Korean Gender Reader

(Slightly risque, slightly awkward, and very badly photoshopped poster for upcoming movie You’re My Pet. See Dramabeans and Seoulbeats for more details)

1) Women 3 times more likely to be sexually-assaulted in Korea than in the US?

From The Washington Times, as part of an article on plans to revive women-only subway cars in Seoul:

In South Korea, women are more often victims of sexual assault than their counterparts in the United States. Reports from the Ministry of Gender and Family show that in 2008, the latest year data were available, 5.1 of every 1,000 adult women in South Korea were the victims of rape or attempted rape.

In the U.S. in 2007, also the most recent year data were available, that number is 1.8 per 1,000 females.

While that’s just one source, and needs to consider possible different definitions of “sexual assault” and methods of data collection used, it is at least based on official statistics. If the comparison holds true, then this news shatters widely-held perceptions that Korea is much the safer country in this regard.

Meanwhile, see the comments here for an extensive earlier discussion on merits and demerits of women-only subway cars; #2 here for more on increasing sexual assault rates in Seoul; here for more on new groups of “sheriffs” set up to patrol Seoul subways; here for more on a new smartphone app that makes it very quick and easy to alert police when being harassed (and has already been successfully used); here for which Seoul subway station has seen the most sexual assaults; and finally here for some context, on how bad groping is in Korea.

Update – The Hankyoreh is also reporting high sexual harassment rates for irregular workers.

2) Teens involved in 1 in 10 cases of prostitution

Being such a short report from Yonhap though, let me quote it in full here:

Minors have accounted for one out of 10 prostitution cases, police said Tuesday, prompting calls for proper measures to discipline and protect youth.

According to the data collected by the National Police Agency, 1,184 adolescents aged 13-19 were caught for buying or selling sex in the first seven months of this year, accounting for 9.7 percent of the total of 12,212 offenders.

3) How to hit on an Asian girl How not to harass an Asian-American woman

As Sociological Images explains (and later taken up by Jezebel), this is a video made:

…at Sweet.Sour.Satire [to] highlight the specific kinds of comments Asian American women often face from strangers and even acquaintances. These experiences, both on the street and on dates, represent the intersection of generic sexism and the stereotype of the submissive, hyper-feminized Asian woman, plus…

Read the rest there.

4) Blog recommendation: Quibbling Jottings

With thanks to Diana Sung (a.k.a Going Places) for passing it on, let me heartily recommend Jeanny Lee’s blog. A Korean-American woman from LA that does visual effects for films (but in Korea at the moment), I particularly liked her long analysis of a recent Economist article on Asian women’s increasing rejection of marriage (which I’d overlooked because of this slightly shorter, teaser version of the article that I commented on), and especially her take on “Korean Vanity”. To wit:

What…can one do, when one is fast approaching 30 with no sign of improvement in one’s skin?

Turns out, one spends money. Korean women use time and money to get their skin to be better than it really is, and I was rather taken aback by the sheer amount of products and propaganda that bombards me from all angles.

Advertising is pervasive, especially in such a wired country, to the point that I have a hard time remembering that when I was back home, I wasn’t too perturbed about my skin’s condition. Here in Korea, there are commercials, billboards, and constant reminders that YOUR SKIN IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

Read the rest here.


(Also on the subject of recommendations, the British F-Word Blog has a list of good feminist podcasts available here, albeit none of which are Korea or even Asia-related sorry)

5) Getting an abortion in Seoul: a foreigner’s story

See here for some very detailed and useful information, with contact details for a friendly, non-judgmental, English-speaking abortion-provider in Seoul (via: Hot Yellow Fellows).

6) Quick links on gender inequality in Korea:

Fostering female CEOs (The Korea Herald editorial)

Gender inequality remains prevalent in Korean workplaces (The Korea Herald)

For women, a nearly impervious glass ceiling at major corporations (The Hankyoreh)

Glass ceiling remains in S.Korea’s firms (Yonhap)

Korean women struggle to break glass ceiling (Korea JoongAng Daily)

Thanks very much to John Power of The Korea Herald for passing this one on to me, who pointed out that unlike The Hankyoreh article above (and I’d add most others), this article at least mentioned the important fact that the lack of women in top management positions in turn means that women do not aspire to them. In short, things are not entirely companies’ fault.

