Korean Gender Reader

( Source: KorAm )

1) “Asian Man Interracial Dating History”

An interesting photographic essay, provided at complex.com (via: The Marmot’s Hole).

2) The Security Implications of Korea’s Low Birthrate

Over at Asian Security and US Foreign Relations Blog, professor Robert Kelly of Pusan National University elaborates on a brief talk on this he had in his weekly segment on Busan e-fm. A very wide-ranging topic, for more information see here for a similar post on my own, albeit more on China, and last week’s Korean Gender Reader for more on recent draconian shifts in government policy on abortion (basically criminalizing it), and only really explicable in light of the above.

In addition, related stories that have emerged this week include: first, the fact that the Korean marriage rate has fallen to an all-time low. According to The Chosun Ilbo:

The rate of newly-registered marriages fell to an all-time low in 2009 amid the economic slump. The number of marriages per 1,000 persons stood at 6.2 last year, down 0.4 from 2008 and the lowest since statistics began in 1970.

The average age for first-time marriages rose as more people are choosing to marry later in life. Men married at an average age of 31.6 last year, up 0.2 years from a year earlier, and women at 28.7, up 0.4 years.

With The Joongang Daily adding the helpful graphic on the right in its own report (via: ROK Drop).

And secondly, and very tellingly, an interview at Oh My News of the OECD economist William Adema, whose job it is to collect and analyze data from all 30-member states on their birthrates and family polices, reveals that:

…[for] the last 8 years of his 16 with the organization, Adema has spent working on the issue, one country has been of particular interest: Korea.

This is in part, he said Tuesday, because Korea is changing so rapidly. It is also obvious that he enjoys a challenge: some of the most basic data he needs to understand Korean families does not exist.

The Korean Bureau of Statistics does not collect the maternal employment rate; it is assumed that once women have children, they will leave the workplace.

Adding to the challenge, the Oxford trained economist explained that it will take far more than government policy to increase Korea’s lowest-in-the-OECD birthrate

My emphasis, and, alas, no great surprise when Korea has the lowest female workforce participation rate in the OECD.

Finally, Brian in Jeollanam-do provides an excellent summary of the politics of recent (see #6 last week) banning of marriages to South Korean men (and only men) by the Cambodian government, the previous huge bride industry an obvious corollary of all the above.

Update 1 : On a rare positive note, albeit still a drop in the ocean compared to what is really required, the government announced increased state subsidies for medical costs related to childbirth from next month, and those for expectant mothers….within 2 years.

Update 2: In a recent interview with US journalists, Minister of Gender Equality and Family Affairs Paik Hee-young (백희영) pointed out that Korea has the largest gender wage gap in the OECD not because women make less money than men in the same position, but because “men hold higher positions.” What a relief!

Update 3: By no means the cause of the Lee Myung-bak Administration’s crackdown on abortion, but not entirely irrelevant either, membership of the Catholic Church is increasing in Korea. With the proviso that the news is coming from a Catholic website, read the details at AsiaNews here.

( Suprise Yr Pregnant by PinkMoose )

3) Women with Children are Less Likely to Commit Suicide

From a Taiwanese survey of 30 years of data on 1.3 million Taiwanese women, and news that quickly went viral around the world: see here for The Daily Mail’s report on it for instance.

Probably the universal appeal of the news lies in that it appears to be common-sense. And indeed, if you can forgive the personal note, and it possibly sounding a little cliched, as a father I can confirm that on off-days (and with 2 toddlers, you get many off-days!), the knowledge that your children are relying on you to do always do your best for them helps you to snap you out of your depression much quicker than you would otherwise. But as the sociologist Kate Fox also points out, whose bestseller Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour (2004) I happen to be reading at the moment:

…it is nonetheless nice, I think, to have our instinctive ‘knowledge’ of such matters properly measured and confirmed by objective research. Being a social scientist is a pretty thankless job, particularly among the ever-cynical English, who generally dismiss all of our findings as either obvious (when they accord with ‘common knowledge’) or rubbish (when they challenge some tenet of popular wisdom) or mumbo-jumbo (when it is not clear which sin has been committed, as the findings are couched in incomprehensible academic jargon). (pp. 200-201)

Regardless, unfortunately Korea has the highest suicide in the OECD again: see Brian in Jeollanam-do for a discussion, to which I would add this Chosun Ilbo editorial.

4) Music Video Banned

Foxy (폭시), a new girl group expected to gain a lot of attention due to Han Jang-hee (한장희) being one the members (the woman who became famous as “Elf Girl” during the 2006 World Cup), has had their music video for Why Are You Doing This to Me (왜 이러니) above banned from SBS, KBS, and MBC for “promoting sexual relationships.”

