Pondering questions about excessive photoshopping in ads for a radio interview I’ll be doing next week, yesterday I would have said that Koreans are so accepting, even welcoming of it, that unfortunately little surprises me anymore.
Then I saw the alien that has replaced Lee Da-hae (이다해) on Charm Soju’s (참소주) website…
Update – Thanks to Paul Kerry for drawing my attention to these further examples, also available on the website:
Paul at least has seen them in a restaurant (example here), and Lee Da-hae’s endorsement deal also produced a lot of Korean news reports and blog entries back in September, so they’re certainly out there. Unfortunately though, I’ve been searching in vain for any mention of the Photoshopping in them. As they say, the silence is deafening!
Probably everybody reading knows a Korean person who married someone just one or two months after meeting them. Of the three women I know that did, all enrolled the services of a professional matchmaking marriage agency like Duo (듀오) above to find them, two just the week after they split up with their heartbroken long-term boyfriends.
Needless to say, that sits uncomfortably with modern Western notions of romance and marriage. Yet despite most readers’ distaste, not all such pairings are doomed to loveless failure, and indeed all three of those women I know seem perfectly happy with their new spouses. But what compels such hasty arrangements?
Also, a confession and a question: the third woman I mentioned was actually a very close Korean friend of mine, but I was so surprised and disappointed with her for getting an arranged marriage that I didn’t try to keep in touch when she moved to a new city afterwards (although we both became much too busy with our respective families anyway). Do you think I was too judgmental? Have any other readers also had their intelligent, confident, ambitious female friends suddenly surprise them with an arranged marriage like that? Did you stay friends afterwards, despite that “traditional” Korean elephant in the room? Please let me know!
2) Korean Gay Community Warns of Assaults on Twitter
According to reports on Twitter there seems to be a group of men in Jongro assaulting gay men at night. See Asian Correspondent for more information.
3) Koreans’ Teeth and Cosmetic Infantilization
Five times a week, I’m greeted with the above advertisement for my workplace as I leave the subway. It may sound a little harsh of me, but every time I see it, I can’t help but ponder why the advertisers didn’t choose a model with nicer teeth (rest assured they look much worse when they’re the size of your palm!).
Possibly, it was felt that a using a “real” person would be more appealing to potential students than an obvious professional model. But on the other hand, good teeth aren’t really a requirement even for Korean celebrities either, as this post by Johnelle at Seoulbeats makes clear. In it, she speculates that good affordable orthodontic treatments weren’t really an option for the current generation of 20 and 30-something celebrities, and/or that they didn’t correct them once the option to do so did become available because crooked teeth are a good sign of being a fabled “natural beauty”, in particular of not having undergone jaw surgery to obtain a V-line.
Without disputing those at all though, the news that some Japanese women are deliberately making their teeth look crooked (known as yaeba) suggests a third, strongly gendered possibility. As explained by Sociological Images (source, right):
Michelle Phan, who blogged about the trend, explained:
It’s not like here, where perfect, straight, picket-fence teeth are considered beautiful. In Japan, in fact, crooked teeth are actually endearing, and it shows that a girl is not perfect. And, in a way, men find that more approachable than someone who is too overly perfect.
Communication Studies professor Dr. Emilie Zaslow had something different to say. She argued that the trend represented a fixation with youth, the sexualization of girls, and pressure on women to infantilize themselves:
…the naturally occurring yaeba is because of delayed baby teeth, or a mouth that’s too small.
In other words, having a crowded mouth makes you look younger, like a girl instead of a woman.
In short, I’d argue that this possibility means that Korean men with crooked teeth are more likely to correct them than Korean women, and indeed that matches my own observations. But although it’s too early for confirmation bias to have an effect here(!), of course that result may simply reflect my being much more interested in women’s mouths than in men’s. So, what are readers’ own observtions? And if there is indeed a gender imbalance, can you think of alternative reasons for why that would be the case?
