Korean Gender Reader

( Left: source. Right: Change Begins Here, by Self-portrait_Girl )

A slew of negative stories this week I’m afraid.

1. “10-19 is the perfect age to show a lot of skin”

With apologies for copying and pasting so much of it here, but Mellowyel’s post really is a great introduction to this week’s main stories:

…two articles from yesterday peaked my interest: one being the comments of South Korean model Choi Eun-jung (최은정) saying that “10-19 is the perfect age to show a lot of skin” and “Since the sexy concept is the trend, the young idols are carrying it out. Is it really necessary to look at all of this from a negative perspective?” The other was the news that all the music chart shows were upping their age rating from 12 to 15 because of the sexy dancing and clothing.

Of course, Choi Eun-jung’s opinion shouldn’t be dismissed simply because of her occupation, but on the other hand she’s hardly a dispassionate observer of the fashion industry either: until very recently a high school gravure model, she appears to have become famous primarily for appearing semi-nude in the Mnet reality show I Am A Model at 17, albeit overshadowed somewhat by Park Seo-jin (박서진) above who was only 14. And Mellowyel is spot on with the wider issues these stories raise, echoed in The Lolita Effect that I’ve just finished reading (my emphases):

What i find interesting about both of these articles is that what is under consideration is the affect that the exposure of skin has on the public, and no one is talking about how the women themselves feel about it. Do young girls ages 10-19 generally WANT to wear skimpier clothing, and are simply not being allowed to? Do female k-pop idols they feel empowered by being able to wear sexier outfits on stage than Korean culture normally allows? Or do they feel objectified knowing that they’re dressing and dancing that way simply to attract fans? This is a problem that I feel a lot of women performers face, and have to negotiate through their choices of clothing and performance – when they have them….

….Korean rap artist Defconn responded to Choi Eun-jung’s comments with outrage, suggesting that she was not considering the feelings of other young girls, and her comments are improper in light of recent news about sexual offenses against elementary school students. Which wouldn’t bother me if it didn’t remind me of the common thought process of people towards women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted – “They were dressing provocatively so they are complicit in the crime.” I agree completely that young girls dressing provocatively could draw attention of the wrong kind, but I have never heard a sex offender say that he assaulted a woman or girl because she was wearing a short skirt. More often than not, a woman is sexually assaulted simply because she’s at the wrong place at the wrong time, and cannot defend herself successfully. It would be great if people could focus less on what the woman did to get herself assaulted (which is often, nothing) and focus instead on the motivations of the attacker.

I think Defconn’s comments come from the right place, though….

There’s a great deal more where that came from, and I also couldn’t agree more with her point that Choi Eun-jung’s comments that “older women” in bikinis are “disgusting” is infuriating (source above: allkpop).

2. Sex crimes against children put under a microscope by the media

Meanwhile, the recent numerous sexual offenses against elementary students described above are very real, and Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling provides a typically well-researched and comprehensive summary of them. Probably the most important point to take away from it however, is that in fact this level of attacks is normal:

I found that comment [in this editorial] about the “recent series” of sexual assaults interesting, especially considering the statistics in the next paragraph. Put simply, if 1,017 children and 1,447 teens (between 13 and 15) are victims of sex crimes every year, that adds up to 3 children and 4 teens between 13 and 15 being victimized every day (on average). There is not a “recent series” of such sexual crimes – this is always happening. It’s just that the media has decided – as it does whenever a particular case angers people – to highlight these cases…

On the positive side though, such attention has fat least forced both police and schools to belatedly consider a number of measures to improve their security, although naturally I think some schools’ decisions to completely ban fathers from school grounds was rather misguided. Also the police are to use electronic means to keep track of sex criminals’ whereabouts:

The police will create a nationwide database on sex criminals this month as part of its war to combat sex crimes against children.

An electronic map will be created, marking previous crime sites and the residences of people liable to commit such crimes.

Locations with high odds of such crimes will be flagged and local police will increase their patrol of the sites.

The map will include initial data on 16-hundred convicted sex criminals. The police aim to up that number to 12-thousand over the long term.

Once the map is completed, a warning system, based on data gathered over the past three years, will also be introduced.

The police will also form an exclusive squad on sex crimes targeting children.

Also, see Sociological Images for an innovative but controversial anti-rape campaign in the U.K. (example above) that focuses on men rather than women for a change, with the logic that “stopping predation, harassment, and violence by men requires telling men not to do those things, and telling women to restrict their activities to avoid men who might victimize them is only doubly oppressive.”

3. English teacher in Daegu under suspicion for sexual misconduct with students

In light of the above, it will be interesting to see if this receives a typically disproportionate amount of the media attention. See The Marmot’s Hole for more details, and again Matt provides some historical context.

