Korean Gender Reader

Cute Gu Hae-seon and Jo In-seong

1. Chinese Women Becoming More Expensive…

Back in April, I wrote this post on recent research that had finally provided hard data on the extent of the skewed sex-ratio in China, which showed that in 2005 there were 32 million more Chinese boys under the age of 20 than girls. And like virtually every commentator who has ever imagined a world with a scarcity of women – Robert A. Heinlein comes to mind – I had assumed that it would mean that women would be able to command a suitably high marriage price, to contract for favorable marriage conditions, and/or that it would usher in a veritable watershed in men’s behavior towards women. In reaction to this report on the somewhat predictable phenomenon of scams targeting particularly rural bachelors’ families saving more money for brides though, Kenneth Anderson at the (rather hard to categorize) Volokh Conspiracy blog has drawn on his Mormon upbringing to provide a unique perspective on what is occurring to the status of Chinese women. An excerpt:

Exposure to the wider world…has left me persuaded that abstract libertarianism must sometimes give way to the realities of cultures and actual conditions. My view today is that – drawing on conversations with Nicholas Eberstadt in which he noted that he, too, had read Heinlein – it was far more historically common, and almost certainly the more common direction of things today, that in a world with scarcity of women – especially in a world of scarcity of females and yet a cultural preference for male births – the result would be increased treatment of women as property. More valuable property, yes, but increasingly as property precisely as the perception of its value increased.

Chinese One Child Policy Poster 1986 Zhou Yuwei

The authors of Bare Branches have noted that a surplus of males unable to find mates is the social equivalent of plural marriage in which a single male has exclusive reproductive access to multiple wives. The effect is to create, as in China, India, and other places with similar cultural patterns combined with modern technology, the imbalance in the sexes. Again, my moderate libertarianism gives way to social realities – no doubt informed by my Mormon upbringing, which left me on the one hand the least offended person in the world by the idea of polygamy, but on the other hand a very detailed understanding of what it means in practice, for women but also for surplus men and boys. Indeed, there is a very good and persuasive paper by Thom Brooks arguing – contra Martha Nussbaum and others – that a society of multiple wives and a single husband is inherently and necessarily an inegalitarian one.

Among many other things, see the (much longer) original post for a link to that paper by Brooks (emphases in original).

2. AIDS Cases in Korea

Korean AIDS HIV Poster

Adding to those I mentioned in February (see #10 here), for some recent statistics and links to further analysis see Brian in Jeollanam-do here, who also briefly discusses the contradictions between advertising free AIDS tests to foreigners when a positive result can mean instant deportation.

Like I’ve already discussed here, but worth mentioning again because it’s so important, it was through listening to a Korean radio report back in 2005 that I realized that the vast majority of Koreans no longer think that they’re are no homosexual people in Korea, nor – considering that 99% of Korean cases were infected through sexual intercourse – that AIDS is a “gay disease.” I don’t mean to sound patronizing, but if that comes as a surprise, then don’t worry – it was to me too – and if you think about it you’ll probably realize that you never actually heard a Korean person say them; rather, you heard them from other, non-Korean speaking expats and/ or English-language books or magazines about Korea, the latter of which tend to get outdated very quickly in such a rapidly changing society as Korea.

And then you’ll realize that the same goes for a lot of things about Korea…it’s quite a sobering experience, or at least it was for me. Apologies if I’m projecting a little here though!

(In my brief survey of Korean AIDS/HIV awareness posters while finding the above image by the way, all of those I saw were tasteful and/or a little abstract like the above. Personally though, like experience with those for smoking suggests, I think the more graphic and explicit the better, either by showing terminally-ill patients, or by making strong negative associations with the act of having sex without a condom itself {see here, here, here, here, and here}. From *cough* experience, anything else is just too abstract to remember and/or care about in the heat of the moment)

OUT205283383. Korea’s Most Beautiful Men and Women

With a nod to the sorts of things most people actually read on my blog, here is a rare list provided by photographers at Movieweek rather than by netizens.

4. Number of “Harmful” Korean Web Sites Decreases for the First Time

The title of this Korea Times report is self-explanatory, but if you didn’t know it, much more interesting is Korea’s dubious high-ranking in this league:

There are about 3.45 million sites worldwide that contain sex, violence, gambling and other offensive material, 230,000 more than at the end of last year, with 1,500 to 2,000 new sites generated every day, KT said.

English sites accounted for about 1.99 million of the disturbing online destinations, or 57.6 percent, followed by the 490,000 Chinese sites, which accounted for 14.3 percent.

Korean sites, which accounted for 11 percent, came in third, relieved of its second-place position of last year, followed by the 360,000 German sites and the 80,000 Japanese sites.

