Korean Gender Reader


To make these Korean Gender Reader posts more timely and readable for you, from now on I’ll be reducing the number of links in them from 5 to 10, which will allow me to put new posts up more often. I hope you all like the change, and, sure enough, the next KGR will be up on Tuesday evening!

1) Korean Men’s Group Demands Ban of Movie You’re my Pet (너는 펫)

As translated at Soompi:

The Korean Men’s Association has filed a petition for an injunction against the film, “You’re My Pet.”

The Korean Men’s Association posted a link on their homepage to a legal petition that will force “You’re My Pet” to cease from playing in theaters. They voiced that the film is degrading to men and the concept of a female “owner” and a male “dog” is sexist and inhumane. They also emphasize their point by asking how people would react if the role was reversed and it was a male owner and a female dog. They ended the note by saying that these kinds of concepts should not be treaded upon, even if it is for entertainment.

Read the rest there.

What do you think? Hat tip to @suzyinseoul and @john_F_power on Twitter for the story, and you can see here, here, here, and here for their own thoughts on it. Also, see here, here, here, and here for some discussion of the differences in the way the male and female actors are portrayed in the posters, which relates to some sexual overtones to the movie that are absent in the original manga.

2) In Korea, Pregnancy Can be a Career-killer

Which I’m sure readers are well aware of (see here if not), but it’s very different hearing it first hand. Make sure to read Groove Korea magazine here then (quickly jump to the last page), for an article by John Lincoln about how an excessive workload forced upon his pregnant wife likely caused their baby’s premature(?) birth, and also about the tactics her company used to effectively force her to resign thereafter.

Update – A much easier to read version is now available on the Groove Korea website here.


3) Slutwalk Korea Having an Impact on Korean Men?

Sure, technically they may not be related (and see here and here if you’ve never heard of Slutwalk), but regardless it’s still great to hear a Korean male celebrity saying that preventing rape is men’s responsibility. As BadMoonRise explains of the above image:

This really caught me as a surprise.

I was watching Strong Heart (a Korean variety talk show)

Dana was talking about her experience in almost being kidnapped as a middle schooler. At the end of the story, one of the other guests asked KHJ “How do you think someone(women) can prevent sexual predators?”

and he responds “Men need to get their act together (a long the lines of “Men need to think clearly” as in “Men need to stop”)”

With apologies, after 45 minutes I’ve been unable to find a clip of that scene itself, although I did find the one of Dana that preceded it:

Badmoonrise reports that the other guests laughed in response to Kim Hyun-joong’s (김현중) comment, which sounds disappointing and confusing: like many people have said, what’s funny about it? But to play Devil’s Advocate, that may more be just have been because of the style of the show, where laughter and overacting is pretty much constant (especially after something as serious as Dana’s story).

Hat tip to I’m No Picasso, and to everyone on Twitter who *ahem* told me who “KJH” was. Also, if anyone knows of any more Korean celebrities – male or female – speaking out against victim-blaming for rape, please let me know.

Update – See Thrive for a more exact translation of what KJH said.

4) “In South Korea, Plastic Surgery Comes Out of the Closet”

A good introductory article from the New York Times, although personally I’m a little skeptical of the claims it makes. While I’ll grant that HDTV and netizens’ sleuthing means that celebrities can no longer hide it, I’m still unaware of any Korean celebrities loudly and proudly admitting that they had any procedures done, at least beyond minimal ones like double-eyelid surgery (but please correct me if you do know of any). Also, the NYT makes a big omission in not mentioning that Korea is one of the only two countries in the OECD where it is legal to require photographs on resumes (the other is Japan), and indeed this leads me to believe that greater acceptance and acknowledgment of cosmetic surgery is probably much more of a bottom-up phenomenon than the NYT makes out.

Update – Make sure to see Johnnie and Angela for some examples of the ensuing numerous Before and After advertisements.

5) Taiwan Legalizes Prostitution

Which sounds great, but most Taiwanese women’s rights groups are opposed. Whether that’s because of genuine concerns with the specific legislation though, or because – like many Korean women’s groups – they have a blanket opposition to prostitution, I’m afraid I can’t say, but I’m sure it’s covered in this 25 minute documentary on it (please don’t be put off by the black screen below; it’s working):

I’ll update this post and let readers know later tonight, once I’ve had a chance to watch it myself!