In light of more provocative music videos that weren’t banned, general reactions at k-pop blogs like allkpop and Omona! They Didn’t range from mild surprise to sheer incredulity; see here, here, and #1 here for more on the seemingly completely arbitrary nature of Korean censorship, which this case reaffirms.

5) Koreans Overdose on Diet Pills

No great surprise to long-term readers of this blog of course, according to The Chosun Ilbo, “Korea’s use of slimming pills and appetite suppressants ranks near the top in the world despite an obesity rate of 3.5 percent, only a quarter of the OECD’s average 14.6 percent.”

It also notes the paradox of one of the skinniest countries in the world consuming the largest amount of diet drugs in the world; but surely these are simply two sides of the same coin?

( See here for a discussion of this advertisement )

In related celebrity news, Nicole Jung (정용주) of the girl-group KARA (카라) revealed early last week that she went on a diet last year because a unidentified member of a boy-group told her she was too fat. But a couple of days later she revealed who he was, before finally breaking down in tears over the harshness of her diet regimen on Friday.

6) “Internet Teen Prostitution Becomes Out of Control”

A bit of hyperbole from a non-native speaker perhaps, especially in light of similar previous cases. But still, I’m glad Youngbee Dale’s article drew my attention to this:

On March 4th, 2010, police arrested a 28 year old man who solicited sex from two sisters. The man met the sisters on the internet chat. He bought a 12 year old victim drink and a pack of cigarettes and taught her how to drive in exchange of sex. He also solicited her 14 year old sister for sex in the same way. According to the report, the perpetrator knew that the victims’ parents were often absent from their lives, and used it to take advantage of them.

7) Korean “Chick-lit” Becoming Popular

A brief survey by Charles Montgomery at Korean Modern Literature in Translation, who notes that (my emphasis):

…chick-lit in Korea is a direct outgrowth of the introduction of chick-lit from the west….this introduction substantially altered Korean publishing, introducing a homegrown, but culturally western, Korean “Chick Lit”…

8) The Tough Life of Wannabees at Korean Star Factories

Extra! Korea and SeoulBeats both provide excellent analyses of this Chousn Ilbo article of the above title, the latter of which begins thus:

In a recent article from the Chosun Ilbo, author Choi Seung-hyun discusses Korea’s newest threat to their obedient, well-structured society: superstardom. It used to be so, that the country’s best and brightest aspired to be scientists and doctors, those time-honored traditional professions that would make any parent beam with pride; this is no longer the case, claims Choi.

“In 1983, a popular children’s magazine conducted a survey of 6,595 schoolchildren asking them what they wanted to be when they grew up. Their top choice was scientist with 23.3 percent, followed by teacher (14.1 percent), judge (11.5 percent), doctor (11 percent) and artist (7.8 percent). When asked what would bring them happiness, 63 percent of them said living a worthwhile life. When those children entered university, the Physics Department at Seoul National University was the preferred choice among applicants that drew the brightest minds from across the country.”

Of course fast-forward twenty years later, and things are a bit different…

9) Man Wanted for Domestic Violence Leads 20 Police Cars, Helicopter on Chase (Japan)

Hopefully evidence of last week’s news (see #13 here) that the Japanese police is getting tougher on domestic violence, and women more likely to report it: see The Mainichi Daily News for the details (via: Lawyer_KOREA)

10) Gays and Lesbians Spotlight Discrimination in the Workforce

With apologies for forgetting to include it last week, Korea Beat translated a Korean article on the subject from OhMyNews:

“No girl(boy)friend? Why don’t you get married?” For gays and lesbians, those questions are light jokes. At work or anywhere else, for sexual minorities they are a torment. They may laugh outwardly for their co-workers, but inwardly they are wounded.

At 7 pm on March 5 a “Sexual Minorities and the Workforce” press conference was held at Women’s Plaza, and brought up several types of workplace discrimination that heterosexuals are unaware of. Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea (동성애자인권연대) and other organizations for sexual minorities publicized the results of interviews conducted last December with five lesbians and five gay men.

Read the rest here.

11) Korean Women Inventors

The Korea Times interviewed Han Mi-young (한미영), president of the Korea Women Inventors Association (KWIA; 한국여성경제단체연합), and which is preparing its third Korea International Women’s Investors Exposition, which will be held at COEX, southern Seoul, from May 6 to 9.

While I’m on the subject, let me also mention the cool group Girls in Tech Korea, which I follow on Twitter.

12) On Pink…

Finally, in news that will challenge your associations with pink clothes, and of the Korean men therein, Sociological Images provides evidence that in Western countries at least, pink didn’t stabilize itself as a girls-only color until at least the 1960s.


