Korean Gender Reader

(Sources: Top, Bottom)

1) Professionalism in K-pop: A Double Standard?

For those of you unaware of the latest storm in a K-pop teacup, Yoona (임유나) and Taeyeon (김태연) of Girls’ Generation (소녀시대) were heavily criticized by netizens last week for appearing tired and bored in an American MTV interview. But while that may well have been “unprofessional” of them though, Chloe of Seoulbeats points out that women tend to be called out on it much more than men, with the rudeness and unprofessionalism of Heechul (김희철) of Super Junior (슈퍼쥬니어) in particular usually simply dismissed as good harmless fun instead.

2) Why the Huge Disparity in Korean Rape Sentences?

I’ve never read Stars and Stripes before, naturally assuming it to be a little partisan. But if the following article is any guide, I’ve been misjudging it:

From a distance, it appears a travesty of justice has occurred.

In hearings held just 12 days apart in the same courtroom, the same three-judge Uijeongbu District Court panel sentenced a Korean man in his 20s to 3.5 years in prison for the rape of a U.S. soldier in her late teens, and sentenced a U.S. soldier in his 20s to 10 years in prison for the rape of a Korean girl in her late teens.

The disparity in prison terms prompted a flurry of emails and Internet message board posts suggesting that the soldier-rapist was unfairly punished for his crimes and that the Korean man who raped the female service member was given a relatively light sentence because the Korean judges were biased toward their countrymen or against the U.S. military.

But a closer look at the situation reveals that while some believe publicity surrounding the soldier’s rape of the Korean teenager might have played a role in the disparity, there were a number of other factors that could explain why one rapist was sentenced to almost three times as much prison time.

Read the rest here.

3) What to make of IBM Korea’s Pro-LGBT Ad?

At first, it sounded great:

IN LATE September, the South Korean arm of IBM, an American computing multinational, put out an advertisement soliciting applicants for a round of job vacancies. The text was standard fare in every aspect except one: sexual minorities—gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people—were to be given “extra points” in the screening process, according to Asia Kyeongjae, a South Korean financial newspaper.

Such a policy might raise eyebrows in many places….

But later:

IBM Korea thus looked to be at the cutting edge of South Korean social change. However, the firm is now backtracking and has changed the wording of its original advertisement. Public-relations staff say there was a misunderstanding and that the firm simply wants to offer equal opportunities to all.

Read the rest at the Economist. Whether because of a genuine mistake or negative publicity though, I think IBM Korea’s retraction will have done it no favors with more liberal Koreans.

See Asian Correspondent also for, sadly, parents and teachers’ opposition to The Seoul Office of Education’s attempts to safeguard gay students’ rights, and here for a good historical guide to Korean LGBT issues up to 2009 (source, above).

4) The “Good Girls Marry Doctors” Project

In its own words:

Many times, Asian parents in the diaspora have a sharpened sense of what family or society in the “home” country might expect of them. Even if they left Asia decades ago, the older community rules by which they grew up is what is replicated as a model of behavior for their daughters, even if things in the “home” country have changed quite a bit with the times. Most importantly, it is made clear to women in particular that they are the bearers of their culture, and that if they fail to impart tradition to the next generation, they will have failed in their duties. The stress this creates often leads to these girls loving and feeling totally loyal to their parents, but also feeling like their parents don’t necessarily understand them.

Read the rest at the F-Word Blog. But just to be clear though, the project is NOT about “backward” Asia-bashing:

…this project’s goal is not to chastise culture for limiting women’s choices, but rather we hope [it] will give strategies and ideas of how girls can find new ways of finding their own path while still being able to honor our cultural background.

(Not technically related to the above story sorry, but this book I stumbled across while looking for an accompanying image does look quite interesting!)

5) Ultrasound Images Posted Without Parents’ Knowledge

Which is more concerning than it probably sounds:

The images, which can be used to determine a child’s sex and check for abnormalities, were found to have been posted on a web page where anyone with a membership could see them.

MediNBiz, which began ultrasound imaging of fetuses in 2003, is the top-ranked company in its industry, with partnerships with some 300 hospitals, or more than 70% of birthing hospitals nationwide. An examination of its SayBebe website (saybebe.com) by the Hankyoreh found that 2.82 million fetus ultrasound images for 400 thousand members were posted on the site as of Nov. 2, with the mother’s name, the birth date, and the hospital where the child was born. The images were available for viewing by anyone with a membership.

Read the rest at the Hankyoreh. On the plus side, all images were immediately made private as a result of the newspaper’s investigation.


Finally, it behooves me to mention that today is “Bra Day” (브라데이) in South Korea, on which men are encouraged to buy lingerie for their girlfriends and/or or wives. See the helpful graphic above for an explanation of why November the 8th was chosen for it, and especially Brian in Jeollanamdo’s post for more on this and similar fabricated Korean consumer holidays.

Update – For any single readers traveling to Shanghai this week, don’t forget that the 11th is “Bachelor Day” there! (via: @AdamMinter)

23 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. Actually there really wasn’t that much netizen displeasure over Yoona and Taeyeon’s lack of professionalism. Most netizens were just worried about the health of the two girls. Allkpop (who translated the original article) has since deleted it. Although I think you have an interesting point, I don’t think this particular article really has anything to do with Korean netizens.