Update – Fortunately, it’s more problems with the legislation than because of a blanket opposition. In brief, those problems include:

  • Prostitution is quite literally a mobile industry, and confining it to special zones ignores reality.
  • Brothels in Taiwan are actually quite spread out (often next to temples), and well integrated into their neighborhood economies. So zoning penalizes some and not others, and by no means just the prostitutes and pimps themselves.
  • Prostitutes and clients that give or receive sex services outside those zones will receive the same monetary fines. This not just ignores the huge income gap between them, but could be devastating for the prostitutes, who tend to be economically-disadvantaged.
  • Prostitutes themselves haven’t been consulted enough, and the legislation appears rushed.
  • While local governments will be charged with designating and running prostitution zones, all are opposed in a NIMBY sense (and echo the criticism that it’s rushed), and are widely considered much less capable and more vulnerable to corruption than the central government.
  • The legalization is not accompanied by an increase in welfare services and government resources available to deal with the side-effects of prostitution that would be brought to light (although that exposure would be a good thing in itself).
  • And finally, some groups worry that it would lead to an increase in trafficking and sex-tourism. But I’m a little doubtful of that myself, and indeed it’s also questioned by some people interviewed on the program, even though they’re still against the legislation as a whole.


28 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. I believe I read somewhere that several countries that legalized prostitution, such as Germany, have actually seen a rise in sex trafficking. The best model appears to be Sweden’s, where being a prostitute is legal, but being the client of a prostitute illegal. This provides protection to the women who would otherwise be targeted in police raids and would have no reason to give information about their johns or report abuse. Most sex traffickers have supposedly reported that they now completely avoid Sweden since the legislation was passed.

    Of course, I read this awhile ago, so don’t take my word for it, I could be getting some things wrong here. But it seems to be basic economics: supply (of prostitutes) does not create demand; it is the demand (of johns) creating the job opportunity of prostitution.


    1. Thanks for the information, and I’m happy to be corrected. Apologies for sounding a little naive though, but I’m a little confused at how it’s legal to be a prostitute in Sweden, but illegal to be a client? I can see how that helps in police raids and so on like you say, but it still sounds a little Kafkaesque to be allowed to sell something, but not to buy it.


      1. Well, think about it this way: what good does it do, exactly, to arrest a woman for being a prostitute? While she may be a willing sex worker, it is often the case that she is not, or has been coerced, or has few other opportunities to make money. Furthermore, it is patently ridiculous to arrest a woman for life to sell sex, so as soon as she leaves prison (or pays fines) she will likely go straight back to it if she has not been rehabilitated or provided education, for example. And even those who were clearly victims of organized crime from the first would find it difficult to go back to a normal life, if they ever had one. Social services are rarely given ungrudgingly to “criminals” and “whores.” At least not in the U.S., where I live.

        Now look at it from another angle: what is the goal here? To stop prostitution (whether you agree or not.) The Swedish model seems to be doing the best job. A major problem with others adopting it, however, is that many look at prostitution and sex work from the man’s (consumer’s, client’s, john’s) point of view, and not the other side, which is predominantly women and children. To specifically criminalize the client shifts the blame to those perpetuating the institution.

        (This is also in reply to John) I’m not sure how in depth you’ve gotten on feminist studies on prostitution and sex work, but it is amazing the kind of abuse women can suffer “because they are whores.” Men who buy sex more often are more likely to beat or rape their own girlfriends or wives, promoting the culture of gendered violence, and can get away with raping sex workers “because prostitutes can’t be raped.” Perhaps 80% of sex workers (judging by surveys) would leave the job if they could. Thus, social services may be the most significant part of Swedish law.

        I have a few other essays to write, so I don’t want to get too long-winded here. :)


    2. Just to back you up here, in my law school class this past couple of weeks we’ve been discussing laws against sexual harassment, prostitution and pornography, and the same information came up – legalizing prostitution seems to hurt more than it helps.

      John brings up a lot of good points. The truth is a lot of the law IS dogma, whether we like it or not: it’s the dogma of the lawmakers, or of the legislators that vote the laws in at the time. Also, it takes a while for law to catch up to society. That being said, a lot of feminist legal theorists would support a law against prostitution or against soliciting it because the way society is right now, women are disproportionately and often negatively affected by its prevalence and legalization. It may not make sense to make laws that protect or punish one group involved in an act and not another, but if it’s correcting an imbalance in society or protecting a vulnerable part of the population, I would think it a valid rule. Not the most satisfying solution, but it’s hard to construct a law that protects everyone in a sexual transaction, because so many things need to be taken into account: the sex of the parties, their gender/sexual orientation, the sexual culture they prescribe to, etc.

      (I’ve actually learned something in school! Yay me!)


