“I’m a Korean Girl”

Despite its title, this is simply a classic rendition of the way young women typically behave in Korean dramas.

The flip-side of the aegyo (애교) phenomenon, that behavior is precisely why I don’t watch them too, and have a real concern about the effects on my 2 daughters as they grow up seeing it every time they turn on the TV.

But don’t get me wrong: the video’s hilarious, and thanks very much to @Mentalpoo for passing it on!^^

Countering Sexual Violence in Korea (Updated)

Once again, Korea has gotten the lowest score of all high-income countries in a recent survey of gender-equality worldwide. And, at 104th out of 131 countries surveyed, it was bested by numerous much poorer countries at that.

Given that record, then it’s very easy to focus on Korea’s shortcomings when talking about gender issues. But that can mean that we can easily miss the positive developments that are occurring though, and sometimes right in front of our very noses.

Take what this humble-looking subway ad for instance, and what it ultimately represents. First, a translation:

부산 해바라기 여성 • 아동센터

Busan Sunflower Women & Children’s Center

여성 성폭력 피해자와 가정폭력 피해자, 학교폭력 피해자들을 돕고 있는 부산 원스톱 지원센터와 아동과 지적장애인 성폭력 피해자 전담센터인 부산 해바라기 아동센터가 2010년 1월 1일부터 부산 해바라기 여성 • 아동센터로 통합되었습니다.

From January 1, the Busan One-Stop Support Center, which helps female victims of sexual abuse, victims of family abuse, and victims of physical abuse at schools, and the Busan Sunflower Children’s Center, which helps children and mentally handicapped victims of sexual abuse, have joined together and become the Busan Sunflower Women & Children’s Center.


여성부, 부산광역시, 부산지방경찰청에서 지원하고 동아대학교병원에서 수탁운영하는 여성 • 아동 폭력피해자 전담센터입니다.

With support from the Ministry of Gender Equality, the Busan Metropolitan City Council, and the Busan Metropolitan Police Agency, Dong-a University Hospital has been given the responsibility of operating the center, which provides consultations for female and child victims of abuse.

가족폭력, 성매매, 학교폭력, 성폭력 피해를 입은 여성과 아동을 보호하고 지원하고 치료합니다.

Women and children who are the victims of family violence, sex trafficking, school violence, and sexual abuse can receive protection and treatment at the center.

의사, 간호사, 임상심리사, 심리치료사, 성폭력 • 가정폭력 전문상담원, 여성 경찰관 등 각 분야 전문가들이 상주하고 있어 위기상황에서 가장 전문적이고 질 높은 상담, 의료, 심리치료, 수사, 법률 서비스를 무상으로 제공합니다.

Experts in many fields such as doctors, nurses, clinical psychologists, psychological therapists, family and sexual violence consultants, and female police officers and so on will be permanently stationed at the center, and when you are in a crisis you can receive the best professional and highest quality consultations, medical treatment, psychological counseling, legal advice, and assistance with launching criminal investigations. All these services are provided free of charge. (end)


In my experience, usually the amalgamation of two government institutions in any country is in response to cost-cutting. Fortunately however, there’s a great deal of indirect evidence to suggest that that isn’t the case here.

First, note that the ad is actually quite dated, mentioning that the amalgamation was effective from January the 1st for instance (although the center didn’t officially open until February the 9th), and in particular that the Ministry of Gender Equality has a supporting role in it, whereas the Ministry actually reconverted back to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs (여성가족부/MOGEF) back in March. Presumably then, the ad has already been posted on Busan subway trains once before, probably late last year or early this one.

Why suddenly post the same ones again in late September then? What has changed to prompt that?

As Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling has well-documented, what has changed is the public perception that there has been a sudden and dramatic increase in the numbers of sex crimes against children, whereas in fact they have remained steady (but appallingly high) for years:

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, which would usually either not be covered or covered by perhaps only one or two media outlets, and which are now linked together in articles in order to point to a great problem that exists. To be sure, there have been several laws passed since the murder of Lee Yu-ri in March (and the Yeongdeungpo case in June), and it’s great that the issue has finally gotten enough attention to get things moving (see here for a brief history of the slow pace of change since 2006). I’m not entirely sure that the solutions being offered are always the best ideas, however, and public fury (and worry) whipped up by this media coverage may be putting pressure on politicians to act first and think later.

