Korean Gender Reader

( Source )

1) Life is Beautiful (인생은 아름다워) cuts out gay vows

Highly commended for being the first Korean drama to feature a gay couple (see #3 here), many viewers have been disappointed and angered at the decision to literally mute a key scene in response to a complaint by the church in which it was filmed. Let alone the actors themselves.

2) Korean military’s ban on gays ruled unconstitutional by the National Human Rights Commission (NHCR)

A welcome contrast to the above news on the surface, in Korea homosexual men are usually merely judged “psychologically unfit” to serve. Homosexual acts that occur between enlisted soldiers nevertheless however, are punishable by up to 1 year in jail, and indeed 3 male soldiers were convicted of it in the years 2004-2007 (out of 176 cases).

Unfortunately however, the Korean military already has a long history of simply ignoring NHCR rulings, and ROK Drop also notes that “gays in Korea do not have the political connections, media backing, and the money of the gay groups in the US.” Moreover, as I explain in detail here, 15.8% of Korea’s new 250,000 conscripts each year already experience sexual violence, so I too expect virtually no changes to come as a result of this ruling.

3) Celebrity couple targeted by crazed anti-fans

Within hours of the announcement that singer Kim Jung-hyun (김종현) and actress Shin Se-kyeong (신세경) were dating:

Preexisting “anti-cafe” sites of  Se-kyeong surged in membership

More were formed

Se-kyeong was forced to close her personal homepage due to the overwhelming number of personal attacks. Later, her main fan-site also had to close

Many of Jung-hyun’s fansites were also closed (albeit because of the disappointment of their owners rather than because of attacks)

And Jung-hyun’s management company SM Entertainment cut off all contact between his group Shinee (샤이니) and the public (source, right)

While excessive, by itself this case doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy compared to most celebrity news. Place it in the context of numerous prior victims of Korea’s “anti-fans” however, the most recent and well-known of whom would probably be singer Tablo (타블로), then suddenly it seems much less like the irrelevant rantings of broken-hearted teenagers, and more a fundamental part of Korea’s wider netizen culture, with very real – and often tragic – effects on people’s lives.

To prevent broken-hearted teenagers growing up to become netizens though, surely it would help if they were actually punished for trashing their classrooms, not simply forgiven because they were so angry with Shin Se-kyeong?

Hell, it’s no wonder most Korean celebrities go to such elaborate lengths as these to hide their relationships.

4) Awwww

A romantic story? Or, more cynically, a simple reflection of the fact that many Koreans seem to get married very quickly after first meeting?

( Source )

5) HIV-positive 19 year-old prostitute arrested for having sex with 20 men

Possibly a high-school student, reportedly she did actually suggest using condoms, but her clients refused to wear them.

Would such acquiesce be typical for most Korean prostitutes however? It’s difficult to tell: in general, sexually-active Korean women are similarly reluctant to insist on using contraception, but I would have assumed that prostitutes had less qualms about losing their virginal reputations.

Much more interesting though, how on Earth did the police that found her learn about her HIV status? And more worrying, that one third of her classmates would similarly consider exchanging money for sex.

6) Foreign prostitutes no longer required to have AIDS tests to get a visa, but English teachers still do

Like numerous commentators have said, you simply can’t make news like this up, and there is probably no greater testament to the regular scapegoating and stereotyping of foreign teachers by the Korean media here.

In fairness though, the E-6 visa category is a real mess, and by no means are all the “entertainers” that come to Korea under it are prostitutes, as well explained by Benjamin Wagner (who filed a complaint about the tests last year).

7) “Dad? I don’t know why I need him”

It sounds like a gross generalization, but I have heard from numerous personal and written sources that Korean children (and adults) are much closer to their mothers than their fathers. Kim Seong-kon, a professor of English at Seoul National University, explains why here.

( Source )

8) Korea: the hub of cosmetic surgery?

Well of course I hear I you say, but in practice it’s often difficult to find exact numbers. And so, before the financial crisis at least:

…an estimated 30 percent of Korean women aged 20 to 50, or some 2.4 million women, had surgical or nonsurgical cosmetic procedures [in 2008], with many having more than one procedure.

Note that the 30% figure is for women that received procedures just in 2008, and so the figure for all women who have received procedures is likely to be far higher.  See here for more information and counter-arguments that the US is far more deserving of the title; and while we’re on the subject, also see here and here for composites made of female celebrities’ faces from various countries.

