Korean Gender Reader

(Source: Lesion)

1) 60% of underage female entertainers pressured to expose as much skin as possible

Lest that sound like an exaggeration in light of other news articles that state that only 10% are, let me refer you to the relevant section in the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family’s (MOGEF) own report on its survey of 103 teenage entertainers and aspirants (53 males, 50 females), which specifically says:

19세 미만의 청소년 연예인(88명) 응답을 분석한 결과, 연예 활동 시 10.2%가 신체 부위(다리, 가슴, 엉덩이 등) 노출을 경험하였으며, 여성 청소년 연예인의 경우 60%가 강요에 의한 노출이라고 응답하였다.

Or that of the 88 male and female teenage entertainers interviewed (not aspirants), 10.2% said they had the experience of exposing parts of their bodies (legs, breasts, buttocks, and so on) while performing, whereas 60% of the female ones had been pressured to.

Which remains confusing, but I think it’s safe to assume that the 10.2% of cases of exposure by males and females referred to were accidental (albeit because of their clothing?), and that the 60% of females that were coerced to wear skimpy clothing were in little position to refuse. Whatever the true figures however, they belie recent claims that such fashions are somehow intrinsically empowering in a sexual and/or feminist sense, or that it’s the girls themselves that want to wear them (and recall that Girls’ Generation above, for one, was specifically created to appeal to 30 and 40-something men).

Meanwhile, they’re also pressured to go on diets and get cosmetic surgery and so on, and teenagers of both sexes miss out on schooling and work excessively long hours because, bizarrely, entertainers aren’t covered by child labor laws. See the above links and also Extra! Korea and JoongAng Daily for a summary of all the issues raised by the survey, and kudos to MOGEF for finally doing something within its limited budget (0.12% of the government total) that may nevertheless ultimately have a genuine impact on young women’s lives (unlike here, here, here, and here).

2) Subway groping on the rise

In Seoul at least. By coincidence, Busan Mike saw an incident in Busan last week too, although of course that doesn’t necessarily imply that it’s rising in Busan also.

3) THAT video

Yes, Mamma Mia by Narsha (나르샤) of the Brown Eyed Girls (브라운 아이드 걸스), which a dozen readers passed on to me because it’s so rare to see Korean female/Western male pairings in the Korea media. I can’t really add anything that Mellowyel hasn’t already covered in her own excellent analysis of it though (see here also), but you may be interested in this 2002 S.E.S video that it instantly reminded me of, as the contrast in the treatment of the Western men in it couldn’t be greater:

Despite how it may appear though, Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling argues that in fact they’re a substitute for Korean men, who wouldn’t have accepted being portrayed so negatively. Why not? See this *cough* 4500 word post of mine on that here, in which I place it into the context of Korean social and sexual norms in the late-1990s and early-2000s.

4) Number of female victims of sexual abuse is 8 times greater than actually reported

Unfortunately no details are given about its methodology, but according to a recent study by Korean Institute of Criminology, about 470 out of every 100,000 women were sexually abused in 2008, which is eight times more than the official figure of 58. Of those, 36 out of 100,000 were raped, 9.5 times the official number.

Like the reader who sent those on to me pointed out, of course it’s not news that most cases go unreported, but it is nice to see this fact getting some attention from the national news agency.

Update: Korea Beat has a little more information on it here, noting that “it has been the general understanding that many more sexual assaults occur than are reported, but this study is the first to produce relatively concrete figures” (my emphasis).

5) Korean Demographic Reader

As always, rather depressing news:

More interesting are two stories about Japan, with very similar problems (and for similar reasons). First, an article entitled “Families dictate Japan’s economic fate” from The Japan Times, which describes how one scholar:

…uses the cases of families collecting dead members’ pensions and the rise of “parasite singles” to point out how a rich, vital economy can sink so far it has no realistic chance of climbing back up. Low birthrate is a problem, but mainly as a consequence of Japan’s “failure to create jobs.” The Japanese media has not ignored this connection, but in general they still blame population contraction on social changes rather than economic ones, as if the two were somehow distinct. Men have become less aggressive, women too choosy; so they don’t marry and procreate.

Many Japanese still believe that the country’s economic and social problems can be solved by regaining so-called traditional values related to family and community…

And as it demonstrates, that is patently not the case. But as for more detail as to why, see the recently published Contemporary Japan: History, Politics and Social Change Since the 1980s by Jeff Kingston, reviewed here by the Economist:

THE modern image of Japan is built on shaky foundations. In the 1980s nearly all Japanese considered themselves middle class. Other abiding beliefs include companies looking after workers through lifetime employment and the yakuza, Japan’s mafia, being guardians of the lost samurai spirit. There is some truth in all this but, as with other national myths, their real importance is in what they reveal about those who hold them dear.

If the Japanese nurse old-fashioned conceptions about their national identity, so do foreigners. Throughout the 1980s Americans gobbled up books that painted a Japan that was poised to surpass the United States by dint of a superior education system, low crime rate, good labor relations, bureaucratic acumen, familial ties and (let it not be forgotten) racial purity. Most foreigners still see Japan in the rear-view mirror, as an egalitarian, socially cohesive society.

“Contemporary Japan” by Jeff Kingston, the director of Asian studies at Temple University in Japan, does sterling service in stripping away or qualifying many of these misconceptions…

(Source: A Muchness of Me)

6) We married Koreans

Unfortunately for us, Diana of Going Places is now back in the US, but she’s still taken the time to write a review of We Married Koreans (2009), “a collection of 12 true stories of interracial, intercultural marriages between American women and Korean men in the 1960s”. A quick excerpt:

…It tells a fascinating history, both personal and cultural, of Korea as it struggled towards democracy (one woman’s husband was imprisoned for anti-government demonstrations in Korea) and America as it struggled towards racial equality (many of the women speak frankly about some of the racial epithets hurled at their children). The couples mostly met, married, and lived in America, but most lived for at least a short time in Korea and one missionary couple spent most of their marriage in the Korean expat community in Brazil. I feel like I just sat down and read 12 very good personal blogs about Korea.

