Korean Gender Reader

song-hye-gyo-panties-송혜교-판티스-곰세마리(Source: jinhwii)

I don’t quite know how I happened to come across this very old Korean underwear advertisement above, but I do know that I couldn’t resist using it sooner or later. See if you can guess who it is before you reach the end of this post, and I’m open as to suggestions as to what exactly the point of her gesture was (it’s not what you think!).

In the meantime, my apologies, but from now on my Korean Gender Reader posts will be a lot more minimalist I’m afraid. Partially because the weekends spent on them has been detracting from — nay, has been in lieu of —  time spent on all the longer, more in-depth posts that I’ve had planned, and partially because this last week especially seems to have been a particularly fruitful one for news. And here it is in strict chronological order too, primarily for the sake of breaking it into more manageable chunks for you to digest from on. Please let me know what you think of the new format.

Monday 23 February (And Earlier)

I write “and earlier” because some things I missed last week are still too good not to cover here. For instance:

close-up-of-man-from-korean-air-advertisement1. You’ve Had the Theory, Now the Practice: Finding Reliable and Affordable Childcare in Korea

While I’ve written a great deal on the problems of child care in Korea in the abstract (see here, here and here), two Fridays ago Melissa of Expatriate Games wrote a far more useful post about the ensuing practical difficulties of finding childcare for her 2 year-old daughter in Seoul. Make sure to read her follow-up post on the same issue from Saturday too.

2. Discrimination Against Men Within the Airline Industry

For some reason Google Reader only yesterday gave me the last seven of Aaron McKenzie’s posts at Idiot’s Collective, so earlier I missed his take on a lengthy feature in the JoongAng Daily about the discrimination against male flight attendants in the Korean airline industry, by coincidence the issue which prompted me to start these weekly posts in the first place. For my take on the issue from when it first arose in late December last year, see ROK Drop here.

The image on the right is a close-up from a Korean Air advertisement by the way, which doesn’t actually allow male stewards at all.

(Update: To be more precise, it does hire men, but only from within the company, and hasn’t directly hired any new male cabin staff since 1997)

And now for news from Monday itself:

3. Jun Ji-hyun Forgives and Forgets?

Despite the fact that Jeon ji-hyun’s (전지현) management company Sidus HQ spied on her using a “clone” phone for many years, giving them the ability to eavesdrop on all her phone calls (see story#6 here), not only have all those involved not been booked at her request, but she may well be renewing her contract with the company too! For the details, see Dramabeans here.

4. Less Marriages and Babies During This Recession

I’ve read repeatedly that condom sales go up during recessions, so not unsurprisingly Korean couples are both putting off getting married and having far fewer babies too, with  “government officials and scholars predicting that this year’s birthrate will barely exceed 1.0 child per woman, and will drop below that next year,” which I might add is the lowest of any developed country in modern history.

5. System ‘Failing Victims of Child Sex Crimes’

Self explanatory, although the statistics  provided by this English Chosun report are always useful. But for more information on actual cases and the attitudes and legal absurdities that lay behind those, such as a man being acquitted of groping his stepdaughter’s breasts because “it was a sign of affection,” see many examples mentioned by Brian in Jeollanam-do here.


(Source: SeoulPodcast)

Tuesday 24 February

6. Women’s Organizations Compile List of Bad Court Decisions

Far from living up to their stereotypes of passivity — which, to be fair, I might be guilty of perpetuating a little occasionally — women’s groups are doing something about the cases mentioned above.

7. French TV Personality tearfully ends marriage

Ida Daussy, a French woman popular and well-known in Korea (albeit primarily for her fluent Korean skills), is getting divorced from her Korean husband after 16 years of marriage. Interesting ensuing discussion at the Marmot’s Hole here about Western-Korean marriages.

8. Sex Tourism from Japan Increasing?

To be expected with the huge decrease in the exchange rate. Not that too many parallels should be made with the 1950s and 1960s, but the first thing that came to mind when I read the report was how many Korean women then were extorted to become prostitutes to Japanese tourists and US servicemen on US bases; primarily for the sake of obtaining much-needed foreign exchange of course, but those women were also provided to the latter for the sake of  helping to cement US-ROK relations.

 Wednesday 25 February

9. Eco-friendly weddings


“Lotte Department Store in downtown Seoul held a green wedding on February 23 to promote eco-friendly weddings. The bride’s wedding dress is made of natural fabric from the mulberry tree.” (Yonhap News, via ROK Drop)

10. DNA Evidence Fingers Suspect Three Years After Crime

More good news from Korea Beat. While the Korean Police have a (largely deserved) reputation for incompetence, and rape-kits aren’t even available at most Korean hospitals, in this case three year-old DNA evidence was used to convict a rapist of two mentally-disabled women.

