Korean Gender Reader


Sorry for the slow posting and unanswered emails and comments everyone: I was busy with preparing for a guest lecture at Keimyung University held last weekend, and have been sick with stomach problems ever since (I’ll spare you the details)!

1) Photoshopped or Not? A Tool to Tell

Thanks to everyone who told me about this new software tool for detecting photoshopping. If this is the first you’ve heard of it though, probably the following paragraph from the Economist gives the best basic introduction:

Professor Hany Farid, a computer scientist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and his PhD student Eric Kee, have been investigating photo retouching. They have developed a mathematical expression to quantify ballooning bosoms and winnowed waists. Their paper, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes how they use mathematical models along with subjective human responses to produce a score of how radically a person’s image has been modified from an original photograph.

Even though there does seem to be an increasing backlash against excessive photoshopping in recent years, at least in Western countries, the exposure this paper has received in the media has still been (pleasantly) surprising, with articles on it published in the likes of the New York Times, the Guardian, Nature, and Wired. I think the reason is that several European governments have already been looking for ways to quantify how much a particular image has been manipulated, to be put as some sort of numerical rating next to it wherever it is displayed, and this new software provides exactly that. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if such disclosures become required by EU law within the next 5 years, especially now that this software is available.

With excessive photoshopping not so much being critiqued as almost celebrated in Korea though (see here, here, here, and here), I’d hesitate to predict when or even if the Korean government will ever do the same. After all, one of the advertisements mentioned in the last link (posted again above; source) was plastered all over the Daegu subway on my trip there last week, despite making Lee Da-hae (이다해) look like an alien, and this week my wife’s and even children’s passport photos were automatically retouched by the photographer before we received them!

Update 1 – To play Devil’s Advocate, my wife says that our children’s photos were primarily retouched to ensure that their ears were visible, and that the background was completely white (their messy hair obscured both). I don’t seem to recall having problems when I was a kid with messy hair myself, but it’s certainly possibly that passport photo requirements have changed since, and by no means just in Korea. Can anybody shed some light on this?

Update 2– With thanks to Brian in Jeollnamdo for passing it on, here is a post doing just that!


2) Boundaries, Consent, and “Skinship” (스킨십)

Reposted with permission from My Musings (thanks!):

i’ve been thinking about this for a while; and the thoughts i have around this topic is not yet fully fleshed out. but while i was watching this korean talk show called “sae ba qwe” that airs on MBC on saturdays, i was reminded of this topic that doesn’t sit well with me and i need to air it out some.

there’s this confusing and ignorantly dangerous message about personal boundaries within romantic relationships (actually, in all relationships, it seems) that went on blast, yet again, in the korean media.

they were talking about what women prefer more:

1. that men initiate “skinship” (aka physical affection through touch) without asking
2. that men ask permission before initiating “skinship” (source, right)

(alarmingly,) majority of the panel on the talk show picked option 1—that men do not need permission; that somehow, being in a relationship is an umbrella consent for skinship. thank God the panel was wrong—the group of women interviewed for this show this week supported option 2: they like being asked for permission.

it’s a slippery road; this assumption that agreeing to be in a relationship is somehow is equivalent to the green light to any and all kinds of skinship any time.

before i start harping on the patriarchal ideas that this seems to support and how backwards and misogynist my culture can be, i want to note something bigger than just gender issues at play here. this is a boundary thing that my korean culture (doesn’t) deal with that’s different from the western culture that i live in.

this seemingly alarming lack of regard for personal boundaries isn’t just about physical boundaries between a man and a woman within an intimate relationship. there’s lack of clear limit in emotional and social boundaries as well. it’s present in relationships between parent and children; teachers and students; even in boss and employee. consent and having to ask for one seems to mean something different in this cultural context than what i can make out through my western and very feminist lenses.

i haven’t fully figured it out what/how to make sense of it and where i stand on this lack of boundary thing for various reasons. i’m keeping my eye on it though, for sure.

