Koreans, Westerners…and Sex (Again)

Kang Ji-hwan Esquire Korea July 2009 Bikinis

Apologies for the light posting and not responding to comments and emails, but my 50-hour weeks are having their toll. Fortunately, this is the last one, and as I type this I’ve just finished a long post that will be up by tomorrow.

Until then, let me quickly mention this post over at The Marmot’s Hole about a short video cum picture-documentary on the hypocrisy of the Korean media’s stereotypes of Western men as sexual predators and – to the extent that they’re portrayed at all – very negative and sexist images of the Korean women who enter into relationships with them, but at the same time readily (and increasingly) presenting images of Korean men with Western (read: Caucasian) women, albeit with the latter also usually portrayed in an similarly sexist and degrading fashion. To which I present as Exhibit A actor Kang Ji-Hwan’s (강지환) latest photoshoot for Esquire Korea above, which you can see more of here, and as Exhibit B this Somang Cosmetics advertisement below (source) with Ahn Jung-hwan (안정환) from 2003 that it instantly reminded me of, which I discuss a little here. Naturally, I’d be the last person to be offended by women in bikinis in particular, but still, there are alternatives to depicting Korean male-Caucasian female relationships with the latter as something other than mere trophy girlfriends. Yet I can only think of a handful of examples.

essor-white-ahn-jung-hwan-advertisement-2003-somang

But being an understandably large and ongoing concern of the (overwhelmingly male-dominated) Korean blogosphere (see the links at the end of this post), then normally I choose to blog about other aspects of gender-relationships in Korea, but a) I confess that with this post I was *cough* glad to finally find an excuse to post the Esquire pictures sans lengthy analysis, and b) as the creator of the video took a dozen or so images from this blog to make it, then other readers may well find it interesting just for that reason. All the same, I link to the video rather than providing it here myself, as I’m more interested in the issues it raises rather than the video per se.  But if you are, then you can certainly depend on a lively discussion of it at The Marmot’s Hole.

With all due respect to the creator of the video though,  I would agree with critics there that: to a large extent it is preaching to the choir; it has a confusing message; the reference to the Virginia Tech massacre was completely unnecessary; and, above all, it needs to have Korean subtitles if it has to have any effect at all on most Koreans. But still, a picture does say a thousand words, and despite those handicaps it will probably get much more attention from them then this English-language blog has. Hmmm…

Update: A second, much better video has been made. See here for my post and many comments on it.

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14 thoughts on “Koreans, Westerners…and Sex (Again)

  1. Esquire is a Western style publication, so it’s hard to classify it as Korean media. Those photos could have come from any American men’s magazine.

    It’s hard charge a hypocrisy since it’s compared to the reports and attitudes from a handful of tabloid-style Korean media. These are apples and oranges.

  2. Written, edited, and shot by Koreans = Korean media. I disagree that those photos could have come from any American men’s magazine. It’s a lot more difficult to find sexualized images of Asian men in US publications. In the US we suffer from the opposite kind of sexism – the propensity for portraying asian men at best as nerdy and asexual and at worst impotent and effeminate (and not in a positive gender-bending sort of way).

    I agree that the comparison with the ‘tabloid’-style Korean media might be a stretch.

  3. More than anything, the first picture seems imitative of a video, album, or other media from hip-hop. Yeah, with White girls. Years ago when I firs saw the second image, my first thought was, “Wow! They got the hot French girl from The Island,” and my second thought was, “Wow, they’re a bit too literal with the whole white thing.”

    Going back to the 1990s, the Korean public has been exposed to the race-interchanging Benetton ads, which featured Koreans and other Asians getting all huggy and close with Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and ambiguous. The only controversy they generated was that the Korean model who made it big in those ads was considered homely by Korean standards.

  4. “Esquire is a Western style publication, so it’s hard to classify it as Korean media. Those photos could have come from any American men’s magazine.”

    Photos of a man of one race surrounded by near naked women of another? Could you give some examples?

    As for the sexism, at first I was bothered by the two headless women. Then I wondered if these women got decapitated to hide their Korean ethnicity. Both women look a little darker than the two white ladies in front. The thighs of the headless women appear disproportionately longer than their calves. I guess Esquire Korea couldn’t find four attractive white models or was too cheap to hire four.

