Korean Gender Reader

3xFTM PosterWe’re Here, We’re Queer…And We’re In Korea

Sorry, but once I remembered the catchphrase of the gay groups at my university in the mid-1990s, then I couldn’t resist that particular addition to it!

In my defense though, there’s been a relative flood of LGBT-related news in the Korean blogosphere since the 10th Korea Queer Culture Festival finished two weeks ago. To wit:

1) Expect an outing of a Korean celebrity by an angry ex-girlfriend sometime soon.

2) 3xFTM, Korea’s first ever movie about a female to male transgender experience, is currently playing in cinemas. See here for a review.

3) Ask the Expat wrote an informative post about gay culture in Korea.

4) The Wonder Girls are so popular in Thailand that a “Wonder Gays” group has been created.

5) Don’t miss Chris in South Korea’s photos of the parade and festival themselves.

6) And finally, Dramabeans reports that “Director Kim Jo Gwang-soo added an entry to the small-but-growing category of Korean queer cinema with his short film Boy Meets Boy, starring rising pretty-boy actor Kim Hye-sung. He is following that with his second film, Friends? [친구사이?], which isn’t quite feature-length but clocks in as a mid-length film at 50 minutes.”

Friends is currently in post-production, and with teenage boys kissing in it and reportedly a bed-scene too, it’ll be very interesting to see how widely it is screened and if any objections to it are raised. Unfortunately, I missed any news of Boy Meets Boy when it was released last year, so if anyone has any information about its reception then please let me know.

Update: “fuchsiathegreat” has just written a list that he(?) claims covers most if not all queer films that have ever been produced in Korea. I think that that’s an exaggeration(!), but it’s certainly a good guide to what has been produced in the last decade. Check it out at Omana They Didn’t! here.

Update 2: Although most of the films themselves are difficult to find unfortunately, check out the links provided by Pierre here for a history of queer cinema in Korea up until the late-1990s.

(By the way, if you were under the {perfectly understandable} impression that Koreans thought that there were no homosexuals in Korea, then you might find this post interesting)

Fledgling Queer Cinema in Korea

Other news, in no particular order:

7) Actress Moon Geun-young participated at the 2009 Pink Ribbon Love Marathon fan meeting, with the aim of raising the awareness and need for prevention of breast cancer.

8) The Chosun Ilbo reported that Swedish husbands do 6 time more housework than their Korean counterparts.

9) The original is a little difficult to read, but Watashi to Tokyo discusses an article about why highly-educated Japanese women aspire to be housewives.

10) The Dong-a Ilbo reported on the recent launching of government task force for making a “better place for procreation” to promote childbirth. Forgive my arrogance, but I suspect that I could have translated that better.

11) Netizens voted on the best kissing scene in a Korean drama.

12) The Hub of Sparkle! provides valuable information on women’s safety in Korea and on what support is available for rape victims.

Girls' Generation ironically encourages me to not worry about getting someone pregnant13) Allkpop reports that teenage girl group Girls’ Generation is involved in a new show where they learn look after a baby for a day (see here and here). I’m sure that it’s entirely with ratings in mind, but on the plus side they are also getting involved in a campaign to help adopted children. Cue highly relevant pictures accompanying the Korean news reports.

14) Brand Confucian reports that “according to Yonhap news, Consumers Korea, a consumer advocacy group, released a report showing that several international and local Korean baby skin care product manufacturers are marketing products containing potentially harmful chemical preservatives and fragrances as ‘natural’ or even ‘organic’.”

To place that into context, 88% of products marketed as organic food in Korea are anything but, and even though 27 out of 30 Vitamin C drinks in Korea contain dangerously high levels of carcinogenic benzene, not only are the KFDA’s powers so limited that none of the companies producing them can face penalties, but it’s not allowed to publicly reveal their names. So, when I wrote about this topic in passing a year ago, guess what country’s websites I had to visit in order to learn which 3 drinks are safe?  It certainly put Korean democracy into a new perspective…

In related news, I’ve just read that the government said that “7 out of 79 brands of bottled water were found to contain bromate, a suspected carcinogen, exceeding international guidelines for drinking water quality.” See here for the details, and again, which 7 are not named. And in another ominous sign, last year the KFDA’s lack of legal authority and resources inspired it to get the public to do its own job of checking health and safety standards at Korean restaurants.