Wikipedia, by the way, says the word “skinship” is derived from Japlish. It doesn’t mention though, that in Korea in at least its overwhelmingly used for couples, rather than for friends or parents and children (is this also true in Japan now?).

Update 1 – A pertinent observation from Noona Blog: Seoul:

It’s funny though, that regardless of how strong the female characters are, and regardless of how “feminist” they are supposed to seem, in a Korean drama there is always a  situation where a guy kisses her although she doesn’t want to, and then finally she gives in and kisses him back. Just a thought; is this really a good way to present relationships to a young audience? That it’s ok for a guy to kiss the girl even though she says no?

Update 2 – Please see here for My Musing’s response to the comments thread, and a clarification of her first post.

(The first interracial kiss on US television, November 1968)

3) Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Interracial Relationships in Taiwan

And with the statistics to prove it. A must-read from My Kafkaesque Life, with many parallels to Korea.

4) South Korea Accepts Sexual Harassment as “Workplace Injury”

From Google News:

A South Korean woman who suffered repeated sexual harassment at work will be awarded compensation, the state workers’ welfare agency said in a landmark ruling which acknowledged her suffering amounted to a work-related injury.

Saturday’s judgment marked the first time that suffering caused by sexual harassment has been classed as a workplace injury, and many other victims are now likely to file similar appeals with the agency, the Yonhap news service reported.

Read the rest there. Also, you may be interested in this case from April last year, about the first woman to successfully sue Samsung for sexual harassment.


5) First Korean Documentary about Homosexual Men Airs in Jeju

From the Jeju Weekly:

On Nov. 19 at Art Space C in Jeju City roughly 40 people, mainly Westerners, were on hand to watch “Miracle on Jongno Street,” (종로의 기적) the first Korean documentary about homosexual men. In his debut as director, Lee Hyuk-sang has created a film that shows the daily lives of four gay Korean men living in a society that has yet to accept them as equals.

Released nationwide at 20 theaters on June 2 of this year, the film follows Joon-Moon, film director; Byoung-gwon, a gay rights activist; Young-soo, a chef who moved to Seoul from the country; and Yol, an HIV/AIDS activist who wishes to live in a world that accepts his partnership with his HIV-positive lover. Connected around Jongno Street in Seoul, a “little paradise” for homosexual men according to the film’s synopsis, the documentary does much more than simply depict their lives as gay men, but attempts to break down walls of prejudice and show that their hopes, dreams, and goals are the same as those of heterosexuals.

Read the rest there. Has anybody seen it?

(The name, by the way, probably derives from that fact that Jongno is well-known for its LGBT [especially gay?] hotels and bars)

46 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. I’m not sure i get your point, or rather Whole’s, about skinship. Does a guy you’ve been close to need to ask you if he can stroke your cheek or give you the kiss you’ve been waiting him to give you ? It’s so unnatural, so forced. There’s such a huge gap between this and being lewd.


    1. And how is he supposed to know that you’ve been waiting for him to kiss you, rather than you waiting for the date to be over? Is he psychic? I’d much rather have myself and my partner feel slightly akward for a second or two because one of us broached the subject of holding hands/kissing/intercourse/whathaveyou than the much longer lasting akwardness and potentially very negative consequences of proceeding and then finding out the advance wasn’t welcome.


      1. I wouldn’t know where to begin looking for it, but I remember seeing on CNN once (perhaps 10 years ago?) that some US campuses had set up a system whereby participating students would sign contracts stipulating what their partner could and couldn’t physically do when they began dating, then sign new ones allowing more once they got to know each other etc. I think it was definitely intended to be one of their weirder stories, and don’t know if they had contracts that went all the way to having people signing things like, say, “I allow XXXX to have oral sex but not sexual intercourse with me” (although that would be the logical extension of the idea), but it definitely happened. Does anyone know more about it?

        Either way, I just mention it to point out that this idea of explicit boundaries is by no means only a Korean one (just in case anyone had that impression).


