Korean Sociological Image #60: “Beautiful” Female Athletes

Noticed playing on the televisions on the KTX train, on my trip to Seoul on Wednesday.

Granted, technically it’s only one female athlete being described as a “beaut(iful) bird” (미녀새) here. And arguably that – or rather, beautiful soaring bird – is indeed an apt metaphor for any pole vaulter. Let alone Yelena Isinbayeva, “widely considered the greatest female pole-vaulter of all time”.

But still, can you imagine it actually being applied to a male pole vaulter? Or a male athlete of any sport ever, first and foremost, being described as “handsome”?

Definitely a gender binary to keep an eye on as the Daegu 2011 IAAF World Championships approach!

Update 1: Here’s a similar recent example from the US Yahoo! Sports website.

Update 2: @TheSocyCinema and @landrist discuss another example from Adidas.

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


Korean Gender Reader

(Sources: left, right)

On the left, a virile healthy reminder that men are also increasingly being objectified by the Korean media these days (via Kiss My Kimchi). On the right, that SM Entertainment were also clearly on drugs when they made those teaser images for Super Junior’s latest album…

Meanwhile, a minimalist Korean Gender Reader this time, which will have to be the norm from now on (I’m very busy this summer!). But on the plus side, they’ll also be much more frequent and up-to-date:

1) South Korea becomes the first Asian country to chemically castrate sex offenders

2) More Korean women are marrying younger men

3) Can bikini-clad foreign women at Cheonggyecheon be punished? Should they?

Update: See On Becoming a Good Korean (Feminist) Wife also

4) Do Asian women with white men suck?

Christine Han discusses reactions to her earlier post (see #5 here)

5) Korean HRC issues guidelines on sports and human rights

In reaction to scandals that emerged in 2008 regarding sexual assaults of student-athletes and professional athletes by their coaches

6) Dear K-pop: down with Playboy bunny ears! (See #1 here and #5 here also)

7) 3 Jeju teenagers arrested for prostitution

8) China’s most populous province launches a public criticism of the one-child policy

9) 2011: The Year of the Chinese Woman?

10) Piggy Dolls “piggy” no more? (See #10 here for some background)



FINALLY, a Way to Study Korean Through Dramas!


If you’re a Western student of Korean, then probably you’ve experienced the same dilemma I have: you’d like to watch dramas to improve your listening ability and get a handle on everyday language, but are put off by their excessive melodrama, cliches, and often poor quality. Which is not to say that all of them are bad of course, but when you do find one you like, then you can struggle in vain to find Korean subtitles to them. For Korean torrent sites naturally don’t bother to provide them, and Koreans’ rampant illegal downloading means that it’s extremely difficult to find DVDs of Korean dramas (if they even exist).

So, either you have to watch dramas with distracting English subtitles, or struggle to understand the stories with none at all. If only there were some alternate way to study the dialogue in advance, or read it as you go along. Sure, Dramabeans’ detailed synopses of each episode of most dramas are very helpful for the gist, but I think I speak for most when I say we’re really after something more akin to transcripts…

Enter “드라마사진만화”, or “드라마영상만화”: a little like manhwa books, but with photo stills from the drama, rather than hand-drawn pictures. Please see Shanna’s post about them at Hangkukdrama and Korean here for more information, and which so impressed me that I immediately ordered some for Secret Garden. And you can just imagine how I felt when I read that she’s had some for over 3 years, when this is the first I’ve ever heard of them!

Does anybody else already used them? What did you think?

Sexual Assault on Subway Caught on Camera

Here’s my translation of a brief report from Sunday’s 8 News. Unfortunately, SBS is pretty strict about copyright, so I can’t risk uploading the video to Youtube. But it’s readily available at the original link:

애인인 취한 20 여인 옆에 앉아 성추행 /  Drunk man sits next to drunk 20-something, pretends to be lovers, sexually assaults her


지하철에서 옆자리에 잠든 20대 여성을 마치 자신의 여자친구인 양 쓰다듬으며 성추행하던 남성이 붙잡혔습니다. 카메라에 그 모습이 담겼는데요, 정경윤 기자가 보도합니다.

