Korean Gender Reader

E.Via BananaYes, Korean “gender” reader from now on, as despite the name my “feminist reader” posts were really always more on gender and sexuality issues rather than on feminist ones per se, although of course they’re still intimately related and will still get mentioned. I’ve updated the names of all the old posts accordingly.

1) In an advertising tactic that looks set to become a new standard given how popular the recent banning of similar songs and videos made them afterward (see #1 here and #2 here, and apparently the same logic applies to “leftist” books), rookie rapper E.via (이비아) probably deliberately sought controversy with the opening of her song “Oppa, Can I do it?” (오빠! 나 해도 돼?), which – surprise, surprise – begins with heavy breathing and the lines “Oppa…you know…I really want to do it…Can’t I do it once? Oppa…Can I do it?” See allkpop here for more, and here for the song itself (photo source: Diet Life).

2) Abortions in South Korea: Legality, Morality and Public Opinion from Ask The Expat.

3) The ballad singer “U” created a stir with a lesbian kissing scene in an MV teaser for her new song, “Suddenly” (울컥).

4) School violence appears to be on the rise, although Korea Beat notes it may just be institutions are better at ferreting out cases that would previously have gone undiscovered. See Brian in Jeollanam-do also for a legal case where a student hitting a teacher in retaliation for corporeal punishment was ruled as not being legitimate self-defense.

5) Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling discusses the a Korean groups’ attempts to link foreign teachers with AIDS, and despite all the evidence against this, their efforts are having impacts on Korean legislators.

In related news, an English guide (possibly satirical) on how to pick up Korean women is generating complaints in Korea, as is another website devoted to that purpose, but regular revealing and/or “upskirt” pictures of underage girls in the Korean media strangely get much less attention, as do naked news presenters (see here also).

6) A good look at the nightmare that is trying to find quality, affordable childcare in Tokyo, with obvious parallels to Korea. See here also for how Korean kindergarten teachers are underpaid and overworked. In fairness though, my own 3 year-old daughter goes to a very nice and affordable kindergarten (and our family makes much less money than your average Korean middle-class ones!), so they are out there.

Paju Movie Poster Seo Woo

7) Although the movie itself isn’t set to come out until Autumn, with its Lolita-themed storyline and especially the poster with actress Seo-woo (서우) above (source), then Paju (파주) is already getting a lot of attention: the orange text, for instance, says “If (you) say (I) can’t, then (I) want to do (it) all the more.” See DramaBeans here for a synopsis (actually, it sounds quite interesting).

Update: Come to think of it, Seo-woo’s passive look in the poster and the assertive, risqué text give completely opposite impressions of her character in the movie. I wonder why? From what I’ve read at DramaBeans though, the latter is the more accurate.

8) Chris in South Korea visited Haesindang Park (해신당 공원) in Gangwon-do, which is apparently full of penises.

9) An Acorn in the Dog’s Food provides a harrowing tale of a mother suffering from depression who killed her son and tried to make it look like suicide, and only by chance was unable to kill her daughter also.

10) Chinese Chic provides a good quick summary of queer cinema and the state of LGBT rights in various Northast-Asian countries.

Daniel Henney Abs11) PopSeoul! and allkpop discuss the case of newbie actor Lee Si-young, who was dropped from an upcoming drama for falling in love and making public her relationship with fellow actor Junjin. This will have a big negative impact on her fledgling career (she is already said to have lost some advertising deals as a result), but, lest this be taken as indicative of Korean management companies slave-like contracts with their stars  (see #6 here) and Korean companies’ strange stipulations about the reputations of stars modeling for them (ie, if you get beaten up by your husband then be sure to hide it from the public), the decision was made solely by screenwriter Im Sung-han (임성한), apparently notorious for that sort of thing.

12) Korea Beat discusses discriminatory Korean textbooks. Meanwhile, Miss Korea feels the pain of interracial Korean families, and the government plans to tighten the rules on foreign spouses of Koreans getting citizenship (see here also).