And see past Korean Gender Reader posts for more details of those and other sexual crimes. By coincidence, one of the most notorious of those – the murder of Lee Yu-ri – also occurred in Busan, and several of my coworkers here have reported seeing rooms like that on the right pop up in Busan public schools they teach at in the months since, although unfortunately they have no information on the quality of their staffing or how often they are utilized. Have any readers also noticed them, in Busan or elsewhere?

(Note that the English translation on it may be a little misleading though: a better one would be “Consultation Room [for] Mental Anguish [caused by] Sexual Harassment or Sexual Violence”)

Regardless, the point is that given the current climate then it would be wise for the government to highlight all it is doing to prevent sexual violence, let alone to continue or even increase funding to women and children’s centers. And however cynical and reactionary the motives, this is to be applauded.

Granted, the amalgamation was decided and instituted well before the public outcry over the supposed recent spate of sexual crimes against children. But that doesn’t necessarily imply it was the result of a reduction of funding: although it may receive little if any funding from MOGEF for instance, I find it significant that the Ministry’s assumption of old responsibilities came with a big increase in staff and 4 times larger budget (albeit from a base of 0.03% of the government total), so when the plans for the change were announced late last year there was already a political climate conducive to more funding for feminist causes.  Signs of a change of heart from President Lee Myung-bak also perhaps, who originally promised to abolish it before his election, only to back down and merely considerably downsize it in response to protests afterwards?

Alas, quite the opposite: in fact, he is using MOGEF to raise the dire birth rate by – wait for it – criminalizing abortion, as I explain in detail here. But to play devils’ advocate however, perhaps this blinds us to some of the positives that it has achieved?

One is its survey of teenage entertainers in August, which – among other things – revealed that many were pressured by their managers to wear revealing costumes, and which ultimately resulted in the National Assembly’s setting up of a committee (albeit under a different ministry) to further investigate MOGEF’s findings. And which after hearing evidence from entertainment company CEOs has just laid down new regulations for the treatment of minors in the entertainment industry (see here and here also for more background).

And finally, take the recent video produced by MOGEF below, which encourages people to pay more attention to the needs of immigrant women. Granted, it’s just a video, and again it may be just be in response to the recent murder of a Vietnamese bride by her husband after only 8 days in the country (see #13 here), but then it’s not like such efforts started only recently. One thing that instantly comes to mind for instance, is the above survey that was sent to all foreign spouses in Korea in August last year (see #3 here), in an attempt to better find out their specific needs.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Any other positives readers can think of, however minor, then please pass them on!^^

Update: As per request, here is what the voiceover in the video is saying (and I’ve put the additional text in brackets as it came up):

이주여성들을 힘들게 하는건 (부부갈등 상담 8, 452건)

The things that make it difficult for migrant women… (8, 452 consultations for married couples having difficulties)

어려운 한국어와 (가정폭력 상담 4205 건 [2009년 이주여성 긴급지원센터 상담통계)

…are difficult Korean… (4205 consultations over family violence/abuse [2009 Statistics from Migrant Urgent Help & Consultation Centers])

낯선 환경, 다른 문화

…the strange environment, the different culture…

그리고 우리의 무관심입니다. (국제결혼 이주여성 16만여명)

…and our indifference. (lit. international marriage migrant women 160,000 women [James: just in 2009?])

이주여성들에게 작은 관심은 큰 힘이 됩니다.

Just a little help and support helps migrant women a great deal (same in the text)

이주여성들의 힘이 되어주세요.

Please be strong and supportive to them.