Korean paternity leave to be extended from three to five days (Arirang)

Employment rate for women in their 50s at highest in decades (The Hankyoreh)

Korean women use invention to jump over gender gap (Yohhap)

Japan’s sexist labour market: hit the road (The Economist, for the sake of comparison)

(Source: unknown)

7) Yet another K-pop idol has a dramatic weight loss

Seoulbeats discusses Ji-young of Kara’s recent weight loss in the context of the extraordinary pressures on Korean female stars to be (dangerously) skinny.

Also, see Allkpop for a rare (male) vocalist who spurns cosmetic surgery despite his eyes being the butt of many jokes; The Marmot’s Hole on how people that once bought brand items to fit in the crowd are now buying them to stand out instead; and Sociological Images on how most cosmetic surgery patients in the US undergo procedures because they felt ugly or strange, but which I don’t think is quite as important a consideration for Koreans as aiding in job interviews etc. is (for reasons like these).

8) On being a female teacher in the Korean English classroom

From bitter personal experience, there are many factors that render an ESL career in Korea ultimately unfulfilling, unrewarding, and frustrating. But unlike female teachers, at least I don’t have to be constantly cute and/or use aegyo to gain some respect from students, if indeed “respect” is the right term for it!

9) A round-up of stuff from the rest of Northeast Asia:

Gender, obentos, and the state in Japan

Durex overcomes Taiwanese youths’ reluctance to talk about sex by building an old-school fortune booth to distribute condoms and warnings about unsafe sex (see video above)

China is losing the war against porn, according to sex scholar Katrien Jacobs

Chinese Law Could Make Divorced Women Homeless

– The Puffy Shoes: NOT your average Japanese girl-group

Complex attitudes to breastfeeding in China

10) Sticking it to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF)

The Ministry does do a lot of good work on very limited resources (only 0.12% of the government total), but in addition to criminalizing abortion in order to increase the birth rate, at the moment it’s best known in Korea for banning pop songs every other week for being “harmful to youth”, but usually for completely inane, contradictory, and arbitrary reasons (and in one recent case, 3 years after the song had been released!). Very much speaking for their entire generation then, Phantom, a new project trio under Brand New Music, has released a stunning medley arrangement of songs banned by MOGEF in response:

As explained at AllKPop:

Members Hanhae, Sanchez, and Kiggen (HybRefine) delivered a song titled “19 Song (Love Songs That Teens Cannot Listen To)”, which contains lyrics by popular banned songs like TVXQ‘s “Mirotic“, DJ DOC‘s “I’m This Kind of Person“, Vibe’s “I’m Always Drinking“, GD&TOP‘s “Knock Out” and “Don’t Go Home“, 10cm‘s “Americano“, and 2PM‘s “Hands Up“.

At the end, they rewrote the lyrics of “Americano” to say, “Elementary, junior high, and high school students, don’t listen to this!”  To further emphasize their jab at the MOGEF, the staff brought in students with their eyes and ears covered for the video.

Finally, apologies in advance, but work commitments mean that next week’s song translation may have to go up on Tuesday or Wednesday rather than Monday. Sorry!


Your Only One! Dongju!

(Source: Busan Focus, 08.09.2011, p. 19)

Sure, the copy may not be the best. But, vaguely reminding me of Noddy characters from my childhood, I just loved the – ahem – little workers in this recent ad for Dongju College in Busan. My daughters too, who are busy gluing them onto paper and drawing houses and cars around them as I type this!^^


Korean Sociological Image #63: Childcare No Longer Only Women’s Job!

As any father can confirm, parenting is a grueling business. So much so, that it makes our testosterone levels drop like a stone for instance, a rather ironic outcome for the ultimate proof of ones’ virility. Also, not only do we gain weight by being too tired to exercise or eat properly after the birth, as you’d expect, but actually we gain weight even before it too, all the better to prepare for the rigors of carrying our offspring on our backs for the next few years.

Granted, that latter research actually comes from a few monkey species, rather than men per se. And reported weight gain in men may be due to a change of lifestyle rather than expectant fathers being biologically wired for it. But still, with serious concerns about future back problems from having to carrying my daughters in my right arm so much over the last few years (they cried if I put them in the left), then my money’s on it applying to humans too.

Why then, are our daily lives still saturated with images of only women caring after children while traveling on public transport and in public spaces?

In hindsight, this is just bizarre. Surely I’m not just projecting when I say that, as the stronger, taller, and faster parent, it usually makes much more sense for me to keep an eye on my hyperactive kids as they try to run literally everywhere, while my wife watches over our bags? And whereas I’m increasingly struggling to carry them as they get older, she’s already just about reached her limits with our five year-old (in more ways then one!).

