Korean Gender Reader

Korea 2009 Men's Health Cool Guy Contest

I didn’t catch his name sorry, but if you’d like to know more about the winner of the “4th Men’s Health Cool Guy Contest” above, then click on the picture or the Men’s Health Korea site itself for many more like it. In the meantime, with so many stories to report on this week I’ve decided to put them into loose categories to make it easier to find what you’re interested in:


1) Of course, the two biggest stories of the last week were: first, the foreign women on the Korean show “Global Beauties Chat” (미녀들의 수다), who chose to complain about both the foreign (Caucasian) men who supposedly come to Korea because they can’t get a job or girl back home and the Korean women that naively fall for them; and second, intern reporter Choi Hee-seon’s series of articles in The Chosun Ilbo saying much the same thing, as well as accusing said men of sexual crimes against students and Korean women. Needless to say, both provoked an instantaneous and vehement response in the Korean blogosphere (for starters see here, here, here on the former, and here and here on the latter), and with 165 comments at that first link alone I’m not going to enter into the fray at this late stage.

In passing though, let me mention that in response Chris in South Korea offers 8 reasons, and then 8 more reasons, why Korean women might prefer Western guys over Korean men. But while I haven’t read either post nor the comments in any great detail, and I’d be surprised if I didn’t think that there was something to all of them, let me offer a word of caution: when actual Korean women themselves aren’t providing most if not all of the input into such lists, they can very quickly and easily devolve into simple narcissism.

Not that Chris is guilty of this by any means, and in fact I write because I speak from experience, having waxed lyrical on similar points with a Korean female friend years ago only rightly to be told to STFU, and that most Korean women that liked Western guys did so simply because they tended to be taller. Just something to keep in mind.

Park Shi-yeon2) Imported vibrators to penetrate local market. No, I hadn’t been aware that they had been illegal either, and actually I’m not entirely certain that they were: the Supreme Court’s ruling may have been more against the arbitrariness of denying customs clearance for their import than anything else. Regardless, by no means does Korea have a monopoly on absurd and indefensible restrictions on the sale of sex toys.

(Above: Park Si-yeon {박시연} models for High Cut. For more information about the photoshoot, see here)

3) Consensual sex with 13 year-olds is legal. Yes, apparently so, given a recent acquittal of a Busan man for doing so with a runaway in his (unofficial) care and, as Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling notes in the most comprehensive look at the case, mirrors a similar decision 8 years earlier. For further discussion, see this article in the Korea Times by Michael Stevens, and this post at The Marmot’s Hole.

4) Infidelik at FeetManSeoul reports on the perils of not wearing a bra on the streets of Korea . If you’re interested in that, then you may also want to check out this post at Sociological Images about how, in contrast, visible nipples have became more accepted in Western countries since the 1990s.

5) Rules on abortion toughened. Somewhat surreal, given that there are already very few circumstances under which Korean women can legally have an abortion, and yet Korean has one of the largest abortion industries in the world. To put it mildly, the article is somewhat lacking by not providing that context (see here for that).

Worried Moment for Korean Couple

6) The Marmot’s Hole reports that the police would like to close down a Swinger’s Club in Seoul, but unfortunately there is currently no law allowing them to do so. Again, somewhat surreal, given that adultery is actually illegal in Korea, albeit usually with entirely arbitrary prosecutions.

Meanwhile, Brian in Jeollanam-do reports that Education Ministry officials formed the largest group of civil servants caught paying for sex.

7) Not that these are recent news items by any means, but while we’re on the topic you may be interested in the fact that Korea used to be a much more sexually freer place; indeed, as Frog in a Well points out, “just because a society has a reputation for sexual restraint doesn’t mean that it is and always was asexual.” Also, here and here are two excellent Andrei Lankov articles from The Korea Times about how military governments allowed much racier films in the late-1970s and early-1980s (in an opium for the masses sense) and the development of the prostitution industry in Korea before the Japanese colonial period respectively.