15) The Korea Times reports that a professor was given a jail term for sexually harassing female students, and Korea Beat reports that: the acquittal of a professor accused of sexually assaulting a female student was affirmed; the Dong-a Ilbo was accused of sexism by portraying women memorial services for the late ex-president Roh Muh-hyun as acting only out of emotion; and, as a follow-up to the Seoul City government’s plans to increase the number of public toilets for women (see #9 here), provides some more details of what exactly will be provided and how they will be funded (and parks are to become more “women-friendly” also).

16) PopSeoul! reports that the two rumor-spreaders that contributed to Choi Jin-sil’s suicide last year are to receive…suspended sentences of 2 years and 120 hours community service. But while that may sound lenient, particularly in light of her tragic life and the ignominy of being sued after death for not hiding her husband’s beatings  from the media, there are still rights to free speech involved.

17) The Wild Women’s Performing Arts Festival is set to be held in Hongdae in Seoul on June 27, and will raise funds for the Korean Women’s Association United, which tackles such issues as gender equality. See here and here for the details.

Lady Gaga Seoul

18) Despite thousands of articles about and even more photos of Lady Gaga’s recent visit to Seoul (source), only Sarah Kim at Ningin made the obvious points that “…Asian sensibilities seem to have a double standard. It’s not ok for Asian artist to dress risqué or to come off as sexy, but when Westerners do it, it’s completely ok. And why is it when Westerns idols go to Asia it’s a big deal but not the other way around.”

There are exceptions to the first point of course (Kim So-yeon’s revealing dress at the Pusan International Film Festival in 2007 instantly springs to mind), but Sarah is quite right, and I’ve made the same point frequently myself (see #1 here). Recall that Chae-yeon’s far less revealing music video was banned from Korean television recently for instance (see #1 here), which she discusses briefly in an interview here.

Whispering Corridors 519) Not strictly Korean, but considering that Korea has the lowest number of working women (read: mothers) in the OECD then this post at Contexts “about the ‘motherhood penalty’:  the pattern demonstrating that working mothers make less than women without children.” should be interesting. The study examined, authored by Shelley J. Correll of Stanford University, Stephen J. Benard, and In Paik also suggests that, “the mommy gap is actually bigger than the gender gap for women under 35.”

20) Korea Beat asks why Korean ghosts always appear to be female.

21) Mr World 2009 is to be held in Seoul this September.

22) In the Korea Times, Choi Yearn-hong writes about the bizarre mentality of the Korean Constitutional Court, which seems stuck in the 19th Century when it rules women’s rights. Among other things, in some cases it has adjudged that women’s inheritance rights are only half those of men.

23) Apparently, hairy legs for men are no longer in fashion in Korea, although despite living here 9 years I’ll be damned it I can recall when they ever were? Despite Korean men not exactly being well-known for their body hair though, the Korea Times reports that sales of body-hair removal products and devices to them are increasing every summer. They are also putting on cosmetics for the sake of getting an edge in the job market too.

24) And to make sure to end on a fun note, the Korea Herald reports that Korean actor Lee Byung-hun below (source) is the most desired boyfriend by Japanese women, and finally Allkpop gives a list of the hottest Korean male stars under 25 and also informs us that apparently Kim Hyun-joong is the most kissable Korean male celebrity.


Yes, that was the minimalist version. Why do you ask?


8 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. wow..thanks for the informative post and link on gay korea..always been an interesting topic for me..and its refreshing to see some man-candy pics in ur post as opposed to the usual eye-candy photos of sexy women.hehe..keep the man-candies comin!


  2. Regarding Number 9 (Japanese housewives): There was an interesting talk-show/panel-show on TV the other night (Japan).

    Four professional lawyers debated the validity of a divorce request in court over a wife who refused to work or curb her shopping habits while the husband did typical Japanese overtime to a declining salary rate in a worsening economy. The couple has an elementary aged daughter, and the wife lets it be known that the only reason she got married was because of the man’s job status and income. She absolutely refuses to work.

    3 out of 4 of the lawyers say the man won’t be able to divorce from the wife on those grounds because she is performing a job in house care and child upbringing. While I definitely agree with the assessment of house work to be of considerable worth, it wasn’t an outcome I expected. The 1 lawyer who said the divorce could go through based his answer on the husband’s plea for the wife to work as a last resort to save the household budget.

