallel universe where, among other things, American women had never gained the vote(!), but obviously it still has echoes in real life, and indeed this logic does especially apply to Korea: for instance, while I’m not sure to what extent this tradition is followed, I’ve repeatedly heard that it is expected that before a wedding a new wife’s family must provide for the furniture for their new apartment, whereas the husband’s family must provide the apartment itself. Does the expense of this model then, draw it from the female realm to the male, thereby appealing more to the latter? Or is the advertisement still primarily aimed at women, this supposedly luxurious model possessing a male and/or sophisticated aura that other, cheaper ones lack? Or is there still some other factor that I’m missing?

Unfortunately, the K-pop blogs (see here, here and here) do little more than provide more pictures and links to related commercials, so I’d be happy to hear your own thoughts. And I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for mention of it in next month’s Korean advertising magazines.

Expect More Nudity During This Recession

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to notice Duoback’s advertisement for its new “Alpha” chair a few days ago. Yes, that one:

korean-duoback-alpha-chair-advertisement-듀오백알파-광고(Source: Metro)

It’s always nice to be proved right. Even if it is true that my earlier observations about the advertisement were common-sense really, and that it just so happens to be a tabloid-style article from Yahoo Korea that provides the first confirmation of them:

Recessions Lead to Nude Advertisements…and Flustered Commuters

인 박인숙 (35세, 가명)씨는 출근 후 회사에 비치된 신문들을 훑어보며 깜짝 놀랐다.

After arriving at work one day, a 35 year-old woman that we’ll call Park In-sook (not her real name) was surprised at what she saw while browsing a newspaper provided by her company.

맨살을 훤히 드러낸 한 여성의 뒷모습이 담긴 광고가 눈에 띄었기 때문. 녹색의 투명한 타올이 엉덩이에 살짝 걸쳐 있을 뿐 전라에 가깝다. 신문에 실린 이 광고의 품목은 여성전용 제품이 아니었다. 기능성 의자 광고였다.

Her eyes were drawn to an advertisement which featured the back side *cough* of a woman, completely naked but for a green transparent towel lightly covering her buttocks. The advertisement wasn’t actually for any product specifically for women, but was for an expensive ergonomic chair instead.

‘인간의 몸을 기억하다’는 메시지를 담고 있는 이 광고는 여성 누드 사진을 이용해 독자들의 눈길을 끌고 있다.

The accompanying message in the advertisement was that “This chair remembers the human form,” and the nude woman was clearly placed in it simply to draw the attention of readers.

duoback-loves-your-body-듀오백또 다른 신문엔 여성의 상체 누드(뒷모습) 사진이 전면광고로 실렸다. 이 광고는 한 아울렛을 소개하는 것으로 역시 여성의 알몸이 등장할 만한 제품과 거리가 멀었다.

A different full-page advertisement for a outlet store featuring only a woman’s nude back has already been in another newspaper, and in that earlier advertisement too the product(s) advertised had little to do with nor required nude women (James: not the one on the right for another Duoback chair, although it seems a strange coincidence that it’s the only other Duoback chair featuring nudity, and that the “outlet store” is unnamed; I think the report made a mistake).

최근 이처럼 일간지에 여성의 누드 사진이 활용된 광고가 눈에 띄게 늘자 독자들은 낯 뜨겁다는 반응이다. 아침부터 신문에 누드 사진과 다름없는 광고를 보게 돼 불쾌하다는 설명이다.

Recently, there has been a spate of advertisements featuring nudity in daily newspapers, and these have been making many readers embarrassed and uncomfortable when they encounter them. But these days, it is almost impossible to escape them.

박인숙씨는 “신문광고에 누드사진이 실리면 시선을 집중시킬 순 있겠지만 너무 선정적인 광고로 인해 불쾌해지는 사람들도 많을 것”이라며 “상쾌한 기분으로 아침을 시작해야하는데 이런 광고는 달갑지 않다”고 토로했다.