Related, Leanne of Hello Korea! laments the popularity of “Asian poses”, and how it perpetuates Orientalist stereotypes of childish East Asian poses (including among East Asians themselves). As she writes:
Now, to be fair, your common everyday Korean woman is not posing for a camera all the time, but it’s still disturbing that they do this stuff when a camera gets put in front of their face.
That really struck a chord with me, because, the same day I read that, I happened to be presenting the following video (albeit by an Asian-American I think) to an all-male class of computer-gaming students. Perennially bored and sleepy (the students that is), I thought a cute young woman imitating various feelings would spark some interest in studying English for a change. Indeed, it worked so well, I decided I’d do something similar for my other, mostly female classes…but, tellingly, soon gave up trying to find a cute young guy doing the same sort of video!
4) Korean Attitudes to Women Working While Pregnant
Msleetobe, of On Becoming a Good Korean (Feminist) Wife, discusses her realization that her Korean students and coworkers seem to find pregnant women essentially useless, or at least poor workers. While she is careful to not to generalize from that small group though, she also raises the important point that with so many pregnant women expected – or forced – to resign from their companies (see #2 here), then unfortunately very few Koreans actually get to meet anyone who could challenge that stereotype.
5)Police Arrest Individuals Behind Solbi’s Fake Sex Tape
Finally, it’s not related to Korea sorry, but do let me pass on this excellent In Our Time podcast on Eugène Delacroix’s 1830 painting Liberty Leading the People above, with a lot of discussion of how it has been appropriated as a Feminist symbol ever since. Which is kind of ironic, because as guest Tamar Garb of University College London especially points out, French women had almost all no rights at all at the time, and accordingly the woman depicted was definitely only intended to be an allegorical – and not Feminist – figure.
Women – not men – were fired in droves at the start of the 2008 financial crisis. But was that as outrageously sexist as it sounds?
After all, they were the bulk of irregular workers back then, when Korea had a greater percentage of them than any other OECD country. Insecurity was a given, which is why the status and rights of irregular workers was a big political issue years before the crisis.
Considering this, mere economic rationales of why women have again been treated so differently – badly – by employers in the latest financial crisis should be treated with a great deal of suspicion. In particular, they can’t explain why Korean companies are currently hiring roughly only one female graduate for every four male ones, as the following MK article makes clear:
“취업성차별” 여대생들의눈물 / “Sexual discrimination in hiring” [causes] female university students’ tears
31 October 2011
서울 소재 중상위권 대학 졸업반인 이 모씨(25ㆍ여)는 금융권 취업이 목표다. 그는 지난 7월부터 2개월간 한 증권회사 지점에서 인턴사원으로 일하며 우수한 평가를 받아 정규직 전환 1순위로 꼽혔다. 하지만 결과는 실패였다.
The goal of one Ms. Lee (25), member of the graduating class of an upper-mid-level Seoul university, is to get a job in finance. Starting last July, she did a two-month internship at a branch of a securities company, where her superb evaluations caused her to be considered the top choice to be given a permanent position. However, she was unsuccessful.
며 칠 후 이씨는 상사에게서 충격적인 말까지 들었다. “미안하지만 본부에서 남자만 뽑으라는 지시가 내려와 어쩔 수 없었다”는 것. 이씨는 “각 지점에서 매긴 인턴 성적은 여성이 훨씬 높았는데도 당시 정규직으로 입사한 여성은 단 한 명도 없었다”며 “다른 이유도 아니고 ‘여자’라서 꿈이 무너졌다고 생각하니 억울하다”고 토로했다.
A few days later, Ms. Lee even heard these shocking words from her superior: “I’m sorry, but we got instructions from headquarters to only hire men, so there’s nothing I could do.” Ms. Lee revealed, “Though at each branch, the ranked interns’ marks were much higher for women, at that time there was not a single woman among those hired as permanent employees. I think my dream was crushed for no other reason than that I’m a woman, and it’s not fair.” (source, right)
극심한 취업난 속에서 여대생들이 취업 문턱에서 좌절하며 눈물 짓고 있다. 여성 고학력화로 곳곳에서 여풍(女風)이 불고 있지만 채용시장에선 남성 지원자를 선호하는 성(性) 차별이 심각한 것으로 확인됐다.