Censorship and Media

Ogamdo Posters

8) Dramabeans reports that the star-studded Ogamado (오감도) continues with its provocative promotional material (see #7 here also). For a review of the movie, (which is really 5 movies in 1) see here, and given some of their subject matter then as a commenter over at Dramabeans (#17) noted, it is strange that the posters are as per usual fetishizing the female form and not the men, which leads her(?) to worry that all the sex is only from the perspective of the men.

9) The Korea Communications Standards Council announced on Monday they will commence deliberations on the fate of Naked News Korea,” which started its racy services late last month both online and mobile. As Brian notes, there far more explicit and sexually suggestive programs are readily available 24/7 on Korean cable television, so this scrutiny is rather strange. Is it because its whole raison d’être and discussions of sexuality are just too blatant for censors’ tastes? To wit:

According to the communications watchdog, the contents of the site have been closely monitored since it began and an episode in which its presenters discussed female orgasms was deemed vulgar and inappropriately suggestive.

In all seriousness, I’d be interested in seeing that. I have the strong suspicion that the notion of women sitting around talking in a no-BS Sex and the City style was a bit too much for Korean censors, and hence any discussion of female orgasms by them would have been deemed vulgar and suggestive regardless.

10) Another commercial featuring kissing…well, actually there’s so many these days that I’m losing track (see here for another recent one). Here is the latest one (via PopSeoul!), featuring AJ and Min Hyo-rin (민효린) and with the tagline “Cool (refreshing) for 20 year-olds” (“스무살을 상큼하게”, at 0:17):

11) As predicted (see #1 here), rapper E.via’s (이비아) latest song, featuring a lot of innuendo and heavy breathing, was indeed deemed inappropriate for Korean TV. For further details, see Extra! Korea here.

12) More on Choi Jin-sil (최진실), who was notoriously sued by a company she had a modeling contract with for ruining their reputation by making her husband’s beating of her public (see here and here, the latter of which has puts the case into the context of domestic violence in Korea). For two opinion pieces in The Korea Times, see here and here.

13) As a result of the case of actress Jang Ja-yeon (장자연), who killed herself in March due to being forced to provide sexual services to various high-ups in the entertainment industry in order to advance her career, Korea is to enhance the right of entertainers (see here also). Meanwhile, the police have determined that she was indeed forced to have sex, and a survey shows that 19% of female entertainers are, although Extra! Korea rightfully disputes the figures.

14) Apparently, Abusive Words Over The Phone Are Punishable. Meanwhile, and more understandably, a cartoonist was summoned by the police after drawing a cartoon insulting the president. As a commenter here notes, regardless of the freedom of speech issues involved, the police in any country are obliged to investigate cases as blatant as this one.

Politics and Economics


15) Korea has the biggest wage gap between men and women in the OECD. See the Korea Times and the JoongAng Daily for more, and see Brian in Jeollanam-do for more information about conditions in Jeollanam-do specifically, which has the biggest gap (image source: J. David Allen).

Economic Participation Rate Among Korean FemalesIn addition, Lee Hyo-sik of the Korea Times reported that male temporary workers are more likely to lose their jobs than women because of the industries they tend to be in, but on the other hand reported a few days later that women are still more likely to lose their jobs overall because they form a disproportionate number of temporary workers. The graph on the right comes from the latter report, and while useful, would have been more so had it been placed into context, which is that Korea has one of the lowest rates of female participation in the labor force in the OECD. For much more on that, see here (source, right).

Not unrelated, the Chosun Ilbo reported that “Korean Women’s Status is Still Low Among OECD Nations”.

16) Korea is to become most aged society in OECD by 2050. Also:The Hankyoreh has an editorial on how its record-breaking low birth rate – “unparalleled to anywhere else in the world” – requires employment policy revisions; there is a list of related recent articles at the Hub of Sparkle! here; and Japanian writes on the implications of the aging and shrinking Japanese population, with obvious parallels in Korea (via Global Voices).

17) 90% of Teachers Back a Quota for Male Teachers

18) Brand Confucian reports that KT recently promoted 3 women to top-tier executive positions.

19) However miserly it sounds, something that may have a lasting impact on the rate of young Koreans living independently before marriage is the raising of the minimum wage to 4,110 won per hour. See Judy Han at Otherwise for the details.