이캠폐인은 여성가족부와 복권위원회가 함께 합니다. (이주여성긴급지원센터, 1577-1336)

This campaign is brought to you by MOGEF and The Lottery Commission. (Migrant Women’s Urgent Help & Consultation Centers: 1577-1366)

And by coincidence, something else positive that MOGEF has some role in: a seminar about women’s career development at my university tomorrow (stalkers, take note of which one). Things like this seem to go on there at least once a month or so.

Maybe this has something to do with that, which I only just noticed today:

Please let me know if anyone would like a translation of the first poster. Meanwhile, do any other Korea-based readers have anything similar at their own universities?

Korean Sociological Image #51: Male Objectification and Double Standards

What would be your reaction if this flashed on your TV screen?

Mine was that hard abs aren’t the best analogy for airbags. But my mistake: they’re not supposed to be. Rather, Hyundai needed something to signify the number of airbags as the voiceover went through various specs of the car.

Which, to be fair, is much clearer in the full commercial.

How about if a proper airbag analogy had been used instead, like Mercedes Benz did back in 2006?


If you found that objectification distasteful however, then consider the following from Renault/Samsung in 2008 below also:

Which uses the same analogy, but is clearly quite a contrast to BMW’s puerile effort. Nevertheless, some commenters on an earlier post (update: since deleted sorry!) did still have some issues with it, whereas nobody on this blog at least has had any with all of the men’s 6-packs that suddenly started appearing in Korean commercials from last year.

But I’m sure you’re already well-aware of that double-standard, so the purpose of this post is not just to draw your attention to it. Nor to simply pass on that juxtaposition of advertisements, however interesting. In combination with a recent development in the Korean media though, what that juxtaposition did serve to do was make me realize both the rapid mainstreaming and dogmatic nature of that double-standard here, and which is a combination that I think is pretty unique to Korea too.

Let me explain.

Actually, the first I already have: consider how popular the new buzzword “chocolate abs” (초콜릿복근) is in the Korean media now as a result of all the recent ads featuring them for instance (see here, here, here, #8 here, and this new one below for examples and/or discussion), whereas it didn’t even make a list of buzzwords at the end of last year.

Against that sudden popularity however, you could argue that they’ve actually already been around for a long time in music videos. As Hoon-Soon Kim explains of some from 2000 in “Korean Music Videos, Postmodernism, and Gender Politics” in Jung-Hwa Oh (ed.), Feminist Cultural Politics in Korea (2005) for instance, albeit with more of a focus on the emergence of the “Flower Men” or kkotminam (꽃미남) phenomenon than male objectification per se:

…we see that there is a new type of male image emerging albeit in a small number of music videos. It is a de-gendered image of men which is a contrast to the macho image. Male groups such as Y2K, H.O.T., ITYM, and Sinwha, whose fans are mostly teenage girls, portray this image. They wear make-up and a lot of jewelry and ornaments – which are all considered feminine – and take off their shirts to show off their bodies. This indicates that the male body is also sexually objectified as the female body….The style of the video is similar to that used to show female images with extreme close-ups to fill the screen with a face, and medium-range or full body shots for dances. Although there is a risk of overstating the phenomenon, this image could be interpreted as a signal indicating the possibility of breaking the binary boundaries of men and women that have been formed in a patriarchal culture. (p. 207)

And yet just like in ads, the amount of male objectification in music videos—or to be specific, ab exposure—does also seem to have picked up markedly in the past year or so. Like Multi explained back in March:

…in the past month the internet has been flooded with pictures of Korean celebrities and their abs (as well as some other shots that are not entirely SFW – you’re over 18 you can check them out here, and here). Our favorite controversial band 2PM just did an extensive photoshoot and were topless for most of it (parts 1, 2, 3, 4). Lee Joon of the new boy group MBLAQ flashes his abs a whole lot, because the king of ab-flashing, and Korean superstar extraordinaire, Rain, who happens to be his boss, tells him to because the fans like it, (yup, we sure do ;) and everyone wants to get pictures of them (exhibit A, B, C, among countless others). Then there’s these guys, this guy and this guy, and like 50 others. And then countless polls as to whose abs are better.