13) As allkpop discusses here, recent advertisements featuring Lee Hyori are creating jams in Korean subway stations (apparently not here though!).

14) Good on actress Kim Bu-seon (김부선) for standing up for the legalization of marijuana in Korea and drawing attention to the Korean public’s often bizarre attitudes towards it (considering that 46% of Korean men and 9% of women are considered binge drinkers, then you may be surprised at Koreans’ rather dogmatic attitudes to other drugs). See Michael Hurt at Scribblings of the Metropolitician for a wider discussion of those.

15) Finally, as Omana They Didn’t! tests your knowledge of Korea’s best abs here (helpful example above), it behooves me to present my candidate for the best female version below. And in related news, some form of contest for former Men’s Health Korea magazine cover models will take place at the ‘4th Men’s Health Cool Guy Contest’ on July 2, 2009 at the Grand Hilton Convention Center. See here and here for the details.



17 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. Re: #14 – I find the actual words describing what we’d consider “recreational drugs” in both Korean and Japanese very telling of how they’re perceived by the public. In Korean 마약 and in Japanese 麻薬, the Chinese character for ‘ma’ is also the character used specifically for marijuana (大麻), meaning that marijuana is itself the very representation of “bad drugs”.

    While I wouldn’t smoke marijuana even if it were legal, I feel Asian societies fear it beyond reason.

    I thought Kim Bu-seon was very clever by associating marijuana with its traditional use in Korea. Gi-wook Shin’s Ethnic Nationalism in Korea gives a pretty good idea of how history, both mythical and factual, has been used as a powerful tool in creating the collective identity of modern Koreans. By associating marijuana with tradition in Korea, condemning its use means condemning the Korean foundation, however insignificant a portion of that foundation it might be.


    1. Roboseyo–Hmmprth. Well, naturally that’s not the first thing that occurred to me, but I’m still (seriously) open to suggestions if you think that that doesn’t quite work. In a way though, your objection makes it seem all the more apt, as Korean guys and their pinks and hugging and so really do force you to seriously rethink about how you define gender. Not that it didn’t take me a long time, 8 years in fact, but now I see guys in couple clothes and so on more as rebels against their parents strict, loveless relationships and all their generation represents as a whole rather than them simply being *cough* completely gay for instance. Not that I’m about to blow dry my pubic hair at the bathhouse while chatting to a friend or to rush off to Basic House for some pink jeans myself, but still…

      Alex–Thanks for adding that, but I’m at work, and my hanja dictionary is at home: do you mean that the original hanja root “Ma” means “bad”? Regardless, I completely agree that “Asian societies fear it beyond reason,” and it’s just bizarre how zealously they do so considering how little most of them know about it, yet accept pervasive alcholism in their society. I really can’t think of a better example of something so few Koreans seem to have thought critically about.

      Thanks for mentioning Ethnic Nationalism in Korea by the way: I wouldn’t have thought to otherwise, at least with regards to this case, but now that you mention it I can see the links. I’ve been meaning to finish the last third of it for a good year or so now, and now you’ve inspired me to!


  2. I meant that the “ma” is the same character used in marijuana (it means “hemp, linen, etc.”). But the negative connotation of “mayak” with the same character present in marijuana (“deMAcho”, 대마초) makes it sort of a representation of the entire group of illegal substances, even though marijuana is much less serious than, say, crack. (Or tobacco or alcohal, for that matter)


  3. I’ve noticed that Lee Hyori, like Jessica Simpson and other female entertainers with shapely torsos and short legs, is almost always photographed from mid-thigh up, rather than a whole body shot. I wonder if this selectivity is her choice or the photo editors’.


    1. Come to think of it, you’re right. Considering how many pictures of Lee Hyori I’ve seen in my time, then my initial reaction to that was surprise and embarrassment at not noticing earlier. But then the good old hourglass figure makes for compelling viewing, and my focus was entirely natural really. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for that sort of thing in future though.