        1. I believe you’re thinking of Amherst College, which adopted a consent-based definition of sexual misconduct, stating “It is the responsibility of the initiator of a specific sexual activity to obtain consent through explicit communication.” It never required students to have any kind of contract, just that individuals had to check that it was ok with their partner before starting anything. It’s really not very different from the active consent movement’s goals, and I’m pretty sure nobody ever got kicked out for kissing a willing partner.


    2. To me a dating contract just sounds weird. I think the intent of consent was intended to prevent sexual harassment, assault and rape. For example, if subject A and B are at a college party, go to B’s apartment where A falls alseep, but B still wants sex there is no way for A to consent. That IS rape. I would not consider it a relationship.

      I found the Amherst College policy to which Gomushin Girl is referring here. https://www.amherst.edu/campuslife/deanstudents/handbook/studentrights#AppA The manual doesn’t detail dating contracts, it is focused on preventing student-faculty relationships and sexual harassment.

      While asking permission certainly can have its merit and may be preferred by some I wouldn’t advocate it for everybody. There is something good about mis-reading signals. I have leaned in and watched my date back up and thought, “oops, I guess I got that wrong” and stopped the advance. I have also been asked (on a subsequent date) “why didn’t you kiss me the the before?” to which I again said to myself “oops, I guess I got that wrong.” There is something good about courtship. Dating takes time. Relationships take time. Appreciating the investment in the relationship itself, not just sexual benefits it may contain, is often overlooked.


      1. I’m not sure I’d call the times where a guy has put the moves on me because he misread my signals as “good” for me . . . I mean, it may be a learning experience for one party, perhaps, but the person on the recieving end may not see things in the same light.


  2. I’m also confused about why men should have to ask permission to initiate skinship?? Being touched or touching a person should not be a taboo or offensive thing, it is the beauty of human interaction. Why must all gestures be spoken and agreed to. If you aren’t comfortable with the way someone is touching you then you can politely say so. No one should traumatize by having their hand squeezed or face stroked without consent -_- romantic human interaction is all about reading eachother’s signals, testing boundaries.


  3. Agree with the two posters above on asking “permission” for physical contact. The writer of that blog is clearly not living in the real world — people don’t (usually) ask permission before grabbing someone’s hand or leaning in to kiss them, that’s not how it works. And you can be damn sure that lots of women would find it awkward if not damn creepy to be asked at every juncture whether it is OK to initiate physical contact — that’s why people have signals. To be honest, I find rather weird this would even be an issue and it sounds like the sort of thing you hear on the wackier end of the feminist spectrum. Consent of course is non-negotiable, but women don’t always (or even usually) give consent by saying “yes,” robot-like.

    Just what patriarchy has to do with anything, and how it is “alarming” that most people don’t have such a sterile outlook of human interaction, is beyond me.


    1. Um, my boyfriend asked prior to kissing me for the first time. It was not awkward or creepy. My yes was not robotic. It was enthusiastic, because that was a damn sexy way to kick things off. Showing respect and concern for your partner is fantastic, and I don’t know anybody who would be freaked out by it.
      Signals get crossed, misunderstood, and ignored all the time. This idea of relying on signals or some kind of ability to read other people is great, but the power is neither universal nor always practiced even by those who posess it. I have been on the recieving end of enough physical contact that I didn’t want to know that people misunderstand other people all the time.
      And the author isn’t asking people to obtain explicit concent for every single act in every relationship. She’s critically examining why Koreans expect men to initiate physical intimacy without asking if it’s wanted.


      1. I’ve had the complete opposite experience. Finishing up a date and asking if I could kiss her good night and being told that if I’d just leaned in and done it, she’d be inviting me upstairs already, but since I wasn’t confident enough to even do that, then I should just go.


        1. well, then, let’s swap anecdata and compare. I’m not entirely surprised that somebody somewhere experienced what you reported, considering the long history of people insisting that this is the way men and women act.
          Let me pose a theoretical question: If somebody went around town telling friends and aquaintances that person x was their significant other without asking the person in question if they would consent to date them, would that be ok? I’m guessing most people would find that wrong, even if they had been on a few dates. Having been on a few dates does not mean both parties have agreed to a relationship, right? So why is consent so easily pushed aside when it comes to starting a physical relationship?