On the other hand, Korean graduates are now forced to flip burgers, and not unrelated is the fact that Koreans as a whole are increasingly willing to overcome their Confucian disdain for manual labour. They are also increasingly unhappy in general, as are Korean teenagers and children.

20) ROK Drop discusses whether the Korean Army should also conscript women, or do away with conscription altogether. Given conscription’s role in a pervasive militarization of Korean society, as I discuss in this series of posts beginning here, then I’m much more in favor of the latter.

Events, Movies, and Fashion

Miss Korea 2009

21) FeetManSeoul’s cover model Lee Seul-gi (이슬기) becomes Miss Korea 2009. I’m a little confused though, because the Korea Times reported that a different woman won.

22) Chris in South Korea (naturally) visited and took many pictures of the Wild Women’s Performing Arts Festival that I mentioned last month (see #17 here).

23) Unflattering pictures of members of girl group 2NE1 (투 애니원) without make-up were publicly released, and YG Entertainment is to take strong action against whomever responsible.

24) Rebecca Voight at The New York Times loses her head and claims that Korean menswear is innovative. Meanwhile,  Five by Fifty says that pink is both Japanese women’s most and second least-preferred color on Japanese men.

25) (Male) actor Yoo Ji-tae (유지태) is to receive Seoul Women’s Prize.

26) Apparently, Kim Yu-na (김연아) is a champion skater primarily because of her small face. For the details, see here, and see here and here for where such a crazed logic stems from.


27) Keeping Korea Beautiful: read here for an interview with Klaus Fassbender, president and executive director of L’Oreal Korea.

When will the netizens ever be happy.....
When will the netizens ever be happy.....

28) Hopefully not because of netizen’s complaints (see #1 here) and not via starving herself, Kim Yu-bin (김유빈) of the Wondergirls (원더걸스) has lost a lot of weight.

29) Breathless (똥파리 or “shit fly” in typically earthy Korean), a Korean movie about domestic violence that I wrote a little about here, has won its 13th award, this time at the New York Asian Film Festival.


30) Finally, in news outside of Korea, Matt at On My Way to Korea has a post on the way women are presented in North Korean propaganda posters; EqualWrites explains why being catcalled in Vietnam is not flattering; Shanghaiist writes about “homowives”, or heterosexual women married to gay Chinese men (hat tip to Left Flank); and finally, the Economist has an article about Gay rights in China and last month’s Shanghai Pride Week.


13 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. If I remember correctly, adultery is indeed illegal in Korea but the penal procedure only grants the right to pursue to the wife and if, she chooses so, she must file for divorce first. The prosecutor cannot start the pursuit herself. That is why not a single member of a swapping club, meeting in a private apartment, could be charged a few years back.


  2. Christian,

    In the past women groups in Korea have supported the law. I think mostly because of the financial inequality between genders. If a women gets the divorce she was left with no means to support herself. By pursuing the adultery charge, a female is given some restitution or justice. I know nothing about what monetary rewards the prosecution can seek. But men can and have pursued the adultery charge as the husband did in the Ok Su Ri case.

    What surprises me (maybe it shouldn’t) is that a wiki search reveals that “in the United States, laws vary from state to state. In those states where adultery is still on the statute book (although rarely prosecuted), penalties vary from life sentence (Michigan)[30], to a fine of $10 (Maryland), to a Class I felony (Wisconsin) [31]. In the U.S. Military, adultery is a potential court-martial offense.[” Apparently adultery is also criminal in certain European countries such as Switzerland. and Austria.


  3. Re: 24 ~ I think you’re being unnecessarily harsh here, for a number of reasons. First, she isn’t saying menswear in general and on the street, she’s saying that there are a number of innovative menswear designers from here. Which is, by the by, entirely true. And at least in Seoul, and at least with younger men, there *is* a lot of experimentation and interesting menswear.

    Re: 20 ~ Talked with my Korean girlfriends about this, and got the following interesting reactions: “This is so dumb. That two year jump on working is the only chance we have to make up ground against our male coworkers.” None of them felt that if they served in the military like men they’d get the same level of respect as the guys (similar to how many feel about men who do alternative service, I’d wager) and would then lose the two years of employment seniority that are often the only chance they have to establish themselves ahead of similar male workers.