4. Word of warning

Again (see here, here and #1 here) an expat teacher in Seoul has been sexually attacked, and when she tried to report it to police she was told to leave because they were too busy with other cases.

Read more at Hot Yellow Fellows.

5. Actor Choi Chul-ho (최철호) caught hitting a woman on CCTV

Details in English available at allkpop.

Update: He has since made a public apology.

6. Korea has the highest rate of female suicides in the OECD

So Yonhap News claims:

The suicide rate of South Korean women ranks highest among major advanced nations, data showed Thursday, indicating that they are having difficulty in coping with growing stress from work, marriage and household responsibilities.

According to the data offered by Statistics Korea, 18.7 out of every 100,000 women here committed suicide in 2008, the third leading cause for female deaths in the country after cerebrovascular and heart diseases, whose rates stood at 58.3 and 23.6, respectively.

And this is echoed by Arirang,The Chosun Ilbo, and The Korea Times, the last of which notes that “the figure is higher than traffic accidents, gastric and lung cancer and other causes”, while The Economist also provides the sobering statistic that “an average of around 40 people a day took their own lives in 2009, an increase of nearly 19% on 2008”.

Curiously, The Korea Herald uses the same data, but argues that suicide is only the 5th leading cause of death for women. But regardless of which source is the more correct, it does at least provide the helpful, broad visual comparison between the genders on the right.

Finally, see The Marmot’s Hole for some analysis:

Bernard Rowan, professor of political science at Chicago State University weights in on the question after hearing of the death of Park Yong-Ha, the 33 year old actor found dead in his home last week in an apparent suicide.  Links on his death in the BBC, Wall Street Journal and The Chosun Ilbo.  Given Park’s role in Winter Sonata, there were a number of Japanese fans that mourned his death as well.

Former and current Korean entertainment stars commit suicide with disturbing regularity, but rarely does it attract attention from American professors.  Bernard appears knowledgeable enough about Korea to say a few interesting things, including suicide’s possible link to the concept of “haan”.

7. Poor working conditions for entertainers

Not unrelated to the previous story, probably most readers here are already well aware of the grueling schedules and slave-like contracts of most entertainers, including those hopefuls that train for many years with their respective entertainment companies, with no guarantee that will ever actually be included in a new group. As Extra! Korea reveals however, not only are hopefuls beginning as young as 10 years old, but average entertainers make barely more than minimum wage too. And even KARA (카라), currently one of Korea’s most popular girl groups, live in conditions worse than many university students’.

 

See here also for the original Straits Times story on young K-pop hopefuls, The JoongAng Daily for more on their working conditions, and Omona! They Didn’t and The Choun Ilbo for one lawmaker’s attempts to clean up the industry.

( Sidelong Glance by Drab Makyo )

8. Divorced husbands from interracial marriages establish rights group

They may have a point here:

“In divorce suits, judges tend to weigh on testimonies from wives, who claim to have been victimized by domestic violence or other mishaps caused by us, Korean husbands. They are untrue from time to time.

However, I seriously doubt that it is Korean husbands that suffer more from a lack of legal representation than their usually non-Korean speaking, penniless wives:

Still, husbands, the majority of those who cannot afford a proper lawyer, are labeled as offenders,” the group’s spokesman Cho, who declined to identify himself further, said.

Read more at The Korea Times.

9. Women working in some previously male-only occupations.

Some good news from The Korea Herald:

…The Statistics Korea report said Monday the number of women entering the field of medicine had increased more than any other field in the past few years. In comparison to a mere 13.6 percent of female dentists in 1980, More than 24.5 percent of Korea’s dentists in 2008 were women.

“Only 2.4 percent of Oriental medicine doctors were female in 1980, but this has increased to 5.9 percent in 1990 and to 15.7 percent by 2008,” the report said…

However, the report is lax in not reporting the wider context: unlike in the U.S., where the financial crisis’s effects on the male-dominated construction and manufacturing industries meant that for the first time in history, more women than men are working there, in Korea women were overwhelmingly targeted for lay-offs, as they comprised the bulk of irregular workers. See almost every previous Korean Gender Reader for more information(!), starting with #1 here and #2 here from early-2009.

10. Keyboard Warriors Against Young Women

Korea is notorious for its increasing internet vigilantism, but until I read this report at Global Voices by Lee Yoo-eun, I’d completely overlooked the gender component to it; in short, it is overwhelmingly done by male netizens against female targets (image source: unknown):

The cyber-vigilantism (or bullying) in Korea, is practiced mostly by men. More reasonable voices online have analyzed this phenomenon as modern witch hunting performed by belligerent netizens, in reaction to Korean women gaining more power while men struggle under heaping social and economic pressure. The ‘girls’ are everyday people who have been caught doing something annoying, mean or idiotic. But unfortunately, by ticking off vocal Korean netizens, it takes only a day for their lives to be mercilessly ruined.