Which makes these humble pictures such a breath of fresh air. They may not look like much, especially at their low resolution here (my wife is still figuring out her new smartphone – sorry), but they are actually the first example of an image of a male rather than a female caregiver that I’ve ever seen in a subway – well, anywhere –  in Korea. Taken in Daegu on my recent trip there, based on my impromptu survey over 2 weekends then I’d say a good 30-40% of signs for escalators had men rather than women (and in malls etc. also).

Can any Daegu-based readers confirm my estimate? Have any other readers seen any more with elsewhere in Korea? Either way, kudos to the Daegu Council and/or subway company for making an effort to ensure a mix of genders, and – to any readers not yet convinced – please see here for more on why this is genuinely such a big deal.

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

Golden Lady (골든레이디) by Lim Jeong-hee (임정희): Lyrics, Translation, and Explanation

Unlike From Noona With Love, the more K-pop idols I listen to, the more I find that can’t actually sing(!). But still, we can definitely agree on the abilities of Lim Jeong-hee (임정희), and I’m really glad I found out about her via Noona’s post.

As the lyrics reveal, I’m a Golden Lady is a short but sweet grrrl power piece, about a woman splitting up with her boyfriend and kicking him out of  her apartment. Yet while the music video does follow this narrative at first, then I think undermines it by singer G.NA (지나) all too readily accepting comedian Park Hwi-soon (박휘순) back whenever he brings her gifts later, even if she does literally beat him up immediately afterwards for trying to kiss her, hug her, or stroke her hair. Indeed, as that affection would surely be natural for a reconciled couple that used to share a bed, then, however comic, G.NA appears not so much empowered as a bit of a user.

But with such a beautiful voice, especially those nasal twangs in the chorus (see about 1:14 for instance), then I’ll more than forgive Jeong-hee for the MV. Liking her voice so much though, then you’d think I would have realized sooner that it’s not actually her that does the rap section from 2:29 to 2:49, but rather another (much more famous) Korean singer. See if you guess who, before all is revealed down the page…

Update – Also check out this version with an orchestra, to hear Jeong-hee’s voice away from the recording studio:

너 없이 어떻게 살아가냐고 바보 같은 질문 말아

나는 알아 너 같은 남자는 널려 있단걸

너 같은 남자가 아니더라도 전화 한 통에 달려올

그런 남자 나만 기다리는 남자는 많아

벌써 그 사람의 자동차 소리가 들려

이젠 내 집에서 좀 나가주겠니

아예 없던것처럼

Stop asking stupid questions, like how can I live without you

I know so many men like you

No matter how much they’d be like you, with just one phone call I’d have so many men chasing after me, only waiting for me

I can already hear the sound of his [their?] car

Now, why don’t you leave my home?

Take everything, as if you were never here

(Sources, all remaining screenshots: 1, 2)

Just focusing on those few things which I personally had difficulty with, although I’d be quite happy to explain anything more if anyone requests (and grateful to readers for pointing out any mistakes), the first is the “~날려 있다” in line 2.  With no relationship with the numerous meanings of the verb “날리다”, and not being in any grammar books of mine, I would never have guessed that it meant “lots of [something]” without the help of my wife.

Other than that, the only other thing I briefly struggled with was the verb ending “~겠니” in line 6, which means “aren’t you going to [verb] for me?”. I’d forgotten that – ahem – I’d already covered that in my translation of After School’s Ah! last June.

Next, it’s the chorus:

Hey I’m a golden lady 구차하게 왜 이래

내 내 내 내가 말로 해야만 알겠니

Hey I’m a golden lady 불쌍한 My baby

빼 빼 빼 이젠 발을 빼줘야 할 때야

야~ 이 집도 내가 산 거야 이 차도 내가 산거야

난 이런 여자 야~ 날 위해 살아온거야 그래서 소중한거야

Hey I’m a golden lady, why are you begging like this?

I, I, I…can you only understand if I have to say it?

Hey, I’m a golden lady, my poor, pitiful baby

Go, go, go…Hey, it’s time for you to step out for me

I bought this house too, and this car

Hey, I’m that kind of woman, I have been living for myself, so they’re valuable to me

In lines 1 and 3, both “구차하다” and “불쌍하다” translate as “poor, pitiful, wretched, humiliating” (and so on) according to my dictionary, but my wife says that it’s only the former that more means humiliating and pathetic, and the latter used for someone or thing you should feel sorry for.