Thursday 26 February

11. Support Network for Unwed Mothers Established

Although Korea is notorious for sending large numbers of children overseas for adoption, the statistics driving that are still shocking. Such is the stigma of having a child out of wedlock here, that even the structure of the miserly welfare parents to mothers encourages it. As explained by Richard Boas, a American physician who has recently established the ”Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network” explains:

…many single mothers struggle with poverty. The welfare ministry gives 50,000 won ($33) in monthly subsidies for childcare to single parent families. Those living below the poverty line can receive basic government subsidies, stay with foster families for up to two years and stay at 40 facilities nationwide for up to five years, far from enough to help mothers keep their children. ”The government gives 100,000 won a month for a domestic adoptive family. However, giving out just 50,000 won for unwed mothers surely gives the impression that the government encourages adoption,” he said.

For the rest of the report, see the Korea Times here. To place it into context, there were 140,000 single mothers in Korea as of 2005, a number which “is believed to have since risen,” and 1,250 children were adopted overseas last year.

12. Prostitution Answers Sexual Needs of Senior Citizens?

The first time I visited in Jongmyo Park in Seoul in 2000, naturally I remarked on the hundreds of mostly male retirees there to my friend visiting from Japan, who rightly pointed out that they “didn’t particularly have much to do nor anywhere in particular to do it,” so why not play Korean chess all day there? In hindsight though, many would much rather be doing something else, and it’s almost surprising that it took so long for prostitutes to encroach on this captive and — let’s call a spade a spade — somewhat desperate market, and the Korea Times reports here on the ensuing problems of unsafe sex, the sale of fake Viagra and “men’s stamina” products, and the general increasing seediness of the area. You can also read discussions at ROK Drop and The Marmot’s Hole here and here.

Personally, while I’m still a strong advocate of the legalization of prostitution, I’d still rather that it took place somewhere other than the former courtyards of Korean kings and queens(!), and that it is used as su h could easily be read as both a symbol and indictment of modern Korea society, much like “National Treasure #1” Namdaemun was unguarded and regularly urinated and vomited on by homeless people until one of them decided to burn it down in a fit of rage last year. Part of the problems, of course, are general attitudes of distaste and avoidance by the police and general public towards the sexuality of the aged, which the KT correctly notes (and brings to mind this comment about a movie on that theme that ended up being censored).

For those further interested, Matt of Gusts of Popular Feeling discusses a little about the history of the area here, and also notes that there is an essay entitled “Stigma, Lifestyle, and Self in Later Life: The Meaning and Paradox of Older Men’s Hang-Out Culture at Jongmyo Park” by Chung Gene-Woong in the latest issue of Korean Journal, which will be free to download here in six months. He mentions that that abstract doesn’t mention this particular aspect of that culture though, and by chance actually I happen to have a physical copy (as this essay is very relevant to my thesis), and so I can confirm that it’s not mentioned in the article itself either!

13. What Image of Korean Women is Presented by the New 50,000 Bill?

new-50000-won-bill-difference-in-face-shapesArriving roughly a decade(!) after it was needed, one report on the woman on it — Shin Saim-dang, a renowned female writer, calligraphist and mother of a noted Joseon Dynasty scholar — caught my eye, as it said that she is widely referred to as the symbol of a ”wise mother and good wife,” or “현모양처” in Korean.

Forgive me if similar sentiments were raised last year when plans for the new bill were first announced, but that phrase — still well known and aspired to by many Korean women today (just ask them) — instantly reminded me *cough* of the suffrage movement in New Zealand in the Nineteenth Century, women being the first in the world to get the vote naturally being a good thing, but which in fact was also a regression for women’s rights because that vote in 1893 was based on the premise that women would add a civilizing and moral element to politics that it lacked. Or am I making too much of it?

Jumping ahead a little though, the most recent controversy surroundson-tae-young-new-mother-shows-off-her-s-lineing the new bill has actually focused on the shape of her face (sigh), much taller and thinner and — dare I say it? — Western-looking than the original round shape of the portrait it was based on. Perhaps my eyes are tired and that is too much of a leap really, so without any further ado read about both controversies at ROK Drop here and decide for yourself.