9) Ethics teacher fired for sexually harassing his students

Unfortunately, not only is he unlikely to be charged with anything, but commenters point out that his record will be wiped clean and he will be able to teach again in 5 years.

Much of the blame for that lack of punishment can be placed on the Korean Teachers’ and Education Workers’ Union, which apparently believes that verbal abuse is far more heinous.

10) No Sex Please, We’re Korean

Apparently “other than an alarming amount of rape, their is very little sex in Korean fiction.” And this is a big issue for translators and the popularization of Korean fiction overseas too, as even when it is there it is mentioned it is hardly explicit, and “and this means that translations from Korean will not seem ‘natural’ to western readers who expect bodices to be heaving and trousers (and panties) to be dropping.”

Apologies for all the largely negative stories this week folks: please send me in positive ones if you have them!^^

Update: with thanks to London Korean Links, this was nice to see the instant after typing that last line:


10 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. I would say that the biggest problem when it comes to netizen culture in Korea isn’t the fact that deranged assholes do their thing on the net, as they’re prone to do everywhere else (on any random youtube) as well — but the fact that the Korean tabloid media is inflating everyone’s impression of the netizens’ importance. On every celebrity-related news story they incorporate quotes from netizens as if they’re the voice of the people. Usually the most ‘pointed’ comments as well. It feels as if the media pushes these lunatics to the front, gives them a platform and speakers and ensures that anyone in the line of fire will be hit.


  2. As always, a most interesting collection of snippets. Regarding the cosmetic surgery comment on the incidence of Korean plastic surgery, however, common sense alone will tell you that 30% of the female population is not undergoing plastic surgery each and every year.

    The true rate, while impossible to compute with absolute accuracy, is far lower. Based on the only credible source of worldwide plastic surgery statistics (International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery study from 2009), South Korea does tower above all other countries in procedures per person per year, but the number is so far from 30% that you might as well just throw out an estimate of 100% per year and see if it sticks.

    You can read an analysis of the ISAPS raw data at


    1. That 30% stat is not just for undergoing surgery – it also includes ” nonsurgical cosmetic procedures.” These can include botox, collagen injections, and laser hair removal.


  3. The “Dad? I don’t know why I need him” part was very interesting to me. I can testify with personal experience that even here in the United States, it does happen among the Korean-American communities. Even though BOTH my parents worked full-time and I rarely saw either of them, at first I alienated my dad and went to my mom. However, through a series of (un)fortunate events, I am now a “daddy’s boy”. It’s true though, in Korean families even in America, dads are usually less important than the mom. At least for the 2nd generation to 3rd generation.


    1. Actually, I could relate to it to a certain extent too, but rather from the dad’s perspective, as because my own children are just pre-schoolers and the moment, and my wife works part-time from home as an English teacher recruiter, then in a nutshell my daughters see far far more of her than they do me.

      Having said that, I do spend at least 1-2 hours playing with them and teaching them English and so on after work everyday (when I’d much rather crash on the couch), whereas in contrast some Korean fathers really shouldn’t be quite so surprised at what their children really think of them. Take this anecdote of mine below for instance, which I wrote here in the context of why do many Korean families are prepared to live in separate cities and even countries from each other:

      …[6 years ago] I was talking to a fluent, middle-aged male student of mine 1 on 1 because the other students in the class hadn’t turned up. He was an intelligent and friendly man, interesting to talk to, and at one point he mentioned that he paid a not inconsiderable amount of money each month to an education company for one of their teachers to call his 15 year-old son 3 times a week and chat to him in English for 10 minutes. When I (naively) asked why he didn’t save his money and he talk to his son instead…he reacted like I was trying to explain homosexuality or something. He literally couldn’t get his head around the concept, and visibly struggled to understand why on Earth any man would want to do it…

      *Sigh* Is it any wonder with dads like that that so many of them are prepared to spend years away from their children?


  4. Regarding the 19 year old HIV+ girl, did you see this?

    “The court rejected the arrest warrant when it was revealed that she is mentally disabled and has the mental development of an eight year old. A prostitution victim protection organization “Sal-lim” and psychiatrist pointed out that in light of this level of development, it is not possible that can be held responsible for criminal action or for taking these actions on her own. When the arrest first took place, the woman’s father had told the police that his daughter was forced to sell sex by someone else, but police officers chose to charge her with a crime.”

    One wonders how she got HIV – and found out that she was HIV+ – in the first place.


    1. I would guess she got HIV from one of her clients.

      How police knew she was HIV positive I have no idea. Maybe one of the clients got infected and reported her? Hm.


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