    And Re: 2 ~ funny, virtually ALL of the vibrators I’ve seen at local shops have been imported, primarily from Japan. There’s lots of US/European stuff too . . .


    1. Anon–You’re welcome, and boy do they pile up if I skip a week!

      Christian, Alex–Thanks for the clarification(s) and extra information. As far as I know though, people who swap spouses and so on for sex are indeed know as swingers. :D

      Gomushin Girl–I was indeed too harsh with #24 sorry. I confess, I scanned it when it first came out a month ago and linked to it here without looking at it again since.

      As for #20, a point I’ve also heard many times before, and very understandable. To compensate for the 2 years though, men do get extra points in company entrance exams and so on, and while it was removed 5 years ago or so it was reinstated a year later after much public outcry. I would be more specific, but my 3 year-old is literally sleeping next to the box with my journal articles on that sorry!

      Finally, #2: I haven’t been to a Korean sex shop in many years (they’re generally rather sad, yes?), but as far as I recall there were vibrators at all of those too (albeit not much else), although I didn’t check the place of manufacture. Which just goes to show that I think this whole case wasn’t about the legality of vibrators per se.


  4. Regarding the swingers thing, I think the point was (unimportant though it probably is!) that the people there weren’t necessarily swapping partners, rather couples would go there and have sex, or singles would go there and have sex with another single etc etc… Makes the possibilities seem endless…


    1. I stand corrected (well, sit with a Black Russian in hand, but you know). But although I’m all for variety to maintain the spice in a relationship, it still seems a tad extreme to go to an expensive club in Gangnam merely to have sex with your spouse, and so I (and the police it sounds like) seriously doubt that that’s what actually occurs there…

      But that’s the whole point: what goes on between consenting adults is no-one’s business, and the police can imagine all they like. Whatever really goes on there then, they do it with my blessings!


  5. I think my friends were concerned more with the social prestige that came with military service, not so much the points (which still annoyed them) ~ their feeling was that even if they served in the military things wouldn’t be equal. They’d get less prestigious positions and assignments, do more menial or mundane work, and then get less respect afterwards for having done the “easy” work they were assigned. Even if they got the points, they still wouldn’t get the respect that goes such a long way in establishing themselves in the Korean workplace. In the end, doing military service would be a wash ~ sure they’d get points, but they’d be back on equal footing with the guys in terms of seniority, which in the end would be just as big a disadvantage.


  6. RE Vibrator illegality . . . I am relatively certain that vibrators are not and have not recently been illegal here. The robust number of sex toy stores here would seem to confirm that much, at least. I believe the ban in question was the one saying you couldn’t bring in “obscene” materials. That said, there sure was a heck of a lot making it’s way through ~ ah, the underground railroad for dildos! And yes, sex toy stores here are very sad. However, sad seems to be the worldwide standard, with few exceptions. I’ve been to them here, in Japan, in NZ, and in the US, and by and large they were all small and miserable and carried the distinct whiff of depression. That said, there are places that are clean, well-lit, and staffed by competant and professional salespeople – and all this latter breed seem to be run by women.


    1. Walter–You did indeed: thanks, and sorry for overlooking that.

      In case you didn’t see it, the link you gave did have a vid, and come to think of it a better quality Naver one too, but I decided to use the Youtube one instead because it only takes a minute (Naver ones are more complicated and so take about 3 to 5).

      Gomushin Girl–
      I’ve probably visited less than 10-15 in my life, and more than half of those in Korea, but without exception the Korean ones had very very little in them, no other customers at the time, and when I and my wife went in the proprietress (yes, almost always a woman strangely) would rouse from sleep in a back room and turn on a CD or even a cassette of what she deemed appropriate music as we browsed for…hell, a good 3 minutes or so, and 2 of those because we didn’t want to appear rude! In NZ though, the ones we went to were part of a clean, well-lit, and professional chain called “The Den,” so there was a world of difference with the Korean ones.

      I’ve never been to one in Seoul though, and so if we didn’t have the kids to drag around then my wife and I would seriously ask you for recommendations…


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