The Origins of “Ajosshi Fandom”?

Did you know that middle-aged sexual harassers often claim that they were just being affectionate, touching the victim simply as if they were their own daughters? Naively perhaps, I had no idea, so I didn’t give this commercial a second thought when it came out in 2005. But armed with that knowledge, I can certainly understand why it would have made so many women uncomfortable, as pointed out by Park Hee-jeong (박희정) in her article on the commercial that I’ve translated below, and which was echoed by numerous commenters.

Then it hit me. If all this was already well-known by the Korean public in 2005, then it takes no great leap of the imagination to see how middle-aged men’s sexual attraction to 15 and 16 year-old girl-group members could so quickly and readily be framed in the same terms just a couple of years later, albeit more as an avuncular (uncle) love rather than a paternal one for some reason.

That would remain the case for the next few years, as you can read about in depth here, here, here, here, and especially in Soo-ah Kim’s article “The Construction of Cultural Consumption Way: The Discourse of Uncle Fans with the Girl-Idol Group” in Media, Gender & Culture, 15 (2010): 79-119 (“소녀 이미지의 볼거리화와 소비 방식의 구성: 소녀 그룹의 삼촌 팬 담론 구성”, 미디어, 젠더 & 문화), as she was one of the very few prominent academics challenging that consensus at the time. Only upon a perceived spate of sex crimes against children in July 2010 would the media begin (and I stress only begin) acknowledging the sexual element, and how that could be problematic.

Of course, that’s just scratching the surface of ajosshi (아저씨; middle-aged man) fandom, and I certainly don’t want to imply that middle-aged men’s interest in young girl-groups can’t be anything but sexual. Nor that when it is sexual though, that that’s fine for 20 and 30-somethings, but somehow wrong or “unnatural” when coming from older men. Either way, the crucial thing is that it’s acknowledged, and that the impact of —and consequent possible restrictions on—entertainment companies using underage performers to cater to this sexual interest are considered.

This “just like my daughter/niece” rationalization though, is a complete denial, and deserves further exploring: finding it in two different contexts can’t just be coincidence. In particular, I think that that it may—and I stress may—be much more common of Korean harassers than of those from other countries, and would appreciate it if readers could confirm or deny this.

Meanwhile, Park Hee-jeong’s article is more about the memories of such harassment the commercial evokes, and especially on the “beautiful flowering”-type gender socialization contained within the narration. I think she overstates the latter a little when she discusses how awkward the reality of puberty is for girls though, as it’s certainly no picnic for boys either, with other family members likewise invariably embarrassing them or making them feel uncomfortable as they develop. Also, when she implies that wet dreams are celebrated as a sign of manhood, then it’s clear that actually she knows very little about raising teenage boys. But still, it’s a very eye-opening short article, and thanks again to the reader that passed it on to me:

딸의 미소는 남성들의 판타지일 삼성생명 TV광고인생은 길다

A Daughter’s Smile is Only a Male Fantasy, Samsung Life Insurance ‘Life is Long’ Daughter Version

저녁 식사 자리, 등을 두드리는 아버지의 손길에 딸은 불편한 얼굴을 보인다. 알고 보니 처음 착용한 브래지어가 신경이 쓰였던 것이다. “장조림 많이 먹어라” 하며 다독이는 아버지의 말에 딸은 수줍게 미소를 짓는다.

As a father and daughter sit down to eat dinner, he gives her an affectionate pat on the back and says “Eat up!”. But we see that this makes her uncomfortable, as she is wearing her first bra, and later she gives an embarrassed smile to her father.

삼성생명의 TV광고 시리즈 ‘인생은 길다’ 중 딸 편의 내용이다. 화면이 진행되는 동안, 광고에서는 아버지의 목소리로 “딸의 인생은 깁니다. 어느새 여자가 될 것이고, 사랑을 하고, 결혼하고 엄마가 될 것입니다” 라는 나레이션이 흐른다.

In this commercial, part of the Samsung Life Insurance “Life is Long” series, the daughter is the focus. In the background, the father narrates “My daughter’s life will be long. Before I know it, she will be a woman. She will fall in love, she will get married, she will become a mother”.

(Source: Handsome in Pink)

훈훈한성장의 확인?