        2. In a slightly less snarky vein, I think you dodged a bullet there. That is both an idiotic attitude for her to have and a particularly vicious way to reply. I hope you’ll continue asking women if it’s ok to kiss them, because it is both polite and kind, and shows a great deal of respect. As I said about my own experience, it’s a small thing that shows a lot of consideration, which inclines me to think well of the person making the request.


    2. And as for the patriarchy bit . . . women are encouraged to act passive in relationships. Women are told that men should initiate. Women are punished socially for initiating. They are punished for setting boundaries. So yes, it is patriarchal and problematic to assume that men should always initiate physical contact in relationships, and that they do not need to obtain consent before doing so. It gives men the power to determine the way the relationship develops without seeking the woman’s input (as well as burdening them with the responsibility.)


      1. But this is not an issue of who initiates. This is an issue of consent, and consent is not needed if both sexes are initiating contacting at stages in the relationship. And if in a new couple it is the male who always tends to initiate then THAT is the issue, and issue not resolved by verbal ‘consent’. Initiating contact without express consent works both ways, it is not any kind of domination of women, while dating various guys I have touched them without asking, is this a matriarchal problem?? And what is so bad about touching anyway? Does the checkout worker need to ask if they can touch my hand while they give me my change?? The bottom line is: 1. physical contact should not be such a big deal, no one loses their virginity or traumatized by a badly timed lean-in, 2. so long as initiation of contact works both ways, there is no problem of a patriarchal power driving the relationship.


  4. It’s true that relationships thrive when “skinship” progresses naturally between participants. I’m sure lots of people enter into conversation with their partners about the level of physical interaction that works for them; it’s just that it usually happens before “the moment” – or after, if signals were misread! But a Western lens doesn’t help much to decode what’s going on in Korea when it comes to boundaries in relationships, especially physically.

    In almost every episode of almost every drama, a girl gets upset and twirls to walk away in anger, only to find herself abruptly stopped because the man has suddenly grabbed her wrist. If this were to happen in a black and white Hollywood film, the man would get slapped. If it were to happen in a modern Hollywood film, he’d probably get punched in the face, kicked in the groin, or at least scratched somewhere! But inevitability, the Korean girl in this situation stands silently, head bowed in submission, and listens to what he has to say. That, or she stands there, fire in her eyes, aaaaand listens to what he has to say.

    I’m not saying that all Korean relationships look like this, of course. There is some disconnect between media representation and real life… but they’re not entirely disparate, either. Usually there’s some element of causation between the two, whether the media is representing real-life decisions or influencing them. Either way, it’s a bit disturbing to see how many liberties men take with women in Korea, even with unscripted physical interaction.

    Last, I’d like to point out that a relationship rarely fits neatly into a box. Often, lines are blurred as it progresses from stage to stage. Sometimes it progresses because the man has pushed a physical boundary and found the woman willing – but how often that backfires! All the more reason, then, to encourage men to consider the woman’s boundaries first, and foster discussion among couples before emotions run high “in the heat of the moment.”


  5. Yep, I can attest to the photoshopping of passport photos. (Did a post or two on it, too). http://briandeutsch.blogspot.com/2009/06/have-they-retouched-your-passport.html

    Before we left my wife and I had pre-wedding photos taken at a studio in Gwangju because we wanted some pictures of us in hanbok. The guy retouched our skin, offered to change my wife’s face’s shape, and even suggested we lengthen our legs in some of the photos. In one set, the foreground was photoshopped to make it look like we were sitting next to a lake. Definitely an experience.


  6. It’s not about being physic but reading what are (sometimes) obvious signs. Obviously, there is always the risk of miscommunication, but isn’t that life in general?

    I remember hearing about the contract idea as well: absurd, joyless and bound to breed suspicion in equal measure.


