Korean Gender Reader

Ha Ji-won Jinro Chamisul

Granted, that soju posters have been becoming increasingly risqué in recent years is by no means news (see #1 here), and it’s also true that advertisers tend to rely more on consumers’ baser instincts during recessions…but still, even I did a double take when I saw this latest one (source) with Ha Ji-won (하지원), and it makes one wonder what the summer of 2010 will bring if present trends continue.

Ironically however, it is actually rather tame compared to what Korean musicians have been doing recently to get themselves noticed, such as the Brown Eyed Girls (브라운아이드걸스) having a lesbian kissing scene in their latest music video, or former “race-queen” Jung Eun-joo (정은주) producing a music video that is literally soft porn, her management agency (not unreasonably) arguing that she wouldn’t get noticed otherwise. And yet while the latter in particular is complete trash that will never make it to Korean screens, and like Chae-yeon’s (채연) new music video Shake (흔들려) for “suggestive dancing” (see #1 here) and  TVXQ’s songs for their “lewd content” (see #2 here), the Brown Eyed Girl’s effort may similarly also end up being banned from television, those represent just a handful of cases that have cropped up just this year, as cultural producers really do seem to be testing the limits these days. Hence, although Korea’s various state bodies involved with censorship certainly do have corporatist interests in exerting their authority, they may well have their hands full at the moment, and I wonder if as a result we might be about to witness a tectonic shift in the liberalization of the Korean media similar to what happened in 2004, when the following commercial for Hong Kong clothing company Giordano with Jun ji-Hyun (전지현) and Jung Woo-sung (정우성) was banned:

But which resulted in so many clones shortly thereafter that censors seemed to give up on them. Here’s an example from the following year for 17차 for instance, again with Jun Ji-hyun:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

True, the former is very sexual, whereas the latter merely glorifies objectifies the female body…a distinction that I’m only just realizing as I type this, and one that I suspect I really haven’t given enough thought to previously: it deserves further exploring. Regardless, lest you think that I’m exaggerating about the potential for a shift, recall that it also occurs in a context where the Lee Myung-bak’s increasingly authoritarian policies towards the media are creating a backlash, and standards for movies have been liberalizing without pause for breath (see #1 here, #8 here, and #7 here for starters).

In other news:

1) Bending over backwards to satisfy his readers, Ask the Expat provides a very comprehensive and clearly well-researched guide to cruising for gay sex in Korean bathhouses.

2) Approaching things from a different angle, Korea Beat translated a lengthy article from The Chosun Weekly about Lesbian clubs in Hongdae, a major night-life area of Seoul.

The Price Of Sin3) Lee Myung-bak pledged Thursday to increase state subsidies for working mothers and provide more nurseries and daycare centers in an effort to boost the country’s birthrate, but given that (among numerous other things) married women have been overwhelmingly targeted for layoffs in the current recession, then I suspect that this will have minimal effect (see numerous past Korean Gender Readers for more information, but best are #1 here, #2 here, and #2 here, and here is the most recent newspaper article on the subject). It also doesn’t help that, with dwindling numbers of newborns, women’s hospitals are blatantly refusing to deliver babies in favor or easier and more profitable skin care and cosmetic surgeries either.

4) Again, Korea’s adultery laws continue to be baffle: apparently one can have sex with others if one is in the process of a divorce, but not if one’s husband or wife puts “proceedings on hold.” As a commenter at Extra! Korea reasonably points out, in this latest case did the husband even know his wife had done so? Indeed, what if the estranged spouse is in the act while being informed? Hopefully, upon hearing that the recipient is otherwise occupied, then the FedEx guy would have the decency to wait for a few minutes before knocking on the door and handing over the legal documents…

No seriously, it’s hypotheticals like this that demonstrate the law’s absurdity, let alone the arbitrariness with which it is by definition applied in a country with one of the world’s largest prostitution industries.

5) The issue is a little old (see here for an earlier discussion), but still, Kim Heung-sook does a good job of summarizing what is problematic about the choice of Sin Saimdang on the new 50,000 won bill.

6) With parallels to affirmative-action politics in the US, some male students preparing to enter law school are preparing to file a petition with the Constitutional Court against Ehwa Womans University Law School for only admitting, well, women. I can see both sides’ arguments, but given that only 17% of the Korean legal judiciary are women, then personally I’m more in favor of retaining the restriction. It is after all, the only law school in the country that has it.

7) I’m usually very wary of articles about polls in Korean newspapers, but for what it’s worth this one of 921 university students revealed that 30% planned to get some form of cosmetic surgery this summer. Broken down by gender, the figures are 40% of women and 19% of men.