14. New Mother Son Tae-young Shows-Off Her S-line

No, I don’t have a thing for her, and I’m not at all saying that she isn’t entitled to look good, nor that any mother can’t or shouldn’t either. On the other hand, not only was she the thinnest pregnant woman that I’ve ever seen (see #11 here), but showing off her great body one month after the birth does set hopelessly unrealistic standards for those mothers without wealth, personal trainers, beauticians and domestic helpers to follow, a complaint I remember regularly reading in Western newspapers in response to “Celebrity Moms” a few years ago too.

Friday 27th February

15. Home Buyers With Over 3 Kids May Be Subsidized

A story naturally linked to above reports on the plummeting birthrate, which, however dire, I still fail to see how, say, telling Strategy and Finance Minister Yoon Jeong-hyun and Land and Transport Minister Chung Jong-hwan to “check Seoul and surrounding areas from a helicopter to find places for new homes” is going to help exactly! True, also giving preference “to couples with three children or more when providing homes and leased apartments and lower house prices” is better than nothing of course, but – seriously – when on the Earth is the Korean government and business establishment going to realize that you can’t educate women to the level of men and then expect them to have kids when they have to give up their careers if they do so? Two hundred thousand won a month in subsidies is supposed to compensate for that?

16. Phones With Security Feature for Women, Children Becoming More Popular

Again, partially in response to serial murder suspect Kang Ho-soon (see #5 here). See the Korea Times article here, and Brian’s take on them here.

17. Sex, Videotape & Lies

In a scam he pulled off on four different women, a 26 year-old is arrested for having sex with his then girlfriends at love hotels and then allegedly claiming that the owners told him that they secretly recorded them, demanding money not to release the clips on the internet. Naturally, he had no money to pay “them”, and so his girlfriends gave him their own money to pass on, the latest ending up resorting to loan sharks to get it.

Saturday and Sunday 28 February and 1 March

19. The Coming Baby Bust

Noticing a theme here? At least the English-language dailies at least are beginning to draw attention to the issue. See here for an editorial in the Korea Times.

20. Study: Most Child Molesters Know Their Victims

Like Korea Beat says here, this is probably well-known to most readers of this post, but it may not be in Korea.

21. Human Trafficking in South Korea

Two excellent articles from the Hankyoreh: first, a story here about a Uzbekistani woman tricked into prostitution in Korea, but whom the police have charged for falsifying electronic records, and next an editorial placing that into some context.

22. Japanese Transgender Entertainer Named as new KNTO Spokesperson

Finally, I’m glad to end on a fun, positive story. But, alas, it’s not that big a deal really, as although Korea’s own transgender celebrity Harisu (하리수) also happens to enjoy a great deal of popularity herself, I seriously doubt that either will have had all that much impact on wider public acceptance of transgender people in both countries, in much the same way that Hines Ward’s sporting success has at least raised the issue of the poor treatment of biracial children in Korea (see here and here) but now the next rather more difficult step of actually doing something about it is needed.


Oh, and the picture at the beginning of this post? Although I’d never have recognized her myself, my wife took one look and told me it’s Song Hye-gyo (송혜교) back from when she first started modeling. But from when exactly I can’t say sorry: the source of the photo is a blog entry from 2005, but obviously it is much older than that, although I did find the photo again alongside two others of Kim Min-sun (김민선) and Jenny Lee (이제니) here, both with the same gesture and advertising the same god-awful granny panties, unfortunately there was no further information on the date, company, nor the meaning of the gesture. Still, I’m dying to know now: what do you think the hand gesture means? Like I said, it’s probably not what it looks like, for can you image that ever being used to sell lingerie? Let alone in Korea, in the late-1990s? But what, then?

35 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. For what it’s worth I don’t have a big problem with Shin Saimdang on the 50,000 note.

    Nothing wrong with being a wise mother. Some object to her maybe because she’s more famous for having a famous kid, but if my child ended up a scholar and on the $5, I’d be proud as punch. And if people don’t like that she represents a woman’s traditional place in society . . . well, then the beef’s with women’s traditional place in society, not with her. You can’t simply rewrite history and delete people because your present flight of fancy rejects them. Wait . . .

    That whole conversation is important to have, though: about why we can’t think of any women alternatives for the bill. Yu Gwan-sun? Maybe. Anyone else?


    1. I should have been in bed hours ago *cough*, but I think I’m still coherent enough to admit that they’re all good points, and of course it’s still very good just for its own sake to have a woman – any woman – on Korea’s (temporarily) most valuable bill. Which is not to say that my instant reaction to the news of her inclusion on the note wasn’t perfectly natural (albeit for a history geek like me!), but I really should know more about her before indirectly criticizing her, yes? Perhaps Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling can point me in the right direction…(hint hint).