According to Park In-sook, “Certainly advertisements featuring nudity will get many reader’s attentions, but sensational and shocking advertisements can also make many people uncomfortable. It is important to start every day with a fresh mind, and advertisements like these aren’t helping.”

한 편으론 독자의 시선을 한 번에 끌어당길 수 있다는 측면에서 광고효과가 극대화된다는 평가다. 특히 요즘같이 불황에는 사람들의 감각을 자극하는 광고기법이 먹힌다는 속설대로 제품을 하나라도 더 팔려고 하는 회사들이 이런 광고를 자주 하고 있다는 분석이 나온다.

On the other hand, advertisements like this are more effective because they attract consumers’ attentions with just one glance. And as both modern analysis and a traditional saying advise, during a recession companies should use dependable advertisement techniques which are well proven to do so.

한 광고회사 PD는 “통상적으로 경제가 어려울 땐 자신의 소득을 기준으로 이성적인 구매를 하기 마련인데 회사 입장에선 조금이라도 자극적인 광고를 통해 소비자를 유혹하려고 한다”며 “섹스어필처럼 감각에 호소하는 광고는 단기적으로 큰 효과가 있다”고 말했다.

According to a spokesperson for the advertisement company PD behind the Duoback advertisement, “People naturally spend rationally and frugally during a recession, so from a company’s perspective it is best to use stimulating and direct advertisements that appeal to basic human senses, and those with sex-appeal especially will certainly get a quick result.”

이어 “많은 돈을 들여 톱스타를 쓰지 못하는 중소기업에서 이런 광고를 선호한다”며 “경기 불황일수록 이런 광고를 더욱 많이 하게 될 것”이라고 덧붙였다.

Moreover, “Small and medium-sized that can’t afford top stars tend to prefer these kinds of advertisements, and as the economy gets worse we can expect to see more like these.”

Because a woman’s legs can NEVER be too thin…

After all, why settle for mere sausage legs when you can have drumsticks instead?

korean-diet-advertisement-for-legsFound in passing while flicking through a discarded copy of the Korean version of the Metro International, a free daily newspaper. While it’s obvious what it’s advertising, I was sufficiently curious to find out what it was saying exactly:

나는 원래 윤아보다 다리가 섹시했다

다만 쥬비스 관리를 몰랐을 뿐!

Originally my legs were sexier than Yoona’s, but the only problem was I didn’t know about the care that Juvis (the name of the diet clinic) could provide.

내 다리는 원레 백만불짜리 다리,

세월의 무게를 견디기위해

점점 두꺼워져 갔지

이제 쥬비스로 관리받아

예전의 각선미를 되찾을거야!

Originally my legs looked like a million dollars, but in order to get through life my legs got thicker and thicker. Now, through Juvis I am going to receive a service that will restore my legs to their former beauty!

더 즐거워진 쥬비스 체험 EVENT

A more enjoyable Juvis experience event

3월부터 쥬비스의 다양한, 관리시스템이 새롭게 시작됩니다! 이벤트 기간 동안 신규 패키지를 동록하시는 고객께 새로운 관리시스템 중 2개의 이벤트 프로그램을 무료로 체험할 수 있는 혜택을 드립니다.

From March, Juvis will introduce a more varied body care system. For those that register, you will receive the benefits of experiencing two event programs for no extra charge.

여자가 꿈꾸던 라인

쥬비스에서 관리하세요 몸이 즐겨운 다이어트

The line that women have dreamt about

Get the care and a diet enjoyable for your body at Juvis

쥬비스 다이어트가 즐거운 이유:

  • 몸이 힘들지 않아서 즐겁다
  • 요요를 완벽히 잡아서 즐겁다
  • 부작용이 없어서 즐겁다
  • 탄력까지 살려줘서 즐겁다
  • 원하는 부위가 빠져서 즐겁다
  • 추가 부담이 없어서 즐겁다

Reasons why a Juvis diet is enjoyable:

