Korean Gender Reader


1) 1 in 10 elderly have unsafe sex.

And for more on many elderly men’s reliance on prostitution, the Korean public’s attitudes to elderly sexuality, and depictions of that in popular culture, see here.

2) Gender inversion in K-pop.

Why do you find so many male groups imitating female ones, but never the other way round?

3) 50-year-old member of Japanese parliament and prominent reproduction-rights advocate gives birth.

As explained at The Wall Street Journal, that has prompted a lively debate on maternity issues there, as:

Despite Japan’s embrace of innovative medical technologies, egg donation is virtually banned, and the practice of using a surrogate mother is forbidden by the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, an official doctors organization. However, artificial reproduction using sperm donation is allowed.

In comparison, laws in Korea are probably much more liberal, as the notorious case of Hwang Woo-suk’s (황우석) faked stem-cell research illustrates.

4) Bus driver sentenced to jail for injuring a male student who molested a female passenger and then attacked a female escort on a school bus.

Like Brian in Jeollanamdo says, examples like this show why “don’t interfere” is an unfortunate necessity of living in Korea, and which is ultimately self-destructive for Korean society.

Fortunately though, the 2 year sentence was suspended, so the bus driver will not actually go to jail.


5) American film critic Roger Ebert thinks Korean groups don’t really understand all the Playboy references they’re using

To put it mildly, and it doesn’t help that the same-sounding Korean word (플레이보이) literally only means a guy who has many girlfriends.

In fairness though, I’ve heard that the Playbody bunny logo is popular across much of the rest of Asia, so this isn’t just a Korean thing. But still, I’ve been amazed at the numbers of women sporting the bunny ears on Korean TV recently, and was about to write a post about it myself before this came up.

6) Sex and Chinese Men

The latest in the “Ask the Yangxifu” series from Speaking of China, a blog by a Western woman with a Chinese husband.

7) The science of getting men to take off their shirts in Korean dramas


8) What is Confucianism?

Essential reading from Ask a Korean! for anyone wanting to understand Korean gender issues.

9) Casting couch still has huge role in Korean entertainment industry

As explained by John Glionna at The Los Angeles Times, nearly 2 years since the suicdie of Jang Ja-yeon (장자연) for being forced to prostitute herself by her managers, unfortunately:

…little has changed in the cutthroat “Korean Wave” of TV, film and music that each year draws thousands of young hopefuls ready to endure whatever it takes — including sexual abuse and exploitation — to make it big.

And in particular:

An April 2010 survey conducted by a human rights group here found that 60% of South Korean actresses polled said they had been pressured to have sex to further their careers. In interviews with 111 actresses and 240 aspiring actresses, one in five said they were “forced or requested” by their agents to provide sexual favors, nearly half said they were forced to drink with influential figures, and a third said they experienced unwanted physical contact or sexual harassment.

10) New girl-group “Piggy Dolls”  (피기돌스) debuts with Trend (트렌드)

And so unusual is it for members of girl groups to be anything but skinny, there has already been a lot written about his group. But for the basic details, then I’d recommend allkpop or Popseoul!, and then I’d suggest Seoulbeats for more commentary and analysis (and extra clips). Last but not least, I’d share Mellowyel’s critique of their marketing at Mixtapes and Liner Notes, and am happy to report that, as she hoped, the news report in it is indeed (sort of) about young girls feeling alienated because of their weight, and that the song as a whole is about them breaking stereotypes. See for yourself by clicking on the video above and accessing the subtitles over at Youtube.

Meanwhile, thanks to reader @izzysangtae for first passing the news of them on!


22 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. Thank goodness for that! Needless to say, I love these girls. Too bad the biggest girl gets less screen time/close-ups than the other girls. Now all we need, is another “My Name Is Kim Sam-Soon” drama ASAP.

    P.S. I might break up that post and give Piggy Dolls their own separate post, so I’ll post the link here when I do. Thanks for the mention!


    1. Am looking forward to it. Meanwhile though, they’re definitely one of those groups I’d like to like, if you know what I mean, but unfortunately their music just isn’t doing it for me.

      Having said that, I used to say the same about 2NE1 too, but am now addicted to yet another of their songs. So we’ll see…

      As always, God bless DJ Areia!^^


      1. Amen! :) I think Piggy Dolls’s music could be better, but the girls elevate it by their performance – they have a lot of confidence and stage presence, which goes a long, long way in getting their message out. That confidence and their much-better-than-average singing ability are the reasons why I like them.


        1. I agree with Mellowyel’s comment about the group’s performance and stage presence. Watching the video clip of their live performance won me over. I’m generally not a K-pop fan (I prefer the local indie artists), but I even found the song catchy.

          Very surprising to me to see them getting as much attention as they do. I do wish they chose a better name for their group, although it is an attention grabber. Time will tell how well they do in the mainstream, but maybe they will set a positive trend.


      2. p.s. did you notice the “Outback Steakhouse” endorsement on that Piggy Dolls poster? I don’t know what to make of it… do female celebrities often endorse food/restaurants?


        1. I didn’t, but yeah, (skinnier) female celebrities do indeed, so this particular case may have nothing to with the Piggy Girls’ weight.