      By coincidence, I was thinking about hourglass figures earlier today as I read this critique of evolutionary psychology in the latest Newsweek that you might find interesting (no, I don’t normally read it!). I’ve been a big fan of that for a good 15 years or so now, but I recognize some of its proponents do make some wacky assertions occasionally, and the article certainly makes some valid criticisms. But I had to strongly disagree (for one) with its argument that preferences for an hourglass figure were culturally determined.

      In particular, in addition to all the evidence for a biological-determined preference as we’ve discussed, it made me further reflect on my own like of that body type, and I realized that not a single cultural source or authority figure somehow compelled me to prefer that particular waist-hip-ratio over all others in “my formative years.” Moreover, after becoming an adult and – not to put too fine a point on it – having ready access to pictures of naked women of any form I desired, those preferences remained (or to be more accurate, I realized my preferences), and most importantly despite the then waifs in vogue in the media, or alternatively women with breast enlargements more in vogue now, and for more on the latter here’s evidence that a waist-hip ratio of 0.7 being the most attractive only holds if the rest of the body is average. I could also mention that the results of that study in that link were no surprise personally, as to me surgically-enhanced breasts look very unappealing…hell, almost freakish on naked women, something which I gather (but I wouldn’t know) women may not be so aware of because they’re less likely to see women with them naked (whereas there’s a disproportionate number of them in the pornography industry)…but perhaps it’s wise if I stop there.

      I’m probably going to regret talking about my tastes in women and/or pornography at 11:49 at night, but considering that as I’m a guy then you can safely assume that I’ve seen at least a little of the latter then I don’t think I’ve been too personal or revealing really(?). Yes, I should be wary of projecting my own tastes onto other men too, but then I’m sure you get my gist above. And if not then, well…hopefully the links will still be interesting!


  4. The examples of textbooks Korea Beat had seemed surprisingly tame, compared to some things I’ve seen around the Web. I think Metropolician had a much more shocking spread a few months back. But I’m actually pretty pleased; it’s great that more subtle forms of discrimination are being addressed (however ineptly) in the mainstream media. The whole concept of the “ethics” classes seems strange to me, though, and a recipe for reinforcing dominant social mores at the expense of underprivileged groups, but maybe I’ve only heard the bad side of how the subject is taught in Korea.


    1. In the 5 minutes I have spare while chomping through my 참치기밥 before work, here’s a link to the Metropolitician’s look at stereotypes of race in Korean English dictionaries. But that’s from 2006 though, and off the top of my head I can’t think of anything he’s written on this recently sorry. Anyone?


  5. Perhaps as a discursive practice, you could try writing from the perspective that the values you criticize are in fact axiomatically true. To me it is strange to criticize another habitus different from one’s own and yet make moral statements that the culture being criticized does not adopt your own set of values. Before you discuss any of this, please state your assumptions about what is objectively true about human nature and human ‘rights’ and proceed from there. Otherwise, it’s hard to take your posts seriously.


  6. I think you’re being undeservedly critical, and I don’t think you’ve really read this blog, Mr/Ms Long Time (if that is even your real name). You also haven’t made it at all clear which values you think are being unjustly criticised, which would then allow some discussion involving you, rather than just being criticised by you.


  7. “I could also mention that the results of that study in that link were no surprise personally, as to me surgically-enhanced breasts look very unappealing…hell, almost freakish on naked women, something which I gather (but I wouldn’t know) women may not be so aware of because they’re less likely to see women with them naked (whereas there’s a disproportionate number of them in the pornography industry)…but perhaps it’s wise if I stop there.”

    I read somewhere that about 40% of those who look at Playboy magazine (readers, not subscribers) are women. There is pornography for women although the free online stuff I’ve seen appears to be aimed at men only. Since pornography is created to entertain men, it is not surprising that most of the acts potrayed are not pleasurable to women, despite the actress’ unpersuasive moaning and groaning. What is surprising is that many of the acts are probably not pleasurable to men, either, which might explain why men hardly ever make a sound. I think a lot of women would enjoy seeing graphic sex in the context of a movie, but legitimate actors will not do such scenes, and if they did, the movie’s x rating would keep it out of most theaters and thus reduce profits.


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