    Featuring white women in the second ad for Essor White seems like blatant worshipping of Caucasian whiteness. Contrast this ad with US ads for tanning oils and lotions. The latter usually feature tanned white women or women of mixed ancestry, like Hispanic, with Caucasian-looking faces. I can’t recall ever seeing a tanning lotion ad with a clearly African-American model of any skin color. Looks like Ahn Jung-hwan got a year’s supply of the lotion since his face definitely looks whiter in the image than it is in real life.

    These two ads do not demean Western women as much as they implicitly demean Korean women by showcasing the shapely bodies and pale complexions of white women.

  5. I don’t have any examples, but why would you think a picture of a black man surrounded by blonde and Hispanic women would be out of order in magazines like Maxim, Esquire, FHM and such.

    If anyone cared enough to dig, I’m sure you could EASILY find “Photos of a man of one race surrounded by near naked women of another”

    The whole playboy/pimp attitude captured in those Esquire photos is American, most likely originating from rappers and commercial hip-hop.

    Anyways, the article would have made a stronger point if it substituted the above photo shoot with links of Korean journalist snapping foreign girls at the beaches, high school students in mini skirts or graduating ceremonies of Eastern European high school girls.

  6. I was so busy commenting on the content of those pics, I forgot to comment on the video itself.

    b) as the creator of the video took a dozen or so images from this blog to make it, then other readers may well find it interesting just for that reason.

    I certainly did. I even called my post on it “One of The Grand Narrative’s Fans Makes a Video.” I am curious what you think about it, especially since it seems to have taken so many issues you expounded on so deeply and stitched them together in a most superficial way.

    With all due respect to the creator of the video though, I would agree with critics there that: to a large extent it is preaching to the choir; it has a confusing message; the reference to the Virginia Tech massacre was completely unnecessary; and, above all, it needs to have Korean subtitles if it has to have any effect at all on most Koreans.

    I think the message was crystal clear. Whether or not it was worth five minutes of our lives, however, is a different matter.

  7. “I don’t have any examples, but why would you think a picture of a black man surrounded by blonde and Hispanic women would be out of order in magazines like Maxim, Esquire, FHM and such.

    If anyone cared enough to dig, I’m sure you could EASILY find “Photos of a man of one race surrounded by near naked women of another”

    You’re the one who made the supposition. I recall seeing images of men of one race or another surrounded by sexy women of different races, but not a man of one race surrounded by sexy women all of another. Early rap videos from the 90s often showed women of different races gyrating around the black singers. A media-generated harem can be multiracial, but showing, for example, sexy black or Asian women catering to a lone white man would infuriate blacks or Asians of both sexes. An image of a black man surrounded by sexy white women would also offend African-Americans and whites. Before the OJ Simpson jurists visited his house, his lawyer Johnny Cochrane went through and took down all the pictures of naked or semi-naked white chicks, lest they offend the jury of predominantly black women.

  8. White girls with Asian guys is an inversion of the usual predatory colonialist mating pattern of exotic submissive geishas with burly white all-American/Aryan rescuers. It’s like the “Black is beautiful” meme back in the day, which was a needed corrective to historical disparagement of African features in USA.

    However I heard from my Korean friend that back home guys aren’t into white girls as a category per se (the way some whites are into “Asian girls” as a category).

    Any comments on Megan Fox declaring her love for Rain?

  9. “However I heard from my Korean friend that back home guys aren’t into white girls as a category per se (the way some whites are into “Asian girls” as a category).”

    Well, that makes sense since there are probably fewer than 200,000 “white girls” in Korea.

    “Any comments on Megan Fox declaring her love for Rain?”

    She was responding after being prompted by a Korean interviewer.