    1. And sometimes the signs aren’t obvious. And sometimes people misread them. And sometimes, people are trained to respond in passive ways, so they won’t hurt the other person’s feelings, meaning they put up with stuff they don’t want to. Women especially. I’d really, seriously rather a million times over that a guy take half a second to ask if it’d be ok if he kissed me than find some guy trying to put his tounge in my mouth when I don’t want it there. Asking hurts absolutely nobody. Sexual assault does.

      And to repeat what I said before, Amherst and a few other colleges have moved towards active consent models. It expects people to communicate with their partners before they assume they have a green light. Wouldn’t you rather know for sure that your partner agreed to and was enthusiastic about sex beforehand, instead of finding out later that they were unsure or worse yet, that they felt coerced into something they didn’t want?


  7. I understand what you are saying about being sure, and if some women prefer being ask, that’s fine — but it’s far from clear that most do. My problem is the implied idea that a man who doesn’t specifically ask — as in “Can I…?” — is somehow automatically a perpetrator of sexual assault. That would be ridiculous.

    Men are expected to initiate contact and relationships, but it is not as if that’s something decided by men for men, and it doesn’t confer them absolute power, either. Again, women contribute to this norm by their lack of action and they own expressed desires. Women own this too. It may be good or bad or neither, but it is not patriarchy. Moreover, women hold lots of power in relationships and the sexual dynamic, too.

    “Women are punished socially for initiating.” So are men, as any guy who has tried to strike up conversation with a woman will know.

    “It gives men the power to determine the way the relationship develops without seeking the woman’s input.”

    Most men respect their casual or serious partner’s input, and, once again, “input” is not just a matter of explicit verbal communication.


    1. Oh my god, so much wrong.

      I’m not saying that any man who does not obtain verbal consent before initiating physical contact is a perpetrator or sexual assault. I will say that he risks making his partner uncomfortable, and pressures her to do things that she may not want to do. And it may, under some circumstances, qualify as sexual harrassment or assault. Because yes, kissing somebody who does not want to be kissed and has not given you permission to kiss them can definitely be assault. Now, maybe they’re a willing recipient. Fine. Good. No problems. But not all kisses happen under these circumstances. A dude’s desire to appear suave does NOT trump the woman’s right to decide what happens to her body. Asking takes away the risk that you will make someone you like uncomfortable.

      Um, well, actually it is something decided by men. Maybe not for men, but historical oppression of women does kind of play into this scenario. Women act the way they do because they’re socially conditioned to do so, just like men act as they do because of social conditioning. Don’t like it? Support feminism.

      Ok, when a man tries to strike up a conversation with a woman, he does in fact risk rejection. Rejection ain’t fun. Rejection, however, is NOT social punishment. It’s an individual deciding not to engage, which is totally her right. She is not punishing the man. You know what *is* social punishment? Having people persistently spread rumors that you are a bad person. Having people assume that since you initiated contact, you have implicitly given consent for sexual contact. Having your peers tell you that you are going to be single forever because you are doing it wrong. I’m not saying that every woman everywhere refuses to initiate because of these risks (it was pretty common among my peers in college, but in part because we were *gasp!* feminists), but the social condemnation of women who are “forward” is a bit more severe than the tiny sting of rejection. Women’s behavior on the dating scene, particularly in Korea, is strongly policed by both genders.


  8. To be honest, I perplexed as how what I am saying is so “wrong”. I think I am articulating pretty reasonable and mainstream points. As I said, if you prefer literally being asked, that’s fine and I respect that, and that goes for other women too. But as the poster above and many other men’s experiences attest, that doesn’t seem to be what all women (or men) want. My girlfriend once said she’d hate if a guy asked for permission to hold her hand; she’d want him to go for it. I think that’s a pretty common opinion among women. With respect, I think your experience and view differs from many people’s, and many women (which is not to disregard your preference, but suggest it will never be a general rule). Also, in the real world, it’s not how things proceed, usually. I’d emphasis this even more for Korea, where there is less open discussion on such matters and, from my experience, many women expect men to be even more forward in various respects. And, yes, of course a kiss, or whatever else, can be an assault, no argument. All I am saying is that a verbal “yes” is not the only way of giving or determining consent (and actually is probably very much the minority of cases).