More than 98 percent of those identified contained sexually explicit content, KT officials said, while gambling sites accounted for 1.62 percent and violent and “grotesque” sites combined for 0.05 percent.

“Although the decrease in the total number of sites is encouraging, this doesn’t exactly mean that the users of these sites have declined by the same rate as well,” said a KT spokesman.

I’m not surprised by the ranking of English and Chinese sites (although I’m sure it means English-language sites), but (98 percent of) 11 per cent of all pornography sites in the world are Korean? You don’t need to have spent a long time in Korea to realize that it’s by no means the conservative society it’s portrayed as in the foreign media, but still…

5. First Korean Astronaut Speaks on Women in Korean Society

Like Korea Beat says, unfortunately it was a very brief interview, but this does give a flavor of what she said. If you’ve never heard of Yi So-yeon (이소연) before though, first read Scribblings of the Metropolitician here and here on the incredible amount of criticism and negativity with which she and her achievement were received because of her replacing the original, male candidate.

6. How to Get Koreans More Interested in Foreign Culture

the reader nudity

It’s a little old, but if you’ve been following these Korean Gender Reader posts for a little while then you’ll know that I’m very interested in censorship issues in Korea, and the mechanisms by which the Korean media is slowly but surely being liberalized. One way, according to Korea Pop Wars, is a prime example of desperation being the mother of invention, as – outside of film festivals – there is unfortunately almost no market for non-mainstream foreign films in Korea, regardless of how popular they have been overseas or how many awards they have received. Consequently, local film promotion companies are focusing on any instances of nudity in them…and with immediate and enthusiastic responses!

7. Korean Women’s Skin Whitening

Lest you feel I’ve already mentioned this subject often enough, this Malaysian(!) reporter was also amazed at the extreme lengths Korean women will go to to have light skin.

8. The Korean Female Cutsie Act

Typical Korean Cutsie Act

Like Tony Hellman says:

I’ve noticed for some time that some Korean women have a tendency to talk in a high voice and have a kind of coquettish, childlike way about them. Often enough for me to to recognize a pattern. So I talked to a couple people and got some perspectives. I have a good friend who is a Korean-American woman, who explained it thusly…

See here for that explanation, and Gord Sellar’s posts here and here remain very good for putting it into a wider context.

9. Update on Domestic Violence in Taiwan

One of the longest recent news reports I’ve ever seen on the subject is available at The China Post here.  See #2 here for more links on Taiwan and Japan and Korea also.

10. Effects of the New Lay Judge (Jury) System on Sex-Crime Victims in Japan

With relevance to Korea, that is also experimenting with using juries in trials. See In Absentia here for more (via Global Voices).

11. Global Links…

Faith Hill Photoshopped Cover

As this has already been probably the least Korea-specific “Korean” Feminist Reader post that I’ve ever written, then I may as well pass on some recent stories that are only indirectly related to Korea, but which I’d be surprised if readers that have gotten this far wouldn’t still find interesting:

– Re: the above image(s), this New York Times article discusses the increasing backlash against the excessive levels of photoshopping done on especially women’s bodies in the media. And see here for an hilarious annotated guide to the changes above.

– With parallels to attempts to create a market from scratch for deodorant and men’s cosmetics in Korea, this post from Sociological Images discusses Philips attempt to create a trend for the other 50 per cent of the market to trim their pubic hair.

– And finally, with obvious relevance to Japanese and Korean social norms of virtually sexless marriages after having children (this is not an exaggeration), this report from the New York Times (again) demonstrates that married couples that have sex frequently are more likely to report being happy in their marriages and less likely to divorce. Who’d have thought it?

Related is this not entirely whimsical article from Esquire on determining whether you love your spouse or not.

( Image Sources: first, second, third-unknown, fourth, fifth, sixth, final )


5 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. Regarding the issue of China’s growing gender imbalance, the bigger concern is not equality but social stability. Polygamy and dowries in Middle Eastern countries coupled with high unemployment rates force poor men to remain single until they are in their thirties. Sexually frustrated men make great fodder for Islamist recruiters. In China, poor rural and urban migrant male workers unable to marry and have a child are more likely to participate in demonstrations. A man without a family has nothing to lose.


  2. Today’s Science Daily has a related story called “When Young Men Are Scarce, They’re More Likely to Play the Field Than Propose.” It repeats the notion that a sex ratio favoring women correlates with more liberal values and gender equality while one favoring men correlates with conservatism and restrictions on women. The study focused on men’s sex strategies and probably doesn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know.


    1. True, but as I was reminded of by this yesterday, it’s still always good to take a close look at what we otherwise regard as common sense or natural. Thanks very much for passing it on then (here it is everyone)!


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