Korean Gender Reader

1) Wash your own damn cup!

Is it just middle-aged Korean men that expect their female subordinates to do menial tasks for them at work, or are younger men different? Does being a foreigner always get you out of this gendered hierarchy? Weigh in on this at Going Places by Diana, who also has many interesting posts about life with her new Korean husband.

Unfortunately, the newlyweds are leaving Korea in August, but she has just started a new blog called Feminist Marriage to compensate. For more on Korean corporate life itself though, this time from the perspective of an atypical gyopo woman, then check out Mental Poo.

2) Korean gender wage gap largest in OECD (again)

Not unrelated to the above,  for basic statistics see The Korea Herald, and as a longer analysis in The Korea Times puts it, the basic problem is:

…the extreme imbalance in the “quality of employment.” In other words, men usually take regular, high-income and professional jobs, while women toil in temporary, low-income and non-professional positions. Women account for less than 2 percent of the executives in the nation’s four largest family-controlled conglomerates of Samsung, Hyundai Automotive, LG and SK groups. One can find few ― if any ― female managers in large commercial banks.

To which the Chosun Ilbo adds:

…The low birthrate problem cannot be resolved simply by giving some supportive incentives to women who have children. Women must be allowed to work without worrying about discrimination, and be given equal chances for promotion. With the workforce shrinking as the number of senior citizens rises, one way to deal with the problem is to encourage more women to take jobs.

Korea’s work environment must be changed to allow more women to attain influential positions. The number of female public servants increases each year, but only 7.6 percent of high-ranking positions are held by women. Korea is the only G20 member country where women are virtually nonexistent in top management. As a host country of the G20 Summit, this is something Korea should be ashamed of.

New readers, see this earlier post for more on some of the practical, day-to-day ways in which Korean women are discriminated in the workplace.

3) Likes and dislikes of dating in Korea

Reflections at the I’m no Picasso blog here and here respectively (via Diana).

( Source: Vanity Fair )

4) Diane Farr on all-white Vanity Fair

Daine Farr, an American actress with a Korean husband, laments the lack of diversity on the cover of the March edition of Vanity Fair:

…Here is the real cause for my distress with this Vanity Fair “issue”: I have two daughters, neither of whom is as white as I am. My girls are only 1 year old and a generation away from choosing a profession, yet I already fear the day they consider doing what mommy does. (Nepotism is one of the few perks an actress has to offer her offspring.)

I shudder at the impossibility for my half-Korean women in film — talented, thin, young, beautiful or not — based on Vanity Fair’s cover statement. All the education and experience I could provide my daughters will never make them as lily white as Mary Magdalene. And if auburn hair is the only variation allowed at the next supper of Hollywood’s up-and-coming apostles, then my girls, and a majority of those in America, are still out of luck.

Read the rest in The Chicago Tribune here.

5) 1/3 of Korean adults are overweight

Rather confusing news from The Korea Herald in light of last week’s reports that Koreans were overdosing on diet pills (see #5 here), and as a whole were one of the world’s skinniest populations. Moreover, it also reports that 1 in 7 Seoul school students is overweight, and the Chosun Ilbo adds that Gangwon is the nation’s most obese province, probably because of its high drinking rate and disproportionate number of senior citizens.

Meanwhile, let me pass on the following slightly surreal advertisement for some form of slimming drink I also came across last week; let me know if you’d like a translation and/or want to know more about what on Earth it is selling exactly (via Paranzui):

Vodpod videos no longer available.

6) Multicultural divorce rates soaring across nation

Predictable? Read the Joongang Daily for the details, and also Helen Clark at CNN Go hears from Vietnamese women themselves about what they think about marrying Chinese (and Korean) men. Some excerpts:

…It is true that women from poor areas of Vietnam have been known to marry Chinese, Korean or Taiwanese men, but to say Vietnamese women long to marry them would be news in Vietnam as well. Usually foreign “wife buyers” are poorer, older men from rural areas who cannot land a mate at home. And what respectable woman would long for a man that can’t find a woman except by purchasing one?

“We hate Chinese men,” says bank worker P. Ha, 28, on behalf of herself and her friend. But she concedes that marrying into a better life is an opportunity that some find hard to pass up. Seated opposite central Hoan Kiem Lake where many young Vietnamese couples come to walk in circles hand in hand, she explains: “Many Vietnamese girls need money. They have to escape hardship so they get married for money. I feel so sorry for them.”