          As it happens, at the moment it’s Daniel Henney endorsing Outback at seemingly every ad break, pretending to bond with my Dad’s neighbors in Perth. His latest one isn’t available on Youtube yet (try here instead), but here’s a few earlier ones to give you the gist:

          Didn’t mean to get side-tracked like that, but having actually been to Perth then every time I see the ads I keep thinking what the mundane reality of Daniel Henney turning up there and cooking *cough* authentic Aussie food would be…


  2. always read your blog but rarely comment–it’s one of my favorites. :)

    yeah, the playboy bunny thing is weird. i think they are aware (or at least, the producers/image-maker people) of what the playboy bunny symbolizes and use it to sell sex…just like in the u.s. it’s that whole “innocent but sexy” thing that is popular.

    since you’re doing a recap of the latest headlines, i was wondering you knew about thew whole faux-rape controversy on “secret garden.” (http://www.dramabeans.com/2010/12/secret-garden-episode-13) basically hyun bin forces ha ji won to stay in bed with him, without actually raping her. i read about it on dramabeans and it generated over 500 comments. anyway, i didn’t think much of the scene until after reading the comments, and i was wondering what you thought about it, since you have written considerably about consensual sex in korean society and the effect of the media.


    1. Thanks for compliment and the link. I do know about Secret Garden of course (I also subscribe to DramaBeans, but rarely have time to read it), but haven’t watched it yet, so thanks for heads-up. My wife is an addict, so I’ll ask her what she though of that scene later.

      Until then, people reading this might be surprised at the “yet”, as I’ve regularly mentioned how much I don’t like Korean dramas. But I was going to make an exception for this one, because I’ve always had a thing for Ha Ji-won with all the gender-bending I’m really really hoping it might provide some insight and/or be a semi-satire into Korean attitudes to gender roles and sexuality and so on. Much like this hilarious segment from My Wife is a Gangster was (조폭 마누라; 2001), the stereotypical gang leader having to suddenly learn how to be a “normal” Korean woman in order to snag a bachelor for a marriage of convenience (it’s especially good from about 2:15):

      Unfortunately that’s about the only part of the movie in which that is really explored, and the rest is pretty mediocre. Sigh.


      1. Very bizarre directing in that movie. You had this strange editing of a slapstick comedy leading into a very violent scene into a romantic comedy scene back into an action comedy. And, Good lord, they actually made two sequels including one that seems like it belongs in direct to DVD sequel land…

        As for the Piggy Dolls, there was Big Mama before them. Now Big Mama were some very talented vocalists had some subtle, very well done criticism of the industry in their songs and videos. They didn’t comment so much about their weight as they did about people’s expectations of what a singer is supposed to be. I always wondered if they were the inspiration for that 200 lbs Beauty movie. They seem to have slimmed down a bit in recent years though.

        Piggy Dolls just seems so to be a carefully crafted image to stand out in an industry of doll-like idols. Sort of like After School with less fierceness and sex appeal and more obesity and Outback Steakhouse. They seem to have some great stage presence and it’s very refreshing after the girl group onslaught of 2010.


  3. Autotune must die. It’s such a cheat, especially when, as in this case, the girls actually seem to have voices worth listening to.
    Also, those outfits. Geez, and the name. And yet . . .
    As problematic as it all is (I can’t imagine they’d be able to pull off a similar gimmick in America), I think it’s a fairly smart move on their part. As a non-typical group, playing up their differences, even in a kind of loathsome way, is really their only way to make a play for success. And while I think it’s unsophisiticated, so too is the Korean public discourse about weight. In America, for example, you have a multitude of approaches to the issue of weight. In Korea, it’s really simple: Skinny = attractive, fat = hideous. Throw in that the standards for “fat” are really, really out of whack, and I’m happy to have any kind of medium delivering the message that being “overweight” doesn’t mean you’re condmned to a life of misery (and unhealthy dieting).


  4. LA Times article is just depressing.

    Girl groups do quite often imitate boy bands, although the result is less striking/silly because guys donning skirts tends to get more attention.


    1. Agreed on both. But the first is still a good summary of the issues involved at least. And as for the gender-bending, my own impression is that there’s far far more boy bands imitating girl bands than vice-versa, although I’d be prepared to change my mind if anyone ever came up with numbers.


  5. The recent bunny ears fad probably has a lot to do with this being the year of the rabbit. A lot of k-pop stars including TOP were born in the year of the rabbit (1987). While I don’t think the use nor the re-imaging of the Playboy logo is original (on the album cover it looks like a hand showing ‘bunny ears’ which is the required hand pose in almost every Korean photo http://bit.ly/gZjdxh), I can understand why they would use a more “adult” version of the rabbit.

    I can’t imagine an animal more suited to Korea’s sexy but cute image of women/girls. A bunny is cute and adorable. But playboy bunnies and ski bunnies are globally recognized sexual stereotypes. While the article Brian links shows the lack of cultural history that Playboy might have amongst younger Koreans, I doubt GD and TOP and the rest of the K-pop music industry is unaware of it.


    1. I’ve seen the bunny ears and the playboy logo around Korea for a while, so I don’t think its main drive is the year of rabbit. I think a stronger source may be the recent rise of Japanese pop culture influence in Korea. I was in Japan 2 years ago and constantly saw school girls sporting the playboy logo on their socks. There could be a similar appeal for Korean and Japanese girls – an overt display of sexuality that their parents don’t recognise. Although, much like hot pants and garters as streetwear, I think neither group are fully aware of the connotations these symbols of sexuality hold for Westerners.


      1. It wasn’t unknown in Korea beforehand (and for what it’s worth, I think playboy IS the primary reference for G-Dragon and co.) but this year has definitely seen an increase in bunny marketing of all kinds.


  6. Just wanted to say thanks for including my website in your recent post!

    Actually, in reference to the Playboy Bunny comment in the post, it is very popular in China — there is actually a line of men’s clothing there called “Playboy,” and some of my Chinese friends had no idea that, to an American, the “Playboy” brand had an entirely different connotation.


  7. Some will know what playboy is and some won’t. I am even watching a Korean docu-drama where the main characters brother is reading playboy sneakily in his room.

    Here in the West, we have playboy on sports wear, pencil cases… anything and little kids I seen doning it don’t know what it means.


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