To be precise, Rain told Lee Joon that taking off his shirt has far more effect on his audiences than his dancing. And as “the king of ab-flashing”, then of course he could have been talking about himself instead (actually, I thought he was originally), so I can hardly fault him for showing off his own abs so frequently in his own music videos and performances. But rarely in harmony with his song’s lyrics and/or even his choreography however, and so for me personally he more epitomizes just how cynical and commercially-driven the trend has become, with obvious parallels to more familiar ones for female performers. Check out from 2:55 here for instance:

And my critique of the trend as “commercially-driven” is no mere cliche, because whereas it’s mostly young girl-groups that have sprung up in the past year or so (see here for a handy chart), likewise Korean male singers have to adapt to the Korean music industry’s overwhelming reliance on musicians’ product endorsements, appearances on variety shows, and casting in dramas to make profits (as opposed to actually selling music). This encourages their agencies to make them stand out and differentiate themselves from each other by coming up ever more sexual lyrics and/or performances and music videos: namely, more abs from the guys, let alone feigned fellatio, feigned sex on beds, or even virtual rapes of audience members on stage during performances.

Allkpop argues that it’s consumers that are driving this trend however, and that this explains the imbalance between new girl and boy groups:

It looks like girl groups don’t seem to have as high of a failure rate as boy groups or solo singers. These new girl groups have already been gaining so much attention. The reason why you can rely on girl groups to bring in the income is because there’s always teenage boys and ahjusshi (old men) fans to trust. They can also go perform at various events which always require a pay day. Supposedly, Secret gets paid around $8000 per event performance while a group like 4minute gets paid around $12,000 per event.

And yet while that is not incorrect per se, Multi goes on to explain in her post that it is largely female fan club members in their 30s and 40s that are driving this trend, not unlike how I’ve demonstrated that the same demographic (and often exactly the same women) were the driving force behind the full emergence of the kkotminam phenomenon back around the time of the 2002 World Cup. Hence I’d argue that the imbalance is more the result of top-down imperatives then, with many similarities to the American media ideal of female sexuality getting progressively younger over the last 3 decades…and for the same profit-driven motives.

But I digress: for more on that, see a forthcoming Part 2 of my “Reading the Lolita Effect in South Korea” series, which I’ll link to here once it’s up (update: and here it is!). In the meantime, hopefully by this stage you can see why celebrities so dominate advertising here, and which is already an industry not exactly averse to perpetuating celebrities’ agencies’ inherent needs to use sex to sell. Moreover, whereas it’s true that the content of ads worldwide does tend to lag behind social trends, as even just the title of Kwangok Kim and Dennis Lowry’s journal article “Television Commercials as a Lagging Social Indicator: Gender Role Stereotypes in Korean Television Advertising” in Sex Roles, Vol. 53, Nos. 11/12 December 2005 suggests, once they do start appearing in ads then that wider exposure (no pun intended) can have a profound effect in mainstreaming them:

According to cultivation theory, the media play an important role in creating distorted views. This theory suggests that exposure to media content creates a worldview, or a consistent image of social behavior, norms, values, and structures, based on the stable view of society provided by the media. In other words, cultivation theory posits that consistent images and portrayals construct a specific portrait of reality, and as viewers see more and more images, they gradually come to cultivate or adopt attitudes and expectations about the world that coincide with the images they see. Although this model has typically been employed to explain the impact of of television violence, it also has been applied successfully to the cultivation of attitudes towards gender roles. (p. 902, references removed)

(“Bob’s Television Dream” by Robert Couse-Baker)

And in particular:

Although television viewers often claim that commercials do not affect them in negative ways, repeated images in television advertising may already have created a “mainstreaming effect,” as suggested by cultivation theory. Television has the power to cultivate people to have the same views of the world, for example, stereotypical views of gender roles in our society. In other words, the mainstreaming effect reduces cultural and political differences among television viewers. Studies have shown that heavy television viewing may influence children’s perceptions of behaviors and psychological characteristics associated with gender…and [one other] found that heavy viewers of television commercials among the elderly were more likely than light viewers to perceive characters (e.g., the elderly) in commercials as realistic (i.e., mainstreaming effect). It may not be advertisers’ full responsibility to reflect statistically accurate images of society. However, the burden of responsibility is on the advertisers when they fail to reflect the rapid changes in such stereotypes in our society. (p. 908, references removed)

But still, how exactly does simple exposure to those ads necessarily result in us adopting the attitudes and worldviews contained therein, as if by osmosis or something?