    While we are socialized creatures, I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you holding men solely responsible for they being the initiators. Women are rationale adults and are free to make choices and actions — you can’t right it all off as socialization. Presumably, some women at least are reasonably OK with the status quo.


    1. With all due respect, I know what the popular preference is. The point of the article wasn’t that popular opinion should rule and this was normal. Both the author and I acknowledge that the Korean women questioned, an many Korean and western women in general, express a preference for the men making the advance, sans verbal communication. The question is whether it should be so, and whether that preference should be subject to critical examination. And under critical examination, both the author and I have problems with how that expectation is constructed and experienced. People being ok with the status quo does not equal the status quo being ok.
      In addition to that, I’ve also argued that obtaining consent before initiating physical intimacy is probably a good thing. Obviously many people dissagree, but I find it curious that a) nobody has any particular logical reason for their preference beyond social norms and b) the fact that so many people are vehemently against something that in other situations is considered absolutely essential.
      I’m also not holding men responsible for being the sole initiators. I’m saying that both Korean and western society normalize the idea of men as initiators, and socially police both men and women so that women will prefer to be the passive recipients (and punished if they aren’t) and men will be the active pursuers (and punished if they don’t perform in the “proper” masculine way.)


      1. You’re not wrong, but you’re ignoring the fact that the idea that women, or men for that matter, should have complete propriety over their own bodies is also a product of social conditioning. I tend to agree with your general perspective here, but you can’t go down the social conditioning route because (I would say) almost all beliefs/behaviors, of any kind, are a product of socialization. You have to make the argument from a more philosophically-distant perspective than simply women’s rights, because whatever those end up being is simply a cultural evaluation.

        That’s not to give into total cultural relativism, but only to realize that norms and socialization pervades all perspectives on these issues; you’ve got to appeal to a broader good than simple women’s rights. Narrowness of focus like this in feminism is obviously intentional and inarguably useful at times, but it is also grounds for criticism.


        1. But not all aspects of social conditioning are equal. As you said, there’s a legit reason for seeking permission: To allow both parties control over their bodies. Women, even in non-egalitarian societies, should have the right to determine whether or not they are going to be physically and sexually involved with romantic partners and others. Even if this is culturally determined, it’s something most Koreans and westerners would broadly agree with. This is an egalitarian principal that gives weight to the needs of both people, and certainly causes no harm. The argument on the other side seems to be: “But men should lead! And it will kill romance!” I’ve offered counter-arguments (It unfairly burdens men in heterosexual relationships, opens up more potential for abuse, harrassment and assault for women, and is decidedly not egalitarian). People have yet to offer a real, logical reasoning why the cultural norm of men starting skinship without seeking permission from their female partners is something that is good or should be perpetuated besides that’s what they and their partners are used to.
          And I’m sorry, how is “women’s rights” a narrow thing? I mean, we are half the world’s population. Half the world is not a narrow focus.


          1. But to use “most Koreans and westerners would broadly agree with” isn’t really sound justification, either. And obviously, some people, apparently even some girls, consider the need for consent for something like kissing/hand-holding harmful to the overall feel of a relationship. Otherwise, you’d find no argument. Relying on egalitarianism is certainly a better defense than “feeling”, in most cases, but both do ultimately carry weight.

            Look, I agree that the arguments based on “we like it this way” or “it just is this way” seem weak (though the latter, at least, is a justified one, even if it doesn’t really signify any actual position). And like I said, I’m in agreement with you in that a perfect world would have people asking for consent for skinship, although even as a gay guy I do tend to appreciate a guy who just intuits when its the right thing to do. But there’s no sure way to decide when it is, so the cautious path is the right one.