Read the rest here. By coincidence, the World Federation of Korean Intermarried Women’s Association’s 6th annual conference, whose members are Korean women married to foreign men, was just held in Seattle, the first to be held outside of Korea.

7) Korea’s national motto is  “Just Bear It”?

Gord Sellar makes quite a convincing case:

Pretty much every time someone I know is doing something against his or her better judgment, something he or she clearly ought not to be doing — working a job he or she absolutely hates, coddling an abusive or infantile parent, turning down a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, or studying a subject for which he or she feels no interest — you can usually find a number of people have told the person that it’s important to “just bear it” — ie. bear with it, put up with your dissatisfaction, ignore your instincts, and do the thing you know you shouldn’t.

While I’m sure long-timers especially need little convincing, let me buttress that with the following from the Samsung Economic Research Institute in 2008 (my emphasis):

…In sum, Koreans still regard their jobs principally as a means of livelihood. This mirrors the reality here in Korea where work does little to enrich the life of the people.

Many workers still take it for granted that they have to tolerate anything in return for getting paid. This kind of job atmosphere produces a negative influence on both companies and employees alike. With this in mind, businesses need to make more efforts to develop new programs, aimed at bringing a higher sense of value of work and satisfaction to their employees.

And I can vouch that even my wife finds it surprisingly difficult to conceive of how one’s job can ever be anything but sheer drudgery, let alone something one can enjoy and/or find it fulfilling.

Focusing on the gender dimension here though, Gord was prompted towards the above by a recent encounter in a hospital with a family with an abusive husband and father, and while I concur with his assessment that the wife was at least partially responsible for her situation, his story does provide a very human face to the extreme financial difficulties middle-aged women, most of whom are housewives, have in leaving loveless and/or abusive marriages (although it’s amazing that the divorce rate is so high nevertheless).

(Source: entomol10)

8) Civil service exams to be abolished

While that may sound trivial to Western readers, in Korea it is anything but, as over 200,000 young Koreans are studying for them at any one time.

Why so many? Because the civil service remains one of the few institutions after the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 which still provides  “jobs for life”, unlike the rest of the Korean economy which now has the highest number of irregular workers in the OECD. Consequently, the various exams are extremely competitive, and indeed one of my own sisters-in-law spent over 4 years studying for hers before finally qualifying…for a series of grueling interviews, which many applicants still fail (including a friend of mine), but fortunately she made it through those as well.

Why this is a gender issue is because despite the difficulties, at least it is entirely meritocratic, and as such it has a disproportionate number of female applicants. Compare the private sector in contrast, where Gord Sellar’s partner was recently required to provide answers like the following in her application for a job at a major Korean company for instance:

  • list your brothers and sisters, and their places of employment
  • how old are your siblings?
  • what is your father’s job?
  • is your mother a housewife?
  • what is your height?
  • what is your weight?
  • what is your religion?
  • are you the descendant of a war veteran?

And don’t forget that a photo is also required, which as you can see above, has led to a flourishing photoshopping industry catering to job applicants.

Men Can’t Get Raped in Korea? (Updated)

( Source )

But in Korea at least, perhaps the most appropriate revenge would have been to inflict the same back on the rapists? For I’ve just been shocked to learn that legally speaking, men can’t actually be the victims of rape here.

In fairness however, Korea is by no means the only jurisdiction that strictly defines rape as non-consensual penile penetration of the vagina, so perhaps my reaction was quite naive. But still, recall that not only is spousal rape not a crime, and that the Korean Bar Association remains opposed to its criminalization, but that there is also endemic sexual violence within the military.  So it’s not like some decidedly archaic notions of sexual identity and rape don’t still exist both in theory and in practice in Korea.

Accordingly, the fact that males can’t be raped is not so much highlighted as taken for granted in the webtoon Judge Byeon Hak-do’s Puzzling Law Questions (알쏭달쏭 변학도 판사의 법률이야기) below, instead focusing on the question of if a rapist of a male to female transsexual would be charged with rape or indecent assault instead, concluding that as the victims are not considered women in Korean society then it would be the latter. And indeed as of 2006, only 25 transsexuals had been successful (and 26 denied) in their applications to change their legal gender, easily the most famous being entertainer Harisu (하리수) and model Choi Han-bit (최한빛) below:

( Sources: T-L, T-R, B-L, B-R )

That figure was taken from “Hallyoo, Ballyhoo, and Harisu: Marketing and Representing the Transgendered in South Korea” in Complicated Currents: Media Flows, Soft Power, and East Asia (2010), which I highly recommend for those of you more interested in the current state of transgender and transexual rights in Korea (full disclosure: this blog is mentioned in it!). As for the webtoon itself, unfortunately it raises more questions than answers, and the last 2 panels in particular make little sense, and I think are supposed to be a joke. But I’m not going to write it off because of the medium (quite the opposite), and unlike the pig-ignorant, racist, and anti-Semitic comic history books that some of you may recall from 2007, the webtoon series as a whole does at least seem to be written by someone who knows the subject, probably even by a judge himself.

Below, I’ve literally translated all of it (including all the sounds!), adding notes where necessary. But as always, I welcome and appreciate any corrections:

Comic #2. In the case of the rape of a man who has had a sex change operation to become a woman, does that [actually] carry the charge of rape?