  • It is not tiring for the body
  • Your weight will not go up and down like a yoyo
  • There are no side-effects
  • You will revive your body’s elasticity and bounce
  • You can lose weight from the body parts you want to
  • There are no additional charges


Korean Gender Reader

blue-puzzled-pororo-and-pink-happy-loopy-waving(Sources: Unknown)

Sorry for the long delay since the last Korean Gender Reader: much as I like to write about the low Korean birth-rate and/or the lack of affordable and trustworthy childcare that effectively stops mothers from working in Korea, I’d rather not personally suffer the side effects of those for the sake of being a better writer. Nor can I see how my sleep-deprivation, lack of exercise, weight-gaining and coming down with regular colds would ever particularly help with that either!

Hence my wife and I have bitten the bullet and will be sending our (nearly) three year-old daughter Alice to a lovely kindergarten down the road come March, 9am-2pm Mon-Fri for 320,000 won a month. On the one hand it’ll naturally be strange and a little sad without her, but on the other it’ll be good to be able to grab some much-needed sleep at the same time that our six-month old baby Elizabeth does, and especially not to have Alice screaming about watching the Korean cartoon “Pororo the Little Penguin”  all day, and me constantly worrying that Loopy(!), the only female character in the first series, “likes cooking and the arts” at her home and always seems to be making gifts of food for the boys and/or watching them on the sidelines while they invent stuff and go on adventures. Fortunately the inclusion of active, sports-mad Petty (who thinks of their English names?) somewhat compensates in the next series (update: and it turns out I missed this new positive change too).

This post covers the period since the last one then, or *cough* just over three weeks, and with the stories roughly in chronological order (with the exception of some on domestic violence, which I’ll be covering in the next post or the next). Sorry in advance for 3000 words that that delay meant, and they’ll definitely be weekly from now on.

1. Females hardest hit by economic slump

Korean Female University Student(Source: UNC – CFC – USFK; CC BY 2.0)

As I predicted, female workers (and the self-employed) are being the hardest hit by the troubled economy:

According to the National Statistical Office (NSO), the ratio of economically active females recorded 48.8 percent in December, the lowest level since last February. The rate dropped by 1.6 percentage points from November, when it hovered above 50 percent.

Not that this is due to sexism per se, more because of:

…the high ratio of part-timers and contract workers among women, who are the first target when businesses decide to cut their workforce.

And here and here are two later reports on the number of temporary and daily workers falling. Interestingly, in America the huge layoffs in the male-dominated manufacturing and construction industries means that for the first time in history America may soon have more female than male workers, women tending to work in more stable sectors such as education and health-care instead (see here for a more in-depth look). This split is paralleled in Korea of course: women are disproportionately represented in the civil service for instance, as its exam-based system of entry renders it one of the few genuinely meritocratic employment sectors out there (by coincidence my sister-in-law just qualified, after four years of trying), but with women’s overall labor force participation still being the lowest in the world then men are likely to remain the primary breadwinners for many years to come.

Which is not to say that Korean men aren’t losing their jobs in droves, and many women taking over as the main or only earner: here is a short translation of one Korean man’s take on the resulting change of gender roles for his family, and here and here are two American pieces on the effects on men and women in general (update: and here is one on why the incidence of domestic violence tends to rise with unemployment).

2. Court to decide who will take custody of children

choi-jin-sil-최진실-suicide-자살Prompted by the custody battle between actor Choi Jin-sil’s (최진실) family and her ex-husband Cho Sung-min after her suicide in October last year (see here and here also), the Ministry of Justice has ruled that in the future family courts will decide who will take custody of children when a parent dies.

Under the current law, if a divorced mother or father with custodial rights dies, the surviving former spouse automatically gets the custody, regardless of how ”ill-prepared or inappropriate” a parent they are (source, left: unknown).