            It’s narrow in the same way that singling out gay rights, rights of the poor, the sick, etc., is. They all focus on a particular demographic (no matter how big or small) when what I think people who advocate for these rights ultimately want to, should, and often do defend is human rights.

            That’s why I’m such a fan of this blog. Gay rights, single parents’ rights, women’s rights, minority rights…James covers a good swath of the population for someone whose main concern is obviously feminist issues.


          2. I’m a little weirded out by your argument that gay rights, the rights of the poor etc. are narrow and thus somehow not worthy of being talked about? And again, half the world ain’t some kind of uber-narrow focus group. We’re not even really talking just about women’s rights – we’re talking about general good ideas in relationships. Human rights.


          3. It shouldn’t weird you out at all. The logic seems pretty straight-forward: no matter what segment of the population you’re advocating for, it’s still a segment, not the whole. Most people react negatively to perceived exclusion, particularly when that exclusion brings with it blame.

            And I never said that they weren’t worth talking about. But if you’ll excuse me for generalizing, you, in particular, seem to become either quickly confrontational or otherwise defensive about anyone suggesting a slightly anti-feminist position. And by anti-feminist I don’t mean “anti-women”, just anti-feminist (and you must know that most positions like these are borne out of some sort of ignorance). Certainly, I haven’t seen everything you’ve ever commented on on here, and it’s obvious that you’d focus in on feminist issues on a comment about…feminist issues. I’m just saying that the reason that you might be getting the sometimes-chauvanistic responses that you sometimes do is because it seems as though you focus solely on the women’s perspective on issues, instead of taking things from the broader “this is wrong generally because…” Again, a perfectly rational and sensible thing to do on a feminist post on an ultimately feminist blog; I’m just trying to explain where the friction between your perspective and some of the others’ on here is coming from.

            That’s why I was, if you’ll forgive me because this DOES sound kind of weird, pleased to see you point to the fact that in this situation, both parties get sort of a raw deal because not only are women expected to be passive, but men are expected to initiate; it’s an unequal burden of different kinds in both directions.


  9. I think the reason people disagree with your view is that, for many people, it would be a surefire way to kill any passion and sense of spontaneity. Romance is not like leasing a house or buying a car or signing a contract at work; it is more fluid, unpredictable and exciting than that. The other thing is that you would just a lot fewer people getting together — especially in Korea, where men are expected to make all the moves.

    To be honest, if a man thinks doing the opposite to the norm is likely to turn women off, what is he likely to do? And if most people don’t see it as a problem for them, then I am inclined to think that, well, it is not a problem for them.


    1. Odd that in a culture which usually encourages prompt clarification of social roles there seems to be no room for clarification of boundaries in physical intimacy before the opportunity to enter into it arises.

      Odd that one can say, “Don’t bother with the honorifics” but not, “I want to save my first kiss for our 100th day” or whatever.

      As I mentioned in my prior comment: there’s a difference between discussing it and discussing it in the heat of the moment. Nobody is saying that it must necessarily be done at the most mood-killing opportunity!


  10. I think photoshopping laws will be a waste of paper and ink and not worth the bits and bytes they’ll take up. If the government is going to tell me that I cannot manipulate an image more than X% becuse I’m lying to the public (or something like that) then we might as well start turning back the clock and trim down advances in technology.

    Photoshop is a tool. It is intended to enhance reality, not replace it. Unfortunately, a small enough cadre have used it often enough to create a perception that it is another of Satan’s tools which will lead us to oblivion. I don’t believe that most photoshop users are trying to create something out of nothing. It is often just WAY more noticeable in advertisements. Using your top picture as an example, James, it is likely that the same images could be created by the use of make-up on the women, rather than manipulating the pictures, post-shoot. Photoshop allowed work which can completed in an office to be done there. It also freed up time for the models, lighting, makeup, studio and the photographers for additional work.

    Here is another problem with Photoshop legislation: Computer Generated Imagery. CGI certainly IS the creation of something out of nothing. How, conceptually, is it different from Photoshop? Watch some of “the making of the LOTR” series and you can see that they did a great deal of green-screening, model enhancement and even the creation of entire sets using CGI. Would video also have to have disclaimers? Would production companies have to film everything on-location?