Affectionately noticing how his daughter is developing

이 광고는 딸의 성장을 깨닫는 아버지의 마음을 다루고 있다. 훈훈하고 감동적이어서 ‘눈물까지 흘렸다’는 아버지들의 이야기도 들리는 걸 보면, 많은 남성들이 이 광고의 정서에 공감하고 있는 듯하다.

In this commercial, the father notices that his daughter is growing up. Seeing as many men have been so moved by it as to be almost crying, it is indeed a warm commercial that plays on one’s heartstrings.

그러나 한 켠에서 불편한 감정을 호소하는 여성들의 목소리도 흘러나오고 있다. S씨(28)는 광고를 보며 느꼈던 불편함을 이렇게 말한다. “브래지어를 한 등을 만지는 모습이나 움찔거리는 딸의 모습이 싫었어요. 그 상황에서 느꼈을 기분 나쁜 감정이 떠올라서. 실제였다면 그 상황에서 결코 딸은 웃지 못하죠.”

On the other hand, women are expressing feelings of awkwardness with this commercial. Miss S (28), said it made her uncomfortable, and that “I hated it when the girl shivered after being touched on the back by the father. That feels nothing but bad. Daughters wouldn’t be able to just laugh about it, yes?”.

우리 사회에서 딸들에게 성장, 특히 ‘성적인 성장’은 훈훈한 경험이 되지 못한다. 광고 속 딸도 브래지어를 한 등에 아버지의 손이 닿자 깜짝 놀란다. 십대 여성들에게 성적 성장은 부끄럽고 감추고 싶은 일처럼 되어있다. 브래지어 자체도 몸의 건강과는 상관없이 가슴을 보정하고 감추기 위한 것이지 않은가. 그런 면에서 브래지어를 착용하고 긴장하거나 누가 만지기라도 할까봐 안절부절 못하는 딸의 모습은 훈훈하기 보다는 차라리 안타까운 모습에 가깝다.

In our society, growing up, especially sexual development, is by no means a warm and wonderful experience for girls. In this commercial, even the daughter is shocked and surprised by the father touching her on the back. After all, the bra itself is for hiding and adjusting one’s breasts, regardless of how healthy one’s body is [James – I think this means it is taboo for women not to wear a bra in Korea]. Moreover, worrying about having one’s bra touched [James – Or noticed and/or pointed out?] is a source of tension and stress for girls, making the scene more something to be lamented than as an example of fatherly affection.

같아서 만진다

“I touched her because she’s like my daughter”

여성들이 이 광고를 보면서 느끼는 불편함의 한 켠은 ‘몸을 만지는’ 행위에 있다. 우리 사회에서는 가족이라든가 친하다는 이유로 타인의 몸에 손을 대는 행위가 쉽게 용납이 되는 경향이 있다. 나이 지긋한 분이 성희롱 가해자로 지목되면 “딸 같아서 만진 건데 잘못이냐?”는 변명(?)이 나오는 것도 그런 이유다.

One reason women feel uncomfortable watching this ad is because of the act of the daughter’s body being touched. That is because our society approves of and/or grants permission to men touching them in a friendly manner, like they would their own family members. Indeed, when an older male is accused of sexual harassment, often he fastens on to the excuse that “Can’t I affectionately touch someone like my own daughter?”.

그러나 성장을 기뻐한다는 의도로 몸을 만지는 일들이 자식들의 입장에서는 기분 나쁜 일이 되기도 한다. P씨(30)는 초등학교 시절 가슴이 나오기 시작한 걸 흐뭇해하던 아버지가 맨 가슴을 만진 일에 상처를 받았다고 한다. “아버지야 나쁜 의도가 없으셨겠지만 기분이 나쁘고 싫었거든요. 기분 나빠하는 걸 귀엽게 여기는 게 더 싫고 화가 났지만, 별 수 없었죠.”

While one can touch children because you’re pleased with how they’re growing [James – I highly doubt this is meant in a pedophilic sense. But the next sentence definitely does sound strange though], from children’s perspective it can feel quite bad. Miss P (30) said that when she was in elementary school and her breasts had started appearing, her father touched them in a pleased way [James – as in, “Wow, my girl’s growing up!”] and that this [emotionally] hurt her. “My father didn’t mean anything bad by it, but I still felt bad and hated it. My father thought it was cute though, which just made me angry and hate it all the more, although I couldn’t do anything about it”.