열쇠는 놓고가 항상 놔두던 현관 입구 바구니에

안보이게 괜히 숨겨 갈 생각 하지 말고

니 옷은 챙겨줘 남기지 말고 내가 선물한 옷들도

그냥 줄게 남김 없이 싹 다 가지고 가줘

걸리적 거리니까 옆으로 비켜주겠니

이젠 현관에서 퇴장해 주겠니

아예 없던것처럼

Put your keys in the basket in the porch that you always put keys in

Don’t even think about hiding them

Take your clothes, even the ones I bought for you

I don’t want anything to remain, just take everything

You’re in the way, move!

Now, leave from the porch

As if you were never here

In line 5, “걸리적 거리다” is sort of slang for “you’re in way”, again courtesy of my wife.

Next, there’s a short version of the chorus, then the rap section. If you’re reading as you listen, scroll down very slowly if you want to guess who’s singing it before reaching the end:

Hey I’m a golden lady 구차하게 왜 이래

내 내 내 내가 말로 해야만 알겠니

Hey I’m a golden lady 불쌍한 My baby

빼 빼 빼 이젠 발을 빼줘야 할 때야

Hey I’m a golden lady, why are you begging like this?

I, I, I…can you only understand if I have to say it?

Hey, I’m a golden lady, my poor, pitiful baby

Go, go, go…Hey, it’s time for you to step out for me

불쌍한척 애교 좀 떨지마

지루한 너의 유먼 이젠 내겐 철 지난

옷과 같애 몇번을 또 말해야만

알아 듣고 내 앞에서 꺼지겠어? 이젠 안돼

나지막히 얘기할 때 나를 떠나줘

마지막이 아름답게 말을 말아 더

지긋지긋한 너의 어리광

차비라도 달라고 나 참 어이가 없어 Good bye

Don’t do that pretending-to-be-poor aegyo

Your tedious humor is now like last season’s clothes

Do I have to tell you time and time again?

Figure it out…will you get the hell away from in front of me? No more!

Now I’m telling you in a serious voice to leave me

To not ruin this end, say no more

I’m tired of your childishness

You’re even asking for a bus fare? I’ve had it with you! Goodbye!


With apologies to Korean learners, I didn’t have any troubles at all with that section, although I’m sure I’ll come to rue those words as soon as better speakers than I get their teeth stuck into it!

As for the source of the rap, if you’d guessed HyunA (현아) of 4Minute (포미닛) then I’m impressed, as I had no idea until halfway through writing this post, when I stumbled across it by accident on some Kpop site…then belatedly noticed it mentioned in the title of the YouTube video I was originally using.

After that, it’s the full version of the chorus again, and already that’s the entire song. Like I said, short and sweet:

Hey I’m a golden lady 구차하게 왜 이래

내 내 내 내가 말로 해야만 알겠니

Hey I’m a golden lady 불쌍한 My baby

빼 빼 빼 이젠 발을 빼줘야 할 때야

야~ 이 집도 내가 산 거야 이 차도 내가 산거야

난 이런 여자 야~ 날 위해 살아온거야 그래서 소중한거야

Hey I’m a golden lady, why are you begging like this?

I, I, I…can you only understand if I have to say it?

Hey, I’m a golden lady, my poor, pitiful baby

Go, go, go…Hey, it’s time for you to step out for me

I bought this house too, and this car

Hey, I’m that kind of woman, I have been living for myself, so they’re valuable to me

Originally, I aimed to do much more background research on Jeong-hee before posting here (one of many resolutions made over my short blogging break), in her case checking out her other music videos to see if any more of her music features similar grrrl power themes. But as just this one example illustrates, music videos can often give a very misleading impression of a song’s lyrics, so unfortunately that project is going to require many more time-consuming translations,  rather than a lazy afternoon spent in front of Youtube. Until those are completed then, I’ll happily defer to readers’ greater knowledge of her (and/or recommendations on which of her other songs to start with), and will begin posting readers’ requests for other songs that I’ve been working on. Rather than putting some readers off in advance by choosing next week’s one myself though, please let me know which of those you’d like instead!^^

Update, 5pm Friday – Unfortunately, PollDaddy doesn’t give you a 5-day option for closing your poll (the closest is a week), but now is when I really need to start working on your selection for it to be ready for Monday. Thanks for you votes then, and Syndrome by Chocolat it is!

(For more Korean song translations, please see here)