    What about voice enhancement? Would recording companes no longer be able to smooth an artist’s voice? Would there be limits on how many notes could be modified? Would this be limited to recording studios or also live concerts. I know my fingers don’t always cover the strings EXACTLY right, but I’m not upset about being pitch-perfect.


    1. Sorry, but I think you’ve completely misunderstood. The laws would not prevent anyone from manipulating an image, but rather would stipulate that advertisers must provide the original image they used so that the software could determine how much they’ve been manipulated, which would be displayed as a numerical rating (1-5 is suggested in the articles) alongside the advertisement.


      1. No James, I understood it as “how much”. I just think that the idea of rating how much manipulation is okay / not okay is foolish. It is a slippery slope to try to peg where the X% belongs. If the goal of photoshop limiting legislation is to prevent continuous, habitual, gross distortions of images (like the left side Ralph Lauren image) from becoming the norm I get it. The intent of such legsilation is to protect society, as a whole, from being lulled into what is acceptable which, over time, becomes more and more UNrepresentative of reality. Sort of a “boiling frog” thing. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_frog)

        I also wanted to point out where there are benefits to photoshop and also highlight other forms of (digital) manipulation which would certainly be next in line for legislation.

        After reading the Dartmouth paper I still am a little confused about “the so what” of the numbers. The authors did point out that some types of manipulation are weighted higher than others, indicating a bias against what is okay to change and what is not. For example: hide a pimple = okay, hide a wart = not okay or manipulate waist size X% = not okay. As an advertiser there are a number of different techniques I could use to create visual distortions which I could then, legally adjust <X% and still get a product which the legislation is trying to prevent. I'd just get the (dangerously malnourished, er I mean) thinner models for the photoshoot so that I can end up with the super-skinny images in the final product. The authors themselves even indicate that they expect a "cat and mouse game" to ensue as advertisers find ways to work circumvent the effect of the rating system.

        Finally, I must point out that it is ironic that the American and UK medical associations are concerned about too much "too thin" advertising at the same time that these two countries are among the most obese in WHO studies.


  11. wow. i think i touched off a lot of buttons here with my personal blog post about “skinship”, and it also looks like i need to clarify what i mean in my post…


  12. Just wondering why not being able to see your kid’s ears was an issue with the passport photo? Might they have been worried that your children possibly had elf ears?


  13. We met briefly– many thanks for your fascinating presentation at Keimyung last week, and my hopes that you will do more with this topic in future. This would make, for example, a great Ted talk.


  14. I’d like to have a better understanding of why being openly gay is a ‘no-no’, but the rather strange phenom of male-to-male skinship is perfectly acceptable and, in fact, is not only encouraged under the guise of ‘fan service’ among young fans of male idol groups. How can one tell if a man is gay or straight? The same young fans who rabidly insist their Idols are NOT gay, are completely fine with conjoining names of males as romantic couples, posting fictional romantic couple stories, and posting entire video footage of every incident of skinship among them. It’s my understanding that this behavior is a cultural ‘norm’, not just something that exists in the entertainment industry.

    Thank you for your blog. I am enjoying learning all that I can about Korean culture. If I’ve missed a section where this is explained, can you please direct me to it? Thank you.


    1. My husband and I were just talking the other day about how unique Korean fan culture seems to be, in that scenes like this are not too far removed from popular “fan-tasies”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFTKgcmBrn8&feature=youtube_gdata_player (If link doesn’t work, search “You’re Beautiful FanFic”)

      According to the Korean men I’ve heard mention this topic, being openly gay is taboo because it complicates everything. If they assume everyone likes girls, they can continue being physically affectionate to the level they’re used to displaying, but if their friends start confessing to liking dudes, they suddenly have to rethink everything that was once second nature. At least, this is part of the reason. For some people. Obviously, there is no one, simple, definite answer to this question!


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