She relates the same sordid tales of abuse and exploitation that have been circulating in local and foreign media for years, the ones that may force the government to begin regulating the foreign marriage market racket. That will be especially important if, by 2020, China has 24 million excess bachelors, as has been reported, who will be looking overseas to find partners.


…”I think they (Vietnamese women) prefer Korean men to Chinese men, as they’re richer,” says Nguyen Thi Phuong, a 27-year-old English teacher.

Ha and Ngan don’t agree. Neither are much impressed by Korean or Taiwanese men. “They’re the same. We like Japan, Australia or England. They have a lot of knowledge,” says Ha.

( Sidelong Glance by Drab Makyo )

And finally, and only a little dated, Diana at Going Places also discusses:

…a fascinating piece of research presented at the International Conference on Border Control and Empowerment of Immigrant Brides held in September 2007 in Taipei. Marriage Migrant Women in Korea and Attempts to Organize Them was presented by Lee, Inkyoung. She uses case studies and statistical data to highlight the problems faced by women, mostly from rural China and Vietnam, who come to Korea to marry with the promise of the wealth of a more powerful country. Unfortunately, the reality of such arranged marriages rarely live up to the promise of “The Korean Dream.”

7) What is a housewife’s labor worth?

10,172 won per hour, according to the Chosun Ilbo.

8) Violence, Rape and Hazing in Elementary Schools

As usual, Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling provides a comprehensive report; and very worrying to me personally, with 2 daughters that will be starting school in a few years.

9) Male idol sexually harassed by men

Garam, a member of a new teenage boy band called D-NA (대국남아), has complained of being sexually harassed by older men.

10) Do U-KISS (유키스) dress like women?

I’ll let the Filipino DJ at the center of the latest storm in K-pop speak for himself:

…Since I posted these comments [on the right], I have received thousands of demands for a public apology and equally large amounts of death threats.

Yeah, right. Like what the fuck are you 12 year olds going to do?

Listen kids, what I wrote was my opinion meant to critique their fashion sense. I felt it’s in the same line as how critics dissect the Best and Worst Dressed at awards night. Look at their photo and be realistic, I am not off on my assessment–those dudes dress and look like chicks.

For the rest, and thousands of comments, see here and here.

11) Japanese rape fantasy videos under fire

From the Huffington Post, which includes a video report from CNN:

In one such game the object is to find and rape the woman who fired the player from his imaginary job. In another, called “Rapelay,” the player stalks a young woman, her mother and her sister on a train, all while being able to grope them with a click of your mouse. They also include much more graphic, interactive scenes that cannot be shown.

Recall that manga that depicts sex with minors is also being banned by the Tokyo Municipal Government; see #13 here.

12) Sexism in Mandarin

With 70% of Korean being derived from Chinese, Chinayouren has also made me interested in unearthing all the sexist expressions in Korean with this post:

In this week’s language post I want to examine the gender implications in the Chinese written and spoken language, and the reactions of the Chinese women to the many discriminatory expressions in use today…

…The old Confucian tradition in China is hardly an example of gender equality, and given the intimate relation between Confucian scholars and the Chinese script over the millennia, it is only natural that the characters should carry some important bias. As we will see, the spoken language is not any better, reflecting a society where the woman had a very limited role even among the masses.

( Source: wit’s )

13) Affirmative action for conscripted men still considered unconstitutional

From The Korea Herald:

…Among the incentives that are being considered to reward those who complete their mandatory military service is awarding bonus points when they apply for jobs. This system of reward was struck down as unconstitutional in 1999 and has been a point of contention ever since. The Military Manpower Administration claims that draft dodgers have been resorting to increasingly sophisticated methods to avoid the military service ever since the bonus points system was scrapped. It argues that reinstating the bonus system would be an incentive to serve. However, women`s rights advocacy groups counter that there is no basis for reviving the system since it has already been ruled unconstitutional. Furthermore, such a system discriminates against women, they argue. Indeed, better ways must be found to reward those who serve the nation than through reintroducing a system that discriminates against women…

Not that I don’t consider mandatory military service an impediment to men’s education and career, but as Ask a Korean! points out, and I further elaborate on in this series:

…military experience becomes fuel for sexism. Remember that Korean men believe that they made an incredible sacrifice by serving in the military. (And to some extent, that is true.) So whenever women demand more equal rights, a standard, pithy answer from men is: “Have you been to the military?” For example, a few years ago Korean government abolished the bonus points given to those who served in the military in hiring government workers, based on the reason that it is unfair to women. The decision nearly caused a riot, and is still a very popular fodder for anti-feminists in Korea…

Consequently, I’d rather have the necessity of the whole system of conscription itself re-examined, or – rather unlikely – women also required to serve, well before men are again legally rewarded for serving.