Heo-poong, we are going to launch a product called “Eong-bbong”, and want you to come up with a marketing plan.

What’s an Eong-bbong?

Eong-bbong: a device to create an S-line by putting it under a skirt or pants.

How would wearing that feel?

“Eong-bbong” is actually quite a good name: it comes from a combination of the “eong” in eongdeongee (엉덩이), or bottom, and “bbong” (뽕), not unlike “boing” in English.

Meanwhile, when Heo-poong asks how wearing that would feel, he means literally or physically, not in the psychological sense of what it would be like to be a woman having her S-line ogled.

Okay then, let’s try becoming a woman!

Hee (Your guess is as good as mine)

Done/Changed!

Syoong! (a quick moving sound, in this case through a magic portal used in all the other stories)

Oh~Oh~~

Cheok! (a grabbing sound?)

What’s this?

Your bottom is so pretty…

Hweik! (used for something sudden and abrupt)

Jerk!

Yaaargh!

You bastard, you want to eat rice and beans (prison food) by raping someone?

Stop!

Beonjjok (Flash)

Go back to Judge Byeon Hag-do and try asking about what the crime of rape is!

GGudeok, ggdeok (Nod, Nod)

What? You say you almost got raped??

According to article 297 of the criminal code, a person who rapes a woman by violence or threat of violence gets a jail term of at least 3 years.

So in other words, the only people that can be raped are women?

Woman, then Syak! (quick swishing sound?)

If so, what are women?

Here in article 297, all females are referred to: adult women, teenagers and girls, married women, and unmarried women.

Who doesn’t know that?!! (lit. Where is someone that doesn’t know that?!!)

A man who dresses as a woman is only a woman on the surface. But for someone to be called [really be] a woman, they need to have the heart, mind, and body of a woman.

The Korean maum (마음) is often translated just as “mind” in English, but if you just ask Koreans where it is located then they’ll usually say the chest, let alone often use it in a “heart” sense. I don’t think there is any real distinction between them in Korean.

However, what about the case of a man who has had a sex change operation and thinks of himself as a woman?

Let’s have a look for any precedents.

Chwa-ra-rak~ (the sound of flicking through pages?)

If Miss “I am a woman” was a man and has a sex change operation…

When I go in I’m a man

When I come out I’m a woman

…through having her male “important parts” changed to a woman’s, she comes to think of herself as a woman.

Finally, I’ve found myself.

I’ve found where I belong!

And her personality is completely like a woman’s, and she also completely looks like a woman, and has lived as a woman…

A cockroach!

My master/mistress~

Then Mr. Evil rapes Miss “I am a woman”, all the while thinking she was born a woman, will he be charged with rape?

Sob sob sob~

You bastard! I will curse you forever!

“Mr Evil” may sound facetious, but actually boolhandang (불한당) is the usual term for a bad person, a little like the bogeyman in English (but more specifically a criminal of some sort). Meanwhile, jooinnim (주인님) is gender neutral, so I don’t know if the caterpillar(?) thinks of Heo-poong as a man or a woman sorry.

There is a precedent for this.

The sex chromosomes, internal physiology and external genitalia were all male…

(Before the operation)

He lived as normal man, but a time came when he wanted to have a sex change operation…

Feelings of confusion about if he was a man or woman.

A hard time doing his military service.

He met his true love, a man.

After the operation.

After the operation, she had no reproductive ability as a woman, so in the case of average people on the street’s assessments of and attitudes towards her…

They would decide that she couldn’t be called  a woman.

– Not a woman~

This way, even if you had had a sex change operation, someone who rapes you would not be charged with rape.

Of course, being a woman is not a prerequisite for charging the perpetrator with indecent assault under article 298 of the criminal code, yes?

According to article 298 of the criminal code (indecent assault), if someone assaults another through the threat of violence then he or she can go to jail for a maximum of 10 years or pay a maximum penalty of 15 million won.

In this case, “assault” means not just something which infringes on the victims’ sexual freedom and is in contradiction to normal sexual ethics, but also leaves them with a sense of sexual shame and disgust (Shim Hwae-gee, Official Law Studies (#359), 2004)

This was also established by the Supreme Court in their judgment on case 96.791 on June 11, 1996.

Your honor, do you think that Miss “I am a woman” is also included in the definition of woman for the charge of rape to apply?

What’s that got to do with anything? I just want to do whatever feels good~

Bbok (Bash?)

Master/Mistress, kill this bastard in self-defence!!

Sure!

Bbak! (Bash?)

That’s strange?? The contents of the Supreme Court’s judgment on case 96.791 on June 11, 1996 have been changed!!

Clearly, it was about rape, but here…

Gyaoodoong (??)

Now it’s about how far one is justified in inflicted violence in self-defense??

Save me~

Oodangtang (Thump! Stamp!)

Update: I completely forgot this article from The Korea Times, which I covered back in February last year (see#17 here):

A provincial court for the first time found a man in his 20s guilty of “raping” a transexual, Wednesday, challenging the current law that defines rape to when a man has forcible sex with a woman born a female. The victim’s legal gender still remains man.

The Busan District Court sentenced the man to three years in prison suspended for four years on charges of raping the 59-year-old transsexual. He was also ordered to participate in 120 hours of community service.

Judge Ko Jong-joo said in the ruling, “The victim has acted like woman since he was born. In 1974, when he turned 24, he underwent a gender reassignment program. He once also lived with a male partner for a decade. Given all of these, he can be seen as female.”

The judge added that although the victim was legally a man, but this did not take into account his sexual identity. “Thus, his sex in legal documents cannot be seen as his `ultimate’ gender,” he said.

