Korean Gender Reader

( Source: Sex, Art and Politics )

In a very comfortable-with-my-heterosexuality way, this picture from Tamotsu Yato’s 1972 book OTOKO: Photo-Studies of the Young Japanese Male is really rather good, and the hat reminds me a little of this award-winning shot too. Not so much artistic as soft gay porn however (interestingly, most of the models were heterosexual), then unfortunately the remainder of the book is not really up my alley personally, but you can download it in full from Sex, Art and Politics if you’d like. (via: Doing it Korean Style)

1. LBGT news and events

In related news, and with apologies for the late notice, this weekend there is the 11th Annual Queer Pride Festival in Seoul. See Roboseyo and Busan Haps for more links and event details, and Gusts of Popular Feeling for a more detailed analysis of the public acceptance of LGBT culture in Korea (and also here also for an excellent chronological overview).

Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court is expected to soon decide whether Article 92 of the Military Law stipulating the punishment of homosexual soldiers is a violation of their constitutional rights. Currently soldiers who have a sexual relationship with a member of the same sex are punished with one year’s imprisonment, which – forgive me if this sounds trite – is surely  rather ironic in light of a pervasive culture of sexual abuse in the South Korean military. And probably not by coincidence, I was surprised to learn that apparently gay rape is not considered a crime in Korea also, something which emerged from the news that a male songwriter was sexually assaulted by a male comedian earlier this week.

Finally, The Three Wise Monkeys has a post about Gi Hyeong-do (기형도), “a misunderstood modern gay Korean poet” (via: Korean Modern Literature in Translation); another about a trip to “Homo Hill” in Seoul; and finally, albeit not LGBT-related, also on that blog is this, this, and this post on Korean “room-salon” culture.

2. Parents demand government action on mini-skirted school uniform scandal

Young Korean celebrities may no longer be legally allowed to advertise school uniforms (see #7 here), but apparently that isn’t stopping female students from altering them to be “mini uniforms” or “S-line uniforms” themselves.

I’m reminded of an observation that a friend living in Japan made of their Japanese counterparts, who would attach velco to their skirts to raise them while hanging out in Shibuya, only to lower them while back at school. Has anyone heard of Korean students doing the same?

( Source: unknown )

3. Elementary school student raped in Seoul

See Brian in Jeollanam-do for more details, and I’d echo one commenter’s amazement and incredulity that the alleged rapist was able to wander the hallways unnoticed for an hour before dragging the student from the playground at 10am. Indeed, with two preschool daughters myself, it’s led me to seriously consider homeschooling here for the first time.

(Ironically, that inattention by the school comes at a time when parents in Seoul were outraged to discover that videos and audio of their children’s kindergarten classes were being streamed real-time onto the internet, all without their consultation or consent)

Brian also mentions that “in a very uncommon move in South Korea, the authorities released his name and photograph,” but in fact these were already available due to events set in motion by the rape and murder of a 13-year old girl by Kim Kil-tae (김길태) in Busan in February. Revealed to be a former sex-offender, but whose personal details had been kept anonymous by existing legislation, then the ensuing popular outrage led to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs retroactively making all sex-offenders’ whereabouts publicly available on the internet (see #8 & #10 here), and accordingly so too here is the alleged rapist a former sex-offender.

This incident follows that of a 15-year-old middle school girl losing her life after being sexually assaulted and robbed by two 14 and 15 year old boys in Seoul last month. Apologies if the above image seems tasteless in light of that, and I don’t mean to imply a direct relationship between the two. But I did find the juxtaposition of stories interesting, and at the very least it points to a dire need to at least acknowledge the sexuality of teenagers, and hence provide decent sex education and – for want of a better term – awareness of sexual ethics accordingly.

Update: It remains true that as an already registered sex-offender, then the alleged rapist’s details were already public knowledge. But with apologies to Brian, I completely forgot what I wrote back in April:

…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.

See #9 here for further details.

4. Forced ‘love shot’ constitutes harassment

From The Korea Times:

A court ruled Tuesday that a high school in Gyeonggi Province did not overstep its authority in dismissing a male teacher who forced a group of trainee teachers to drink “love shots” against their will at an evening get-together party.

A “love shot” is when two people drink with arms entwined, a drinking ritual meant to boost teamwork and forge closer relationships but which is often abused by male superiors.

Compare this landmark case from June 2007, in which a female employee successfully sued her boss for being forced to drink at a work dinner.

5. The trials and tribulations of being an unmarried 30+ year-old woman

Not a critical analysis, but another interesting and amusing post from Mental Poo nonetheless.