A man has been arrested [in Seoul] for sexually assaulting a 20-something woman sitting next to him on the subway, pretending she was his girlfriend. This scene was recorded on camera. Jeong Gyeong-yoon reports.

Jeong Gyeong-yoon:

지난 20일 새벽, 지하철 전동차에 50대 남자와 20대 여자가 나란히 앉아 있습니다. 여자는 잠들어 있고 옆에 앉은 남자는 마치 연인처럼 행동합니다 10여 분간 껴안고 쓰다듬는 등 신체 접촉을 계속합니다. 하지만 이 남자의 행동을 수상하게 여긴 한 시민에 의해 성추행은 발각됐습니다.

In the early hours of Wednesday the 2oth, a man in his 50s and a women in her 20s were sitting side by side on a subway train. While she was sleeping, the man acted as if they were lovers for about 10 minutes, embracing and caressing her, and continuously touching her body. But this looked a little suspicious to another passenger, through whom this sexual assault was exposed.

[라 모 씨/목격자 : 나이 차이가 많이 나 보이고 수상해서 계속 보는데, 여자를 깨워서 이 남자분 아시냐고 했더니 모른다는 거예요. 바로 남자 멱살을 잡고 끌고 나왔죠.]

(Anonymous) Recorder of video: Because the difference in their ages was so great, it looked a little suspicious to me, so I kept an eye on them.  When the woman woke up, I asked if she knew him, and when she replied that she didn’t, I immediately grabbed him by the throat and dragged him off the train.

남자는 현행범으로 경찰에 붙잡혔지만, 술에 취해 기억이 나지 않는다며 혐의를 부인했습니다.

지난 5월에는 심야에 20대 여성이 성추행을 당한 뒤 도망쳤지만 주변 도움을 받지 못해 또 다시 폭행당하는 사건도 있었습니다. 지하철 성범죄 가운데 심야 시간대 발생 비율은 4.1%. 하지만 취객이 많고 주위 도움을 받을 수 없는 경우가 많아 여성들이 느끼는 불안감은 더 큽니다.

The man was arrested by police, but because he was drunk he didn’t remember it, and denied doing it.

In May, there was also a case of a woman who also sexually assaulted [James – presumably on the subway] at about midnight, but when she escaped she was unable to get any help, and so got sexually assaulted again. And the reported cases of women being sexually assaulted on the subway in the late evening have increased 4.1% [James – compared to last year?]. With so many drunk people [men?], and so many cases of no help being available, then women are increasingly anxious.

[장소영/서울 천호동 : 술주정 하시는 분들도 많고, 그런 분들이 다른 여성들한테 해코지 하는 것도 많이 봐서…]

Jang So-yeong, Seoul (Cheon-ho dong) resident: There are many drunk people [men?] around, I’ve seen them treat women badly many times…

늦은 시각 지하철 성범죄가 잇따르자 서울시가 19년 만에 여성전용칸을 부활하겠다는 방침을 밝혔지만, 반응은 신통치 않습니다.

Because there was a succession of sexual crimes on the subway 19 years ago, then back then a special women-only carriage was provided. This idea is being revived, but public reaction has been negative.

[지하철 역무원 : 취약 시간대 별 효과 거두지 못할 것 같아요. 여성 전용칸만 보고 지키는 사람이 없잖아요.]

Subway Worker: I don’t think it will be effective at those late hours when women are most vulnerable. It’s not as if labeling a carriage women only will dissuade people who set out to assault women.

지하철 성범죄는 갈수록 늘고 있지만, 대책은 아직도 미흡합니다.

Day by day, sex crimes on the subway are increasing, but there’s still no satisfactory policy to deal with them.

(영상취재 : 홍종수, 영상편집 : 박선수) 정경윤 rousily@sbs.co.kr / Data Collection: Hong Jong-soo, Editing, Compilation: Park Seon-su. Written by Jeong Gyeong-yoon (end).