“딸 같아서 만진다”는 말이 통용되는 사회에서 삼성생명의 광고는 많은 여성들에게 불편한 기억을 환기시킨다. 광고 속에서는 의도된 스킨십이 아니었지만, 불편해하는 딸의 모습을 아름답게 바라보는 시점 자체가 이미 여성들을 불편하게 만들고 있는 것이다.

“I just touched her like I would my daughter” is an excuse used so much in Korean society, that this Samsung Life Insurance commercial evokes many uncomfortable memories in women. In particular, having something that would in reality be so uncomfortable for the daughter, to be just cutely dismissed instead, already makes women feel uncomfortable. Even though the father’s intention was not skinship [James — i.e., not sexual. See #2 here for more on what “skinship” is].

(Source: Women and Career)

여자로서의 인생?

Life as a woman?

광고의 마지막에 수줍은 미소를 짓는 딸의 모습은 그래서 불편할 뿐만 아니라 현실적이지도 못하다. 성적인 변화를 부끄러워하고 수줍어하는 십대여성의 모습을 아름답게 여기는 것은 남성들의 판타지일 뿐이다.

The commercial’s final scene with the girl shyly smiling is not just uncomfortable and awkward, but unrealistic. The notion that a teenage girls’ sexual development is beautiful is just a male fantasy, whereas in reality it is embarrassing and often full of shame.

무엇보다 딸의 성장을 대표할만한 것이 어째서 브래지어가 되어야 하는가. ‘여자’ ‘사랑’ ‘결혼’, 딸의 인생을 한정 짓는 말의 진부함은 더 말할 필요도 없다.

More than anything else, why on Earth is a bra considered so representative of daughters’ development? And there’s no need to limit her future to simply the old-fashioned goals of becoming a woman, of falling in love, and getting married either (source, right: unknown).

바 꿔서 생각해보자. 이를테면 처음으로 수염이 나거나, 첫 몽정을 한 아들을 두고, “어느새 사랑을 하고, 결혼을 하고, 아빠가 될 것입니다” 라며 흐뭇함을 느끼는 어머니의 모습은 쉽게 연상되는 이미지는 아닐 것이다. ‘아들의 성장’이 가지는 이미지는 성적 성장, 가정을 이루는 것 등에 국한되지 않기 때문이다.

Let’s try changing the sexes. Instead of a son’s first shave or wet dream being a sign of manhood, let’s imagine a mother sitting in front of her son thinking “Before I know it, he’ll fall in love, get married, and become a father”. Unlike daughters, when you think of sons growing up, you don’t only think of their sexual development and of them becoming parents themselves.

삼성생명의 ‘인생은 길다’ 시리즈 광고를 두고, 흔히 접할 수 있는 보통 사람들의 모습을 담고 있는 ‘리얼리티’ 광고라 한다. 그러나 그 리얼리티 속에 실제 딸의 성장과 느낌은 박제되어 있다.

Samsung Life Insurance’s “Life is Long” series is widely seen as very touching and realistic. But [hidden] in that [fabricated] reality are daughters’ real feelings and development (end).

28 thoughts on “The Origins of “Ajosshi Fandom”?

  1. Interesting read! I would have to beg to differ with you on your critique of the article a bit though. I don’t think the author is implying wet dreams are something to be celebrated. I think she’s implying that breasts are something as awkward and undeserving of celebration as wet dreams are. When she says, let’s imagine the situation reversed, I don’t think she’s implying that the reverse is any better or more appropriate. Rather it highlights how society would automatically consider that situation awkward whereas they don’t draw that conclusion so easily when its a father-daughter dynamic.

    Anyway, it’s an interesting connection to make between that sort of prevalent attitude and the ahjosshi fans. Great submission is expected from the young here (and especially from girls), and there’s this sort of “우리” mentality that makes everyone, everyone else’s daughter, son, grandmother, etc. It’s why everyone politely remains silent in the face of a nasty ahjumma or a drunk ahjosshi. It seems harmless or even positive at first glance. Indeed that sort of filial attitude is spoken of with pride by a lot of people. But, it’s easy for more sinister intentions to be masked under such socially acceptable excuses. It’s a shame the village is incapable of raising the child without some randy old man getting in the way!