  2. In Sweden, it is illegal to *buy* sex, not to sell it. This means the woman seller is always regarded as a victim — despite the fact she may indeed willingly sell sex — and the buyer is always a criminal, which is a rather ridiculous blanket provision to have. It is unjust, as far I am concerned, to criminalize one side of what may be a free transaction (Note I said “may be” I am not suggesting no women are in fact forced into it.)

    But feminist dogma in Sweden allows for no imagination of thought regarding the nuances and complexities of this topic.


  3. I finally have something to contribute! =oD At point #4 you asked if we knew of “any Korean celebrities loudly and proudly admitting that they had any procedures done,” and I do! Just one though: Hwang KwangHee of ZE:A.

    Given how shocked everyone is when he proclaims that he’s had his entire face redone, it seems he’s still at the front lines of the surgery revelation movement…


      1. I’m sorry! Here’s part 1/4 of the entire episode:

        See 2:14 for Kwanghee’s introduction and explanation (if this one works in your region)!


  4. I wouldn’t arrest women or men. I’d have it legalized. The Korean situation is a farce. Everyone knows it happens on every second street corner and yet it is “illegal”. Why not be honest with ourselves, and end this fiction that it is unacceptable?

    I am well acquainted with feminist thought (it is hard for anyone who has gone to college today not to be), which is precisely why I have so much of a problem with a lot of it. It’s rigid and sees the world through a certain lens. We don’t punish one side in a drug transaction or in any other illicit exchange; why is prostitution different? It is only different when dogma replaces common sense.

    I don’t doubt that some women are forced into it. There should be laws to protect such women and those who are abused. But the feminist notion that every prostitute is a victim of abuse and every buyer an abuser — and that is mainstream feminist thought in 2011 — doesn’t make any sense and, frankly, patronizes women. How does it make sense that even a wealthy, older woman with ample opportunity could be a victim at the hands of a younger, poorer man with few prospects who she has consensual sex with? Yes, that’s a slightly cartoonish example, but that’s the sort of situation that Swedish law treats the same as a women who genuinely has no choice.

    Here in Korea sex workers take to the streets in their thousands demanding to be left alone every time there is a crackdown on the industry. Why don’t we listen to them? This is not a poor country and yet so many women choose that life. Why is that according to feminists women can do whatever they want with their bodies, except that? Is that not the height of hypocrisy? What happens to women’s choice then?

    I am not naive. I would never wish for my daughter, if I had one, to work in the sex industry. But we shouldn’t make laws based on such emotive reasoning.

    By the way, the jury is very much out of how well the Swedish law has worked. Regardless, I find it hypocritical and completely unjust.


  5. In the same episode of Strong Heart Jessica from SNSD has a similar story:

    Of course leave it up to Boom & Eeteuk to be more concerned if she was with a guy and his celebrity status rather than her safety.


  6. As far as I know, both Ga-In and Narsha (and most recently, Miryo) of the Brown Eyed Girls admitted to having surgery – but they were vague in terms of what surgery they had actually gotten. BEG debuted as “faceless [얼굴이 없는] singers,” (which I suppose means that nobody really knew who they were or what they looked like) but according to Narsha and Ga-In, after getting surgery, they were invited to appear on more music and variety programs.

    Super Junior’s Kyuhyun recently revealed that he got double eyelid surgery, but a quick glance at his pre-surgery photos reveals that he most definitely did not stop there. And of course, as Heidi pointed out, ZE:A’s Kwanghee has become known as the “plastic surgery idol” for having had surgery on basically every part of his face. In the video, he claims that he was “lying down for a year,” which makes sense, given the amount of recovery time necessary for more invasive procedures. When Kang Ho-dong asks him why he’s chosen to confess, he says that it would have been difficult for him to make a living had he not done so. I guess that could be taken to mean that his past pictures make it so obvious that he’d gotten surgery that rather than wait to be exposed, he could just nip it in the bud and confess himself. Turns out, it was an incredibly smart move – he’s gotten a TON of press and is probably the most famous member of ZE:A. Actually, he’s the only member of ZE:A that I can identify by face, and it’s most definitely due to all of the stories that ran on allkpop and similar blogs about his surgery confession.

    And I’ve seen his past photo. Doesn’t look a thing like him.

    There are a number of celebrities that I’m waiting to see come out of the “plastic surgery closet,” as it were – Ok JuHyun and Seo In Young being at the top of that list. I wonder, though, what will happen if more celebrities admit that they’ve gotten surgery – seems like it would just further endorse the practice among young Koreans.


    1. Thank you, Dana! That’s a good summary; I thought he meant that he needed to get attention by confessing, since his singing and dancing skills lack.