3. Economic slump drives more teenage girls into prostitution

Also depressingly predictable, although it’s good that Park Eun-jung, the head official within the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs is keen to point out that “it’s not ”girls gone wild” who get involved in prostitution,” and that these days many teenagers have to sell sex simply  ”to make ends meet,” although on the other hand I very much doubt her assertion that “teenage prostitution stemmed mostly out of curiosity six months ago.”

For the full report see here, and for some context see here, here. and especially Matt’s posts on teenage prostitution and related subjects at Gusts of Popular Feeling here, here and here.

4. Speaking out against perverted teachers

Korea Beat translates a Hankyoreh columnist on the pervasive culture of sexual harassment and molestation of female teachers and students at Korean schools and the often complete impunity with which male teachers get away with such acts. For a much more in-depth look at the issue and how it pertains to (false) stereotypes of foreign teachers as perverts and molesters,  see Michael Hurt’s 2006 post at Scribblings of the Metropolitician here.

(Update: And Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling has a related post here on a tabloid news documentary from 2005 that did a great deal in helping to shape and perpetuate “the image of English teachers as unqualified, pot-smoking child molesters”)

5. Korean women rush to buy self-defense weapons

The Korea Times reports that many women are rushing to buy self-defense weapons in the wake of the arrest of rapist and serial killer Kang Ho-soon, especially those compact enough to fit into a pocket or purse, and the sales of surveillance cameras, electronic door locks and other security gadgets has also correspondingly increased.

(Update: Korea Beat reports that the numbers of CCTV cameras is exploding in wealthier districts of Seoul especially, and all Seoul schools are also in the process of adding them and hiring security guards)

Much more interesting though, is a later report that women are also rushing home from work these days, fears for their own safety apparently outweighing the extremely wasteful but still deeply ingrained Korean work habit of being seen to be staying at work until the boss leaves, regardless of how much work there actually is – or usually isn’t – to do (see here for more, and here for what many workers are really doing during “work hours”). Hopefully, the reflection on women’s work/life priorities and especially personal safety will lead genuine shift in attitudes, the first target of which will I’d like to think would be the “bikkis” that physically drag young attractive women into nightclubs for the sake of attracting male spenders for instance, but against this optimistic interpretation of events that first Korea Times report mentions similar peaks of spending and interest in the wake of a the last serial killer arrested in 2006, presumably indicating that the change in habits was only temporary unfortunately.

6. Battered Cambodian woman stabs Korean husband

Read the report here. In related news, this report outlines the poor conditions under which many “import brides” live under, one indicator of which is a high rate of miscarriages due to malnutrition, doing heavy work on farms while pregnant,  and a lack of access to/and knowledge of public health services.

But in one positive symbolic move that I hope will become official policy,  a Japanese man has been banned from entering the Philippines for abusing his Filipino wife in Japan: “A foreigner who beats his wife is a menace to the society and who does not deserve our hospitality,” the Immigration commissioner said.

Korean Father and Son(Source: James Kim; CC BY-SA 2.0)

7. Fetus sex notification to be allowed

Although only after 28 weeks gestation, when ”no doctor would dare to perform an abortion”‘ a Korean Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology spokesman said.

But this is quite strange: presumably the cut-off date means that there are still strong concerns that younger fetuses would be aborted if they were discovered to be female for instance, but in fact the problems of the resulting gender imbalance were acknowledged and dealt with by Koreans over a decade ago, and Koreans have had a genuine positive shift in attitudes towards daughters since (unfortunately this is rarely reported in the foreign media, the Confucian penchant for sons being much more newsworthy apparently). Moreover, the current law banning notification at any age is completely ignored in practice (“Oh! The Baby looks strong/pretty”), so the practical and even symbolic effects of this law will be minimal.

Meanwhile, you (and many Koreans!) may be surprised to hear that abortion is actually technically illegal in Korea, despite Korea having one of the highest per capita rates of abortion in the world.

