Korean Gender Reader

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1. “Why I want to be a whore”

Never being interested in gisaeng (기생) previously, I am now intrigued after reading this unorthodox perspective on them at Curiosity Killed the Eccentric Yoruba, with a special emphasis on the 2006 drama Hwang Jin-i (황진이) above. A quick excerpt:

While I do not believe that courtesans largely lived happy lives, I do believe that they were the freest and most independent women in those patriarchal societies. I remember my friend reading me an essay she had written which she called ‘Why I want to be a whore’. She had written that essay for a Latin class she took and the context was ancient Rome. According to my friend the only profession that ensured a woman’s freedom and independence was to be prostitution and I am pretty sure she meant the art of the courtesan.

Anybody know how I can watch Hwang Jin-i with English and/or Korean subtitles?

2. 60% of teens have unprotected sex

Naturally, that headline from The Korea Times actually only refers to sexually-active teens, and whom were only 5.1% of all the 75,238 teens surveyed (so in fact, only “3.06% of teens have unprotected sex”). But regardless, as always I would be very wary of drawing any conclusions from the data with no information provided about the methodology used, although I’d echo the report’s criticism of the woefully inadequate sex education provided at Korean schools.

If you’re interested in finding out more,  please consult the categories on the right for many more posts on Korean teenage sexuality and related issues, or see this one on the age of consent and this one on sex education if you’d rather just have quick introductions.

3. Why is celebrity endorsement so important in Korean commercials?

When even the head of Korea’s largest advertising agency says that much of Korean advertising can be reduced to simply “beautiful people holding a bottle,” then it’s not just your imagination when you see so many idols doing so many commercials these days; now, see Omona! They Didn’t for why.

4. Chick lit in Korea

More from Charles Montgomery at Korean Modern Literature in Translation (see #7 here also), who is currently reading Sung Eun-cho’s journal article The Translation and Appropriation of Chick Lit in Korea:

An interesting read that alternates between literary theory and social history, it details how, in the late 90s and early 2000’s, Chick Lit came from overseas, took Korea by something resembling force, and was then recreated as a domestic product, but one that had internalized many of the messages of the original imports.

5. Cheerleaders helping to reinvigorate pro-baseball

So claims this Chosun Ilbo article, which also says that baseball stadiums are no longer the sole domain of middle-aged men but are now full of both men and women in their 20s.

Not a baseball fan myself, does anyone know if this is just wishful thinking or not?

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6. Raining on Rain

Kyu, the Korean American, explains why he no longer respects the singer Rain (비).

7. Girls’ Generation members ordered to always wear make-up

Lest the sky fall in if even more pictures of them without it appear on the internet. But on a more serious note, I do have a Korean friend who works in a bank who has told me that she’d be fired if she repeatedly came to work with her face au naturel, although I don’t know how typical that is of Korean companies in general?

8. Korean student commits suicide after being raped during MT

Moreover, if not rape per se, then sexual harassment at least may well be endemic to MT culture:

Not too long ago, Brian (formerly) in Jeollanam-do reported on the university student who committed suicide after being raped on an MT. MT is short for “membership training” and they have nothing to do with any sort of training. Groups of students who are associated in some way (e.g. are members of the same club or have the same major) go somewhere, stay the night, and then return the next day. Participation is supposedly optional, but declining could get you ostracized, which is a big deal in Korea, particularly among university students. What do they do there? Drinking alcohol. Lots of it. Again, you’re pressured to conform and participate. If you don’t drink, or only a little, you will be angrily accused of “spoiling the mood” by your superiors (“seon-bae”). In Korea, subordinates (“hoo-bae”) basically have to do everything that their seonbaes demand, or risk the aforementioned excommunication. It’s common for male seon-baes to try to get female hoo-baes drunk so as to make sexually harassing them easier.

Read the rest at Extra! Korea.

9. Two reactions to recent child sex crimes

First, the good news: child rape victims are no longer required to testify in court when their alleged rapists are tried, although in light of the continuing confusion surrounding the age of consent in Korea I would have preferred it if the Yonhap News report had specified until what age victims are considered children (not academic if 13 year-olds are considered consenting adults).

More ominously however, the government has now decided to release the names and faces of alleged sex-offenders when there is “strong evidence of guilt and a public demand to know,” and one immediate problem that comes to mind is how open that is to interpretation. But as Seamus at Asadal Thought puts however, more crucial is the fact that it is just:

another case of the government trying to just keep the people happy while completely missing the point.

The point is not that people want to see the faces of these people – they’re not a threat once they’re caught. What the people of Korea really want is, one, for better regulations to be put in place to stop these crimes being committed in the first place, and two, for the offenders to be given sufficiently harsh sentences when they’re charged.