Amid severe unemployment, female university students at the threshold of getting jobs are being frustrated and shedding tears. Through women’s increased high levels of education, “female wind” is blowing [female influence is making an impact] everywhere, but it has been confirmed that, in the job market, sexual discrimination in favor of male applicants is serious.
지 난달 31일 매일경제신문이 국내 10대 기업을 대상으로 지난해 대졸 신입 공채 합격자 남녀 비율을 조사한 결과 여성은 신입사원 10명 중 1~2명꼴로 나타났다. 여성 신입사원 비율을 평균 내보니 18.5%로 20%를 채 넘지 않았다.
On Oct. 31, the results of an investigation by the Maeil Kyungjae newspaper into the gender ratios of new university graduates hired by 10 major domestic companies last year found that women made up 1 or 2 of every 10 hires. They averaged the percentages of new female employees and found it was 18.5%, not even 20%.
기업별로 보면 롯데그룹이 27.5%로 가장 높았고, LG와 SK는 20%, GS는 18%, 한화는 17.1%였다. 현대ㆍ기아차는 10% 후반대로 나타났으며 현대중공업이 9.7%로 대졸 여성 신입직원 비율이 낮았다.
Broken down by company, Lotte Group was the highest at 27.5%, LG and SK were at 20%, GS was at 18%, and Hanhwa was at 17.1%. Hyundai Kia Motors was in the high teens, and Hyundai Heavy Industries had the lowest percentage of women among the recent university graduates they hired, at 9.7%.
최 근 대학생들 사이에 큰 인기를 끌고 있는 두산그룹 기업 이미지 광고 ‘사람이 미래다’에는 취업을 준비하는 여대생이 자주 등장하지만 해당 기업에 여자 신입사원 비중은 18.8%로 매우 낮은 것으로 알려졌다. 두산 관계자는 “업무 특성상 남자 비율이 압도적으로 높아 여성 신입사원 비중이 낮은 편”이라고 말했다. 한진은 대한항공 등 일부 계열사로 공개 범위를 제한했고, 삼성은 공개 자체를 거부했다.
Female college students looking for employment often appear in the corporate image advertisements of Doosan Group, which is gaining popularity among current university students, but it has become known that the ratio of female new employees at this company, at 18.8%, is very low. A Doosan official said, “The nature of this business is [requires] an overwhelmingly high percentage of men and so a pretty low ratio of women.” Hanjin limited the range [of information] made public to some subsidiaries like Korean Air, and Samsung refused to release any information.
통계청에 따르면 지난해 여성 대졸자는 27만1773명으로 남성 대졸자(26만8223명)를 10년 만에 처음 앞질렀다. 하지만 대졸 여성 실업자 수는 14만2000명으로 관련 통계 조사를 시작한 후 사상 최고치를 기록했다.
According to the National Statistical Office, the number of female university graduates last year, at 271,773, outstripped that of male graduates (268,223) for the first time in 10 years. However, the number of female graduates who were unemployed was 142,000, the highest on record.
결국 기업들이 여성 인재를 적극 채용할 수 있는 제도적 기반 마련에 미흡하다는 지적이 나오고 있다. 전문가들은 섬세함과 부드러움, 배려심, 소통 능력 등 여성만이 가진 강점에 주목해 기업이 경영전략 차원에서 인식을 바꿔야 한다고 강조했다. 김왕배 연세대 사회학과 교수는 “후기 산업사회로 넘어오면서 남성성을 상징하는 ‘하드웨어 소사이어티’보다 섬세함으로 대변되는 ‘소프트웨어 소사이어티’가 부각되고 있다”며 “소비자 욕구를 잘 잡아내는 기업이 살아남기 때문에 여성 인력 장점을 극대화할 필요가 있다”고 설명했다.