The rapist invaded the victim’s home last August and raped her using a blunt weapon. The prosecution initially indicted the man on a “molestation” charge but changed it to “rape” later after considering the victim’s personal history. It sought a five-year prison term, Feb. 11.

Giving the unprecedented ruling, the judge set three criteria to define the precedent ― whether the victim had sex change surgery; how long he/she has lived with appearance of the opposite sex; and if he/she has no problems having sexual relations.

In a similar case in 1996, the Supreme Court did not acknowledge rape charge, citing the victim’s sexual chromosome identity as a male.

I wonder if that 1996 case is the one referred to in the cartoon?

judgment on case 96.791 on June 11, 1996.

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Korean Sociological Image #49: Lee Hyori has an Asian Bottom?

Well, bottom half of her body to be precise. But then she is Korean after all, so what on Earth does that make her top half?

“Western,” according to her. And while she’s quite happy with that at least, in contrast she’s dissatisfied with her “Asian” legs, claiming that she has to always wear high heels to compensate for them (source, right).

However, despite my original shock at hearing her describe herself in such terms, ironically I find myself defending her statements.

No, really.

But first, the context. From the Hankyung:

가수 이효리가 “상체는 서구적인 반면 하체는 동양적이다”라고 말해 눈길을 끌고 있다.

Singer Lee Hyori is drawing lots of attention for saying “While I have a Western top half, on the other hand the bottom half of my body is Asian.”

지난 20일 방송된 MBC ‘섹션TV 연예통신’에 출연한 이효리는 서구적인 상체를 가지고 있는데 반면 “동양적인 하체를 가지고 있다”며 “하이힐은 생명과도 같다”고 말해 주위를 웃음바다로 만들었다.

Appearing on the MBC show “Section TV Entertainment Report” on the 20th of August, she then said that “High heels are as important as life itself!”, which turned the audience into a sea of laughter.

이날 이효리는 “샵에서 효리씨가 입어주면 옷이 잘 팔린다며 옷을 공짜로 준다”며 “옷을 잘 입는 방법은 얼마나 자신의 체형을 잘 커버하느냐인 것 같다”고 설명했다.

She also explained that “When I go into a shop, the owners give me clothes for free because they will sell well if I wear them”, and that “How well you wear clothes depends on how much of your body shape you cover up.”

이효리에게 ‘숨기고 싶은 신체적 단점’에 대해 질문하자 “상체는 서구적인 반면 하체는 동양적이다”라고 말했다.

When asked what were bad points about her body she wanted to hide, she replied that “I have a Western top half, but an Asian bottom half”.

이어 동양적인 하체를 커버하기 위한 해결책으로 “절대로 하이힐을 벗지 않는 것”이라고 강조하며 “10cm 이하 하이힐은 쳐다보지도 않고 잠을 잘 때도 하이힐은 신고 잔다”고 말해 주위를 폭소케 했다.

Accordingly, she emphasized that the solution for covering(?) her Asian bottom half was “never taking high heels off”, and that “not only will I not look at high heels with a heel less than 10cm high, but I even sleep in high heels”, producing hysterics in the audience.

Lee Hyori High Heels(Source. Source below: unknown)

Apologies for the terrible quality of that “news report”, but as I type this unfortunately I’m only able to find minor variations of it on the Korean internet. But lots of them, albeit only because Korea’s top female sex-symbol is admitting to having (self-perceived) flaws, and definitely not because of her views on different races’ body shapes.

And why should they be news? Are they really as strange as they first sound?

In short, no, for three main reasons.

Firstly, as some commenters at K-pop blogs allkpop and Omona! They Didn’t have pointed out, she probably merely meant that she had larger than average breasts and short legs instead, and was not necessarily denigrating women cursed with the latter, nor Asians in general. And that’s probably true.

Still, why not just say that instead?

But would you? In English, we describe people by their races all the time; much less so, the specific features that make us characterize them as such. Moreover, I’ve certainly met many people with a blend of racial features too, let alone the two I’ve fathered myself!

So although it sounds extreme and even amusing in English, I’d be very surprised if Lee Hyori wasn’t indeed just referring to certain body features when she said she had a seogujeogin (서구적인) top half and dongyangjeogin (동양적인) bottom half. Indeed, and finally, it behooves non-native speakers like myself not to take the Korean language too literally.

I learned this lesson myself back in February, through trying to understand the 2009 buzzword cheongsoon-glaemor (청순글래머). Meaning “innocent” or “pure”, then cheongsoon at least was easy enough, but glaemor (글래머)? Naturally I assumed it meant the same as the English, but as several readers pointed out, it’s a false cognate, actually meaning “large breasts” instead. So cheongsoon-glaemor means “innocent and busty” in English.

Yes, that does indeed sound inane in any language, but the point is that it’s rather different to “innocent and pure-looking but while still having a rich and glamorous celebrity lifestyle”, which is what I originally thought. And just in light of a mistake like that alone, then surely Lee Hyori should be given the benefit of the doubt in this case, rather than instantly being accused of racism and/or – ironically – feelings of racial inferiority.

Still, after almost spitting out my coffee while reading about the story this morning, I admit I’m a little reluctant to let her entirely off the hook.

And indeed, just like the term glaemor originally came from a mistranslation by the Japanese, stemming from the well-endowed busts of glamorous Hollywood starlets in the 1950s, the notion that all Korean women should envy the large breasts and long legs of their Western counterparts seems simply absurd considering what their bodies are like 60 years later. So it is high time more Koreans challenged this stereotype, and pondered what sustains it nevertheless.

Perhaps a good place to start would be ubiquitous cosmetic-surgery advertisements, which seem to have an inordinate number of Caucasians in them? What do you think?