6. Women in Korea webcast

If you don’t know already, then every Sunday night (usually around 8 or 9) KoreaBridge has a live “women in Korea” webcast. Always interesting, anybody can listen and/or watch the discussion here, and more women are always welcome to join via Skype (but a headset is recommended!).

( Source: Extreme Movie )

7. Drama version of Level 7 Civil Servant (7급 공무원) in the works.

Not that gender-related sorry, but then I have always liked the poster. See Dramabeans for more details, and actually it does sound interesting:

The movie’s plot centered around a woman who hides her spy identity from her slightly bumbling but well-meaning boyfriend. When her stories don’t add up and he gets tired of being shoved aside for odd reasons, he finally leaves her and goes abroad for his job. A few years later, he comes back as a rookie agent and runs into her again, much cooler now but not without a trace of his former dorkiness. (LOVE him!) But of course, neither can let on that they’re both spies, and moreover, their respective teams are working on cases that bring them repeatedly in contact with each other. The plot didn’t always convince — bioweapons, Russian baddies, blah blah — but the humor and the two leads made for an entertaining ride.

(Update: I’m curious. Would you say that this particular image conveys the common media theme “that sex is about male aggression and female submission”? I honestly can’t tell)

8. OMG: a Korean young female idol was not interested in what an elder was saying!

Quickly adding these stories to a draft version of this post as they appear throughout the week, sometimes my original, rather direct titles for them remain the most appropriate! In one of those only-in-Korea moments, see K-Bites and Omona! They Didn’t for more on f(x) (에프엑스) band member Krystal’s supposedly heinous faux pas for which she was roundly criticized by netizens for.

Probably not coincidentally, I’ve only been able to find precisely one actual video of it available unfortunately, and a mirror-reversed one at that. Lest even that be deleted eventually though, then I’ve uploaded it to Youtube so you can see for yourself, but have kept the title vague so as to not get flagged for copyright violation:

9. “Korean ladies refuse to date black men”

So claims the author of a letter to the editor of The Seoul Times, which in turn made it to The Dallas Blog. For some reason it appears to have been deleted at the latter, and unfortunately the former doesn’t allow direct links to articles, so here is the original from Ken Washington:

I am a Black American and I have lived in South Korea for eight years. I have recently been denied several jobs because I am Black.

My father fought and risked his life in the Korean War so Koreans could be free. Free to hate Black people. How ironic?

Several Korean ladies have refused to go out with me because they said that I am Black and when they were young they were made fun of because their skin was darker than most Korean. I then asked them “Would they not date Koreans if someone teased them for being Korean” and they said no because they are Korean and then I said you are also dark skinned so why do not like dark skinned people.

Anyway I began to understand how they felt as I watched Korean TV where all of the people in ads and TV shows are 99% white or light skinned. South Korea has effectively isolated a large majority of their population because they have color in their skin.

I was hoping (The Audacity to Hope) that when Obama became president that maybe the country would change about how they feel about Blacks but I was wrong.

The most disappointing aspect for me is that I really love Korea but I know that it is time for me leave where I know I am not wanted.

South Koreans have a great country with a lot of positives but to exclude so many people, simply because of their skin color, in the 21st century with no end in site is simply limiting the possibility of greater deeds.

Admittedly more interesting for the basic message rather than the quality of the content per se, I’d be very interested to learn more from any Black readers about your dating experiences with Koreans; alas, I’ve only had one Black friend in Korea myself, and he left with his Korean wife to live in Alabama in 2001. But I do know that her parents refused to meet him until the weekend before they left, which was a whole year after their wedding! Would you say that that story was typical, and/or would you say that things have changed since? (Source right: China Smack)

Meanwhile, interracial marriages are soaring in the US, but not evenly. According to CNN (via The Marmot’s Hole):

…About 16 percent of African-Americans overall are in an interracial marriage, but researchers point out a gender difference: It’s more common for black men to marry outside of their race than for black women.

The gender difference was the reverse in the Asian population surveyed. Twice as many newlywed Asian women, about 40 percent, were married outside their race, compared with Asian men, at about 20 percent.

10. What’s in a name?

In case any of you didn’t know already, my wife and I decided to give both our daughters English first names and Korean middle names (actually, my wife’s surname). Here’s why:

When I was a freshman in Auckland University back in the mid-90′s, I took some sociology courses (confusedly for Americans, they were called ‘papers’ in New Zealand, although the terminology may have changed since then). In one, the Maori lecturer explained that like most Maoris born in the 1960s and 1970s, she had an English first name and only a Maori second name because her parents didn’t want her to be discriminated against. Sure, racists may not ultimately have hired her because she was a Maori, but at least her name would have ensured that she at least got an interview.

