Korean Gender Reader

(Source: unknown)

1) Street harassment and respect in Korea

After a terrible Korean New Year’s, It’s Daejeon, darling! wrote the following:

I am tired of feeling so fucking vulnerable in Korea. I am tired of inappropriate bosses and groups of drunk guys who yell awful things in the street. I am tired of guys who think No means Maybe! or Just keep trying! I’m tired of fighting with men about wearing condoms. I’m tired of the fucking cat-and-mouse game where even if they do wear one, you have the exhausting task of making sure they keep it on. I’m tired of men who don’t respect my personal space and try shit with me that they would never attempt with a Korean women. I’m tired of taxi drivers who hit on me and give me their business card, men who leer and intimidate me. I’m tired of feeling like there’s a significant group of people out there who don’t view me as an equal, and it’s because I’m foreign. I’m tired of people expecting that I should be fucking pleased by the “attention”. I’m tired of the people who pass this shit off as a “cultural difference”. I am tired of feeling so fucking vulnerable in Korea.

See here for a follow-up on the condoms issue, and here for more on groping and street harassment in Korea.

Update: a recent survey of 1500 men and women by the Korea Transport Institute and the Korean Women’s Development Institute found that “about 26 percent of the women said they experienced sexual harassment on buses and 21 percent on the subway, compared to 2.3 percent and 2.4 percent of men respectively”.

2) Hot sweaty Korean women

In his review of E. Taylor Atkins’ Primitive Selves: Koreana in the Japanese Colonial Gaze, 1910-1945 for the Japan Times, Gord Sellar noted that:

One of the things that grabbed me, while reading this book, was how much of the stuff Westerners in Korea complain about, that Japanese were complaining about back in the colonial era.

An example of this is clothing. Japanese anthropologists especially liked to complain about Koreans’ clothing, which if you will think back to the early 20th century was quite different from what most people wear today–it was mostly white ramie fiber clothing. Because it was all-white, it tended to get dirty quite easily, and as a result, according to those Japanese anthropologists…Koreans, especially women, tended to avoid any kind of exercise or physical activity as it presented the risk of dirtying their white clothing

And which reminded him of comments made by many expats including myself, that Korean women don’t tend to exercise very hard in gyms here. Granted, a lot can change in 100 years of course, but still: modern Korean attitudes to exercise may have deeper roots than we think (Source above: Gord Sellar).

3) Japan custody heartache for foreign fathers

From the BBC :

In Japan, the courts normally give custody to one parent after a marriage breakdown and it is up to that parent if they let the other parent have any access.

Many separating couples come to amicable agreements, but it is not unusual for one parent to be cut out of their children’s lives forever.

And the article gives the example of one foreign father who, as things stand, will effectively never see his children again, and the numbers of similar cases are growing with the rising number of marriages to foreigners.

But without any other evidence though, then observers should resist the temptation to assume that custody rulings are automatically made in favor of the Japanese parent. And although there is definite pressure for change, note that the system does have some logic, being based on “the expectation that families should largely work things out for themselves”, rather than “the state enforcing agreements on access and child-support payments” (source, right: BBC).

Does anybody have more information on how foreign parents usually fare, and/or know what the Korean system is like? And speaking of the latter, now 1 in 10 Korean marriages are with foreigners.

4) Cambodian wife cuts off husband’s member in Sunchang, Jeollabuk-do.

Yes, I think this will be the most clicked link this week too.


5) “Kiss Rooms” raided because of their…advertising

As reported by Asian Correspondant:

Police have begun a harsh crackdown on “kiss rooms” and other varieties of prostitution that until now existed under legal loopholes.

The Ilsan Police Station in Gyeonggi-do announced on January 20 that it conducted a two-day crackdown on the 17th and 18th against kiss rooms and internet prostitution in Ilsan New City, and arrested without detention 32 people, including 38-year old “B”, the owner of a kiss room, on charges of [their advertising] violating the law on the protection of teenagers (청소년보호법).

As hinted at there, this seems to be very arbitrary use of the law, as it’s difficult to so much as step out of one’s apartment in Korea without coming across numerous advertisements for brothels. Or, indeed, peacefully sitting by the river in beautiful Jinju in September 2003, enjoying your last morning there before moving to Busan later that afternoon…only to be suddenly presented with this business card by a passing local:

6) South Korea: online haven for gays

When Suh Eun-pil was being harassed at school last year because of rumors he was gay, the internet was one of the few places he felt safe. One website in particular, called Rateen, provided a haven from critical eyes and verbal abuse.

Suh began visiting Rateen regularly, and six months later his life had completely changed — for the better.

On a recent Friday afternoon, Suh, 18, was surrounded by friends, everyone chatting and laughing. The small group of friends — all whom met through Rateen — was planning a social event for gay and lesbian teens, with games, prizes and special speakers…

Read the rest at globalpost.

7) Seo-hyeon (서현) of Girls’ Generation (소녀시대) revealed to be 9kg underweight

But this is no great surprise given the group’s 1500 calories a day dietary regime of course, and belies claims by their gym instructor that “otherwise they love snacks and eat well.”

