Sex as Power in the South Korean Military: A Follow-up

( Source )

As I discussed back in March, the first ever survey on the issue of sexual violence in the Korean military discovered endemic levels of abuse, with roughly 15% of 250,000 conscripts each year experiencing it as either victims or perpetrators. A hugely important socialization experience for Korean men, this had grave implications for Korean society.

On a slight positive note however, I was happy to also read that much of the researchers’ data was obtained by interviews with soldiers in their barracks with the official cooperation of the Ministry of Defense. A sign of changing attitudes towards acknowledging and dealing with the problem?

Alas, I’ve just discovered that that was far too optimistic, as the military still remains one of the least transparent institutions in Korea:

When the Cheonan sank [in March], the initial reaction was shock and sadness, which quickly gave way to rage: with a government accused of dragging its feet, but also with a military that seemed unprepared for a North Korean attack.

But anger with the military runs deeper than over a single event. Mistrust of the institution is widespread because it has failed to open itself up, using the excuse of national security, while the rest of the country has embraced democracy.

South Korea’s military dictatorship may be a thing of the past, but the North’s constant saber rattling in the form of nuclear tests, missile launches, spy incidents and the occasional skirmish continue to give Korea’s men at arms an immediate relevance – and an excuse to conceal things from the public. That right to secrecy is enshrined in the National Security Law, which places restrictions even on regular citizens’ freedom of speech for the sake of preventing enemy subversion, but is even more of a cloak for the armed forces. It’s the legal manifestation of the bubble in which the military operates, isolating it from the massive changes the rest of Korean society has undergone. To date, for example, no civilian has ever been named defense minister.

Every year, a report is quietly released titled, “Military deaths caused by accidents.” In 2008, there were 134 names on that list, including 75 suicides. The suicides are usually explained by a “failure to adjust to military life.”

That explanation is unacceptable for Joo Jong-woo, whose son, Pvt. Joo Jung-wook, committed suicide in 2001 at age 22…

Read the rest at The JoongAng Ilbo, including about “its emphasis on tight ideological control of its conscripts” resulting in its banning of left-wing books like the works of Noam Chomsky, and the expulsion of military legal officers for “arguing that the military’s regulations are unconstitutional”. Meanwhile, the Korean military still refuses to recognize conscientious objectors and so imprisons them (see here also for a podcast on the development of the concept of conscientious objection in the West), the National Human Rights Commission is ineffective, and the maintenance of the conscription system as a whole is one reason why the Korean Military remains  “a 1970-vintage force structure, designed around a 1970-vintage threat, equipped with 1970-vintage weapons.”

( Source: anja_johnson )

As for the images of mascots, please note that I post them not to be facetious though(!), but rather to show how facile such attempts to soften the image of institutions like the police and military are in light of reports like this. But nothing against the mascots themselves of course, and see here, here, and here for more information about Podori (포도리) in the riot gear!^^

Update, October 2010: Unfortunately, this recent incident demonstrates that little progress has been made since this post was written.


The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: Newsflash

(Source: Metro, Busan edition, 8 July 2010, p. 3.)

A quick newspaper report on Korean smoking rates that caught my eye.

Of course, I was a little disappointed that it discussed “average” rates for men and women, as these are essentially useless pieces of information given the huge diversity within each gender in Korea, and doubly so for women because of chronic underreporting. But that is to be expected for a free daily, and at least it takes a step in the right direction by mentioning that female teenagers tend to start smoking much earlier than males, which will hopefully result in some much-needed attention being given to this burgeoning group:

People Would Consider Quitting if Cigarettes Cost 8500 won a Packet

At 42.6%, Korea has the highest adult male smoking rate in the OECD

Although the general social trend is for people to stop smoking, Korea retains its position as the country with the highest adult male smoking rate in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

According to a survey of 3000 men and women over the age of 19 conducted by the Ministry of Health and Welfare last month, 42.6% of Korean men smoked in the first half of this year, a decrease of 0.5% from the second half of last year, and a break in continuous increases for the past 2 years from August 2008, when it was 40.4%. However, a large gap between this and the average OECD rate of 28.4% (2007) is apparent.

Of particular interest, the survey also revealed that compared to men, women are starting to smoke at earlier ages. Of those smokers under 29 surveyed, the average age both sexes started was 18.1, but the average age of women was 16.5 and that for men was 18.3, showing women started roughly 2 years earlier.

However, of non-smokers surveyed, 21.4% replied that they did once smoke, but 62% of those were successful in quitting on their first time, showing that it is becoming easier and the social norm to do so. Indeed, 59.4% of smokers replied that they intended to quit.