New Zealand has of course changed a great deal since then, and I doubt Maori parents today would think twice about giving a Maori first name, but instead the problem has shifted towards another group: East Asians. Shortly before I left NZ in 2000 I read in The New Zealand Herald, the biggest paper there, that despite some schooling in the country, qualifications gained there, and near native English fluency, many people with East Asian names were still finding it difficult to find employment because employers, solely based on their names, feared a lack of English ability and/or an inability to ‘fit in’ at work.

In short, this is still a problem there 10 years later, and I mention the subject now because my Korean Twitter friend pompeiigranate recently changed her name partially for that reason, but mostly because of a lifetime of being teased. See here for more on her reasons why, which I’m sure have parallels with many other immigrants’ experiences.

“Give me a job! I don’t even look half-Korean!”

11. Reclaiming the F-word

Not strictly related to Korea sorry, but after 10 years of living here then I’m a little out of touch with the state of feminism in Western countries to compare it against, so once it becomes available at What The Book then I’ll probably be buying the above title, which appears to be an excellent summary of contemporary UK feminism. See here for basic information about it, here for several reviews, and here for more on the book launch earlier this week.

Male songwriter gets sexually assaulted by a male comedian


27 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. The black/korean relationship has always intrigued me. Much of the American culture I see that has become popular in Korea is from the black community in the usa. Yet there is still a stigma. I met my girlfriend and Korean friends at my university which is a historically black college. It was interesting to see their reaction and adaptation to the process. While at times they are quite stand offish other times they make friends, which I believe helped break down barriers. I think a lot of the problem is just seeing rap videos and the like and equating that as being what all black people are like. It’s a subject that I first hand see koreans deal with outside oftheir comfort zone/home country. I’ll write more on of later when i am not at work…shhhh.

    Also James you told me about your wife’s agency a month ago and I would like send a resume but i have no plans coming to korea for the next 6 months so I assume I would be wasting her time, or would it be a good idea to go ahead and open that door now?


    1. Yeah, I’ve heard of that stereotype of Black people before, and it’s unfortunate, but it’s understandable when so few Koreans have actually met Black people and so only have music videos and very outdated images in school textbooks to go on.

      Probably best you send your resume to my wife 2-3 months before you want to come, which from her experience is the optimal amount of time for teachers to get all their required documents, her to find them the job they want, them organizing themselves to leave etc. etc.


      1. Thanks for the info.

        Somehow I forgot to mention one of the girls here actually dates a black guy from the school. He pretty much destroys all of the stereotypes anyone could have. Then of course you have kids from inner city Detroit at that school too who heavily re enforce the stereotype. A lot of thekoreans have things stolen them from room mates so that leads to even more drama. It’s still a healthy experience though as they get to go out of their comfort zone.


  2. Such a gathering of interesting and insightful articles, yet I have zilch to add. Just commenting to say Thank You for posting that *stunning* header pic! I haven’t seen a more impressive erotic picture in quite some time…


  3. James,

    It’s pretty common for Korean Americans to give their kids American first names and Korean middle names. That’s how it is for me and that’s how it will probably be for my kids (when I have kids).


  4. In terms of Black man with Korean woman, here’s a woman who has married a Black man.

    trip to his home country

    She isn’t Korean-American either :)

    They also show their affection in public without bother so yeah. That’s one example.

    In terms of the name changing, I found that all but three of my East Asian friends/peers has got an English name. Two of them gave themselves English names to use.

    This reminds me of the studies in Liverpool where postcode deferred people from hiring them. I find it sad that just because you want your child to have a name of your own culture/country, it can jeporadize their future. My sister and I both have Ghanaian names, my name is constanly mispornunced even though it’s very easy. Since coming to this country in 1999 till 2008 I just put up with it begrudgingly but when I joined college I just said my name was Selly instead of Selom “Seh-lohm” because I find it very upsetting being called soemthing that is not my name or I have not consented to be called, it’s not me.

    My sister has people call her Sef instead of Sefakor. People think that because it’s a foreign name it MUST be ahrd to say. It’s foolishness.


    1. Thanks for passing on the videos: I’ve subscribed to them (for everyone’s information, the bride is a English teacher at PAGODA in Seoul), and I’d be interested in learning about how they met and their family’s reactions and so on.

      Unfortunately, I can’t imagine many Korean women (or, say, NZ women for that matter) marrying a Kenyan man. She’s really quite exceptional.

      Finally, forgot about that sort of thing in England, and how class-ridden the society is in general. Spending my formative years of 16-24 in NZ myself (which at least in principle likes to think of itself as classless) then I think I’d find that thing just too stifling and frustrating to ever go back to, even though I am actually British!