Unfortunately that report raises many more questions than answers, but still: kudos to the guy who didn’t just record the scene but actually did something about it as well. And thanks to reader Mallory for passing the report on.

For anyone further interested, see Global Voices here for much more on the Korean public reaction’s to the planned women-only subway cars (update: the Marmot’s Hole also has a post on it), or The Three Wise Monkeys here for some context on the recent increase in sexual crimes in Seoul specifically (including some mention of subways). Or, for more on sexual harassment and sexual assault in general, see my posts in that category, especially this one on groping.

(p.s. If anyone’s curious, some text on the screen said that the incident happened on Line 5)


Newsflash: Korean Idol NOT Starving Herself!

It’s said that the fashion industry has favored skinnier and skinnier female models over the years because it’s dominated by gay men, right?

But since when are all, or even most gay men attracted to such androgynous figures? In reality, their tastes are just as diverse as heterosexuals’, and you don’t need my own experience of living with gay prostitutes to know that. Or that one’s sexuality doesn’t preclude an aesthetic appreciation of healthy curves either.

On the other hand, it’s also true that there’s a price to be paid for challenging the waiflike norms for models in the fashion industry, the corollary of which would be that it attracts people who share those norms. But how did those norms arise in the first place? And again: why the trend towards thin?

Taking for granted a symbiotic relationship between fashion and consumerism, then a better explanation for both is the constant financial imperative of related cosmetics, clothing, and dieting companies to create false needs in the minds of consumers, all the better to sell new products to them that (supposedly) help them fulfill those needs.


I concede that that may sound simplistic, even conspiratorial. But take the classic Korean example of the “X-line” for instance: a body-shape completely impossible outside of Photoshop, but which creators Amore-Pacific will sell products to help you attain nevertheless, aided by articles like this from the Korea Times that cheerfully reported that the X-line was hugely popular among young Korean women.

Despite the only “evidence” for that coming from Amore-Pacific itself.

Also, the thinner models are, then all the more dieting products and services that are needed to reach their weights. Which is not to say that Korean consumers are any more or less likely to follow anonymous models’ examples than you or I are, but when 65-75 % of Korean advertisements feature celebrities, with a demonstrable influence on media narratives about body ideals, then the potential is certainly there.

(Sources: left, right)

Enter Girls’ Generation, who have 12001500 calorie a day diets despite one member being 9kg underweight, and probably Yuri on the left above too (Brave Girls‘ Seo Ah’s pictures on the right speak for themselves). Or T-ara’s Hyomin being anorexic and weak, yet repeatedly showing off her body to endorse a swimming resort. Or actor Jeong Ryeo-won endorsing Giordano while looking like this. And so on.

Are these women both personification and culmination of the trends mentioned above? It’s certainly tempting to think so (and just between you and me, I do). But it’s also true that while Girl’s Generation, for instance, have indeed endorsed beauty products, even going so far as to prominently display one in a music video, they’ve also endorsed pizzas and fried chicken. So if there is a relationship between those celebrities’ weights and consumerism, in Korea it’s clouded by management companies relying heavily on endorsements – any endorsements – to make profits.

In the meantime, Korean women are already the slimmest in the developed world, to the extent that 1 in 5 are undernourished, and fully half of teenage girls are too anemic and malnourished to donate blood. If you’ll forgive the pun, such exacting standards for women don’t magically appear out of thin air.

Nor are they often challenged, let alone by celebrities themselves.

Which is why it was so exceptional last week for Uee of After School to not only reveal that she was eating enough, but to also pass on the common-sense that:

Many people starve themselves when they are on a diet, but that doesn’t help. You have to eat well in order to lose weight more easily.


Seriously, I’m at a loss to recall anyone else in K-pop making such a, well, revolutionary statement(!), so I’ll certainly forgive her complicity in the objectification of her body by the media (it does go with the job after all). Korean speakers, see roughly 4:30 of this Youtube video to hear her for yourself, or the Dailymotion video if you find that unavailable in Korea for copyright reasons (I’ve saved it for posterity).