(Source)

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

Korean Gender Reader

( Source )

1) Subways and culture

Yesterday, Busan Mike saw an attempted groping incident on the subway for the first time, and in full sight of a half-full carriage at that. Fortunately, I’ve yet to ever see anything like that myself, but I imagine that just like in his case, I too would find it difficult to know what to do about it exactly. After all, it was only an attempt, and Mike and his wife weren’t sure that the man and woman weren’t a couple until the latter switched seats.

Have any readers also ever seen or experienced anything like that in Korea? What did you do?

Update: By the way, what is “groping” in Korean exactly? My wife says it is seong choo-haeng (성추행), and that certainly did produce a lot of articles on Korean search engines. But according to the dictionary, that term actually covers a multitude of sins, including “sexual molestation, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and rape” and so on. Any ideas, or is it just academic really?

Meanwhile, Gord Sellar ponders what to do about the vocal minority of elderly Koreans who shout and swear at pregnant women for sitting in “their” subway seats (see #5 here for the original story), in the Korean case a traditional Korean deference to old people buttressing the universal human impulse not to get involved.

2) Everything you wanted to know about room salons

Provided by a former addict in an interview by The Three Wise Monkeys. On the bright side, no condom means no sex in any “second rounds” that occurred later in a hotel, unlike for the vast majority of Korean women who seem to feel that they have a virginal reputation to maintain.

Meanwhile, see Korea Beat for more on the perspective of the room salon workers themselves.

3) Female economic activity lowest in 10 years

Unfortunately, these latest dismal figures are quite predictable: not for nothing have I repeatedly described the post-1997 period as a “lost decade” for Korean women (see here, here, and here), even before they were overwhelmingly targeted for layoffs in the recent financial crisis.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

4) Dressing up as a Korean woman

Last week, I learned that not only it is so important for Korean women not to show their bare faces in public that even their fiances may not have seen them without make-up, but also that, counter-intuitively, many married women will get up extra-early to ensure it stays that way; see #6 here, and it also has rather ominous implications for their sex lives. Now, HiExpat also has a list of what else they must do in the morning if they want to look hot, but far from being particularly Korean, is it really just a matter of degree rather than difference? And why do it in the first place? Pondering the latter question over at Sociological Images, one sociologist answers:

…I would argue that the reason women, on average, spend more time on their appearance is because (1) the bare minimum for looking presentable is different for women than for men and (2) the social costs for neglecting their appearance is greater for them than it is for men.  It is not biology, nor socialization, but the realities of social interaction that draw women out of bed earlier than men.  We learn that our appearance matters to others and that others — strangers a little bit, friends more so, and bosses and lovers especially — offer rewards and punishments related to how well we conform to their expectations.  So we make a measured choice.  We primp and preen not because it’s natural, or because we’re socialized robots, but because it’s worth it or, conversely, we don’t want to pay the cost accrued when we do not.

With apologies for quoting so much of that short post, but there is also much to be learned from the 91 comments!^^

5) Every band has a “cute” member

Having so many members in Korean bands these days does mean that few of them get to actually sing, but then that’s not really the idea anyway, and on the plus side the more members, the more chance fans have of identifying with one of them (see #5 here). Which by coincidence, I’ve just read is also the case for Japanese bands, and probably provided the model. As AKB48 members Rino Sashihara and Tomomi Nakatsuka explain in Japanese School Confidential:

“There aren’t just lots of girls in AKB48, there are lot’s of different types of girls,” Rino says. Tomomi, decked out in a tracksuit and sneakers, chimes in. “Yeah, there are cute girls, beautiful girls. Everybody is different. I think that’s really what makes the group unique.” Tomomi, for example, likes manga and video games, and Rino’s hobby is eating udon noodles. Scan the profiles of other AKB48 members and you’ll find girls into professional wrestling, horror movies, or anime. It’s an idol smorgasbord where fans can find at least one idol to his or her taste. The music might be what draws folks in as listeners, but it’s the girls who turn them into fans. (p. 34, emphasis in original)

And hence as allkpop explains:

cute members of female groups tend to generate widespread interest and bump up a group’s popularity singlehandedly. Every member has their own individual role in the group, and every group has a member in charge of being the ‘cute’ one. In Korea, fans call this certain member “Kui-yo-mi (귀요미),” meaning “the girl with the cute image (귀여운 이미지를 가진 이).”  This member is in charge of garnering fanboy love with her cute/lovable/girly charm, which will result in a bigger fanbase for the group.

6) Actor finds empathy in homosexual role

If I had been worried about my image I wouldn’t have taken this role. I hope that the lives of homosexuals will be acknowledged and be a little bit happier through this drama of ours

See The Korea Times for an interview of Song Chang-ui (송창의), currently playing one of the first ever homosexual roles in Korean television (see #8 here for some background).

7) Yes, unmarried Koreans sometimes have children too

With the news that YG Entertainment head Yang Hyun-seok (양현석) has just had a daughter with long-time (secret) partner Lee Eun-ju (이은주) of the ex-girl band Swi.T, I’ve decided that I’ll no longer report on the fact that Koreans are generally fine with couples of marriageable age having premarital sex, with the important proviso that the participants do actually have plans to get married. Hardly an enlightened modern attitude either, it’s actually been that way for centuries too: see #5 here for more information. (source, right)

8) Officials in Japanese community play Cupid online

As explained at The Boston Globe:

The coastal region of Fukui has Japan’s biggest share of dual-income households, the highest ratio of working women, and the lowest unemployment rate. What it does not have is enough babies.

This month, the provincial government is starting the Fukui Marriage-Hunting Cafe, a website for singles, to help stem the falling birthrate. Couples who agree to marry will get cash or gifts, said Akemi Iwakabe, deputy director of Fukui’s Children and Families division.