      Yeah, of course the Korean status system etc. is just as bad, but then as a foreigner I largely operate outside it really.


    2. I’ve had problems with people mispronouncing my name throughout my life as well, although having one of the characters in the Harry Potter films (and presumably books?) with the same name has improved the situation! I’ve never understood that whole thing of mispronouncing a name because it looks “foreign,” regardless of how easy it actually is to pronounce.

      For East Asian names, however, I can certainly see that some people must never have their name pronounced properly in English speaking countries – part of the problem is the Romanisation, but other times names in East Asian languages are just not suited to being written in the Roman alphabet. Take Kim Yuna for example – there’s no way a native English speaker who knew nothing about Korea or Korean names/language would pronounce that in any way similar to how it should be pronounced. But in the case of Koreans, they all have to have a legal spelling of their name in the Roman alphabet (although in Korea they call this “영문” which means “English writing”). So, once Kim Yuna chose her Romanisation, she was basically stuck with it.

      Koreans also sometimes have trouble pronouncing my name – even when written in Han’gul. It’s just one of those names that wasn’t ever meant to be spoken by a Korean tongue! As a result, I do have a proper Korean name that I use occasionally – characters and all – but I always give my real name a try first. I’m quite accommodating with Koreans who mispronounce it, but there are some who prefer to use my Korean name just to avoid mispronouncing my name.

      Luckily for you, Selom, your name’s quite easy to write, read and pronounce in Korean! You’ll probably find people do it better in Korea than they do in the UK, considering what you said.

      Good to see a black/Korean couple doing well, and I know there are others out there. I would have assumed that they’re on the increase as well as other types of international marriage, and so attitudes are also bound to change with it.

      As mentioned above, there are some very commonly held stereotypes and pre/misconceptions about black people in Korea. On the other hand, I’ve also often found that this is due to not having any actual exposure or “real” experience/evidence/whatever to go on. When people in Korea do meet black people for the first time – and for most Koreans it would still be the first time – if they have such attitudes or prejudices they can disappear very quickly, because it becomes so immediately obvious that they were false. In some western countries, however, such prejudices are not based on lack of experience or whatever, they go beyond that and are individual things that generally boil down to fear or hate, and as such take a lot more to break down. Ironic.


  5. Q about the LGBT festival and the link which lead to survey of acceptance of homosexuals in Korea.

    How much does the generation gap come into play here? Are the old ‘uns blatantly more hostile towards gay people than the youth raised on pop culture?


    1. Well, to be honest I haven’t really talked about the subject much with Koreans of any age really (although I do have a bisexual Korean friend: I should ask her more about her own experiences), but then one’s generation has been described as just as important a marker of one’s identity for Koreans as, say, one’s race is in the US, so it’s bound to make a difference. I would wager for instance, that it’s only Koreans that are 50+ that would still insist that there “are no homosexuals in Korea”, whereas the rest of Korean society has definitely moved on from that position.


    2. I don’t know what it’s like now, but back in 2003 I was hanging around with a gay guy a few times and remember he tried not be recognized as gay in public in Seoul, except in explicitly gay places. I don’t know how old he was and I’m bad at guessing ages. Unfortunately I’ve since lost contact with him.
      But I also remember my university’s LGBT students’ organization openly had their own corner and banner on the campus at a university festival, although I’m not sure if that was also in 2003 or later.


  6. i live in a country where seeing a black (or asian) person is a once in a year experience, so i believe i can shed some light on this matter.

    first of all, the reluctance to meet/date/hang out with a black person has nothing to do with racism or stereotypes, i want that to be clear.
    it is well known that most people just don’t want to stand out, and feel best as a part of a majority. this results in active avoidance of everything that the majority considers uncommon or out of the ordinary. the principle applies to music, food, clothing, and everything else that defines a person, including their social circle.

    it is merely just reluctance to do something different, wether it is eating chinese food, listening to k-pop or dating a black person. the principle is the same, even though a human being is definitely not in the same category as food and music, and shouldn’t be “selected” in this manner.
    there is no hatred, just reluctance. it is definitely unfortunate, and i understand why it can be percieved as racism, but it really isn’t.

    i know that for americans racial diversity is a given fact, and that any exclusive behaviour based on race is automatically considered to stem from racial hatred. however, in many areas of the world people are more homogenous, and korea is definitely one of the most homogenous societies in the world, so their behaviour in this matter is understandable, although unfortunate.

    in time, things will change. until then, please try to understand.


    1. hellblade,

      i think i’ll have to agree with you there.