  2. Ooh, I thought the nip slip on Music Bank (?) would have made the Feminist Reader. (I question if it was Music Bank or Music Core. I know it was one of the music shows this past weekend).


  3. Psst, you’ve been around Korean-English speakers too long: “gets divorced FROM,” not “gets divorced with” … ;)

    And thanks for actually referring to Harisu with the female pronoun, something that cesspool of sensationalism Popseoul can’t seem to get a grip on.

    Interesting roundup of links! Must take ages to compile and write up.


  4. Korean Air DOES hire male flight attendants. Quotes from the linked story (boldface mine):

    “Since 1997, the carrier has opened male flight attendants’ positions only to its ground staff and not to the general public, while recruiting female flight attendants from both groups of candidates.”

    “Korean Air has 463 male flight attendants, which is about 11 percent of its total flight attendant contingent. “

    Too bad Korean Air doesn’t hire more men to serve on its flights. I enjoyed chatting up a pleasant male flight attendant on one trans-Pacific trip.

    Regarding Son Tae-young’s postpartum figure, not only do she and other women entertainers enjoy the services of chefs and personal trainers, they also get a little help from photo editors as most posed photos are probably enhanced in some way. No one should ever take a glamor shot at face value (pun intended).


    1. Chile: I didn’t really think it was relevant sorry, and besides which I couldn’t really see anything…

      Lily: Fixed, you’re welcome, and yes indeed…zzz….

      Brian: How did you find that? Thanks, and yes they do appear to be for jeans now…but which makes the ad even more bizarre. I can understand and throw at you many Western advertisements for jeans that rely more on partial nudity than the actual jeans themselves, but again: in Korea? And wearing those panties? :D

      p.s. 4:21am??

      Sonagi: thanks for pointing that out, and please forgive my sloppiness…zzz…

      Seriously though, and sorry if this is too much information for some people, one more thing about the photoshoot of Son Tae-young is that that dress she’s wearing is wholly unrealistic for a nursing mother, as their breasts often literally leak. Sure, you can buy discreet small pads to put in your bra to absorb the milk, but there doesn’t seem much room for them in that particular dress!


  5. Panties with teddy bears on them, nonetheless!
    Re: Shin Saim-dang on the new bills . . . as I’ve stated elsewhere, I think in the end that Shin is on her own merits a wonderful choice, and it’s the marketing and public understanding of her importance that is problematic. She was in fact quite radical: She conducted jesa (including for her natal family, as I recal), painted, wrote, and headed a household – and she had at public acknowledgement of her skills. The “good wife, wise mother” bit is just dross (and not something her husband or even her famous son seem to have thought that much of . . .) so I’d be just as happy if people would start appreciating her for the awesome figure she was, instead of harping on a label that other people saddled her with.
    Re: Transgenders. Of course in terms of public acceptance of them as people, there’s still a long way to go, but I think their position in contrast to homosexuals is quite interesting in Korea. Harisu, as you’ve stated, is a well-known and very well accepted celebrity – and I think that her status as a transgendered persona made it much easier than if she had been, say, gay. As a transgender, in presentation she is actually hyper-feminized. Her looks and behavior are carefully and deliberately feminine, reinforcing gender norms rather than challenging them. Compare, for example, with Iran where homosexuality (at least male homosexuality) is punishable by death, but you can recieve state support for gender reassignment surgery and therapy. A woman born in a man’s body, who wants to conform to societal notions of femininity and bring her phyical self in line with that is a candidate for help so that they can join society as a “proper” woman. A woman who is sexually attracted to women, or a man who loves other men is a threat to the socially accepted norms of gender, on the other hand. I suspect this is why Korean media overall has been much more positive and supportive of transgendered celebrities (beyond the first blush of “oh my! how weird!”) than they have been of openly homosexual ones (Hong Seok-chun, who may be relatively accepted now but had a much harder, longer slog of it than Harisu). In the end, while I’m very happy to hear that there is relatively easy acceptance of transgendered people in Korea, I wish they were in some ways more closely associated with the queer community and overall acceptance, which seems to lag far behind.


  6. As for Saimdang Sin ssi. Here’s an interesting first person reaction:
    A perfect refutation of what the protest is not: not anti-Saimdang; not anti-wise mother-hood in general. It wouldn’t be fair to paint the critique as such. But rather, as Brian got to the heart of the matter, “about why we can’t think of any women alternatives for the bill.” Why isn’t Kim Ku put forward as “Great Patriot, Great Dad!”? Why is even the thought preposterous? This is why feminists are frustrated. Consider the “Saimdang Award” given “to a woman who is successful professionally, but who is, above all is else, a good mother.” Above all else….?