  10. yes, sexism is bad in korea. yes, it’s overt. yes, korean men ALSO objectify women, including white women.

    and white men don’t? and who has more power globally? who benefits more globally, as well?

    the reason the marmot’s hole people’s argument is problematic is that it assumes all men and masculinities (i.e. white masculinity and asian masculiniy) are on a level-playing field. they aren’t. this doesn’t condone real sexism in korea and asia, but it’s unproductive to keep pointing fingers without some sense of shared accountability. yes, korean men need to change. but white men don’t? meanwhile, constantly shifting the brunt of criticism to asian men’s supposed sexism DOES condone real sexism in the u.s. and other western countries. it continues to give white men a free pass as the more “liberal” race among the male species. but this motif is hardly unique – “saving native women” from “native men” has been a narrative of conquest and power for ages.

    i love how most white men unlike myself are so apt to criticize the rampant sexism in korean culture at the same time they almost never acknowledging the existing (but often coded, subtle, and institutionalized) sexism within white western masculinity. it doesn’t condone korean men’s sexism, but it does point out that most white men are unwilling to recognize that white patriarchal masculinity continues to trump and shape “subordinate” masculinities of men of color. moreover, an argument should be made that one reason korean men maintain such a deathgrip on their male privilege is because they want to “outdo” white men (mostly due to the fact that they are constantly beat up for, ironically, lacking an “acceptable” form of masculinity (i.e. white western masculinity: “soft” and “manly,”)… it’s a vicious cycle with white masculinity complicit but silent in the process.

    specifically, the fact that asian men are reduced to effeminate “fags” in the west underlines the extent to which western masculinity continues to hold women and gay/lesbians in contempt–or in the least a subordinate position. but this fact is almost never acknowledged. this is the greatest irony that most white men remain blind too. they inadvertently “benefit” from asian men’s supposed rampant sexism. it’s their relative “liberalness” to that of korean men that make them so appealing to asian women bent on equating “white dating” with a myopic version of feminism based squarely at gender– at the expense of other important isms like heterosexism (gay asian men are also subservients to gay white men), racism (asian women remain objectified and racialized in the west–most of the same white men who extol the virtues of interracial relationships barely mention this inequality unless it’s in the service of proving how “noble” they are in “saving asian women from “sexist” asian men but never also other “sexist” and “racist” white men.

    it’s about power. it’s uneven but too many people keep maintaining a neoliberalist stance that it’s all color-blind even keel between asian men and white men.

    • yes, sexism is bad in korea. yes, it’s overt. yes, korean men ALSO objectify women, including white women.

      and white men don’t? and who has more power globally? who benefits more globally, as well?

      Sigh. I’m afraid that if you wanted to convert me to your cause, then you lost me there immediately, for it’s extremely rare that it isn’t the preface to a lengthy rant that boils down to “White men are also sexist, therefore you, as a white man, can’t criticize Korean men for being sexist,” as indeed proves the case here.

      the reason the marmot’s hole people’s argument is problematic is that it assumes all men and masculinities (i.e. white masculinity and asian masculiniy) are on a level-playing field. they aren’t. this doesn’t condone real sexism in korea and asia, but it’s unproductive to keep pointing fingers without some sense of shared accountability.

      The “Marmot’s Hole People’s argument”? Eh? Sorry, but if you don’t want to give the impression what you wrote was written almost completely regardless of what was actually on my blog, the video, or the Marmot’s Hole, then you really need to be more careful about not giving that fact away.

      yes, korean men need to change. but white men don’t? meanwhile, constantly shifting the brunt of criticism to asian men’s supposed sexism DOES condone real sexism in the u.s. and other western countries. it continues to give white men a free pass as the more “liberal” race among the male species. but this motif is hardly unique – “saving native women” from “native men” has been a narrative of conquest and power for ages.

      Dude, it’s a blog about Korean sociology, so forgive me if I don’t mention the U.S. and other Western countries as much as you’d like. Dammed if I can see how I’m condoning sexism there in the process either.

      i love how most white men unlike myself are so apt to criticize the rampant sexism in korean culture at the same time they almost never acknowledging the existing (but often coded, subtle, and institutionalized) sexism within white western masculinity. it doesn’t condone korean men’s sexism, but it does point out that most white men are unwilling to recognize that white patriarchal masculinity continues to trump and shape “subordinate” masculinities of men of color. moreover, an argument should be made that one reason korean men maintain such a deathgrip on their male privilege is because they want to “outdo” white men (mostly due to the fact that they are constantly beat up for, ironically, lacking an “acceptable” form of masculinity (i.e. white western masculinity: “soft” and “manly,”)… it’s a vicious cycle with white masculinity complicit but silent in the process.