Also in crime-related news, Korea Beat reports that an investigation has been opened into a Gwangyang high school teacher who allegedly slapped and beat students.

10. Korea’s gender wage gap in comparative perspective

Mentioning the fact that Korea has the largest gender wage gap in the OECD so many times, I have been remiss in not providing a graph like this earlier (via: Sociological Images):

11. Music videos banned for depicting…jaywalking

About to start writing an MA thesis in which I place:

…the censorship of recent years – invariably quite arbitrary, hypocritical, and inconsistent – into some sort of context, most likely that of the corporate interests of the various ministries and companies involved themselves.

Then I feel quite vindicated in light of hearing the supposed reasons both a recent Rain and Lee Hyori (이효리) music video have been banned from public television for.

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Meanwhile, despite earlier reports (see #5 here) that singer G-dragon would not be prosecuted for the following sexually-charged performance at a concert attended by minors, this no longer appears to be the case:

With thanks for passing all the links on, see Tenshii’s comment for more information on those and many similar cases.

12. Avoiding Stalkers

I’m no Picasso and Jasmine Taiwo recently had problems with stalkers, and have a lot of good advice for other women in case the same happens to them.  Also, see Roboseyo’s post for links to earlier incidents.

13. Overcoming South Korea’s gay love taboo

( Source: CNNGo)

Best of luck to this couple in Seoul, although unfortunately they’re going to need it considering a Korean newspaper recently placed gay personals on a par with advertising prostitution. Also, see Doing It Korean Style for the recent storm in a teacup over a recent public kiss between 2 male singers.

14. “New university department modeled on the MIT Media Lab to nurture a pool of creative individuals to lead the country’s technology sector”…women need not apply?

Via fellow Twitterer José María Areta, how else is one to interpret the news that male students in master’s and Ph.D. programs there will be exempted from military service?

On the plus side however, one also wonders at its legality: just last month, affirmative action for men who had completed their military service was (again) ruled unconstitutional (see #13 here), and unless female graduates are offered similar benefits for receiving degrees then I’d be surprised if it wasn’t challenged as discriminatory.

15. Dating in Korea

Unable to write last week’s Korea Gender Reader because of computer problems, unfortunately there’s necessarily been a great many stories I’ve not covered this time for the sake of keeping this post to a readable length.

But of course I still have to mention all the recent excellent posts on this topic however, starting with this and then this by I’m no Picasso (a follow-up on those I mentioned at #3 here), the latter of which a Korean reader also weighs in on; next, there is Gord Sellar’s excellent series on “Expat Social Fallacies,” from which I’ve learned a great deal (and, indeed, been a little humbled by realizing how many apply to myself), of which Part 2 is primarily about dating; and finally, for those of you that missed it the first time, I recommend reading the post entitled “Western men in Korea who hate on K-guys: get some new material” at Doing It Korean Style first, in which a lot of regular commenters on this blog contributed to the long comments thread. Enjoy!


16 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. Good luck to the homosexual couple. I read that article, and I hope that it does them no harm. I know that even in conservative Daegu there is a strong gay scene (99% Korean guys) and that it appears to be getting stronger.


    1. Alas, in my first draft I mentioned that too, but then I looked at my own headline in #1…

      But seriously though, I think the mistake is more likely to be because it was written by a non-native speaker(?) than being deliberately misleading.


  2. Thanks for the link, James.

    1. You’d probably be best just renting the dvd(s). Most drama’s are on dvd, and I’m sure it would have subtitles. Alternatively, lots of the most popular dramas can be found online with Spanish subtitles if that’s any help to you at all.

    7. Yes, I think the makeup thing is standard for most Korean companies and society in general. I’ve actually heard quite a few Korean women say they don’t think it’s sexist and they don’t think it’s unfair/wrong. Basically, we all know how important appearance is, but not just the appearance itself but also displaying the fact that you make the effort. Makeup is seen as part of making the effort to be businesslike, to look ‘proper’ and so on. So, it’s often considered rude not to wear makeup for women. Unfortunate, I know, especially for us non-Korean types.

    8. I’ve asked lots of people about their experiences on MT, because I was always dumbfounded at the idea that they didn’t have sex there. Everyone I have spoke to about it have said that lots of drinking goes on, and that yes, the older students inevitably ‘encourage’ the younger ones to drink a lot, but in general they don’t have sex. And those that do are usually either couples anyway or get together while there and sneak off away somewhere to do it to avoid it being commented on. I’ve never heard of sexual harassment going on, and I would question what the sentence “It’s common for male seon-baes to try to get female hoo-baes drunk so as to make sexually harassing them easier” is based on. Now, I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. And I honestly thought it would have, but my inquiries suggested otherwise. Age might be a significant factor, though, considering how quickly things can change in Korea. Perhaps the people I was asking were the last generation where that sort of thing wasn’t common on MT, but it is now.