11 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. Wow… I’m flattered with the mentions.

    I’ve read your blog off and on over the years, but have gotten more interested in it for several reasons of late, not the least of which is launching my new blog about feminism and marriage. You do fine work, here. I will keep reading even after I’ve left Korea.


  2. (James: upon a request, the infographic referred to has since been removed)

    Cool infographic on prostitution. I was wondering if you have read superfreakonomics? There is an excellent chapter in it about prostitution and the economic decision making a John or a prostitute go through when deciding to either become a prostitute or purchase one.

    Also, any thoughts on the new Lee Hyori song swing?


    1. It is a cool graphic, but although I’d be the last person to say Korea didn’t have a huge prostitution industry for instance, you’d have to take all the stats quoted with a grain of salt almost as big as the graphic itself considering the very limited sources used to make it.

      Have Freakonomics in arm’s reach as I type this, but was put off buying Superfreakonomics by this Guardian Science Weekly podcast I heard last year, which from what I remember said that the authors demonstrated flawed logic and huge gaps in knowledge in their chapter (chapters?) on global warming. The prostitution thing does sound interesting though.

      Finally, confess I love the screenshots, but haven’t gotten around to watching the music video itself yet sorry…


  3. A couple of examples for your sexism in the Korean language curiosity: 우리 집 사람, 샐러리맨, and a word that I can’t remember which means the parents of schoolchildren that uses the character for father (or husband?) but no female character. Of course there are loads more, but I can’t think of them off the top of my head. Would be very interesting to study it properly though!

    I would also like to see a complete review of the conscription of young Korean men. I also wonder what it would take to stop people thinking that military service is “serving the nation.” Serving in what way, exactly? The only sensible argument I’ve heard is that if there was a sudden decrease in the SK army it could lead to war with NK. Perhaps, perhaps not, but even that argument negates the efforts of individual men, instead saying that they’re all just making up the numbers.

    Not the first time I’ve heard that Korean men aren’t liked by the countries that are used for providing brides. From what I can gather Korean men have appalling reputations in places like Vietnam and the Philippines, and Koreans who don’t get involved in prostitution and wife-buying in those countries are generally quite upset about the small minority who make them all look bad.

    Finally, a 1/3 of Korean adults overweight?! Is that even possible? Do you happen to know at what age they’re counting people as adults from? I agree that among ajumma and ajeosshi of a certain age a fair few look a bit squidgy, but that’s unavoidable and perfectly natural when people get older. But Koreans under thirty, surely that’s not representative? Unless of course it’s because their percentage of body fat is too high, despite in actual size being tiny. I know lots of Koreans, generally women, with this problem – no muscle and barely any bone. They don’t exercise so all they’re left with is unnecessary fat, which could lead to them being classified as obese, rather than overweight.


  4. Little off topic, but just read this over at A llkpop about Seo Woo’s pre-debut school photos released…..

    “In her school photos, she clearly does not have double eyelids. Although the nose seems to have remained the same, fans are very interested by the fact that her eyes are completely different, thus indicating that she underwent surgery.

    Double eyelids are a genetic trait and for those who don’t have them, they resort to surgery. But is it such a big deal? After all, it is only double eyelid surgery and is not the same as plastic surgery.”

    I mean I know it’s just Allkpop, but still……



    1. As weird as this sounds . . . some people’s eyes will in fact “flip” and gain a double eyelid fold. I have a friend who sometimes wakes up with double eyelids when she’s particularly ill or fatigued. Her eyes return to their normal single fold state after she catches up on sleep. I have a male friend, as well, who was born with single-fold eyelids, but whose eyes would also “flip” when tired, and eventually stuck that way. He now has naturally double-fold eyelids, but if you look at old pictures of him, they were clearly single fold. No surgery though.