Accordingly, when asked what the most effective method of quitting would be, the most popular choice [James – among current smokers?] was “increasing the numbers of no-smoking zones” at 22.8%, followed by raising the price of cigarettes (18.7%), increasing penalties for smokers (18%), and launching public campaigns (16.3%). In particular, when asked “How much would the price of cigarettes have to be raised to be effective in making you quit?”, the average answer was 8510.8 won a packet, or 3-4 times higher than current prices.

(Source: unknown)

Next week, after Part 4 is completed, I’ll translate this much longer Korean article that looks at female smoking more specifically.

(Links to other posts in the series as they appear: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4; Korea’s Hidden Smokers; Living as a female smoker in Korea)

Korean Sociological Image #44: Westerners, Nipples, and the Presentation of Sexuality in the Korean Media

( Source: Metro, July 8 2010, p. 7. Cropped slightly)

It’s amazing what pops up in Korean newspapers these days.

Yes, however difficult it may be for overseas readers to believe, that is the actually the first nipple my Korean wife, friends, and I have ever seen in a Korean advertisement. Moreover, it’s probably no coincidence that it belongs to a Caucasian model too, and one that looks like she’s about to get involved in a ménage à trois at that.

Focusing on the nipple first though (as one does), let me provide some context: with the important exception of ubiquitous single-sex bathhouses, Koreans are generally more conservative than Anglophones when it comes to public nudity; topless males are extremely rare away from beaches, swimming pools, and concert stages for instance, and topless females unheard of, let alone full nudists of either sex (recall also that just 5-10 years ago, women even covered their swimsuits with t-shirts too). In addition, while female celebrities have been showing a lot of cleavage in recent years, this trend has yet to be adopted by ordinary women, whom can expect just as much unwanted attention if they accidentally leave home bra-less.

However, breast-feeding is generally fine if done discreetly, and indeed one of the first things I noticed in my first time in a Korean supermarket 10 years ago was a brand of milk (or soy milk) that prominently featured a large breast and a suckling baby on its packaging. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name to find an image, but I do also recall that it was by no means hidden away in any sense.

I doubt that that would have been considered acceptable in New Zealand from which I’d just left, and in that vein note that the current trend for visible nipples in the Western media at least remains precisely that: a trend, and certainly not an liberal, progressive ideal that Korean social mores will somehow inexorably shift towards in the future. For all its eroticism, it pales compared to the standards of the 1970s for instance (see this NSFW example from a 1976 Cosmopolitan), while in Korea no less an authority than Tom Coyner points out (also NSFW) that 60 years ago Korean mothers in the countryside dressed with readily visible breasts “with pride if they had just given birth to a son.”

( Source )

So why the nipple now? Unfortunately, little about the advertisement or the drink provides a clue: “That’s Y” (댓츠와이) is merely a wine cooler (or alcopop?) produced by Lotte Chilsung (롯데칠성음료) since 2008, like wine coolers everywhere primarily marketed to 20-somethings. Judging by its moribund website though, then it hasn’t been selling very successfully (probably why there was a shift to selling it in more stylish bottles rather than cans last month), so one can speculate that Lotte Chilsung was desperate to draw people’s attention to it. Judging by the complete absence of reaction from netizens and the media so far however, strangely that “sex sells” strategy doesn’t appear to have worked.

Ultimately more significant then, is the race of the models in the advertisement in which it appears. Why are they Caucasian? And are Koreans ever portrayed in such brazenly sexual situations as that?

Again, Lotte Chilsung provides no clue: in fact only one more print advertisement for the drink is available online in addition to what you see here. That did also only feature Caucasian women, but then the above one has Korean women in it, and the only television commercial below also only has Koreans too (of both sexes). But looking at the wider context however, then of course there is overwhelming evidence that Caucasians are indeed portrayed more sexually than Koreans in the media here, and particularly women.

Why? Well, assuming that you’ve read that last link, then for one consider how well an artificial dichotomy between virginal, sexually passive Korean women and hypersexual, promiscuous Caucasian ones buttresses extensive human-trafficking in East European and Russian women here. And as for the guys, the notion that foreign male English teachers are oversexed, and thus more likely to be pedophiles than their Korean counterparts, certainly does serve to deflect attention away from the latter. Although one wonders why the Korean media bothers sometimes; after all, just this week apparently even politicians feel perfectly justified in presenting a completely imaginarywave” of sexual crimes by them to justify ever more stringent visa regulations.

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And I could go on, but I’d be much more interested in hearing readers’ own ideas. In the case of this particular advertisement though, I acknowledge that it may not in fact be the first nipple out there(!), but regardless let me pose the question of if you think Korean models instead would have aroused more or less controversy to get you started.