    10. That graph is quite incredible. That looks to be about 38% – for full-time workers! I know you’ve blogged before about the uncommonly high number of part-time and short-term female workers in Korea, and surely that would just make the wage gap larger. Now, as a UK citizen, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m actually embarrassed by how high the gap is for the UK, especially that it’s above average, but I can’t even get my head around 38% difference.

    I know there have been studies that show in the UK that there are some reasons why men get paid more for the same work, such as the fact that men are more likely to ask for pay rises, and are more aggressive in making known their achievements, whereas women are more likely to wait and expect other people to notice theirs. However, that can’t account for the whole wage gap in the UK, and that sort of thing wouldn’t even come close to accounting for Korea’s. It’s really quite shameful.

    14. I’m not trying to say that you’re wrong about “women need not apply,” I’d just like you to explain it a little bit more… I’m a bit slow today! I’m sure this sort of thing was always likely to accept more men than women anyway (just look at number 10!), but I’m just curious about why you make the connection between the military service thing and them not wanting women.

    I’m glad Gender Reader is back, by the way, it always provides lots to discuss! I hope your internet doesn’t let you down again!


  3. Hi! I watched Hwang Ji Yi streaming, with English subtitles, on mysoju. That drama alone kicked off my interest in traditional Korean dance, music, poetry, dress and art and now, as a classically-trained musician, I hope to study Korean music myself. I hope you get the chance to watch it!


    1. Well, not that I’m taking your comment THAT seriously of course, but in my defense I was all set to apply in January when that big family issue I mentioned to you suddenly spoiled everything. Now that I have a stable, long-term job which gives me a lot of free-time though, then have just said to S. that I want to get the ball rolling again, even though it’ll necessitate using credit cards to begin with.

      Admittedly should have said “about to start research for an MA thesis” or, hell, “about to start applying to do MA thesis” rather than “start to write” one though…sigh. Getting a bit ahead of myself I guess.

      Anyhow, will respond to more serious issues mentioned in other comments later tonight sorry: must now apply for British passport and birth certificate etc. for my nearly 2-year old daughter…a bargain at a mere 500,000 won!


  4. 14. As I sort of said on Twitter, I look at it the other way. Perhaps it does subtly suggest women aren’t to apply—or, rather, that women aren’t expected to apply—but I don’t consider it sexist to offer such benefits to men, since Korea’s men are the ones pressed into military service and expected to ultimately give up their lives for their country while women aren’t. I know on this site you’ve demonstrated how women not serving hurts them in civilian/corporate life, but focusing on the half that are excluded forgets the half that is pressed into service. Those graduates are exempted from service, but don’t forget most men aren’t, and that a handful of elite grads are receiving a benefit that 100% of Korean women already have.


  5. To Brian-
    Less than two years of military service does not equal “giving up their lives for their country.” It’s a major inconvenience, sure, and I don’t personally support mandatory military service. If they want to extend these kinds of benefits they need to open up a comparable civil service option for women.

    Also, while I know the birthrate is getting lower and lower, having a baby can also be seen as “giving up one’s life for one’s country.” I don’t see women getting benefits in terms of hiring and employment for reproducing- the opposite, in fact, since they are often pushed out of the workforce.


    1. Although I’m not disagreeing with you, Bonnie, I think Brian might have been referring to the recent Cheonan case, where men on military service did, in fact, give up their lives doing one of their national duties.


  6. I don’t mean two years comprises somebody’s “life,” any trauma endured during those years not withstanding. But, I mean, the assumption is you go into uniform and you’re expected to die for your country should the situation arise.


    1. The difference here is that South Korean troops rarely see action and even more rarely die as a result (the recent tragedy of the Chonan notwithstanding) . . . harrassed by superiors and live in crappy conditions, yes, but the majority do not and should not expect anything more than an uncomfortable two year stint somewhere dull. There’s a difference here between a rhetoric of “giving up two years of your life for your country, perhaps even dying for it!” and the almost certainty of being forced out of your employmant as a woman so you can do your own “duty” for the country . . . mostly at your own expense, and a hell of a lot longer lasting than two years.


      1. Well, first things first for my comment: I should probably have thought a little more deeply about #14 before writing, and now I accept to a certain extent that to reward men for doing advanced degrees at that new university department is not discriminating against women per se, nor even implying that men are preferred students.

        But it still gives me misgivings, for 2 main reasons.