8. Lee Hyori swearing on TV

If you never watch Korean television then you will probably be unaware that Korean celebrity culture is very unlike its Western counterpart(s), starring in a variety of decidedly unglamorous and down-to-earth game and talkshows being an integral part of the process of acquiring and then maintaining popularity here for instance. While I can’t imagine the likes of Brad Pitt or Beyonce ever rolling around in mud or having trays dropped on their heads on national TV then, Korea’s number one sex symbol Lee Hyori is well-liked by many Koreans for not only appearing to enjoy herself while she does so, but for being so, well, normal too.

Hence personally I find it almost endearing that she said that (guest) “Chang Ui fucking loves women who can cook well” on national TV, although unfortunately many netizens don’t. For the details, see here, and no, she wasn’t advocating the joys of cooking for one’s husband!

True, at first glance this might not appear particularly meaningful in a feminist sense, but as I explain in that first link, the other (negative) difference with Western countries is that female celebrities especially are held to almost impossible moral standards by the Korean public, so any challenge to those attitudes is welcome, no matter how minor.

(Update: In hindsight, the explanation of what she said in that link above isn’t very accurate or even helpful, so after seeing the video here please read my own explanation here)

9. Naver, newspapers spat over lewd ads

In the last Korean Gender Reader I reported on the hypocrisy of Korean newspapers regularly criticizing prostitution in their print editions while having advertisements for and even guides to brothels on their online editions. Rather than removing them however, recent technical changes to Naver – as important to the Korean internet as, say, Google is to the American one – have resulted in some newspapers actually loading their web sites with more adult content and lewd advertisements in order to drive up traffic!

10. HIV cases top 6,000 for first time

From the The Korea Times:

The number of reported HIV cases in the nation topped 6,000 for the first time since 1985, when the country began to compile relevant data, the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The agency reported that the cumulative number of those with HIV had reached 6,120 at the end of December, 1,084 of whom had died.

A total of 797 new HIV cases were reported last year, up 7.1 percent from 744 the previous year.

It said the 99 percent of cases have resulted from sexual intercourse, with those in their 20s and 30s accounting for more than half of the total. Teenagers accounted for 2.5 percent, and those aged over 60 accounted for 7 percent. It said 743, or 94.2, percent were male

On the positive side though, despite the stereotypes it’s actually been a very long time since most Koreans thought that AIDS was a “gay disease” that they didn’t need to be concerned about because it “only affected foreigners.”

11. Son Tae-young has baby boy

Normally I’d pay very little attention to news of celebrity marriages and pregnancies, but after writing this post on Korean women’s concerns about their body image during pregnancy, some pregnant-son-tae-youngeven dieting to remain thin, then I couldn’t help but notice how thin actress and former Miss Korea runner-up Son Tae-young (손태영) looked during hers (see her at 7 months here, and at 8 months here); which is not to say at all that I think she’s dieting herself or that her being thin is her fault somehow(!), but I do cringe to think of any Korean women as whale-like as my wife was when she was pregnant thinking that Son Tae-young is the norm to aspire to rather the exception.

On the plus side, Son Tae-young is breastfeeding her son that was born on the 6th, and hopefully she may well prove to be the slim & beautiful celebrity mom to talk about the benefits of doing so that mother and fellow-blogger Melissa of Expatriate Games noted Korean women so desperately need (source, right: unknown).

12. What Koreans consider fat

You’ll just be amazed at which celebrities have been criticized by netizens for their fatness at some point. See here, here, and here (the last because of these pictures).

(Update: most of those links are from the pop culture blog allkpop, and freyja writes a follow-up post briefly summarizing some of the issues raised by them here)

13. Singles at disadvantage from social system

Not that, say, ending the extremely wasteful practice of staying at work until the boss the leaves (see #5) or actually enforcing existing legislation on maternity leave, the provision of childcare facilities and checking the standards of them (see here and here) wouldn’t be much more effective ways of increasing Korea’s birth rate (currently the lowest in the world) but it is true that the tax breaks for married couples and so forth are now so big as to make single people grumble at least.