    Saimdang Sin-ssi herself is a very worthy individual, with no mention need to be made about her many talented progeny proving her worth. Her paintings and calligraphy are wonderful. Indeed, it’s nice to hear from the artist who painted the portrait in question say, “신사임당이 현모양처나 요조숙녀라기보다는 개화기때 나혜석과 같은 당대의 신여성이었고 화가였다.”

    Yet, if you are presently involved in a struggle against entrenched patriarchy, Saimdang cannot but exist as something beyond her achievements, as either artist or mother. She’s now a symbol in a revanchist movement to throw up every last obstacle against the the tide that threatens male privilege. “Yes, you can do stuff ladies, fine. But remember, “현. 모. 양. 처.” I wonder how many young women were involved in the decision making process. This alone makes any issue of whether Korean women should be “honored” kind of a mockery. You can’t honor someone without respecting their input. The two constructs are mutually exclusive.

    Perhaps a loose, and somewhat sloppy, analogy…. The US government chose Booker T. Washington in the 1940s to be the first African-American on a stamp. The gov’t thereby honors the identity, while endorsing an accomodationist ideology that blunts any criticism of the status quo, in his case, “go slow, don’t fight, take technical jobs, someday we’ll be better off” etc.

    All that said, there is a little bit of space to make lemonade out of lemons. This could make for some interesting protest art, with activists refacing (instead of “defacing”) each and every 50,000 won note they get, writing “여성주의자!” on a headband drawn across her forehead.

    As for alternatives…. From more recent times, Na Hyesuk was the probably the premier artist of the New Women. But she died penniless and perhaps murdered, reputation in shatters, after being ravaged by society for openly embracing and practicing non-monogamy. Little hope for her popular rehabilitation anytime soon.

    Another figure from the past, who wouldn’t provide the cheer of a Saimdang, but might be more indicative of the state of women in Korea then and now, would be Nanseolheon Heo-ssi.


  7. I’m afraid that I can’t quite agree with your line of reasoning ~ if Shin isn’t appropriate because she didn’t more strongly resist patriarchy, then we’re left with only the most radical edge of feminist figures (of which I would argue that Heo doesn’t serve any better, and perhaps a little worse than Shin) Which might be nice, but would hardly make the cut (no matter how much I might personally be behind the idea.

    But why are feminists who are upset by this idea letting more conservative groups dictate why she is remembered? By buying into this “현모양처” idocy they’re letting the men run the show. There is nothing, NOTHING to stop women here from re-claiming Shin and reinterpretting her (a reinterpretation I feel is long overdue) in order to bring her image into line with their own ideology. Shin didn’t feel defined by the mother/wife role, so why should we let an ideal like that be attached to her? Throw her radicalism back in their faces, and use her in a new way.

    To use your example, Booker T. Washington may not have stood for the ideals we now hold about race in America ~ but that doesn’t make him any less extraordinary or his accomplishments any less valuable for not being completely in line with our times, nor any less worthy of the honor.

    Frankly, any candidate for an honor like postage stamp or coin or bill or whathave you is going to be problematic. There is nobody who lived so perfect, so exemplary a life that their story will fit all ideals, all needs, who can be universally agreed upon, and whose life was spotless and free of blame. That said, I can still pick my heros, people whose lives I can find value, and whose accomplishments I can honor because they were extroardinary, even when they are not a perfect fit with my own ideology and life. I object, however, to giving up on one of them because somebody else is using her for their own purposes. As they say, “I reject your reality and substitute my own!”

    On a related note, I came up with a list of other women who I thought would make great candidates on a post at the Hub of Sparkle (which included Heo Nanseolhyun, Queens Sondeok, Jindeok, and Myeongsong, diarist Lady Hyegyeong, the pilot Park Gyeongwon, Yun Hui-sun and Yu Gwan-su).


  8. @Gomushin Girl – Thanks for engaging on this fascinating issue.
    I do think that you seem to argue against something I’ve not done. What I did here was lay out reasons why people would protest the choice of Shin, even while valuing deeply the life that Shin lead, whereas you seemed to find in this a critique of Shin herself.

    Nowhere did I say that 신사임당 was not sufficiently radical in her own life. In fact I said nothing of her reaction to patriarchy, because I know very little about it. What little I do know is remarkable and eminently respectable (for one example, I believe she went on a sojourn to 금강산 on her own, defying yangban social codes). There are absolutely no grounds on which I would critique her, and the Korean feminists I’ve briefly read seem to share that view entirely.