      1. He does say that as well! The first thing he says is that it’d be hard for him to make a living without confessing, and he goes on to say that because his dancing and singing are lacking, he has to rely on his face! Mostly I provided my own interpretation of what factors I thought might have motivated him to confess – my guess is probably pressure from management. I mean, with some idols who’ve gotten surgery, you can at least tell that it’s THEM in the “before” pictures, but Kwanghee…that guy essentially morphed into someone else.


    2. BEG Ga-In never admits that she gets plastic surgery. She wanted it for her eyes but the doctor said that if she did surgery for her eyes, she would need to do surgery to change her whole face. She was scared, so she ended up didn’t do any surgery.

      For ZE:A Kwanghee, you also need to see his face before he puts his make-up. He is different before and after make-up. Before he puts his make-up, his new face looks somewhat similar with his old face. You might want to search youtube for it. He puts his own make-up.


  7. Err, looks like there are 2 women in the Pet Movie – showing women in that kind of demeaning way is not on.

    Oh, what, you say that’s a man? Difficult to tell I say…


  8. In number 4 you link to Johnnie and Angela for pictures of plastic surgery before and after ads. The first image on their post contains the phrase “난 베이글녀.” I mention it because it’s a term you’ve talked about before, most recently if I recall correctly when you were saying that female celebrities were trying to distance themselves from the term when it was applied to them. I don’t doubt what you claimed at all, but I do think it’s therefore interesting that advertisers would choose to use it in a cosmetic surgery ad. This imples to me that there are people out there who really want to be considered a “bagel girl” and see it as a positive thing.

    Also striking is the main concept of the ad. In big writing across the top it says “Mirror, mirror! Who’s the woman with the most beautiful breasts in the world? Check for yourself in the mirror.” Then underneath it has a mirror with a female outline on it and the torso of a model filled in, so that as you stand in front of it, you see your own face with the breasts of the model.

    Essentially, and in no uncertain terms, it’s outright saying “this is an image of perfect breasts. Yours are not perfect. But you could have these perfect breasts if you let us fix them for you.”

    It’s an interesting konsep, I suppose, but still a disgusting concept however I look at it.


  9. I’m not a new visitor but I couldn’t help but comment on this: a Korean male celebrity saying that preventing rape is men’s responsibility.

    That’s really new to me. That’s a breath of fresh of air. I mean, I’ve been a fan of kpop and because of that I got interested with the Korean Culture and I know, for a fact, that women are usually blamed for sexual crimes. You know, Koreans tend to think that women “you could have avoided it” under certain circumstances. It saddens me because there’s this obvious SEXISM and total disrespect for women. But now, I’m glad some KOREAN CELEBRITY recognized that it’s the men’s responsibility. Get their act together. I think a man wouldn’t find this hard to do if he’s the type of person who respects women.

    Thanks for posting this. And by the way, I’ve been following you blog and I really like a lot.


    1. I agree with you.

      There are obvious SEXISM in South Korea. They discriminate single mother, divorce women, and (to certain extent) women in general. Yet, the Korean Men’s Association submit the petition concerning a movie (see: no. 1 article). I find it unbelievable.

      Here a country who has so much pried and wants to be acknowledge by the world but can’t get their act together. Weird.


  10. Here’s a link to Jang Geun Seuk’s reaction to the men’s association’s petition against his movie:


    It’s translated but the original source is at the bottom. He sounds quite progressive, although to me there is a slight ick factor to him describing himself as a pet nevertheless (although I certainly think the men’s group is overreacting). What he’s talking about, and the movie itself, points to the glorification of the noona-younger man relationship in Korea, which seems to be treated with more sensitivity than it would be in the West (where we have tasteful post-feminist labels like ‘cougar,’ ugh).

    Also– I’m hoping the part about the dinner menu changing somehow got lost in translation because I have no idea what he means.


    1. The menu changing is just part of the story: when “Momo” (the human pet) is good, his “owner” makes him something special for dinner.


  11. “In South Korea, Plastic Surgery Comes Out of the Closet”

    While I’ll grant that HDTV and netizens’ sleuthing means that celebrities can no longer hide it, I’m still unaware of any Korean celebrities loudly and proudly admitting that they had any procedures done, at least beyond minimal ones like double-eyelid surgery (but please correct me if you do know of any).

    Link text ran a story on Shin Eun-kyung’s advertisements for chin reduction surgery. The guys at occidentalism have put up an enlarged photo of the before and after, it also looks like she has had some skin lightening if that is possible, or just makeup and lighting tricks.


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