Later, netizens worked out her exact weight to be 51kg (source, right).

8) The perils of trusting oppa

A hotshot young app developer, a great idea, and technology that lets you know where your loved ones are. What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, as it turns out.

9) Korean dermatologists assume that unmarried women don’t have sex

More insights gained the hard way by It’s Daejeon, darling!:

The doctor…put me on Accutane. Hella cheaper than the states but the health oversight is SHITTY. Accutane carries a lot of serious health risks and I researched quite a bit on my own because the derm didn’t tell me dick about it. All he asked was, “Are you married?” No. “Then no problem. You can take this.” I’m guessing that question was to assess if there was any reason to warn me about the dangers of getting pregnant while on the drug. The US has the iPledge program, Korea has the ‘Let’s believe that unmarried women are practicing abstinence, so there’s no reason to discuss this and that’s that thankyouverymuch’ program.

For the record, she does mention that this may just be her dermatologist, but she’d probably agree – and have the experiences to back-up – that such attitudes exist throughout the Korean medical establishment. But note that this frequently doesn’t apply to foreign women though, whom hospital staff often assume that their visit is simply because they want the morning-after pill, and it can take a lot to convince them otherwise (see here and here as to why).


10) The Piggy Dolls (피기돌스) finally explain their name, and why they don’t think it’s degrading

If this is the first you’ve heard of them though, first see #10 here and #8 here on why there’s such an interest in them.


14 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. I now have 5 or so other tabs open. Lots of interesting links up! And as for sexual harassment in public transport…. it really makes me mad to the point of wanting to actually harass men under the banner of “equality.” But I guess that’s bordering psycho and is not good at all haha. Pardon my burst of anger.


  2. Re: no 9

    During a routine check-up at the Gyno (something most Korean women don’t do as every other woman in the waiting room, about 10, was pregnant) my long time fiancée and soon to be wife had to lie on the application form to say that she was married so the doctor would’ve know she had had sex. Despite this the doctor still asked “are you married?” instead of “have you had sex?” when questioning her to skirt the question. Gynaecological doctors can’t be upfront about sex and assume only married people have sex, so it’s no wonder dermatologists are like that too. Also the gynaecologist recommended the best time to have sex assuming that 1. women don’t know about their own cycles and 2. all newly married couples want to have babies ASAP. I’m just glad I’m not female and have to deal with these type of doctors. It would be interesting to hear other horror stories of Gyno visits in Korea, I’m guessing there would be lots.


    1. That reminds of an experience my wife had back when we first dating, when she had to go to a gynecologist because, well, a condom broke and she had to have bits of it taken out of her. Afterwards, he asked her lots of detailed questions about me, wanting to know my name, job, age, nationality and so on, which my wife, then being quite young and naive and this being Korea when you don’t question authority figures, duly answered. Obviously it was neither any of his business nor at all relevant, but more to the point I’ve never really understood why he asked…perhaps he planned to assist the police in finding me if I did a runner if she became pregnant, or get them to reprimand me or something if a string of women came in with similar complaints after rough sex with me?? Seriously, the mind boggles…


    2. Oh, I’m fairly sure gynocologists know that unmarried women have sex. I’m sure most Koreans know, even if they don’t admit it. But social stigma is such that “married” is often just code for sexually active. It’s also why many OBGYN’s pair up with dermatologists in their clinics – not only will the combined clinic do better financially, it gives cover to women who need gynecological services but are reluctant to be seen there. Korean women and clinicians understand this code pretty well, I think, even though the gynocologist is probably right in assuming that women who visit have fairly little knowledge about sex, menstruation, etc. I’m assuming your presence at the gyno also affected the nature of the interaction.
      My experience with gynecologists is that they’re adopting these codes because it makes their clients comfortable. My interactions with them have by and large been very straightforward. My most horrific experience didn’t come from a gynecologist at all, but rather from a nurse at a major clinic with all specialties, who decided that since I was a foreigner I would certainly not object to her asking me flat out if I’d had sex . . . as we stood in the middle of the waiting room. In front of a group of men waiting for their testicular cancer screening.


      1. Good points as always GG. Not that IDD’s doctor was necessarily using the cultural codes you describe of course (I’m sure some Korean doctors do indeed still have the antiquated attitudes describe), but the possibility that he or she was is a definite possibility, and is something expats should bear in mind next time they make a visit.


  3. As always, a wonderful collection of articles… but I can’t seem to find the link to the Piggy Dolls article at the very end. Forgotten? Or is this one of those it’s-right-in-front-of-me-yet-I-still-can’t-see-it instances?


  4. So I’m guessing my experience was unique in that I was asked straight-up about sexual activity when I visited my school clinic? But then again, that was a university clinic funded by the government, so maybe they’re less likely to be conservative.


    1. Hopefully, although more likely the “Are you married?” code as Gomushin Girl describes above would be just too difficult to pull off with so many patients being undergraduate students.


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