        First…well, I was going to start this sentence by saying “even if for the sake of argument we assume that military conscription is necessary blah blah blah”, but then I realized that I can’t because this proposal providing yet another reason for an exemption from military service is precisely the point: if one can be exempted for being on the national soccer team, for being a successful Starcraft player(?), and so on, with the explicit logic that one’s contributions in those fields are more important and useful to Korea than the contributions one can make as a soldier…then, well, surely the latter can’t really be all that necessary in the first place.

        Moreover, the idea of using one’s wealth and influence to avoid military service for oneself or (more usually) one’s sons, or getting cushy assignments for them, is a HUGE political issue in Korea, going so far as to have a crucial effect on the 2002 presidential election for instance, so I’d be surprised if we don’t in fact see a lot of opposition develop to this initiative, at least in the Korean language press.

        Not that I really expect any readers here to disagree with any of the above though. More to the point then, I challenge the notion that military conscription is a disadvantage to Korean men at all, at least (and crucially) vis-a-vis Korean women.

        Granted, of course it is extremely wasteful to take men in the prime of their lives to, say, sit around either freezing their butts or melting in the heat in guard posts along the DMZ for 2.5 years. And I can readily understand the feelings of young men about to begin their military service, their anger at why women don’t have to do it, and why there is no call at all from women themselves to make military service mandatory for them also.

        But if a man does his service after spending one year at university first, as most do, then administratively etc. it is an easy process for him to simply resume his studies from where he left of, and indeed rather than a being a disadvantage, the discipline learned from military service arguably means he is in a better state of mind to continue his studies than if he hadn’t had the break from them (although I don’t want to make too much of that). Moreover, it is now routine for both sexes to delay graduation for many years, so although women probably do still tend to graduate at an earlier age than men I’d wager that the gap is actually rather less than the 2.5 years(ish) of military service.

        The big difference occurs after graduating though, because I think I’ve more than adequately demonstrated on this blog that, even in 2010, upon entering a company women are routinely placed into non-advancing career tracks, under the assumption that they will voluntarily become housewives upon having children, or alternatively be fired if they don’t. Not all women, not all the time of course, but then I’m hardly exaggerating either (recall that Korea women have the lowest level of political and economic power – read: high positions in government and companies – in the OECD). In contrast, male entrants will be assumed to want to stay with the company long-term (regardless of having children or not), and thus be more likely to be promoted to management or supervisory positions in the future. But this is also at least partially because both men and many women will think that his military service means that a) he “deserves” it more than a woman would, and/or b) that men, with said military experience, make more “natural” leaders.

        On top of that men have good chances of using the instant old-boys network they establish during their military service in order to help their careers later too. Women lack anything comparable.

        That may well all sound glib and rushed, but then I needn’t repeat 50-100 posts worth of information and links here, and of course a host of other factors – vestiges of the (now defunct) male-breadwinner salaryman system, Neo-Confucianism, corporation structures etc. etc. – also play huge roles in that. But you can see how it would be a self-perpetuating ideology, and why middle-aged Korean men would tend to be the staunchest defenders of the necessity of maintaining universal conscription, and – in my experience of teaching them – the producers of the most outlandish, sexist, and/or traditional beliefs about Korean women, but which can all invariably be reduced ipso facto to men having done military service and women not. Memorably, one argued that women were too weak and emotional to handle learning torture and interrogation techniques like he did for instance (rather alarming in its own right) to which my cool female friend replied – a la Wollstonecraft – how the fuck would he know if women have never been given the same opportunity to learn them?

        A more practical example of the top of my head though, there’s the 4 (non-consecutive) days of military reserve training that Korean men must do each year also, which sounds like a disadvantage for men but is in fact a bonus, as in the huge factory I used to teach English in Busan at least, it basically meant that most of the men doing it that day (maybe 50-100 of them at a time; was 5 years ago sorry) would get all dressed up in their fatigues, maybe have some kit with them…then proceed to sit in the cafeteria smoking all day, with unlucky ones maybe having to march for an hour. Meanwhile, their female colleagues would be working like normal. I’m sure there’s many other little perks like that too.

        But I’ve said a lot in this comment, so let me sum up: all things being equal, then of course men having to do military service and women not is a big disadvantage for the former. But all things are not equal, in practice the ensuing financial and academic disadvantages to men relative to women actually disappearing pretty quickly, and soon the basic respect men get that women don’t helps them enormously (relative to women) for, well, the remainder of their lives. Indeed, the narrative of the sacrifice of military service is fundamental to notions of citizenship, work, adulthood, and masculinity and femininity in Korea, but – recent tragic but exceptional events notwithstanding – it is probably no more dangerous than civilian life, and certainly something Korean men are amply compensated for for the remainder of their lives.

        So, military service a disadvantage? In short, it’s a fucking myth.

        Yes, I will try to hurry up and finish my series on gender and militarization…!


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