    1. Thanks for the update, and that’s good to hear. My reason for including the story was more about directing people to the post about double-standards at Seoulbeats than anything else though, so I’ll leave it as it is, although I take your point about the SNSD interview not being a very good example of it in hindsight.


  2. Speaking of rude Super Junior members and SNSD – here’s a great example of the media’s pigeonholing (automatically starts at 41:47 in):

    “hey all male fans, scream”
    “aren’t they mostly girls?”
    “just do it”


    1. It’s cool how you get the video to start from that point.

      And wow, what’s all that about? Clearly no men there at all. SNSD clearly didn’t want to dismiss their female fans, and yet the DJs (??) did. Hmmm, curious and curiouser.


  3. Bra day!? Somehow having a feeling that would fail miserably, but still entertaining!:)

    May I make a contribution? You might have heard already, but there was an uproar over a professor’s opinion article on Hankyoreh Hook.


    Although it’s difficult to follow his logic, basically what he appears to be saying is that towering brand sales signify the corrupt nature of Korean society, women who carry brand bags are prostitutes, therefore we must frown and jeer at them to discourage such immoral habits.

    Of course, the fact that Hook columnists are paid for their contributions, that their articles are exposed in the main page of the Hankyoreh website, and yet the Hankyoreh Hook administrator denying any connection and responsibility considering the gatekeeping process (especially considering Hankyoreh is supposed to be one of the relatively progressive newspapers in South Korea) only fanned the flames. By all means, an opinion article certainly can disagree with the paper it’s being published in, as long as its logic is based on a certain amount of fairness and rationale. Unfortunately the article seems…questionable at best, and at worst sounds like a drunken old man’s bigoted ramblings. Hilarious, though.


    1. Thanks for the link. I don’t really have anything to add about the contents of the professor’s opinion article though sorry, except to highly recommend you and/or other interested readers read this and this post by Gord Sellar for more discussion of the dwenjangnyeo (된장녀) that he’s criticizing. As for the Hankyoreh’s responsibilities about what appears inside it, I have even less to say I’m afraid, other than I agree with you completely!


  4. Woooooooooow. I went to the Seoulbeats link at #1 and was blown away by the fervour behind the comments! Profanity, libel, posts starting with “Personally, I don’t care, but here’s an essay proving I really do…”

    Murder. Abuse. Vandalism. Theft. Now there are some things for which there’s no excuse. Succumbing to the natural effects of jet-lag and overwork for a few unguarded moments? Not such a big deal.

    As for the double standard applied to the men and women of KPop? Agreed. What do you think of the assertion that this arises from the fact that the majority of fans are female?


      1. Ah, sorry. I was referring to something Chloe said in her article: “I think due to the fact that many Kpop fans are mainly female, the judgement of female idols tend to be harsher than that of male idols.”


  5. AS efeu stated, there wasn’t much displeasure from the kpop community about the MTV interview. Almost everything I read was over interested fans worried about the health of their stars. Most of the articles I read were always quick to blame SM and give the girls a pass because of their hard schedule.


  6. I’m surprised Chloe W at seoulbeats didn’t mention the T-ara controversy from last month:

    Possibly a better example of the scrutiny female idols get for acting unprofessionally since they made no excuses about being sick.

    I’m sure idols have to do lots of boring stuff and unfortunately part of their job is to look alert at all times. It must be difficult.


  7. I found a report on the JoongAng Ilbo’s website about parents and teachers’ opposition to The Seoul Office of Education’s efforts to protect gay students’ rights, and it’s interesting to me that they were clearly trying to make it seem as though the teachers and parents were on the right side of the debate by citing comments from various individuals that represented those groups, and only those groups. Of course, the “points” there were all about how homosexuality is a result of the sexual confusion of adolesence, and how this sort of legislation might lead to homosexual “thoughts”, as though being gay were a contagious disease. Being in the northeast corner of the U.S., it’s like an attitude from another era, the sort of thing that would be quaint if it wasn’t harmful.

    What I thought was interesting is that, granted though it may be a product of South Korea’s socially-conservative media, this is the English language version of the press, which is to say it’s intended for non-Koreans. Are the Korean press really so ignorant of the growing consensus on the acceptance of homosexuality in the rest of the developed world?



    1. Some of the ignorance in Korea really is mindblowing. And in the mainstream opinion as well. From the article:

      “In addition to allowing protests, allowing homosexuality in school is too progressive,” said Park Beon-deok, chairman of the Association for Seoul School Principals and principal of Eon-nam High School. He fears the clause will “lead straight students to have other thoughts and encourage homosexuality.”

      No mention of the fact that this is complete bullshit, that it’s entirely false and misleading, and that this is supposed to come from an educated person, who is themself an educator and is responsible for the welfare of children under their protection. It’s a school principal for crying out loud! And not only that, but the chairman of the association of school principals in the most multicultural, cosmopolitan and supposedly modern and forward-thinking city in the country.

      And he’s allowed to say something like this. In a newspaper. Without being questioned or criticised. And so we could perhaps assume that his opinion is representative of a significantly large group of people in society.

      As I said, I just am unable to comprehend this level of ignorance in this situation.


      1. Frankly, if it’s just ignorance, it’s not so bad. That can be fixed easily in someone with an open mind (though that’s probably not the case here); it’s outright homophobia that’s a real challenge. I hope I’m right in thinking that the problem of acceptance of gays in Korea, more broadly, is _just_ one of ignorance. Fingers crossed super tight. I guess there’s always Itaewon….


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