19 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. So the 2002 World Cup brought us Mina, and the 2006 brought us Elf Girl (I’m not familiar with her, have to do some more research). Interesting. What will 2010 bring?

    Could Korea be one of the skinniest countries BECAUSE they consume so many diet pills? I don’t think so, but the question should be asked. BTW, I’ve reached a plateau in my weight loss program – where can I get some? ㅋㅋㅋ



    1. I’m not sure, but I think it’s already a bit passe myself: certainly Elf Girl didn’t attract quite as much attention as Mina did, albeit partially because there were so many other wannabees then, and partially because World Cup fever didn’t last quite so long with Korea doing so badly that time round.

      Yeah, I didn’t mean to imply such a direct relationship between popping diet pills and Koreans being skinny either, although of course that’s true in some cases. More, that they both stem from the same obsession, and to the reply that, say, Americans are the most obese in the world despite also being obsessed about skinniness…I’d argue that only people who’ve never actually been to Korea would think that Americans and Koreans are equally obsessed, yes? :D


  2. Foxy isn’t new. They’re known for wearing revealing clothing, or for wearing nothing at all. They sort of did the faux-lesbian thing a few years back, and had some nude photos come out a few years ago.

    A Google search will bring up some NSFW images:

    The Marmot’s Hole had a thing about one of their “accidental” wardrobe malfunctions in 2007:


    1. Really? Well, in my defense, both those K-pop blogs I linked to said they were new (albeit one just a cut and paste of the other), and I couldn’t find any information about them on Wikipedia, usually indicative of a very new group. But, yes, double-checking that Naver link I gave also, it does say that they debuted in 2006; thanks for pointing it out.

      Regardless, I did think from the video that they seemed to have more looks than talent, and all knowing about all those photoshoots now certainly hasn’t made me change my mind!


  3. That poster for slimming is too disturbing. Are those drumming sticks? From staring at the featured objects to the lady on the bottom — makes me shudder at the comparison.


  4. Thank you for the kind words. Actually, my post is based upon three recent articles, all of which are linked to in my first two paragraphs.

    Please be sure to check out the updated version, which includes a story about Tae-yeon of Girls’ Generation which should make all parents carefully consider whether or not they want to sent their children to these “star academies.”


  5. Another Korean actor has committed suicide.

    Only a year and a half after his older sister committed suicide, now actor-singer Choi Jin-young has been discovered dead after taking his own life on the morning of March 29.

    Choi Jin-young’s body is currently in the funeral hall of a Kangnam hospital in Seoul. A rep from his side said on the afternoon of the 29th, “We heard the sudden sad news from his family. We heard that he has passed away, but we were not told the details. We are stricken with grief.”

    Much-beloved actress Choi Jin-shil’s death rocked the industry when she committed suicide after battling depression in October 2008. Her mental anguish was aggravated by the constant malicious harassment of a netizen who accused Choi of contributing to the suicide of her friend, fellow actor Ahn Jae-hwan, just a month prior. Those two deaths were the first in a series of celebrity suicides that followed (many of those celebrities were said to be battling depression as well).


  6. RE: Taiwanese study on motherhood and suicide rates.

    Correlation is not causation, of course. Does motherhood establish physiological and psychological buffers against suicide or are people prone to severe depression less likely to become mothers? It would not surpise me if mothers had a physiological advantage since suicidal women would have been less likely to bear and raise many healthy children.


  7. Once again, 1 step forward, 3 steps backwards? I really feel for those campaigning for reform for women’s rights over there – what a mess, and against such fierce resistance.

    I know that Korea has gone through some very tough times in recent centuries, but they really need to modernise their culture, no good being stuck in the dark ages. If they continue to resist change, the hole will only get deeper.


  8. Hi,

    I just wanted to say how honored I was to have you link to my article on Seoulbeats – I am attending grad school in D.C. this fall for International Media and I have read your blog backwards and forwards – I really enjoy your insight and analysis.

    I wanted to extend an invitation to you, if you are ever interested in being an affiliate or writing a guest column for the site. Of course, I understand that you are busy, least of all with your own site, so I wish you all the best with your blog, your family and your profession. Keep up the good work!


    1. No need at all to thank me, and sorry I hadn’t replied to your email before you commented Ashle: was literally sitting down to go through my inbox on Friday, when I suddenly got a call about an interview and had to be showered, shaved, fed, coffee-ed up, and whisked to the other end of town in less than 2 hours!

      Thanks for your invitation, and naturally am interested. I won’t be able to think about it for a little while though – am starting a new job on Monday – but will certainly look into it once I’m settled in.


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