Against the argument that there are plenty of risqué ads with Koreans these days though, and so I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, then for sure, and you don’t have to look very far on this blog to find numerous discussions of how much things have changed just in the last 2 years. But look again: a threesome? And virtually in flagrante delicto on the sofa at that? By all means *ahem* pass on any Korean examples you’ve come across, but in the meantime I’d argue that while the goalposts for what is considered a “shocking advertisement” in Korea do indeed change over time, somehow Caucasians still seem to be in the majority of them!

Update – With thanks to Dave for passing it on, who apparently had much sharper eyes than I did back then, in fact there was a commercial with erect nipples as early as 2006. And yes, you guessed it: that had Caucasians too!

(For all posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here)


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.


Korean Sociological Image #43: ESL Students on Top?

( Source: Gusts of Popular Feeling. Reproduced with permission )

A recent advertisement for the Pagoda chain of language institutes noticed by Matt of Gusts of Popular Feeling, who notes that the attraction “is clearly for women to get close to, to have one on one communication with, and to have almost direct contact with the male foreign teacher.”

In any other context this would be unremarkable, but unfortunately the Korean media is notorious for presenting foreign male – Korean female relationships either negatively or not at all (although this is slowly improving). So this advertisement really stands out for the rare, quite literal closeness of the models in it, albeit not necessarily in a romantic sense.

In contrast, Japanese language institutes have already been advertising this way for a long time, as noted by Keiron Bailey in his 2006 journal article Marketing the eikaiwa wonderland: ideology, akogare, and gender alterity in English conversation school advertising in Japan. Two examples from that, both from 2002:

I’ve already discussed Bailey’s article in depth in an earlier post however, so let me just quickly highlight three points from it here:

Younger women are pursuing English-language learning for three major reasons. The first reason is to enhance their career prospects….The second purpose is to engage in travel, either for vacation purposes or for ryugaku. The third motivation is to actualize what Kelsky calls ”eroticized discourses of new selfhood” by realizing romantic and/or sexual desires with Western males. (pp.105-6)


…the visual pairing of Japanese women with white males invokes a set of social and professional properties that are radically differentiated from a hegemonic array of gender-stratifying ideologies. This metonymy relies on the properties of the white male signifier being defined in relation to a historical gendered Occidentalist imaginary as an ”agent of women’s professional, romantic and sexual liberation”. (p. 106)

And finally:

This [advertising] trend valorizes and celebrates female erotic subjectivity and positions the white male as an object of consumption for sophisticated, cosmopolitan female consumers. (p. 106)

And see that post or the article itself for more. Note that the latter was actually written in 2003 though, so I would appreciate it if any Japan-based readers could confirm if that is still in fact a trend there, and especially if you could pass on some examples. Also, I should stress that this is but one Korean example, and indeed possibly the first of its kind too, so it’s a little premature to argue that Korean language school advertisements are now going to be following the same logic that Bailey identifies. In particular, it definitely shouldn’t be taken as confirmation that Korean women are especially attracted to Western males either, a fallacy which unfortunately many expats (both male and female) seem to subscribe to.

Personally, I’d be much more interested in finding any advertisements featuring foreign female teachers instead, as the corollary of demonizing their male, mostly Caucasian, counterparts in the media in general seems to be hypersexualizing Caucasian women.  Alas, I haven’t taught in an adults language institute since 2004, so please help me: is this trend mirrored by Korean language school advertisers? Why or why not?

Meanwhile, Matt did also see an advertisement aimed at Korean male students, to whom the message appears to be “to take the intensive program and, moving beyond healthy competition, to be better than the (male) native speaker, to beat him, to be stronger than him”:

( Source: Gusts of Popular Feeling. Reproduced with permission )

Which is certainly quite a contrast! See the comments thread on Matt’s post for more commentary on both.

Update 1 – By coincidence, a commercial with a hint of an interracial relationship I saw as soon as I finished this post. Perfectly innocuous in itself, unfortunately the Korean media is almost completely devoid of anything with a reversal of the sexes:

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Update 2 – Brian in Jeollanam-do remembered this Wall Street Institute advertisement from March last year:

See Brian’s blog for more commentary, and Page F30 for the original images, including the clumsily added correction to the atrocious English a few weeks later.

(For all posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here)


Radio Show and Live Webcast This Sunday

( Source: A. Germain )

Yes, I’ll be talking about Korean gender issues on Busan e-FM’s “Let’s Talk Busan” show on Sunday evening again, this time with new host and also Koreabridge owner and manager Jeff Lebow. Please tune in via the station website at 7pm Korean time if you’d like to listen, and as soon as that finishes at 8 I’ll be doing a live video webcast at Koreabridge too, where you’ll be able to talk to me either via the chatroom or by calling me directly via Skype (with or without a webcam).