In the end, it is being noted that there is a lack of arrangements for institutional groundwork from which businesses can actively hire talented women. Experts have emphasized that businesses need to take notice of strengths that only women possess, like delicacy, softness, thoughtfulness, and communicative ability and so change their perceptions at the level of corporate strategy. Kim Wang-bae, a sociology professor at Yonsei University, explained, “As we become a post-industrial society, ‘software society,’ which represents delicacy, is becoming emphasized over ‘hardware society,’ which symbolizes masculinity. Because businesses that excel at capturing consumer demands survive, it is necessary to maximize the strengths of female personnel.” (end)
As always, news like this strongly challenges narratives of a glorious future of Korean grrrl power that pervade the English language media about Korea (see here for a discussion of the above video for instance). But I confess that I was still shocked at the figures above, although perhaps I shouldn’t have been when even an implicit advocate of women’s rights like Professor Kim Wang-bae above subscribes to the same delicate women / tough men worldview that Doosan Group does!
As you’ll recall from last month’s article, about the Ministry of Health and Welfare (보건복지부; MOHW) once defining single mothers as having “low levels of education [and] impulsive sexual drives”, I promised to find out how recently that had been posted on the Ministry’s website, speculating that it was sometime within, say, the last decade or so.
You can imagine my surprise then, when Seunghee Han of the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network (한국미혼모지원네트워크; KUMSN) informed me that wasn’t removed until as recently as May 2010. This was in response to Executive Director Heejung Kwon posting the definition on the Missmammamia (미스맘마미아) website, which prompted many mothers to write directly to the Ministry to complain.
Unfortunately however, the definition that has replaced it is also a little problematic, implying that most Korean single mothers are in their teens. Whereas that is certainly true of most Western countries though, and – if the 2008 Drama Little Mom Scandal (리틀맘 스캔들) above is any guide – may also be the Korean public’s perception, the reality is that most are in their late-twenties or early-thirties, as the following post on the KUMSN website makes clear:
(For a good introductory article to the plight of single mothers in Korea, see the New York Timeshere)
건강길라잡이사이트문제있습니다 / A Problem with the Health Guide Website
건강길라잡이는 보건복지가족부와 건강증진사업지원단에서 운영 중인 국민 모두의 건강증진을 위한 건강증진사업 홈페이지입니다. 그런데 여기에 쓰인 미혼모의 정의는 이상합니다.
The “Health Guide” is a website jointly run by the MOHW and the Management Center for Health Promotion for the public health of all citizens. However, the definition of single mothers on it is strange.
합법적이고 정당한 결혼절차 없이 임신중이거나 출산한 여자를 미혼모라고 정의내리고 있는데 마치 미혼 임신, 출산을 하면 모두 불법을 저지르고 있는 범죄인으로 여기고 있는 것 같습니다.
According to the definition, single mothers are women who are pregnant or who have given birth who have not gone through the legal and proper marriage procedures. Put this way, it sounds like all unmarried pregnant women or mothers have committed some sort of crime!
그리고 기본적으로 미혼모를 대부분 10대라 여기고 있습니다. 그러나 2010년 조사한 바로는 한 지역사회에 있는 미혼모의 경우, 평균 나이는 20대 후반 30대초반이라는 결과도 있었습니다.
Also, it basically says that most single mothers are in their teens, whereas according to the results of a survey of single mothers in one local area [James – unnamed] in 2010, most were in their late-twenties or early-thirties.
국민들의 건강을 증진하기 위해 유익한 정보를 제공하는 사이트에서도 이런 잘못된 정보를 제공하기 때문에 미혼모들에 대한 사회적인 인식이 더디게 바뀌고 있습니다. 잘못된 정보는 정정되어야 합니다.