    As for “buying into 현모양처” and “letting men run the show.” Don’t you have it backwards? The protest is there precisely to try and shut the show down, or at least drastically change it. Since the show is in it’s final stages, and casting, plot, and design have all be laid out by male directors, producers, and financiers, what else might people who want to “not buy into 현모양처” do, but protest? It’s already working! The artist I quoted in my comment above already reflects the pushback! By protesting the choice, they are forcing the choice to be recontextualized, and that’s a win. I think that would make critics happier. But maybe I’m wrong, maybe they really just don’t like _her_, as if her symbol was irredeemable, but I doubt it.

    As for using her image and reclaiming…, I made clear that would be a wise, and fun, strategy to take up, given that the choice seems to be a fait accompli. I even offered an example, however meager it may have been.

    As for Booker T. Washington, he was not being post-judged, he was a source of scorn amongst many African-Americans in his own time for his extremist views along the accommodationist line – based on his vociferous attacks against fellow African-Americans who wanted civil rights. W.E.B. DuBois was not alone in critiquing him at the time. This has nothing to do with using standards of today to judge a man from the past. Moreover, the more relevant point is that of having white men choosing black heroes for the precise reason to mark the boundaries of acceptable conduct in dealing with white supremacy. Would the choice have been made by black people themselves, an entirely different discourse defines the cultural fact of that stamp. Same with the 50,000won – had it been chosen by a group process, involving wide participation of disparate groups of the population, there would most certainly be less protest.

    All that said – I’m not saying I protest the choice. Yet, I can’t quite protest the protesters either. And I don’t think they’d necessarily protest your choice of personal heroes, and would respect your call for us to reclaim our own heroes from those who wish to co-opt them. I think a great example of your point here would be the American right-wing’s attempts to claim Dr. MLK as their own, focusing specifically on one line of his “Dream” speech (content of our character), while ignoring everything else that is far more critical of American racism, capitalism, and imperialism. You are absolutely right. We don’t have the luxury of giving up what precious heroes we can lay claim to! That said, believing in one’s own interpretation doesn’t make the other interpretations, or the larger cultural context, disappear.

    Ultimately, I would think you could at least understand why the protesters see in the cultural politics behind the choice another little brick thrown on the barricade that stands in the way of women’s liberation in South Korea. It seems we both agree the brick should be thrown right back in their direction.


  9. First, let me say that it seems like we’re essentially on the same team! Having female representation and imput in processes like this is essential, and something I think in agreement on.

    It’s not that I don’t *understand* the protests ~ it’s that I don’t agree with either the methodology or the message I think is being sent by them. By protesting the choice of Shin herself rather than the reasoning being attached to it, I think people are letting the argument be sidetracked into “who would be the right woman” for a theoretical currency while risking the alienation of people who are slowly realizing the importance of a female face on the currency, rather than “why this characterization of this woman is wrong” and embracing the currency while extolling those reasons.

    I’d very much like to see the sort of art you spoke of in your first post, and think it would be a great reaction.

    However, I think by saying that Shin herself should be deprived of the honor because it doesn’t recontextualize Shin or Korean womanhood, but provides fodder for an incorrect characterization of both Shin and feminists with concern for the issue. Instead of protesting her choice, I think the wiser move would have been to protest the wording of why she was chosen, with public campaigns to demonstrate why she makes a great choice for those concerned about feminism. Or heck, just why she represents a great Korean, something which ought to be part of Korean’s pride in her regardless of gender.

    As for the way in which she was chosen, I haven’t been able to find very much about the selection process, but it seems to be in line with how such figures were chosen in the past. Without opening up a radical new process, it seems a major step forward to have a woman on the currency and one that may *not* have been the result with a more open method of chosing the figure. (and one reason why I think the Washington analogy is beginning to fail us ~ first of all, there ARE lots of African-Americans who respect and honor him, and second I don’t know that your supposition that they didn’t have a hand in his choice is correct. Certainly many African-Americans have subsequently appeared on US stamps since, providing a wealth of opportunities that currency does not).

    I just don’t think we should risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Protest the wording, demonstrate why Shin really *is* a wonderful figure for Koreans regardless of gender, and start talking about other women who deserve the honor.