Actually, the Korea Times article of that title above is more interesting for its statistics on the numbers of single person households and a brief discussion of some of the reasons that make it difficult to people to live alone in Korea, a recent pet project of mine, so I’ll return to it later this week.

14. Men eye nursing jobs

I think the Korea Herald’s above title was a little of an exaggeration considering that men still only account for 5% of those that passed last week’s national nursing exam, but it’s certainly true that their numbers Male Nurse Action Figurehave been increasing in recent years. In that exam there were 617 men out of the total of 11,717 successful applicants, and it was only in 2004 that the number exceeded 200 for the first time (source, right: Geoffrey Fairchild; CC BY 2.0).

One of the new male nurses interviewed says that he converted to medical nursing a few years ago as he foresaw problems in securing employment as a computer major, so I imagine there may well be a glut of new entrants in next year’s exam! And as for their impact, here are a few quick excerpts:

These qualified male nurses are highly demanded in hospitals and other medical fields.

“I am glad about the increase of male nurses,” said Han Sang-mal, a nursing supervisor in an orthopedic hospital in Cheongju. “Not only do we need their physical strength, but our male patients often prefer to be tended to by men.”

But the positives go beyond mere practicalities:

“People are dismissing the bias that the nursing job is submissive, a role to be filled mainly by women,” she said. “As the roles of nurses are expanding from hospital jobs to schools, public health centers, and private nursing homes, such wider spectrum of manpower is to be regarded as highly positive.”

The first official male nurse was Cho Sang-moon, who was licensed in 1962 and worked as a leading figure in the nursing field in the 1970s. Before Cho, only women could be qualified as nurses.

15. Divorce suit deals blow to Samsung’s father-to-son succession plan

The size and importance of Samsung to the Korean economy can not be understated, and hence there’s a lot riding on this particular divorce of Samsung’s heir apparent.

16. Four in ten telemarketers suffer sexual harassment

I very much doubt that Korea has a monopoly on this, and it’s probably true that most of the victims(?) of customers moaning or asking about their breast sizes can’t do any more than simply hanging up on them and flagging their number, but unfortunately:

…only 12 percent and 11 percent said they forwarded the calls to managers or took issue with the conversations, respectively. About 90 percent said their companies do not have a protocol for such circumstances, although 45 percent said the companies had preventive measures.

17. Court acknowledges rape of transsexual

It’s been quite an interesting period in Korea for laws regarding rape recently, last month seeing the first man convicted for spousal rape (still not a crime here) and then his suicide, and now this month a provincial court:

…for the first time found a man in his 20s guilty of ”raping” a transsexual, challenging the current law that defines rape to when a man has forcible sex with a woman born a female. The victim’s legal gender still remains man.

Not that presages a radical shift in legislation unfortunately, the judge stating that he based his decision on the facts that:

The victim has acted like woman since he was born. In 1974, when he turned 24, he underwent a gender reassignment program. He once also lived with a male partner for a decade. Given all of these, he can be seen as female.

And so:

Giving the unprecedented ruling, the judge set three criteria to define the precedent – whether the victim had sex change surgery; how long he/she has lived with appearance of the opposite sex; and if he/she has no problems having sexual relations.

I guess this means that homosexual rape (of either sex) isn’t a crime either? And what if a transgender person was raped only a week after his or her operation, or a month, or a year? Is those not long enough to count? To be frank, I don’t get more used or deadened to the sheer arbitrariness of the law the longer I stay in Korea, and it’s judgments like this and that below that prevent me from ever staying in Korea permanently, primarily out of concern for my kids.

18. Vietnamese mother denied custody of biological children

And in the same vein as my comment on the last piece, I’m almost scared at how the Seoul Family Court has virtually rewarded the Korean husband’s use of his unwitting Vietnamese wife as a baby factory for him and his former Korean wife. For all the details and issues involved with that, see Michael Breen’s excellent column here.