11. Diet pills out of vogue after report on ill effects

Neither food nor medicine, unfortunately diet pills exist in a legal gray area between them that allows Korean companies to brazenly make completely spurious claims of their effects, so this news is encouraging:

Doctors, or at least the less philistinic of them, have been trying to drum home the same message again and again: weight loss drugs can be addictive and harmful and should be regarded as a last resort. Now, the sharply declining sales of slimming pills suggest that consumers have finally begun to listen.

According to industry figures, the local market for weight loss pills was worth around 20.01 billion won (about $16.4 million) during the Jan.-March period, representing close to a 10 percent decline year-on-year. It bears further watching whether the first-quarter slide proves to be more than just a speed bump ― the market’s revenue for the entire year of 2009 reached 101.1 billion won, a dramatic increase from the 60.3 billion won of 2006.

However, with health authorities issuing warnings about possible side effects related to the country’s two best selling slimming pills, it’s reasonable to think that consumers are legitimately scared.

Read more at The Korea Times.

( Source )

12. Gay actor’s lone fight against prejudice

The JoonAng Daily has an inspiring article about Hong Suk-chun’s (홍석천) coming out and eventual financial success, but unfortunately it’s rather telling that no other Korean public figure of his stature has done so in the 10 years since:

…In fact, society is still so closed off to sexual minorities that a recent SBS TV drama, “Life is Beautiful,” which portrays gay characters and romance, caused the People’s Association Against Pro-Homosexuality Laws to run anti-homosexuality advertisements in the country’s biggest conservative newspaper, the Chosun Ilbo, from late May to early June.

“In Korea, public awareness and social backing for gays and lesbians are still extremely far off,” said Li En, an activist at the Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center. “Although Hong Suk-chun fought the tide and succeeded, we still remember when he was fired by all the broadcasters the day after he came out. In a country where an anti-homosexuality ad runs in the biggest newspaper, how many do you think will actually sacrifice everything they have to come out?”

See here also for a summary of the state of LGBT rights in Korea over the last decade.

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15 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

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  2. “Women who are getting on in age and wear bikinis are disgusting.”

    Said by a thick-waisted young woman with an evolutionarily disadvantaged high WTH ratio. Miss I’m-too-sexy-for-these-clothes needs to check out 73-year-old bodybuilder and fitness instructor Ernestine Shepherd’s bikini-bod abs. Judging the photo of Choi in the yellow shirt, she’d have a bit of a muffin top if she wore the same sports bra and spandex capris as the very fit and toned Shepherd in the linked video.

    • Yeah, although it takes all sorts to make a world, she certainly doesn’t do it for me personally. Just judging by a 5 min search on Naver, including the website she’s affiliated with, it seems she’s overwhelmingly known for her chakhan guh-lamor (착한글래머), or literally “innocence and large breasts”. That’s not enough to build a modeling career on though, and so I predict that once her “innocence” disappears as he hits her early to mid-20s then all her modeling contracts will very quickly dry up.

    • Did you view the linked video? What do you think of Granny Shepherd? Isn’t she amazing! I’m determined to have abs as tight as hers by the end of the summer and toned upper arms though not quite as big. You’re still a little young yet, but once a person turns 40, the effects of inactivity start to manifest themselves. Shepherd is proof that middle-aged people can signficantly improve their fitness and that a body well-cared for can look young for decades. You’ll understand, no, feel the significance when you reach that stage in life known as middle age.

      • Oh certainly, and actually I already watched it when you linked to it at The Marmot’s Hole. I wouldn’t say that you have to be 40 to have the effects of inactivity manifest themselves though(!), but unfortunately despite being a gym-junkie in my early-20s I find weightlifting just too painful now, but even back then I also began to find it very repetitive and boring too. I’m much more into cardio work, especially jogging, biking, and roller-blading, and am frustrated at how few places there are to do especially the latter 2 in Busan.

        The weather being such a big factor here too, especially this time of year, my wife and I mean to buy an exercycle this week.

  3. I gotta say that among all the girls I’ve seen wearing skimpy clothing be it on the street or on the Internet, those in their 20’s or early 30’s look the best. I’ve seen a lot of Choi’s pictures, and they just don’t do it for me. I mean, sure, there ARE exceptions. Some girls mature faster than others, but in different ways. Some 14 year old girls look like they are 21, while others (and the majority I might add) look like they are still 12. To me, a mature woman is the most attractive. I guess I am more attracted to that ‘sense of maturity’ than the actual physical aspect.

    • Well naturally, and fully agreed that that “sense of maturity” is much more attractive than the physical aspect. It’s still fine and natural to fantasize about physically-mature women of course, regardless of their age, but I think the reality of doing it with a inexperienced teenager would be rather disappointing at best, let alone having the near-impossibility of having an actual relationship with one.