“Many of our single residents were telling us that they wanted to get married, but couldn’t because they weren’t meeting anyone,’’ she said.

Japan’s first online dating service organized by a prefectural government follows national measures to extend parental leave that have so far failed to convince women to have more children…

Hey, it certainly can’t harm, and is positively inspired compared to the Korean Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs (보건복지가족부), in charge of raising the country’s birthrate, insisting earlier this year that its employees go home at the shockingly early 7pm on the third Wednesday of each month, all the better to have sex with their partners and have more babies.

9) “One of the most radical feminist performers working today”

Popmatters has a long article on Korean-American performer Margaret Cho.

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10) André Kim and attitudes to LGBT in Korea

Michael Hurt ponders the recent passing of Korean fashion designer André Kim (앙드레 김) at Scribblings of the Metropolitician, in passing mentioning public attitudes to his homosexuality:

There is the constant denial of his gayness — which anyone who interacted with him closely knew to be a fact, and not a vicious slur or accusation, but a mere fact — which continues today. In the end, it is additionally a tragedy that someone who was obviously gay, or at least someone out-of-sync with a cultural of heavily enforced heteronormativity, was never able to “come out” lest he pay a heavy social price. He was never able to see a Korea that would accept him for whom he truly was, however he might have defined that identity-wise. Or perhaps he was quite lucky, in that he fit well inside the stereotype of the harmless gay male fashion designer, which allows everyone to kinda “know” but not have to talk about it in polite company.

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Pink Imperialism?

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Koreans have curious attitudes to pink.

On the one hand, it is by no means considered feminine on adults, nor has it ever been historically. Indeed, far from rejecting it, these days many young men positively embrace pink as a sign of rebellion against the gruff, dull rural roots of their parents. As The Joshing Gnome puts it:

Many young guys who grew up in this world find that it’s just not them.  What recourse do they have but to declare loudly and pinkly to the world ‘I am not what my parents are.’  They’re showing people they’re young, they’re modern, they’re not dissolute drunken bums (and how would one know if not for their outfits?) and they’re urbane.  If my two choices of apparel are white pants, a pink shirt, and ‘wax’ in my hair or slippers, track pants, a motorcycle and a case of the soju rosies, then I have to say I would be right there with these preening young men foppin’ it up.

And lest that sound like exaggeration, bear in mind that most Koreans lived in villages until the late-1970s. Hence I’ve also made a similar argument for their wearing of (usually pink or pastel) “couple clothes” myself, such a visible sign of affection possibly being a stark rejection of the model of their own parents’ often arranged marriages.

But I haven’t been married for so long though, that I don’t realize that it could just as easily be because men will simply do anything to get laid.

And if that requires caving in to their partners’ wishes to both look cute together and show off their status as a couple, then why not? After all, cuteness is already a strong cultural prerogative in Korea, much like the equivalent in many Western countries is to be ‘Xtreme’ and too cool for school.

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But for every 5 male university students I see wearing pink clothes, I might see 1 or 2 men in their 30s, 40s or even older also doing so. How then, could pink ever be considered intrinsically cute here?

Probably because, on the other hand, Koreans do maintain a pink/blue divide for children. And while this is by no means a phenomenon confined to Korea of course, that they do so despite all the above is a telling demonstration of the points made by Korean artist JeongMee Yoon (윤정미) through her Pink and Blue Projects like the above, which were:

…initiated by my five-year-old daughter, who loves the color pink so much that she wanted to wear only pink clothes and play with only pink toys and objects. I discovered that my daughter’s case was not unusual. In the United States, South Korea and elsewhere, most young girls love pink clothing, accessories and toys. This phenomenon is widespread among children of various ethnic groups regardless of their cultural backgrounds. Perhaps it is the influence of pervasive commercial advertisements aimed at little girls and their parents, such as the universally popular Barbie and Hello Kitty merchandise that has developed into a modern trend. Girls train subconsciously and unconsciously to wear the color pink in order to look feminine…

…Today, with the effects of advertising on consumer preferences, these color customs are a worldwide standard…The saccharine, confectionery pink objects that fill my images of little girls and their accessories reveal a pervasive and culturally manipulated expression of femininity” and a desire to be seen.

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Currently, her work is being exhibited at The Santa Barbara Museum of Art, which is hosting “the first major American showing by contemporary Korean artists living in Korea”: see the Los Angeles Times for more details (via KoreAm). Also, you can see her own website for more examples (and a fuller explanation) of her work.

But does the pink/blue divide largely come from overseas, as Yoon implies? And if so, how and why exactly?

Unfortunately, I don’t personally know enough about Korean fashion history to answer. My gut instinct though, is to reject the notion of cultural imperialism: in my post Giving the Consumer What She Wants? for instance, I demonstrate that far from the plucky Korean magazine industry being at the mercy of evil multinational companies, in fact Korean consumers were very active and willing agents in its Westernization.

But on the other hand, this wouldn’t be the first time Koreans have wholeheartedly – and rather unthinkingly – adopted some aspect of Western culture despite local tradition. Male circumcision for instance, was virtually unknown in Korea before the Korean War, but now it probably has the highest rate of it in the non-Muslim and non-Jewish world. And yet despite being world leaders, both doctors and the general public display a profound ignorance of the practice, most simply associating circumcision with industrialization and improved living standards.

What do you think is responsible?

Meanwhile, please see my post Sex and the Red Blooded Woman for the sake of comparison, in which I discuss how the general redness of most cosmetics at least do have definite biological bases, unlike our clearly heavily socialized ones for clothing!