  2. Long ago I when I was teaching at an adult hogwan, I had a female student in her mid-20s. It was a very close class and an advanced class, and one day we started talking about sexual harrasment. She told the class that her 50-something boss at a Christian publishing company used to stroke her hair, inner thighs, and stomach. It made her very uncomfortable and upset, but the older women justified it by saying that he was just treating her ‘as a daughter’ and that she should be happy that he was so affectionate toward her. Thankfully we had a law student in the class who went over some of the relavent laws with her, and we had a discussion about how strange it would be even for a father to stroke his daughter’s inner thigh…but I’ve always wondered about that student and how the situation turned out. Unfortunately, I really don’t think she would speak up seeing how little support there was for her even with her female coworkers, but maybe….


  3. “Then it hit me. If all this was already well-known by the Korean public in 2005, then it takes no great leap of the imagination to see how middle-aged men’s sexual attraction to (then) young girl-group members could so quickly and readily be framed in the same terms just a couple of years later, albeit more as an avuncular (uncle) love rather than a paternal one for some reason.

    That would remain the case for the next few years, as you can read in depth here, here, here, here, and especially in Ch’a U-jin’s chapter on girl-groups in Idol: The Cultural Phenomenon of Idols from H.O.T. to Girls’ Generation by Lee Dong-yeun, et. al. (2011), as she was one of the very few prominent academics challenging that consensus at the time. Only upon a perceived spate of sex crimes against children in July 2010 would the media begin (and I stress only begin) acknowledging the sexual element, and how that could be problematic.”

    This might explain the sudden crackdown on girl group outfits on music shows this summer. I always thought it came out of the blue. Though coupled with raising the ratings of music shows, it seems like a backwards approach to fixing the problem – hide female sexuality to discourage potential harassers? or, prevent the young ones from becoming harassers while the older ones continue to harass?

    In other news, yeah, puberty is rough. i just feel bad for the idols who have to deal with it in public.


  4. That ad is weird. And I can see how anyone would find it unrepresentative and disturbing as a portrayal of a father-daughter relationship.

    As for branding teenage growth, I’m pretty sure most adults would prefer not to be reminded of that period growing up – your voice changing, bum fluff, acne, growing several inches in a short space of time, bad dress sense, hair in places never seen before, and that’s just from a male perspective…all at a time when you’re suddenly realising that the opposite sex is interesting.


  5. Yeah, it’s bad…but maybe you have to add that, Koreans are touching each other’s body quite often, and they are see those actions in a completely different way. It can be very strange, and embarrassing, even when it has clearly nothing to do with sexual harassment. I mean at some workplaces the boss hits the workers, or my mother-in-law often pats my buttock…you can’t really translate those actions. Therefore we just have to keep in mind, that just because we have sexual harassment as a ready-made answer in our pocket, that’s not always the case.


  6. Is this not just another example of moral panic around paedophilia that has ruined any sense of innocence in the West and made men objects of suspicion? Are we really saying a father patting his daughter (not some stranger, his daughter) on the back (a fully-clothed back, no less) is suspicious or creepy? It is a sad day if so. It’s this kind of attitude that has resulted in some airlines banning men (just men of course) from sitting beside children unrelated to them (as if it would ever be acceptable to make such a distinction on the grounds of race or another criterion.)


    1. I don’t think so-

      1. I’m fully Korean, I’m a woman and my father has never, ever touched me like that, in fact we’ve never even hugged after the age of 11, we mostly joke around.

      2. Maybe you don’t really understand, as you’re not a girl, but from my experience going through puberty is a bit like preparing for a secret- you don’t want to show it to anyone, especially not from any guys. I know that if my father patted me on the back that way, he doesn’t mean anything-but I’d still feel very embarassed and angry. Why? Because it makes me conscious that I am going through this abrupt change that I’ve only thought about and never really fully understood what’s going to happen.