And on that note, hopefully you can appreciate why I felt some context was necessary before passing on the news (UEE EATS FOOD! READ ALL ABOUT IT!). But is she indeed the first celebrity to speak out like that? Or can any readers think of any others? By all means, please prove me wrong!

Update 1 – While she’s not quite as well-known, I forgot about the example set by Koyote’s Shin-ji last year (see #7 here).

Update 2 – With thanks to xtristessa for passing it on, R&B singer Hwayobi recently confessed to having suffered from bulimia.

Update 3 – And to Seri, for mentioning Hwang Jung-eum. She’s not exactly my favorite celebrity, as she’s endorsed Sketcher’s completely useless  “Shape-ups”, but I suppose that’s no worse than UEE reveling in the attention given to her “honey thighs”.

Update 4 – YG Entertainment’s exclusive trainer, Hwang Sung Chan, briefly discusses Park Bom’s diet here. While it’s good that he mentions how the media often distorts information about celebrities’ diets, widely reporting that she only ate watermelon rather than a lot of watermelon for instance, unfortunately he doesn’t give any details about what she does eat.

Should the Sexualization of Teens in K-Pop be Banned?

(15 year-old f(x) band member Sulli {최설리} in February 2010 Oh! Boy Magazine; source)

In short, “yes, but…”(!), as I explain in this opinion piece I recently penned for the Korea Herald. It’s pretty faithful to the original, for which I’m grateful, but unfortunately two crucial sentences on boy-bands got edited out at the beginning of paragraph 4. It should read:

This is why this discussion is overwhelmingly about girls. However, owners of boy-bands too have been affected by the ensuing pressure to make them stand out from their competitors. Add in Korea’s notoriously high levels of illegal downloading, ensuring that profits in the Korean music industry are overwhelmingly from concerts and commercial endorsements (and which explains why 75% of Korean commercials feature celebrities), then courting controversy with ever more provocative performances is a no-brainer really.

Still, only 800 words long even with those inserted, at best the article only gives an introduction to some of the issues involved really. For any interested new readers and old readers that haven’t already then, please read my post Reading the Lolita Effect in Korea, Part 2: The role of K-pop and the Korean media in sexual socialization and the formation of body image for a much more comprehensive discussion of those, and for the many caveats I would have liked to have added to the generalizations in the article!^^

What did Depraved Oppas do to Girls’ Generation? Part 3


This translation of part of this Korean article follows directly from Part 1 and Part 2. If you haven’t already, please read those first, as the author didn’t intend for any section to be a stand-alone post:

‘비정규직 세대’의 이중착취 / The Double-Exploitation of the “Irregular Generation”

아이돌 바람을 일으킨 기획사 대표들에게는 몇 가지 공통점이 있다. 스스로 연예계에서 활동하며 발을 넓힌, 중장년층의 남자들이라는 것이다. 이들은 경제위기 이전에 사회에 진출해 상당한 부를 축적한 기성세대면서도, ‘비정규직 세대’와 취향을 공유할 수 있을 만큼 젊은 경우가 대부분이다.

The representatives of management companies that gave rise to the idol boom have many points in common. First, they are middle-aged men who developed their careers within the entertainment world by themselves, before the Asian Financial Crisis. Also, while they are an old generation with accumulated wealth, most are still young enough to share the tastes of the “irregular generation”.

다시 말해, 아이돌 기획자들은 무력한 남성들의 욕망을 이해할 만큼 젊고 영악한 ‘동료 남자’들인 동시에, 이 수요를 가공해 상품으로 내놓을 수 있을 만한 돈과 연줄을 지닌 사람들이다. 반면에 대다수 젊은 세대가 지닌 건 욕망과 (아르바이트로 모았을) ‘미니앨범’을 겨우 살 주머니 푼돈뿐이다.