  10. hello,

    i am here just for a moment – I do not know well but may it be an advert of women’s sanitary towels?
    all the best :)


  11. Indeed, we agree more than disagree. Though once we dig into the Booker T. stuff, I think we see a bit of a split. The issue for me isn’t “do some African-Americans support him” (Some women love Phyllis Schlafly, too, or to update it a bit, Sarah Palin – two women who support political movements that promote patriarchy – although even Palin is one confused sister, but one I’m pretty sure most feminists would NOT want as a symbol used to represent them) but, are there others who represent the general will of African-Americans better, and if so, were they specifically NOT chosen by white people in power, so as to endorse an ideology that maintains the status quo. While you might be a Booker T. fan, and not agree that he endorsed the status quo, I think you might agree that in some cases, these kind of cultural politics are utilized.

    I would then agree with you that the case of using Sin Saimdang as a symbol is a situation where these conditions do not obtain. That is, she was NOT an accomodationist (a la Booker T.) nor was she diametrically opposed to the ideals of feminism (a la Phyllis Schlafly and her ilk). There was no way to successfully re-appropriate Booker T. into the civil rights struggle without some rash deformation of his history – the man was against equal rights for African-Americans. Sin Saimdang, however, like you said, not only forged a working life for herself, but bravely transgressed. However, even with that being so, I’m thinking you would agree that there should be room to argue for the preference for other woman to take the honor.

    She is, like you argued, ripe for reappropriation – and that is where the struggle should be aimed, not at a protest against Sin herself.

    To that end, I’m hoping this picture works:


  12. Crud! Image tags not working in comment box.

    Here’s just one possible riff on where some money graffiti could begin the reappopriation of 사임당 신씨.

    Sorry I couldn’t get the 한글 to work on my graphic editor…so, I had to use English!

    Any number of words would work, as they all would serve the purpose of turning the pivot off of the singular, pre-eminent notion of 현모양처, even without devaluing her labor as a mother (which I don’t think _anyone_ does by the way! Even rad. fems, especially rad. fems, know how much labor and skill patriarchy demands of a mother!):
    화가, 예술가, 여성주의자, 항전자…


  13. In Korean this time…

    I know it is juvenile to take pleasure in such things… but just imagining the anger this would inspire in some defenders of patriarchy when they received such a note is a hoot.


  14. I don’t really feel like a long, in-depth conversation about Booker T. Washington ~ he was your choice of analagy, and as I said, I think it eventually starts to fall apart for both of us. And please be careful not to attribute feelings and thoughts to people that aren’t perhaps theirs, or part of their arguments. I would never say that Booker is a perfect figure or one that fits comfortably with all the goals and aims of the civil rights movement. I would, however, say that he was a very important historical figure in African-American history, and one who played a very central role in leading the African-American community of his day. Did his views line up with the ones I and most contemprorary Americans hold? Nope. But nobody I know really has a beef with him being on a stamp, considering the vast contributions he made to American society.

    The same is true of Shin, and of ANY figure we can mention. Nobody is perfectly in line with the mores and asperations of all the people of a nation or time. Shin was still an extraordinary figure whose life is an amazing example to all Koreans. I also find some strange comfort in the plurality of understandings that can emerge from her image, including the wife/mother bit. I like that she can be interpreted and used in so many different ways, for different people. But I don’t like the idea that she’s somehow inappropriate because of the way in which she was marketed. It doesn’t speak to her as a person, it speaks to how some people chose to regard her. Challenge their opinions, certainly, but let’s not focus the attack on Shin ~ and that’s the key point I want to make. Focus the message and the meaning where it belongs.


  15. Flew back from New Zealand for the umpteenth time on Korean Air and had my first experience of Korean Air male flight attendants.
    Get rid of them please.
    You could easily substitute their spiffy 3 piece Korean Air suits for one of those shiny grey numbers with a pink tie common to a certain demographic ’round this part of Seoul and you wouldn’t know the difference.
    Especially the attitude.
    Talk about arrogant! (And unwilling to bring a man the bottle of red he is entitled to God Dammit).
    I thought Male flight attendants were supposed to be pleasant and gay?!


  16. Stafford,
    tsk, tsk, tsk!
    I don’t know where to start; with the fact that gay men can be unpleasant just as well as any straight guy, or the idea that a female attendant would have solved the problem with a pleasant smile. I’ve always found the various flight attendants attitudes in direct ratio to how many hours the crew has been working, and how evil the route has been.


    1. Gomushin Girl and Bebel: Having admitted my ignorance my ignorance in the post, then I can’t really add to or comment on your discussion, but thanks for it and I have found it interesting.