      3. I know it’s innocent, I fully understand that. (Although in some cases they aren’t-my dad would, however, cut his own head off before meaning them that way.) But I think there should be some lines drawn somewhere. I don’t feel comfortable discussing “female issues” with my dad, I’d rather discuss them with my mom. I think that there should be a certain amount of respect shown to the child as well- you’re not a child anymore, you’re going through the first stages of puberty and is becoming an adult. That should be something that is respected, not made light of, the father in the video could have just as easily patted on the head or the shoulder, something that is way more common than outright patting on the back. Family members should respect each other. At that age you’re no longer a child, you’re no longer something that’s cute all the time, so why is the dad treating her as if the daughter and her sexuality-and the issues concerned with it-is just something to be made light of? Yes, it is innocent, but I see it as mostly disrespectful. If the daughter feels uncomfortable, it should just stop. If you love your daughter so much and it was an innocent gesture, maybe you should respect her wishes as well and stop doing what she doesn’t like. Isn’t that the definition of love?

      4. Where’ s the mom in this video? And why is she not actively taking part in her daughter’s maturing process? If that happened in my house, my mom would be upset. Rightly so, I might add. The lack of a mother figure in the video just seem to accentuate the problems.

      5. There ARE plenty of cases where the fathers go for the innocence card. Don’t believe it? Here’s some links- the daughter in the story talks about how she hates her dad touching her–460607&sid=TudiNGEV504AAEvzcmg same here

      And no, those are really cases where there was a father-daughter relationship, so you would expect, if this thing was common, for the daughter to feel comfortable, right? Well, it’s not-plenty of girls don’t feel that way, which means that it is neither an acceptable behavior nor as “innocent.” It’s not innocent when one party feels like crap. See this for the backlash the father’s getting for touching his 10 yr old daughter’s prepubescent breasts:

      Please tell me if you can’t speak Korean, I’ll translate them for you.

      And as msleetobe said: many people use that as an excuse. Many, many, many perpetrators say that. I’ve had so many of my seonbaes who work at companies who go to hweshik, or a company dinner if you may, and the boss sits next to them and comment or touch or whatever that makes the woman uncomfortable. If she speaks out against it, he would always go for that oh-I-think-of-you-as-my-daughter crap. Well, as one of the seonbaes said, my dad doesn’t touch my earlobes.


    2. because there’s nothing dangerous from an unknown middle age woman stroking a teenage boy’s muscular biceps & abs..
      they won’t get a boner, they’re just get wet..


  7. 1. Fine, that’s your family. I don’t I think I have EVER hugged my father. But would there be something strange about a father hugging his daughter past 11? Hardly.

    2. I am not a girl, obviously, but I have gone through puberty unsurprisingly enough. Sure, I can understand a child being embarrassed, but parents embarrass kids all the time. I don’t find anything sinister in this.

    3. An 11 or 12-year-old is a child. If a kid is extremely uncomfortable and makes it known, I am sure most parents would emply tact in future. But your extrapolating a lot from this video about how this fictional girl usually feels or what her relationship is with her father.

    4. I don’t know where she is, at work, getting a root canal, shopping, doing yoga — does it matter? Don’t you think you are reading too deeply into, and expecting too much from, a 20-second advert?

    5. This is what I really have a problem with. I fail to see what bad people abusing their children or other women has to do with utterly benign father-daughter relationships. If a murderer or rapist or any other criminal employs a lame excuse for their crime, it doesn’t reflect upon innocent people whose everyday behaviour is erroneously invoked by said criminal. They are criminals who make up any excuse for their actions. They say precisely nothing about the vast majority of decent fathers. Why on earth should they even be brought into the equation? There is obviously no comparison between a boss groping their employee and a father patting the back of his daughter, and its frankly disturbing to me that such a link would ever be made.


    1. 1. Most people in Korea do raise their eyebrows after they hear that some girl showed aegyo towards her father after puberty, actually. So yes, I would say that people do feel and know that it is inappropriate.

      2. Yes kids do get embarassed about stuff like that-so shouldn’t it stop? Shouldn’t the girl’s wishes be respected rather than waved aside with oh it’s just what parents all the time?