      NOTE: i’m a black female who’s been in korea for just shy of two years and even though i’m totally open to it, i have yet to seriously date a korean guy. (i’ve gone out to dinner with a couple of guys only too discover they’re on ‘booty call’ status.)

      for foreign girls out here, getting a date is practically a full-time job. lol. even the white girls i know who’ve ‘scored’ korean guys are like 90% with blue-collar guys. the girls have college degrees (teachers) but the guys don’t. i suppose people with status have more to lose from “standing out”…

      unfortunately, korea is a fear/shame based society. it’ll change, but probably not before i get outta here!


  7. Even in spite of everything the Korea Times put out in 2009, the Seoul Times has always been the worst English-language news outlet in the country. I wrote about it a couple times, and about the truly bizarre and borderline offensive stuff they print. This particular thing brings up an interesting topic to discuss, but probably shouldn’t be treated too seriously.

    Anyway, regarding the post about the child taken from school, I’m aware they released the name of the man in Busan after some deliberation, as most readers know, but it still remains a very unusual thing to do for crimes in general.


    1. Yeah, that’s a good way to describe the Seoul Times. I only come across it every now and then, when my Google Reader news feed sends me something from it, and have often wondered whom that sort of embarrassing, under-performing sibling of other English-language newspapers (but is it even printed?) is written by and for exactly.

      Sorry if it felt like I was singling you out in the post about the child taken from the school, and yes, it is still an unusual thing to do for crimes in general. Like I said, as a former sex-offender then his details were already available for public consumption, but given the current climate as you said, then I wonder if such niceties would have been ignored if he didn’t have a such a criminal background?


  8. If you want to know how they met, there is actually a video labelled “How we met” there somewhere hehe. Glad you found the videos of help to a little insight there. I personally think he’s got the eyes and nsoe of Bi. haha!

    Here it is!

    They met at work and he asked her out after following her around a bit. She rejected him first but later accepted. Haha

    She also talks about how she never met a Black peson before.


  9. RE: hiking up skirts

    I don’t know if Korean girls use velcro or not, but yes, they do raise the hemlines of their skirts after school. One leering Chosun Ilbo photographer posted some photos of girls doing this.

    RE: foreign names

    America is a multiethnic country where parents choose names either to declare or obscure ethnic background. Since the 1970s African-American names have diverged from traditional English names to the extent that some names like Daytwan or LaQuesha are unique to African-Americans only, and a signficant number of African-American children in my school have identifiably African-American names. Asians are not the only ones to give their children English names. Mexican and Central American immigrants do it, too. I don’t see anything wrong with choosing a name either from the native country or the adopted one. According to my Colombian colleague, parents there have long borrowed foreign names from English, French, or other European languages to give their children a distinct and cosmpolitan-sounding name. Naming a child is a fundamental parental choice.


  10. Haven’t seen it in Korea, but in Hiroshima I saw girls on a tram unrolling their skirts (they were rolled at the top) so they looked long when they got home, something my sister (who worked in Japan) said she saw quite often.

    As for webcams in the classroom, the first hagwon I taught at had those. The parents could watch at home, and in one case, it proved helpful. One little monster of a kindergarten girl was called out of the class after she acted up because her mom was on the phone, and she returned a few minutes later and apologized…


    1. When I went on a high school exchange to Japan, the girls in my town (Hamamatsu) did the same thing – leave the house with the skirt at the proper length, roll it up at the waistband on the way, and hastily pull it back down if a teacher looked grumpy or on the way back in the house. I haven’t seen as much of it in Korea, nor when they do is it as short as I saw in Japan. I have, however, seen Korean girls take their skirts to the tailor for a subtly narrower, hip-hugging cut, rather than just being short – boys, on the other hand, seem to like having their pants tailored to a very narrow, tapered leg.


  11. Nothing particularly interesting from me, I just wanted to say I’ve had Korean Koreans who in a class of learners of different backgrounds gave their name in an un-Koreanized pronunciation before even giving people a shot at the real deal and/or gave their family name when everybody else in class provided their given name. For example, one participant would say “I’m Mohammed” and the Korean would say “My name is Choi” with an -oy diphthong instead of ㅚ. Those who did this perhaps either had unpleasant experiences of their names being mangled in the past, or assumed right from the start their classmates and teachers wouldn’t be able to pronounce it, or thought those forms would be easier for them to pronounce or remember.
    (This was not in Korea and they didn’t know that at least I was familiar with Korean names’ Korean pronunciation.)


  12. Re: school uniforms, some of my students wear two skirts, a baggy one over top of a modified miniskirt (cut, rehemmed, and pleats sewn up) that they can conceal if any teachers are arround.


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