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Fighting Sexual Harassment at Samsung: Part 3

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This post, about Lee Eun-eui’s successful suit against Samsung Electronics for sexual harassment by her boss and then being punished for reporting it, follows directly from Part 1 and Part 2. If you haven’t already, please read those before continuing:

소송과정에서 가장 힘들었던 점은?

What has been the most difficult thing in the whole legal process for you?

회사에서는 내가 거짓말 한다고 했다. 인권위에서나 법원에서 회사의 주 변론이 ‘원하는 부서에 배치 받으려고 있지도 않은 성희롱을 했다고 주장한다’라는 거였다. 그럴 때마다 수치스러웠다. 주로 남자들이 있는 자리에서 내가 당했던 일을 말하는 게 쉬운 일도 아니었고.

처음 성희롱이 몸의 수치였다면, 사내에서 가해진 왕따는 영혼의 수치였고, 그 이후 회사의 반응들은 영혼과 몸을 다 부정당한 기분이었다. 내가 나의 성을 팔아야 할 만큼 부서배치나 승진이 대단한가? 매번 그런 사실을 법원에서 인권위에서 해명할 때마다 느꼈던 좌절감이 오늘의 나를 만들어 준 것 같다. 분노로 담금질 됐다. 회사는 나를 괴물같이 보겠지. 퇴사하지도 않고 심지어 (소송에서) 이기기까지 했으니. 그렇지만 나는 이런 ‘괴물’을 만든 건 회사라고 본다. 나는 원래 그런 존재가 아니었는데, 나를 자꾸 흔들어서 내가 살기 위해 움직이다 보니까 이 자리까지 온 거다.

잠시 숨을 고르던 이씨는 신입사원 시절, 연수원에서 배웠던 ‘도덕성ㆍ에티켓ㆍ인간미’를 이야기 했다. 그는 “유치하고 뻔 한 말이지만, 그 세 가지가 지켜졌다면 없었을 일이 황유미ㆍ박지연(삼성전자에서 일하던 중 백혈병으로 사망)씨였고 나였다”라고 말했다.

Samsung Electronics saying that I was lying. Their response to the Human Rights Commission and the Court was that I was simply accusing my boss of sexual harassment in order to get the position I wanted within the department. I felt really ashamed and humiliated whenever I heard that. And it was especially difficult to talk about it when there were men around (source, right).

At first, the sexual harassment made me feel ashamed and humiliated bodily, but then when I was ostracized within the company my spirit felt that way too, and because of the company’s reaction I felt such a sense of injustice and frustration both mentally and physically. Was being promoted within the company so important that I had to sell myself sexually? Whenever I had to explain the fact of what happened to the Human Rights Commission or in the Court, I felt such a sense of frustration and discouragement, and that’s made me what I’m like today. But my anger was sated, and the company will look at me as a monster from now on. However, I wasn’t originally like that, it’s what the company made me; because they kept pressing so hard, I had to hold my ground just to survive and get on with my life.

Reporter Jang Il-ho: Catching her breath, Lee talks about back when she was a new employee, and how at the training center she learned about ethics, etiquette, and humanity through stories. “They were childish, and I always knew what the endings were going to be, but if the company itself had just borne them in mind then cases like Hwang Yu-mi’s, Park Ji-yeon’s (who both allegedly died of Leukemia from working at Samsung Electronics assembly lines), and mine would never have happened” she said.

회사를 그만 두지 않은 이유는?

What is the reason you haven’t quit working for Samsung Electronics?

(그만둘까)많이 생각했다. 편하게 갈 수 있는 길도 있었고 후회와 고민도 있었다. 그렇지만 나는 회사가 이건희 회장이나 사장의 것이라고 생각하지 않는다. 직원과 주주 것이라고 생각한다. 내가 들어오고 싶었던 회사, 자랑스럽게 생각했던 회사, 꿈에 그리던 회사…열심히 다녔고… 결국 내 꿈에 대해 실망했었다.

그렇지만 이 회사는 나의 빛나던 20대와 뜨거웠던 30대가 녹아 있는 곳이다. 불이익을 당했을 때, 회사를 바르게 사랑하는 방식은 바로잡기 위한 노력을 하는 거라고 생각했고, 그걸 실천에 옮겼을 뿐이다. 사실 나는 황유미씨나 박지연씨만큼 중요한 사람은 아니다. 그런 의미에서 부채감도 있다. 그들은 생명권의 문제, 타협이 불가능한 문제다. 그러나 애초에 나는 타협도 조율도 가능했다. 그런데 그걸 해주는 사람이 회사 내에 아무도 없었기 때문에 싸워야 했다.

Quitting…I thought about it a lot. It would have been very easy, and in some ways I regret not doing so. But then I don’t think this company belongs to its chairman Lee Kun-hee, or the bosses of its many subsidiaries, but rather to its employees and stockholders. It’s a company I also wanted to work in, I was proud to work in, it was my dream to work in…I worked hard here…although in the end, my dream was crushed (source, left).

However, my shining (with potential) 20s and energetic, passionate 30s just melted into this company. I thought that whenever something was wrong, the way to show your love to the company was to do what was right to fix it, and indeed in reality that’s all I did. I’m not as important as Hwang Yu-mi or Park Ji-yeon, who had problems with their very lives, which were impossible to negotiate with. With me though, it was possible to do something about my problem from the outset, although because no-one within the company would help me I had no choice but to fight.

삼성은 노조가 없어도 노사협의회로 노동자의 권리를 보호해준다고 하는데, 도움이 됐나.

Samsung doesn’t have a union, but it does have a labor-management arbitration committee to help protect workers’ rights. Did they help?