    While the media tends to highlight divorce as growing commonplace in Japan, in the past it’s typically been in light of infidelity on the part of the husband. I wonder if the current economy is influencing the concept of marriage.


  3. I could respond intelligently to another excellent post, but I’d much rather ask you to put up more pics of shirtless male Korean celebrities.


    1. Sarah, Hcpen–Yes, the photos on my blog are definitely a bit of an indulgence on my part, although they are partially to gain reader’s attention also: pictures of cleavage grab the attention of heterosexual women just as much as men for instance, and as a former gym addict all too happy to strut my stuff in public at any given opportunity then I can vouch for the fact that more men than women look at men’s bare chests. And as an academic field, Gender Studies does tend to focus much more on women then men also, so the subjects of photos are not entirely due to my own preferences…

      Overanalysis, I know. Seriously, I’ll try to force myself to put more pictures of men up, but – not that I expect any complaints (or care if I did) – if I do then I see no reason to feature pictures of women in bikinis also! And actually that would be more in line with the de facto theme of these posts too, which is gender and sexuality issues rather than Feminism per se. I chose “Korean Feminist Reader” rather than “Korean Gender Reader” though, because I’m sure there’s more Google searches for “Korean Feminism” than “Korean Gender,” and as it’s rare to find someone interested in one but not the other then I’m more likely to get noticed that way.

      Alex–I don’t mean to give the impression that I care more about frivolous comments than serious, informative ones, but my daughters only gave me 5 hours sleep last night I’m afraid, and for the 4th night in a row! Sorry I lack the mental energy to respond intelligently to yours then, but still, thanks for passing that on.


  4. The film “Address Unknown” is a slightly depressing story about a mother and son who have to live with being social outcasts because she got pregnant by a black American soldier. Although from what I remember you never see the mother and the soldier together, but the film does explore the effects within the society when a Korean woman does sleep with a non-Korean man (Western, but not the stereotypical white, blond-haired guy called James).

    And in response to one of your updates, I’ve actually heard from a few Koreans that it’s wrong that Koreans think it’s ok for westerners to dress like that, but not Koreans. Obviously a few Koreans can’t speak for all Koreans, but at least there are at least a few who have noticed this hypocritical attitude and denounced it! I’m sure it’s another one of those attitudes firmly reinforced by the media as well.


    1. At first I thought you’d written in the wrong post Seamus,as by coincidence Left Flank also mentioned that movie in his comment on this post by the way. With two recommendations now, then I’m thinking I’ll try and see it soon!

      I’d be surprised if some, hell, even most Koreans “didn’t think that it’s wrong that Koreans think it’s ok for westerners to dress like that, but not Koreans” and I confess that I’ve never actually asked any about that specifically. But in my defense, you can’t deny that the hypocritical attitude is pervasive in Korean advertising and the media. And more to the point, as I discuss here Michael Hurt of Scribblings of the Metropolitician has also asked Koreans about this issue, but gotten entirely different answers (see towards the end of this post). So I think the jury’s still out on how prevalent such attitudes are, but yes, point taken, I did generalize a little (or, rather, Ningin did!) in point #18.

      By the way, that marks my last bleary-eyed reply before bed sorry…so however brief I apologize in advance for any mistakes above!


  5. I’ve had similar interests about korean queer cinema since I watched “Road Movie” (which i recommend, I blogged about it but in french :). I found those interesting links about some old queer movies (unfortunately most of them are almost impossible to find):

    – a short article: http://www.glbtq.com/arts/asian_film,2.html

    – a more complete paper: http://www.scribd.com/doc/7608577/Remembered-Branches

    (by the way I just discovered your blog yesterday and it looks like a gold mine to me!)


    1. Thanks for the compliments and especially the links: I’ve added them to the post.

      To be honest, I’m not personally that interested in queer issues and queer movies per se, more sexuality, minority rights, and Korean society in general, but of course I’ll always cover anything queer-related that comes up (and please let me know if you ever hear of anything!).

      Perhaps that disinterest stems from when I lived with gay prostitutes and drag-queens back in New Zealand, and used to visit gay bars frequently because I lived with the owners and got free drinks and copies of their DJ boyfriend’s music (no, really!). Not that they were representative of most gay men in general of course, but those 2 years or so was more exposure to gay culture than most people get in a lifetime!

      And I used to wonder why people in New Zealand thought I was gay too…LOL


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s