(Update: Not to be missed is Matt’s post placing the case in the wider context of Vietnamese brides and immigration to Korea here also, and there’s a substantial forum thread on the case over at Dave’s ESL Cafe here)

19.Women outnumber men amongst newly hired prosecuting attorneys


(Source: Sinfest, May 9 2004)

From Sonagi at the Marmot’s Hole:

An impressive 51% (58 out of 112) of newly hired prosecuting attorneys are women. These 58 new female prosecutors will join 316 women who comprise 18% of the 1716 prosecutors employed nationwide. The increasing number of women is expected to challenge the old boys’ network and change the way domestic violence cases are handled.

For some context to those numbers and the reality of being a female lawyer in Korea, see Korea Law Blog here.

Are Korea’s Women Boxers Good Enough for Adidas?

kim-ji-young-twoWriting earlier this month, I was very impressed by the rhetoric of the launch of Adidas Korea’s “Me, Myself” campaign, and especially by the healthy-looking models used. But one fair criticism by frequent commenter Sonagi was that while on the one hand they definitely weren’t “the gaunt-looking models of most fashion shows,” were all “healthy and glowing,” and may well have shown “that women could look stylish while working out at the gym, doing complicated yoga moves or swimming in the pool,” on the other hand they certainly didn’t appear to have anything at all like the physiques of actual athletes either, somewhat diluting the campaign’s supposed message (source, left: Yonhap News).

And it’s not hard to think of attractive athletes who could have—nay, should have—taken their place instead, a point which I was suddenly reminded of earlier today when I was flicking channels and happened to come across IFBA Bantamweight Champion Kim Ji-Young (김지영) in action, her—let’s face it—feminine appearance being so in contrast to the bulk of her counterparts (in both senses of the phrase!) that I immediately sat up and took notice. As it happens, she was in her hometown of Yeongdong City, successfully defending her title for the fourth time (against Dennapa Sukruaangrueng of Thailand).

(Update, September 2014: Reading over this post five years later, I’m cringing at—among other things—my implication that women with bulky physiques are any less feminine than Kim Ji-Young, and the notion that they could never be accepted as endorsement models for sports clothing companies).

Unfortunately, as images of female athletes tend to be unflattering, taken as they are at instants of extreme pain, anger, passion or even all three (not that those of male athletes aren’t kim-ji-young-oneeither) then in lieu of a video of the fight I saw then that photo of her above and this on the right from 2005 (source: Yonhap News) will have to do for my purpose, which is to ask you if she could realistically be a model for Adidas or any other clothing company? Why or why not? Yes, granted, she does has bigger arms than average (naturally), but although this is not to say that people of either sex can only find athletic role models in those of a similar (or desired) size to them, her diminutive height and weight  (“bantamweight” means 51-54 kg) and small bust do make her very similar physically to a lot of Korean women, albeit having muscle where they usually have fat. Moreover, given that the notions that models “have to” be tall and thin would supposedly be the very antithesis of the Me, Myself campaign, then I can’t think of any reason to reject her for something like that especially.

As it happens, there is already a Korean female boxer who makes a great deal of money through sponsorship, commercial and TV appearances: Choi Shin-hui (최신희), whom I found about via this slightly old but otherwise excellent introduction to female boxing in Korea over at Korea Beat, and it turns out that two years ago at least there was quite a boom in the sport, with Korea having several world champions. I’m almost a little reluctant to post any pictures of her however, as with the vast majority available being modeling shots (including this one below for Vogue magazine in 2004 for example; see here for the article), then they’re naturally going to present her in a much better light than the few and quite frankly rather hideous ones of Kim Ji-young in action out there. So I include a link to this and this other one (scroll down) of Choi Shin-hui from that period too, not to imply that she’s ugly in them—quite the opposite—but more to demonstrate that they’re certainly less flattering than those to be found in advertisements, which just again goes to show that however unglamorous they—or you and I for that matter—can appear in photos of them grunting away at their sport(s) can be, surely Kim Ji-young and/or other athletes like her should have been in consideration for even a one-off, token appearance at a launch for products that are supposedly aimed at athletic women? Even just the minimal consideration towards the campaign’s professed message that that would have demonstrated would have been much better than none at all.