As you’d expect though, the Busan e-FM interview was actually done a week ago, and unfortunately I tried to say too much in too short a space of time. I’ll probably want to use the webcast to qualify and/or add more details to the sometimes broad generalizations I made in that then(!), but of course we can talk about anything other callers like really. If you don’t get distracted by my two young daughters that is, who will probably be climbing all over my lap or dancing on the desk as soon as they hear me speaking!^^

For those of you that miss either show though, never fear, for I’ll post the files for you to download and/or listen to next week.

(Update: See here for those links)

Meanwhile, thanks very much to 10Magazine also for selecting The Grand Narrative as its Blog of the Month for July. Unfortunately, that probably makes any subsequent endorsement of mine sound a little insincere, but for what it’s worth if I was single or didn’t have any children then I really would regard its calender section alone as indispensable for living in Korea. Much easier to read in a magazine format than online though, you could do much worse than pick up a copy for a mere 3500 won.


Korean Sociological Image #42: Sunset for the Red She-Devils?

( Source: ROKetship. Reproduced with permission. )

Like Joe McPherson of ZenKimchi fame says of the above cartoon, either way, it’s a win for my gender, so I was surprised that this was the first time I’d ever really noticed this curious Korean social more.

For those of you still at a loss however, yahada (야하다) generally means “too revealing” if it’s about clothes, and “too sexual” if it’s about anything else, like a conversation topic; alternatively, nomu pa-ee-da (너무 파이다) could have been used instead, which literally means “dug too much”. So, it’s a commentary on the difference in what is considered revealing clothing by Koreans and Western expats, and something which of course expat women have long been well aware of, congratulating ROKetship artist Luke Martin for his astuteness in droves on his Facebook page. One of them, Kelly in Korea, wrote on her blog:

So true. Showing your shoulders or chest will definitely get you stares from the older crowd and young men, while lotsa leg is okay. That being said, I feel like I see more Korean girls showing shoulder this summer than last—is that just me? Regardless, now that the full heat of summer is upon us, I have stopped worrying so much about societal dress codes and just wear whatever keeps me from passing out in the midday sun.

And for all my lapses, I think that there’s definitely something to that change. How long-lasting it is however, literally remains to be seen.

Why? Because as I’ve written here, here, here, and here (for starters), squads of daring female soccer fans known as oppa budae (오빠 부대) did have a dramatic and permanent effect on what were considered acceptable standards of dress for Korean women during the 2002 World Cup. But then it’s also true that many people that had tolerated their croptops, say, were much less willing to do so the next summer once they were no longer in the service of a national cause, which again just goes to show that revealing clothing (or suggestive dancing) should never be taken as a proxy for female sexual liberation.

In that vein, I’ve often wanted to do an empirical study of advertisements in various men’s and women’s Korean magazines for the summers before, during, and after the 2002, 2006, and 2010 World Cups, hypothesizing that there would be definite peaks in World Cup years. But note that those would not just be because of young women hoping to emulate Shin Mina and “Elf Girl’s” examples, who become famous overnight for, well, little more than having good bodies and wearing skimpy “Red Devil” (붉은악마) costumes like those above (source): that isn’t why oppa budae women were wearing them in 2002, and surely only accounted for very few in 2006 and 2010 too.*

Moreover, for anyone lucky enough to have been in Korea during any of the summers of 2002, 2006, and now 2010, you don’t need me to tell you that Koreans tend to let their inhibitions go during the World Cup, and that at the very least the normal standards for clothing didn’t apply; indeed, it would be very strange if – à la Rosie the Riveter – Korean women returned to their formally conservative ways afterwards. Accordingly, I’d also expect that study to show an increase in revealing advertisements for the period overall (although of course many factors would be responsible), and so while I don’t expect to see many croptops on Korean streets in the summer of 2011 unfortunately, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the fashion in, say, 2015, or 2016. After all, recall that women didn’t even use to wear bikinis at the beach just 8 years ago!

What do you think? Either way, I’m perfectly serious about that study, in which I would using Erving Goffman’s 1979 Gender Advertisements framework (see here, here, and here), and would publish the results in a journal article; unfortunately I can’t do it alone though, so any Korea Studies geeks, please contact me if you’re interested (but be warned it would be rather more tedious than it sounds!). Meanwhile, see here, here, here, here, here, and here for more insights from ROKetship about Korean attitudes to fashion and body-image, (the last may be a little confusing though: see Scribblings of the Metropolitican for an explanation), and of course there’s many more about other aspects of Korean life that all expats will identify with!

* That’s unlikely to be repeated in light of entertainment companies using it to market their female stars in 2010, prompting a backlash)

(For all posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here)