      • Yeah, how one looks may not represent their mental maturity. The large majority of physically mature teenagers are far from mentally mature no matter how they might protest otherwise. To be honest I think most women don’t mature (especially in Korea) mentally until way until their 20’s. Sleeping with someone who isn’t mature enough to understand what they are doing is obviously taking advantage, regardless of the legal implications for doing so. The thing I don’t get is, especially in America, that simply looking at someone who is under 18 is considered a bad thing. For me, looking and doing are VERY different things.

        • A lot can be said for or about looking depending on the age in my opinion. When I was in high school I used to look in disgust when older guys (out of college) checked out the high school girls. I got a little older and still noticed myself doing it. Now being almost 27 I have gone back to the disgust because the majority of the time its fairly easy to tell who is of the proper age. Thinking and acting are different of course. I think mental maturity is the big difference once a girl has become a woman. Young woman just aren’t there yet. I remember a comic saying once “talking to a 20 year old is worse than talking to a baby because babies don’t have bad ideas left.” Sexualization of the youth is wrong I think because its like giving a common man keys to a 18 wheeler semi. They aren’t ready for what appears to be something easily handled. Sorry for this post if it is hard to follow I am still half asleep at my desk this morning.

  4. I don’t usually comment, and frankly it’s been a while since I’ve last been here! but i couldn’t not to this time.

    I want to comment on this part :

    “I agree completely that young girls dressing provocatively could draw attention of the wrong kind, but I have never heard a sex offender say that he assaulted a woman or girl because she was wearing a short skirt

    While it’s true that girls have the right to dress whoever they want without being assaulted or disrepected or looked down on and labeled a whore, there’s a certain line that needs to be drawn between what’s appropriate and what’s not, and a 10-15 year old girl dressed like a 25-30 is not something that should be overlooked and taken lightly. Yes, women are not at fault, that I do agree with, however sex offenders who sees a 10 year old girl looking like a woman will get aroused, will get enticed and will do anything to have her. Maybe they don’t clearly say it, but it’s still a trigger nonetheless, when a sweet looking girl is clothed like a true woman, she is sending a wrong message; that she is mature enough, when in fact she’s a baby. I’d put the blame on parents personally, a mother who is willing to let her 12 year old go out dressed like some kpop idol and sees it as just “following fashion” and being “in” is a terrible parent. She can dress however she wants when she’s 21, not 10 going on 11.

    “More often than not, a woman is sexually assaulted simply because she’s at the wrong place at the wrong time, and cannot defend herself successfully. It would be great if people could focus less on what the woman did to get herself assaulted ”

    If we’re talking about sex offenders and not just random attacks, it’s very often not a question of wrong time, wrong place. Most Sex offenders are predators by nature, they have a specific taste, specific set offs, speciific hunting grounds; everywhere is a wrong place and everytime is a wrong time. Again, am not saying that if a woman gets assaulted or a child gets raped it’s their fault, but people need to be careful and understand that if a child is dressed like a hooker she is more likely to be sexually assaulted than her classmates who dresses like a normal teenager, which is not to say that her classmates won’t ever be assaulted because of the way she dresses, some pedophiles do have a preference for school girls, but the one who will show skin and paint herself like a street walker is more at risk; she wants to look pretty, they see a woman who wants to get laid.

    It’s not the girl’s fault, you turn on the tv and every music video out there is about mini skirt and tiny tops with more make up that I ever owned on their faces, society is generating a distorted image, and a very unhealty one of what being a teenager should be like. Sex offenders fantases about those things, so when a girl who looks like she just steppd out of a cover magazine walks by, his sick mind will register only the sex part and not that she’s the age of his own daughter or sister or cousin. She’s just a walking breathing girl out of his imagination.

    I hope I didn’t sound like am excusing sex offenders, am really not, those people make me sick but it’s just that I read about sexual predators a lot (like 2, 3 times a week, for hours) in order to try to see and understand why and how they do what they do, they are what they are. They are responsible fully of every assault they ever committed, and no woman is, but am just saying, when a little girl puts on a mini skirt and play grown ups, she is putting herself in danger.

    ( lol I really hope this all made sense, am not sure if I was clear enough)

    • Oh, very clear(!), and actually I completely agree, as hopefully my choice of opening images implies (although the “STOP” was primarily meant in the sense of stopping rape of course). And of course I don’t mean for an instant to give the impression that I think that rape isn’t overwhelmingly about power rather than sex, but I do think that the admirable and correct urge not to blame the victim has very much blinded many commentators to the role that clothing and so on can at least play as triggers to rapists like you say. I think that things have just gotten to such extremes though, that people are indeed beginning to acknowledge that pointing out things like that isn’t quite the same as saying that rapists have a point with the “but she was wearing jeans y’honour” defence (at least if The Lolita Effect is anything to go by).

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