choi-shin-hui-boxing-in-vogue-women-in-2004(Source: DBSD Boxing)

Or am I making too much of it? Do you think athletes weren’t used simply (and perhaps quite legitimately) because of their inexperience with a catwalk? Or is there another simple reason I’m overlooking?

Regardless, if you’ve read this far then you’ll probably also be quite interested in and inspired by this story of 18 year-old Choi Hyun-Mi, who defected with her family from North Korea in 2004 and on whose boxing success they now entirely rely on for financial support (Update: Sorry that the link has died; instead here’s a video below). And I have one final request too: somewhere on this list of expat blogs is one I used to read by a woman in Seoul who happens to be a female boxer and very active in the boxing scene, but I’ve completely forgotten both its and her name, it being a long time since this blog you’re reading turned my own reading of other blogs from pleasure into business (sigh). Writing this post has made me interested again though, and I may well want to pick her brains about some of the issues raised in it too, so if anyone knows who I’m talking about, please pass on her blog address!

A Penetrating New Look at Japanese and Korean Love Hotels

korean-movie-couple-in-passionate-embrace(Source: Unknown)

If you’ve been following my recent discussions on why Koreans generally live at home until marriage, then you’ll have noticed that one gap in those were the ubiquitous love-hotels (러브호텔) that were the obvious corollary of that arrangement, and which would probably have been more interesting topics than demographic data on Korean household types and student loans too. In my defense though, I already covered premarital sex and cohabitation and their relation to Korean capitalism (yes, really) in lengthy posts back in 2007, and besides which love hotels are not only or probably even primarily used by young unmarried couples. The numbers of hotels that are in the middle of the countryside for instance, relatively devoid of that age group, and accessible only after quite some driving, testify to the fact that they are also host to just as many adulterous trysts in practice.

But that the latter occurs doesn’t mean that grown children, parents and even grandparents all under one roof can’t both be faithful to their partners and spouses and still chafe at the lack of space and privacy, and so need to get away for a few hours occasionally. Which is why although I might still balk at opening one next to an elementary school myself, I’m all for love hotels, and see no reason to pretend that both the need and the demand don’t both exist in droves. Hence I’m very interested in reading about the development of both in Ed Jacob’s new book Love Hotels: An Inside Look at Japan’s Sexual Playgrounds, which editor-in-chief James provides a quick review of over at the ironically-titled Japan Probe blog. History-cum-practical guide, I’d be surprised if the general course of events described in the book wasn’t closely paralleled in Korea too, albeit perhaps with a gap of ten to fifteen years as it reached the same level of economic development.

love-hotels-an-inside-look-at-japans-sexual-playgrounds-ed-jacobUnfortunately there the similarities probably end, for in a social environment where women are so concerned about their virginal reputation that they rely on men for contraception (lest a proactive attitude reveal their experience), and in which one of the largest prostitution industries in the world exists and is openly advertised despite periodic crackdowns and extensive legislation banning it (see here also) too, then in Korea love hotels and what occurs in them are like dogs loudly mating in the corner of the garden: an inescapable but otherwise seedy, unspoken part of life that is preferably hidden away from polite society.

In other words, the polar opposite of their hygienic and matter-of-fact Japanese counterparts. The hotels that is, not the dogs.

But having said that, it’s (naturally) been many years since I’ve visited a hotel myself, my daughters and meager family budget preventing much traveling these days.  So, in lieu of more fieldwork on my part, I’d be interested to hear if Korean love hotels are really still as bad as my experience of them in before I was married, when I used to stay in them with my then-girlfriend now-wife while traveling all over Korea. Sigh…