  5. I’m sympathetic, to a certain extent, to those who call for more diversity. But on the flipside, diversity is more than brown skin and thin eyes. I’ve grown to resent “white” being interpreted as a single entity, and the overcompensation is kind of ridiculous, where you can’t see a commercial in the US without having an even distribution of all races, ages, and demographics just to avoid offending somebody. This United Nations-type set-up might be common in New York City and California, but there are certainly a lot of white people in the US, and being white is no reason to be ashamed, or to try and compensate with this “ethnicity is trendy” bullshit like “I’m Irish” when they’re fifth-generation, or “I’m half German, a quarter Polish, a quarter Italian,” or “my grandmother’s cousin was one-eighth Cherokee.” Ms. Farr is right to wonder about the place her daughters will grow up in, and wonder what sort of role models they’ll have. But, I don’t see anything wrong with selecting nine white women for Vanity Fair if those women ought to be there. Adding others just for “color” is objectionable, and in this day and age just as bad as leaving them out.


    1. A few things . . .

      first, in many instances where people are discussing “diversity” they mean it as shorthand for “racial/ethnic diversity” and yeah, that does in fact mean more “brown faces.” This isn’t to deny that there is a diversity among so-called white people in terms of ethnic heritage, religion, etc. but it isn’t the same as racial diversity. And the other important thing that *lots* of people noted is that there were in fact many interesting performances by young women of color ~ freakin’ oscar nominations. And explain how I know who Gabbourey Sidibe is and can recall her face at will, and I don’t know who half the women on the VF cover are? Is there really not a single Latina, African-American, Asian, or Native American actress of note that has had an influence? And seriously, how important is Kristen Stewart anyway??? And as long as magazines get away with pretending that only skinny white women matter (and only when they’re eye candy ~ notice the article did nothing to highlight the new hollywood of women producers, directors, etc.) yes, this kind of thing is a bit of an outrage. If they can’t think of a single important young actress who is not practically an albino, it’s because they’re not trying, because they’re only thinking of white because that’s what supposedly equals “mainstream” and it had nothing to do with them being the most important possible models to be there.

      Not to mention how the women themselves are described in the article . . .ugh. If I had something like that written about me, I’d call the editor to complain.

      You know, to some people, their ethnic and national heritage is an important and real part of their identities, even if it isn’t to you. Some people can trace their heritage back hundreds of years to very specific places, cultures, or groups, and their removal to the US, whether it happened five years ago or five hundred, that history can still be an important connection. Even if it has little effect on that person’s daily life, it can have an effect on their identity. Family origin stories as just as important as any other kind of stories, not to mention fostering a healthy interest another country other than the one of residence or citizenship. My knowledge about some countries isn’t incidental ~ it’s sparked by knowledge and appreciation of family history.

      For some groups, such as First Nation/Native Americans, even tenous connections can be very important. 1/8th Cherokee is eligable for tribe membership among all three branches, for example.

      Of course some of it can seem a little silly, but it’s harmless at worst and an important part of individual and group identities in many cases.


  6. Despite having read news stories about violence and hazing in schools, after reading the post at Gusts, I was still shocked by how common the problem seems to be. My first thought was how wise Jeffery Hodges was to homeschool his older daughter. My second thought was that if I had kids, I’d homeschool them in the evenings before I’d send them to a Korean secondary school. I would send them to an elementary school but make sure the lines of communication were wide open and keep an eye out for signs of bullying. I would expect a biracial child to be less accepted than a child with two foreign parents since the latter is unmistakably foreign and therefore does not challenge the Korean collective identity. Moreover, biracial Koreans often have enviable features like large eyes with double lids and prominent, straight noses yet still look Korean, thus inspiring jealousy.

    The US media has been covering a sad case of an Irish immigrant high school freshman who hanged herself after months of torment from older students jealous of her brief relationship with a popular football player. Several students have been charged with felonies. A fellow ESOL teacher in my district pulled her son out the public middle school and is now homeschooling him because she was dissatisifed with the school’s response to bullying. My brother is sending his eldest son to a parochial middle school for the same reason. He plans to enroll the boy back in the public schools when he is a freshman in order to take advantage of greater course offerings and more diverse social circles.


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