단적으로 노조가 있었다면 소송할 때 변호사비도 들지 않았을 거고, 회사 내에서도 중재가 가능했을 것이다. 노사협의회에 도움을 요청했더니, 회사와 개인의 문제에 끼어들 수 없다고 하더라. 이 문제에서 노사 협의회는 전혀 도움이 안 됐다. 오죽하면 노사협의회에 근로자위원으로 입후보하려고 했는데, 우연의 일치인지 입후보 기간에 맞춰 출장을 보냈다. 이번 민사 판결이 의미 있는 이유 중 하나는 노조가 없는 회사에서 그동안 ‘회사와 싸우면 깨진다’라는 본보기를 깨트린 점이다.

Putting it simply, if there had been a union then they would have provided money for a lawyer and/or mediated with the company for me. In contrast, the labor-management arbitration committee told me that if was a personal issue between myself and the company and so they couldn’t get involved: they weren’t any help whatsoever. Indeed, I applied for a position on that committee, but by a [supposed] coincidence I was sent away on a business trip and was unable to. The judgment of the lawsuit means [though], that unlike what everyone thinks, you can win if you fight against a company which has no union.

(James – I’m a little confused by her application: she was immediately moved from her department after reporting being sexual harassed by her boss, she was then completely ostracized at work – indeed, later put on extended leave for 7 months – , but somehow still expected to get on to a committee that had already refused to help her? My wife suggests she may have been so desperate though, that she literally tried anything)

가족들의 반응은 어떤가.

What was the reaction of your family?

물정 모르고 자란 막내딸이 이런 소송에 휘말릴 것이라고 생각지도 않으셨다. 아직도 어머니가 매일 아침 머리를 말려 출근 시켜주신다. 그런 어머니에게 차마 말을 할 수 없었다. 알고 나서 무척 싫어하셨지. 그렇지만 나중에는 제대로 싸우라고 응원해줬다. 이왕 얼굴 내놓고 싸울 거면 예쁜 모습으로 싸워야 한다고, 옷 같은 것도 참견하시고(웃음). 종내 항상 힘을 보태주고 지지해주는 건 가족인 것 같다.

4시간 가까이 쉼 없이 말을 쏟아놓던 이은의씨에게 카메라를 들이댔다. 이씨는 “이왕이면 예쁘게 찍어 달라”라고 요구했다. 그는 “여자로서의 욕망이 아니라 ‘파이터’로서의 옵션이다”라고 덧붙였다. 불쌍하게 보이고 싶지 않다고 했다. 질 수 없었던 싸움, 희망의 언표가 되고 싶다는 이유였다. ‘언니를 지지할 수는 있지만, 언니처럼 될 수 없어서…’라며 성희롱 피해를 당하고도 싸우지 못하는 많은 여직원들을 보며 그는 ‘파이터’의 감수성을 키워왔다.

앞으로의 계획을 물었다. “지난 5년은 힘들면 맥주 한 잔 하고 풀 수 있는 평범한 일상이 사라진 시간들이었어요. 이제 그 시간들을 회복해가야죠”

My parents never imagined that their youngest child, who knows so little about life, could ever get involved in such an unsavory thing. But still, my mother dries my hair everyday as I prepare to go to work. At first, I couldn’t tell her anything about it. And once I did, she really really hated it. However, later she said that if I was going to fight then I had to do it properly, and that she would support me. And that because my face was already out there, I had to do it prettily, so (laughing) she was always telling me what to wear! And in the end, whenever my strength and resolve were lagging, my family always made up for it (source, above).

Reporter Jang Il-ho: After talking without a break for 4 hours, I started taking pictures of Lee. She said “please try to make me look nice I guess”, but added that she “didn’t want people to think of her as a desirable woman, but rather as a fighter”. And she doesn’t want people to take pity on her, but instead think of her as someone who couldn’t lose, who is a symbol of hope, as she heard from so many women who’d also suffered sexual harassment that they could help her, but they couldn’t be like her, so she developed a real sense of herself as a fighter.

I asked about her plans for the future.  She said that “For the last 5 years, I’ve had no opportunities for a normal life, even just having a simple glass of beer. Now, I have to recover, and make up for lost time”. (end)

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Personally, I was a little disappointed with that conclusion to the interview: there were many further questions raised about the incidents of sexual harassment, the reaction of the company, and the lawsuit and so on in Part 1 and Part 2 (and indeed even here too), but unfortunately we were given a rather repetitive look at the emotional side of the case rather than any real answers to those. Not that her own feelings are trivial or uninteresting of course, but I am left feeling a little frustrated.

Anyone else feel the same way? There are a few more Korean-language sources available, so if you have any further questions yourself about the case, then I’ll endeavor to find the answers myself if they’re available, albeit only translating the relevant sections of the articles this time!^^

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Life Imitates Fantasy Art

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A rare perspective of Haeundae in Busan, where photographers usually focus on the often million plus people on the beach rather than all the rapid construction at its Southern end towards Gwanganli.

Indeed, probably the most affluent area of the city at the moment, as you can see as many tall apartment buildings seem to be getting crammed in there as possible. The newest ones especially loom so high over the beach that they seem to be almost overhanging it.

So much so in fact, that the very first thing the photo reminded me of was this concept art by Dutch artist Jesse Van Dijk:

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Concept art of what exactly? Probably the last thing you’d expect(!), and with 350,000 visitors to his site in 3 months because of it, you won’t be alone in being intrigued by it: see interviews at Max3D and Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Reviews for more information, and on his work in general.

Update – If you’d like to see the area in more detail, here are some stunning images of it from last March by photographer Kim Jae-ha:

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Judging by his website, unfortunately Kim no longer seems to be active. But he has changed the attribution license on his photos  since I last checked at least, so feel free to share them!

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