Well first, consider their sheer number: “In the United States alone, the average person may be exposed to 500 and 1000 commercial messages a day”, according to p.34 of Essentials of Contemporary Advertising by William Arens and David Schaefer (2007). And like Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen explain in their prologue to Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness (1992), it’s amazing how subtly, profoundly, and almost entirely unconsciously this daily barrage affects us. Quite a charming narrative, which no-one can fail to be more interested in advertising after reading, I’ve scanned it for you below:

But regardless of whatever is ultimately responsible for the timing and/or mainstreaming of men exposing their abs in the Korean media, I’m sure we can all agree that they are now here to stay (and there was much rejoicing). And in a sense, this was indirectly confirmed by SBS recently when it decided to ban female performers from exposing their navels and/or abs on its popular Inkigayo (인기가요) show, whereas male performers remain free to rip off their own shirts: the “recent development in the Korean media” that I referred to in the introduction.

Why is that ban more significant than the plethora of others however? And why is it not exceptional, but in fact genuinely reflects deeply ambivalent and dogmatic societal attitudes to—for want of a better term—women’s top halves? Alas, it was my original intention to jump straight into that second part here, but with this post already at 2000 words (and well overdue), then I’ll wisely defer those 1500 extra ones to a separate post later in the week.


Until then, a request, lest anyone feel I’ve been too critical of Rain here: does anybody know the name of a recent music video that features 2 young male singers vying for the affections of a woman, taking off their tops repeatedly (perhaps 10 times) and walking around half-naked for most of the video as they sing…before finally noticing that the woman has taken advantage of their distracted state by stealing their jeep?

Please do pass it on if you do, as I feel it actually much better epitomizes just “how cynical and commercially-driven the [ab-exposure] trend has become” than Rain does, and which even heterosexual women and gay men that see it will probably agree is a little excessive, let alone extremely lame. Moreover, while I don’t claim to have suddenly seen the light as a result, and can now completely empathize with women’s feelings about their own pervasive objectification in the media…I do think the eye-rolling, sense-of-exasperation, and literal gagging I experienced is at least a start towards doing so!^^

Update: With thanks to Katarina, the video is I was Able to Eat Well by 2AM’s Changmin & 8eight’s Lee Hyun:

Clearly, I exaggerated it in my memory. But understandably, as with them so so eager to shed their clothes together in the garage parking lot from roughly 0:59 for instance (for the sake of showing off their abs), that segment at least seriously resembles a gay porn video.

Probably actually objectifying the woman even more than the men though, then I take it all back: Rain’s performances do best epitomize the ab craze!

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

U.S. Guest Lecture, Boston November 12th

( Source )

Apologies for the slow posting recently, but I have a good excuse: at the invitation of Hyewon Kayla Cha, vice-president of the Korean Student’s Association, I’ll be giving a guest lecture on Korean gender issues at Wellesley College in Boston on Friday November 12th, and I’ve been organizing tickets!

It will be a very whirlwind trip unfortunately (Korean time I leave Thursday afternoon, and arrive back on Sunday evening), but I’m really looking forward to it, and it would be great to meet any US-based readers if you’re in the neighborhood.

Apologies in advance for my being a little distracted if we do meet though, as I haven’t actually been to the US since, well… 1987!^^

More details closer to the event.

Hyewon Kayla ChaHyewon Kayla Cha


p.s. Yes, Wellesley College is where Mona Lisa Smile was filmed in 2003.

p.p.s Can anyone recommend a way to book tickets from Korea for the flights from JFK to Logan International Airport? All done thanks!