      Emily: It may well be, as those particular panties seem beyond the ability of any advertisement to make appealing(!), but by the same token it seems strange to use them to sell any product. I don’t think “petit jean” (see Brian’s link) sounds like the name of a sanitary towel company though.

      Gomushin Girl again: I’m pretty sure Stafford was being sarcastic, and in fairness he did have a pretty bad flying experience recently.


  17. Sigh, on a second reading the joke seems more apparent, to which I attribute the grim, grim editing I’m currently working on, warping any sense of humor I might ever have had.


  18. Stafford beat me to it…I was going to say that there are Stewards with KAL because everybody knows Stewards have to be gay and everybody knows there are no gays in Korea (wink, wink)


  19. Speaking of male homosexuality, did anybody else note that the recent spate of articles about old dudes at Jogmyo have all totally neglected to mention that the area between Jogmyo and Tapgol park is packed fulll with gay bars and hotels catering to gay clients? I know Tapgol is more the hookup place for gay men “of a certain age” than Jongmyo, but still . . . if they’re up to mentioning the prostitution you think they’d get around to mentioning that!


    1. Gomushin Girl, how did you find out about it? It is a strange thing to miss out on the surface, but then would you say that that’s common knowledge? After all, (fake) viagra being sold on the street is easy enough to spot sooner or later, but gay bars and hotels would presumably be a little more discreet than that. Just for the sake of argument you understand.


  20. As a good social scientist, I have some informants in the gay community, including one gentleman who gave me a late-night tour of the area to point out which hotels and bars were specifically for gay men – and like the viagra, once you know what to look for it is incredibly easy to spot. Some have discreet (or not-so-discreet) rainbows incorporated into the bar signs, other’s have names that really ought to be a dead give-away (there’s one that uses the Japanese word for “beard”!) once you know what you’re looking at. But even before my informant showed me around (sadly, not in – he asked the owner of the bar where he worked if I could come by just for a few moments, but the no women rule seems to be strictly enforced. Most of the lesbian clubs in Hongdae are the same way, but one or two of my informants there will allow queer men in), I vaguely knew that that part of Jongno was a gay hang-out. The area extends all the way to parts of Insadong, too.
    I suspect that there’s at least *some* general knowledge among Korean adults. I know I’d heard some rumors to that effect even before I spent time with my queer-community friends and informants (just as I had heard from some people that there were “no gays in Korea”!lol) but I would guess that it’s not too too widely known. My guess is that people who hang out in that area know, regardless of their orientation, and that the people in the surrounding areas probably have a strong inkling. On the other hand, I don’t think people who just pass through or visit Insadong for a bit of touristy shopping have a clue. Also, come to think of it, I don’t know that it’s mentioned much in guidebooks either in their gay and lesbian travel sections. On the other hand, unlike Itaewon and to a lesser extent Hongdae, it’s not a very integrated scene (both in the sense that it is frequented by foreigners or by a mixed gender queer community)
    It’s like poshitang restaurants – if you’re looking for it, or know the shape it takes, it’s everywhere. Otherwise, you’ll pass right by without even noticing.


  21. Didn’t I read somewhere (Korea Beat perhaps?) That the area around Tapgol park was also becoming a hot bed of venereal disease thanks to the burgeoning seniors focused prostitution trade springing up amongst all those games of paduk!


    1. Gomushin Girl: Yes, you are indeed a good social scientist! And (curse the internet and all), in hindsight when I said “Just for the sake of argument you understand” my sarcasm might not have worked sorry: I meant that I believed you, but I’d still be really interested in hearing as to how you knew. Which you gave, so maybe I shouldn’t be worried that you misinterpreted me…sigh…I think I’ll go refill that coffee of mine…

      Stafford: It makes sense, although I can’t find anything on it at Korea Beat sorry


  22. LOL! No, actually I read that sentence completely straight, I knew you believed me! It’s just that like all would-be academics I cannot possibly resist the temptation to go on (and on and on and on and on) about stuff like this^^V Someday I may bother writing up an article on the homosexual geography of Seoul. My big question is though, where are the hang outs south of the river? As near as I can tell the gay, lesbian, and mixed queer epicenters are all north of the Han. Anybody have any more information?


  23. stafford ~ I think you’re talking about this article, focusing on the area in front of Jongmyo, from the Korea Times/한국일보


    1. Gomushin Girl: Cool. I wasn’t that worried really, it’s just easy to get paranoid sometimes, sleep-deprived and isolated in this little cupboard I call my “study” and all…

      Make sure to pay your fees for Daejeon by the way!


  24. Have you had luck registering/paying through their online system? I can’t seem to get it to work, even through IE


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