      I hereby challenge you to find one such White man. Unless, of course, you equate not mentioning it on their blog(s) about Korea every second sentence as “not acknowledging the existing sexism within White Western masculinity” and so forth, which is certainly what it sounds like to me.

      specifically, the fact that asian men are reduced to effeminate “fags” in the west underlines the extent to which western masculinity continues to hold women and gay/lesbians in contempt–or in the least a subordinate position. but this fact is almost never acknowledged.

      Regardless of the fact that I think it’s always better to avoid terms such as “Western masculinity,” which can lead to it being spoken of almost as if it’s almost a teleological force of nature, somewhat divorced from actual physical men and women, to put it mildly I don’t (and couldn’t possibly) think you quite give justice to the whole convoluted history of images of Asian men in the West here sorry. Moreover – although this is not to say they aren’t indeed marginalized in American popular culture – this blog is full of evidence of Asian men choosing effeminate body images for themselves, albeit ones which are much more masculine then they first appear to most Westerners eyes (including my own), and which requires getting rid of a lot of cultural baggage to see. I don’t certainly don’t take it for granted that Western masculinity holds gay/lesbians in contempt though, nor see the direct relationship to images of Asian men in the West that you do, which would explain why it is “never acknowledged” (and never acknowledged by whom exactly?).

      this is the greatest irony that most white men remain blind too. they inadvertently “benefit” from asian men’s supposed rampant sexism. it’s their relative “liberalness” to that of korean men that make them so appealing to asian women

      But for the blind thing – and of course, you don’t consider yourself one of those blind White men, yes? – finally, something I can agree with.

      bent on equating “white dating” with a myopic version of feminism based squarely at gender– at the expense of other important isms like heterosexism (gay asian men are also subservients to gay white men)

      Don’t have a clue what you mean there.

      racism (asian women remain objectified and racialized in the west–most of the same white men who extol the virtues of interracial relationships barely mention this inequality unless it’s in the service of proving how “noble” they are in “saving asian women from “sexist” asian men but never also other “sexist” and “racist” white men.

      Blah. Again, see my challenge above.

      it’s about power. it’s uneven but too many people keep maintaining a neoliberalist stance that it’s all color-blind even keel between asian men and white men.

      Jesus, why did I bother. If you do ever visit this site again, then do me and my readers the courtesy of engaging with the topic at hand, not copying and pasting the same Frankfurt School tripe that I suspect you’ve dumped on a number of wholly disparate Asia-related blogs tonight.

      • To be fair, I should mention that I wrote that reply under the impression that breinghold was actually commenting on this post about the second video, and have only just now realized my mistake. Having said that, my criticisms of his comment remain the same.

  11. As a white woman who lived in Korea and has had two long term relationships with Korean men and dated quite a few more, I have to say this is one thing that bothers me. I am constantly asked if I am Russian (which makes me wonder if they think I’m a whore. Not that Russian women are all whores, but that tends to be the Korean stereotype). Beyond that, it does create quite a difficult thing with dating. I don’t mind having sex, for sure, but I prefer to wait a couple of months to see how it goes, you know? In America, that is very hard to do, especially with my white ex who were trying to get into my pants after an hour. But in Korea too, many men expected me to want to have sex after the first date.. god after an hour or two. I barely knew those guys and with the language barrier (I know conversational Korea, but I’m hardly fluent) I was like “what the hell”? Needless to say, I didn’t return their calls.

    But there are also some Korean guys who are genuinely interested in me (my exes included) who didn’t treat me like a sex object and weren’t interested in “riding the white horse” as Koreans so eloquently phrase it. I think this is usual in most countries… some guys take it the wrong way and some don’t.

    But it does bother me to see only foreigners in lingerie. Maybe Korean women’s body’s don’t look good as ours? Photoshop could help that though… (Sorry, but even the Korean girls who are beautiful look like boney 13 year old girls in the jjimjilbangs – hardly attractive, IMO). I just don’t see why most of the sexy images that are overt have to be white girls. I don’t like getting hit on by freaks who think I’m an easy lay just because my skin is white. It did get annoying.

    Thankfully, there are some Korean guys out there who are lovely and wonderful and gentle and interested in more than learning English from a white woman or getting some. So I wouldn’t discourage women from dating Korean men at all.

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