Because there is wrong information even in a guide aimed at promoting citizens’ health, the public perception of single mothers is slow to change. This wrong information needs to be corrected.
And here is the section of the guide/website referred to:
10대임신과미혼모 / Teen Pregnancy and Single Mothers
미혼모 : 합법적이고 정당한 결혼절차 없이 임신중이거나 출산한 여자.
Single Mother: A pregnant woman or mother who has not gone through the correct and proper marriage procedures.
산업화 도시화 과정, 성에 대한 가치관이나 태도의 변화, 이성교재의 범위가 늘어남에 따라 미혼모의 수가 계속적으로 증가. 미혼모 중 약 25%는 10대.
Because of industrialization and urbanization, people’s sense of values about and attitudes towards sex are changing, and more people [James – I think it means unmarried people] are having sexual relationships. Accordingly, the number of single mothers is rising, and roughly 25% of those are in their teens.
(James – Before you quite rightly point out that 25% isn’t “most” single mothers, the guide contradicts itself just two lines further down)
미혼모에 대한 정확한 통계는 없으나 전국 출산력 조사결과 18~34세 미만의 미혼여성들 중 3.4%가 임신의 경험이 있는 것으로 추정.
While it is difficult to get accurate statistics about single mothers, based on the results of a national birthrate survey [James – unnamed] it is estimated that 3.4% of single women aged between 18 and under 34 have had the experience of being pregnant (source, right).
미혼모는 대부분 10대 임신으로 교육적 경제적 정도가 낮아 충분한 건강관리를 받을 수 없으며 부모로서의 발달과업을 달성할 수 없다.
As most single mothers are teenagers, with inadequate access to healthcare and low levels of education and earning ability, then they can not really succeed as parents.
신체적인 미숙과 영양부족으로 유산, 조산, 저체중아 출산 등 고위험 임산부와 고위험 태아 및 신생아가 된다.
Teenagers that are not fully physically developed, and/or are malnourished, are at high risk of having miscarriages, premature births, underweight children, and/or complications during their pregnancy.
미혼인 여성이 임신을 하면 임신한 결과를 인공유산과 분만 중 어느 쪽을 선택할 것인지를 결정해야 하고 분만을 할 경우는 자신이 키울 것인지 입양을 시킬 것인지를 결정해야 한다.
If a single woman becomes pregnant, her two options are having an abortion or delivering the baby. If she chooses the latter, then she has to decide if she will raise it herself or offer it for adoption.
우리나라의 경우 84.8%가 인공유산, 분만은 15.2%(김승권, 1992)
In Korea, 84.8% of women in such a situation choose to have an abortion, and 15.2% choose to deliver it. (Kim Sung-gwon, 1992)
Apologies for not being able to find the title of the book referred to for the last figure, but I’m afraid I’ll have to recover from the shock of seeing a 19 year-old source used before I start looking. Moreover, combine that with the sloppily-written, contradictory, and incorrect information provided earlier, then frankly – and ironically – it’s only as I type this that I realize how bad things must be for single mothers here.
Sure, call me melodramatic, and/or reading too much into what is most likely simply a hastily-written piece of work, but recall that it comes from an organization presumably charged with supporting single mothers, promoting their rights, and trying to overcome stereotypes. Yet if that’s the best that it can do, then I shudder to think of how other organizations and segments of society treat them, with the sterling exception of the KUMSN.
But to end on a lighter note: has anybody seen Little Mom Scandal, and/or know how sympathetic it was to single mothers? Please let me know!
(Thanks to Seunghee Han of the KUMSN for the information. And also to Marilyn for putting me in touch with her, and again for translating October’s much longer article!)
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.
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.
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….
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)
Or in short, putting reactions to that Mr. Pizza (미스터피자) commercial under the magnifying glass. If you haven’t already then, make sure to read Stephen Epstein and Rumi Sakamoto’s article of the above title at Japan Focushere, and thanks very much to them for the mention.