Choi Han-bit8) Choi Han-bit (최한빛) on the right (source) has passed the preliminary stage of the 2009 Supermodel Contest. Nothing remarkable about that you might say, except that she was actually born a man, undergoing a sex change in 2006. See here and here for more pictures of her, including when he appeared dressed as a woman on a television show in 2005. To their (rare) credit, the consensus of netizens is that she is no more artificial a woman than all the other contestants that have had cosmetic surgery operations.

9) Korea Beat has translated the Chosun Ilbo’s response to the avalanche of criticism to its week-long attack on foreign teachers, which naturally created some lively discussion (165 comments and counting); don’t miss Korean Media Watch’s take on it also, and for those few of you that all this is news to, see #1 here for many links to get you started.

10) In a strange article that may well have been written – ipso facto – with the intention of actually creating the trend it is ostensibly merely describing, the Chosun Ilbo reports that 30-something salarymen are now avid shoppers and consumers at department stores. I’m not sure I give much credence to an article that prints the opinions of someone who attributes this to the fact that “men in their 30s are for the first time able to go shopping without the help of a woman” though, even if it did come from a professor at SNU.

11) Completing the transitions between the sexes as it were via the images in this post, let me finish here by passing on two photoshoots of Korean men that both made waves last week. First, these pictures of SHINee (샤이니, pronounced “shiny”) from Vogue Girl (source):

Shinee

(Update: Here’s an interview where SHINee explain the concept behind the photoshoot)

And then these of Hyun Bin (현빈), from Cosmopolitan (source):

Hyun Bin Cosmopolitan

While it’s not for me to judge women’s tastes, I am sorely tempted to mention that, lacking pictures of actual transexual men with which to complete the set of woman-transexual woman-transexual man-man, then SHINee certainly provide a pretty decent alternative…!

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9 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. I must say that your choice of words is interesting.

    “Bending over backwards to satisfy his readers, Ask the Expat provides a very comprehensive and clearly well-researched guide to cruising for gay sex in Korean bathhouses.”

    I have gotten quite a few questions about gay culture in Korea and they often take me the longest to dig up info on. I try my best and honestly commentors reveal excellent first-hand knowledge. So, I appreciate the link and I’ll go with the innuendo for the sake of being a good sport.

  2. Forgive me if I’m misinterpreting your comment – the perils of online communication and all – but I get the impression that you didn’t appreciate the innuendo. If so, then my apologies, but I think that it’s pretty clear that it was only meant in jest, as is (once people click on the link) the fact that the post is indeed well-researched, but with first-hand knowledge only coming from your commenters like you said.

  3. No, no, no. I took it in jest as well. I liked the link and the innuendo. I actually had my wife and a friend call me at work, laughing about the wording.

    On a side note, I will say that I have gotten a handful of emails from KOREAN males, saying that they want to “help” get the word out about the scene. I’m not sure what medium I could offer, but the more information out there, the better.

    • Cool, and thanks for replying: I really did have the wrong idea!

      I’d like to help with promoting LGBT culture, events, and rights and so on too, although like you I don’t really know what more I can offer other than what I’m doing already, passing on information via my blog. Come to think it though, although Korea Beat would be a far better choice and does a lot on this subject already, if he’s too busy then I’m always happy to try my hand at translating articles and so on that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day in English.

  4. Choi Hanbit’s feminine curves are remarkable. The breasts are obviously bolt-ons, but the slender ribs and waist-to-hip ratio cannot be achieved through surgery or hormone treatments alone. I suspect the image, like most glamor shots, was edited. Curious to see what Choi really looks like, I googled this apparently unaltered photo of Choi and a few other women contestants. Choi actually has a more distinctly feminine shape than the genetically female contestants.

    • I agree, both that her feminine curves are remarkable and that a great deal of editing occurred (not that, as you well know, it doesn’t also occur for “real” women, and Ha ji-won’s waist in the opening image readily comes to mind). But unfortunately that link you gave isn’t working for me sorry.

  5. Do a Google image search on 최한빛, and it’s the fourth image on the results page. I couldn’t get the Joins page with the image to finish loading, so I clicked on the Google image itself in the top bar.

  6. Yes, you found it.

    The photo does not look altered to me. Choi has fuller hips, bottom, and thighs than the other female contestants, who have narrow, boyish hips, flat bottoms, and slender legs. Korean men aren’t under the same pressure to be slim, so they often have more rounded backsides and fuller legs than the women. Still, Choi’s proportions look distinctly feminine. I’m guessing hormone shots help redirect fat placement.

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