In other words, management company representatives are young and shrewd enough to understand powerless men’s tastes, and have the money and connections to produce manufactured goods (idols) on demand. On the other hand, the thing which most of the young generation have is desire, but only enough pocket money (or money gained from part-time jobs) to buy mini-albums.

한국의 현재 청소년들은 꿈을 꿀 수 없는 불우한 세대다. 유치원 시절부터 학교, 학원, 과외로 이어지는 가혹한 경쟁체제 속에서 고통 받지만, 이들에게 준비된 미래는 없다. 소수의 ‘좋은’ 대학을 갈 경쟁력은 돈으로 길러지고, 운 좋게 입학 기회를 얻는다 해도 돈 없이는 학교에 다닐 수도 없고, 살인적인 ‘스펙’ 경쟁도 불가능하다. 졸업생을 기다리고 있는 것은 차별, 실업, 비정규직으로 이어지는 잔인한 현실이다.

Korean teenagers now are an generation of misfortune, which can’t have dreams. From when they’re in kindergarten, to attending school, hagwons, and receiving private tutoring, they suffer greatly from the competitive system into which they’re placed, yet despite that have no future to prepare for. They can use money to increase their chances of getting into one of the very few “good” universities, but even if they [are indeed] lucky enough to gain a place to one they may be unable to afford the fees, and [besides which] it would still be impossible to get killer “specs” [James – a good background]. Graduating students now face a merciless reality in which they have nothing but discrimination, unemployment, and/or irregular, unstable work to look forward to.


아이돌 그룹은 이 가엾은 세대에게 두 가지 의미의 ‘위안’을 준다. 하나는 암울한 현실을 잠시 잊을 수 있는 오락이고, 다른 하나는 ‘나도 아이돌이 될 수 있다’는 꿈이다. 하지만 이 ‘위안’은 기획사가 비정규직 세대를 피라미드형 착취구조로 이끄는 미끼에 지나지 않는다. 젊은 세대는 아이돌 음악을 사는 소비자인 동시에, 오디션에 참여해 ‘아이돌 예비군’인 연습생 자리를 채워주는 ‘인력풀’이다.

Idol groups give comfort to this hapless generation in two ways. One, is through giving some pleasure that allows them to forget their miserable reality for a moment, why the other is through fostering the belief that they too can become idols. But this “comfort” is nothing but bait for a pyramidal exploitation structure of them. [As] while the young generation purchase music as consumers, at the same time they also audition to become a labor pool of “idol reserves”.

이들은 기획사에 수익과 인력을 댈 뿐 아니라, 열광과 환호로 아이돌에게 매력적인 지위도 부여한다. 결국 ‘아이돌의 꿈’을 구성하는 부, 인기, 명성은 모두 비정규직 세대 자신들이 공급하는 것이다. 하지만 꿈의 주인공이 되는 것은 오직 기획사를 통해서만 가능하다.

While these idol reserves represent profit and a labor pool to the management companies however, to them themselves they are given an attractive position through widespread public adulation and passion for them. In the end, everything that an idols’ dreams are composed of – wealth, popularity, fame – are things that they provide for themselves. But although they are the central character in their dreams, these are still only possible through management companies.


Caption:  걸그룹 기획사가 가장 중요하게 여기는 것은 의도된 노출에 적합하고 손쉽게 대체될 수 있는 획일화된 신체다.

Image Caption: [When it comes to idols], The most important thing for management companies to consider are standardized bodies suitable for skin exposure and easily replaced (end).

James – My apologies in advance for any mistakes in the translation, which I admit that I (and then my long-suffering wife) struggled with much more than I did the first two parts. Much of my confusion though, stemmed from – to my mind – Kang’s abrupt shift here from talking about the “irregular generation” in the first half of the article (i.e. the target audience of girl groups), to the “young generation” that the girl-group members belong(ed) to in the second half. However, it does serve as a good introduction to Part 4’s discussion of their exploitation with the Korean music industry, which you can find here.