Korean Sociological Image #59: Childcare is (Still) Women’s Job!


Do crosswalk lights with only male-shaped figures really discriminative against females? That’s a hard sell on any occasion, let alone when it would cost 21 million dollars to replace them all with both male and female ones instead, and so netizens have rightfully “responded with merciless mockery” to the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s plan. As has the cartoonist Ju Ho-min too, whose humorous extension of the city’s logic needs no translation!

Instead, a much better candidate for signs to replace would be these ubiquitous reminders that it’s only women that should look after children:

Women do look after children of course, and so technically signs like these aren’t discriminatory in themselves. But as this photo and those below make clear, they’re not just not countered by equal numbers of signs showing men taking care of children, but in fact female figures are only used when a child is also involved:

Lest I sound like I’m singling Korea out for criticism however, note that such images are almost universal, and indeed the above ones look almost exactly the same as those in Dublin airport. Moreover, once you move away from signs to language instead, then, possibly following overseas examples, actually discriminatory English slogans are sometimes chosen rather than making Korean ones, such as with airline Asiana’s “Happy Mom Services”. Or alternatively, consider the 부산국제임신출산육아박람회 that I learned about today, which would simply be “The Busan International Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Childcare Exposition” in English, but which somehow got translated as “The 9th Busan Mom & Baby Fair” instead:

As it’s not just for moms and babies if you can read the Korean though, then accordingly there are many fathers and would-be fathers featured on the website, and actually I was one of them myself back in either 2005 or 2006 before my first daughter was born. I don’t recommend going though, as I recall finding some of the services being promoted there – stillbirth insurance for example – just a little cold and off-putting!

Finally, for some Korean takes on subway signs that I managed to find, see here and here. Unfortunately, they’re a little old (2004 and 2006 respectively), which suggests that no-one’s really thought about them in a while. But on the plus side, the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s misguided plans have at least brought national attention to the issue of (potential) sexual discrimination in signs, so now may well be the best opportunity ever to suggest that something be done about them. Ideally, by using the money earmarked to change the crosswalk ones to change the subway ones instead.

If anybody knows how to go about contacting them, then that would be much appreciated!

Update: On Becoming a Good Feminist Wife has more commentary on the planned new crosswalk signs here.

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


10 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #59: Childcare is (Still) Women’s Job!

  1. I was teaching my elementary school 4th graders today, and the chapter we were doing is about jobs, using the sentences “he’s a…” and “she’s a…” Wow. Now, I have to be honest, I strongly dislike the textbooks we have to use, but I do appreciate the fact that the writers and illustrators at least try and use people of different races to try and break down some stereotypes. But this chapter has some incredible sexism in it, and, dependin on how far you want to take these things, might also have missed a trick with its depictions of different races.

    The first example is “she’s a nurse.” Of course. And we see a pretty white woman comforting a distressed blonde girl. As an aside, when I asked one group what we would say instead of “she’s a nurse” if it was a man, one lad came out with (I suppose predictably) “he’s a doctor.” 뎅. In a different class when I asked the same question, which was met with silence (the typical response), I instructed. “If it’s a man, we say “he’s a nurse.” One little girl, bless her, broke the general silence in the room to shout out “NO!” She seemed a little embarrassed when her classmates just repeated what I’d said. But again, imagine the situation as it unfolds. “If it’s a man, we say ‘he’s a nurse.'” “No.”

    Of course, immediately afte ris the doctor, who of course is a white man.

    Other things I learnt from the textbook today: singers/dancers are black, cooks are women, and possibly Egyptian/Arab sterotypes speak fluent American English. If you teach the same thing, you’ll know what I mean.

    At the end of the class we played a game where one student had to sneak a peak at a card with a picture of a profession at a random and a game of charades would ensue. I played this with 5 different classes. The picture of a man representing a nurse (each profession had a male picture and a female picture) came up numerous times. And yet, 80% of all students, regardless of their own gender, thought that the male nurse was a doctor. Again, on these cards both the 2 nurses (m & f) and 2 doctors were white.

    I just thought it was so sad that the producers of this textbook missed such a great opportunity to break some stereotypes and gender roles. In a section discussing jobs and also teacher the difference between “she” and “he”, the first examples they gave are “she’s a nurse” and “he’s a doctor.”


    1. Thanks for passing those on, and the designers of them certainly had the right idea, although honestly a couple looked a little scary! And the ones with facial hair probably wouldn’t be very appropriate for Korea: very few Korean men have beards like that Freud-like figure at the top-left, and even fewer have moustaches like the guy at the bottom right(?).


  2. and even fewer have moustaches like the guy at the bottom right

    One of my douchebag friends (Korean) does. Almost to a hair.

    If you see him around Busan, let me know. ;-)


  3. I think they just should get rid of the sign with the dress. Women wear so much more often slacks than skirts/dresses. That sign just gets on my nerves…
    I would rather use those 21 million dollars in other things more necessary to ease discrimination than on changing signs that people don’t pay much attention to.


    1. Yeah, just getting rid of the dress would be fine too.

      As explained in the post and comments though, I think the signs do have a big subconscious effect on people even if they don’t explicitly pay attention to them, so although I think spending the money on crosswalk signs is indeed misguided it couldn’t harm to put the money towards a implementing a policy of using new, gender-neutral childcare signs as old ones get replaced.


  4. There is a drama airing in Korea right now that attempts to subvert this ideology. It’s called Manny, where a single mother asks that a nanny (male) to take after her kids while she works. I haven’t watched it though but it might be of interest to you and your topic. =).


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