      3. Yes he or she is a kid. But in Korea sex ed-no matter how uninformed it is and how absurd it can be-usually start at that age. You are assuming that at that age kids don’t know anythung abiut what’s inappropriate and what’s not when clearly that isn’t the case. Kids do know about sex and privates And no, it doesn’t stop. As the examples above that I’ve shown to you, even when the kid is uncomfortable the parent might continue to touch her because after all “we are a family and it’s no biggie.” Also I would like to mention here that many women in Korea protested after this ad was made, showing that if this happened in real life they wouldn’t be too happy about it, so I think that can be taken as the norm rather than obeing demure. And if you see the video initially she looks surprised and a little taken aback, rather than oh, this is pretty normal, showing that it is not a normal thing. I think that’s what you’re missing here. If it was as you suggest a completely normal thing to do she wouldn’t look so taken aback. I don’t flinch when my dad does something like tell me to pass the kimchi or whatever. She knows that it isn’t normal and she doesn’t look too happy about it. Then it switches to this bashful smile which many women in Korea were angry about because a. Girls don’t normally do that and this ad was made to portray what normal families should look like and b. Because that is shown as a ‘good’ or acceptable behavior.

      4. Because, of course you can’t read Korean but this ad was made to portray a normal, everyday family? In Korea ‘s very narrow and discriminatory definition of that word it means a mom, dad, and kids and in these sort of ad where the stereotypical family is shown the mom’s usually a housewife? Where the hell is she? Look, the clear intention of this ad in the first place was to show a stereotypical family. The maker of these add said so himself. This does not portray a stereotypical situation or household, and in light of that I would say it deviated from the original meaning and in the process offended lots of people. It’s not only James that’s finding it weird, nor just those foreigners-with-Western-values, you know. Many, many Koreans, usually female but there were also men, protested against this. Again it’s not some Western value, according to what Koreans view as Confuscism this act is sill wrong. And if it comes to oh-are’t you-reading-too-much-into-this, then isn’t it also true that most of the materials on this blog completely moot? Wouldn’t that make people who criticize a certain book, say, twilight, as completely wasting their time?

      5. Uh, because it allows the perpetrators to continue mollesting others, esp if they have a genuine father-daughter relationship? And sometimes it is accepted by society or a group that the victim and perpetrator is in? And because, most of all, many daughters feel uncomfortable about it but can’t speak out as they feel that aegyo and a little body touching is the norm? As I said shouldn’t the wishes of these girls be taken into account esp when society presents these anxiety as weird when it is completely not so? You think that if it was not meant as such the girls should grin and bear it? Even when it is innocent the girl might still feel uncomfortable yoy know.

      Sorry for any typos or such, I’m writing this w my phone..


  8. I even doubt, that the girl’s facial expression telling the same for westerners and koreans. Being shy, feel a little uncomfortable, and embarassed-these are alll negative in western societies. But in Korea, how much they emphasize on being shy themselves! And you can see the above mentioned emotions on people’s faces quite often! They are not considered negative, they are totally common. Plus a girl even..almost must be shy. Showing embarassment, being shy-these are all just make a girl cute. And I suspect, they want to emphasize the girl’s cuteness, because this is an ad. And showing embarassment is a very Korean way to do that.


  9. Just for the record, I’ve just changed one of my paragraphs in the post to two:

    Of course, that’s just scratching the surface of ajosshi (아저씨; middle-aged man) fandom, and I certainly don’t want to imply that middle-aged men’s interest in young girl-groups can’t be anything but sexual. Nor that when it is sexual though, that that’s fine for 20 and 30-somethings, but somehow wrong or “unnatural” when coming from older men. Either way, the crucial thing is that it’s acknowledged, and that the impact of – and consequent possible restrictions on – entertainment companies using underage performers to cater to this sexual interest are considered.

    This “just like my daughter/niece” rationalization though, is a complete denial, and deserves further exploring: finding it in two different contexts can’t just be coincidence. In particular, I think that that it may be much more common of Korean harassers than of those from other countries, and would appreciate it if readers could confirm or deny this.

    It’s not prompted by anyone’s comment or anything (and thanks for them by the way; I’ll be able to catch up once student exams finish on Thu), I just thought my original paragraph was a little wooly!


    1. I can testify that that sort of excuse is used often and that sometimes the society accepts that explanation whereas sometimes it won’t.


      1. Which is why there’s a set of rules made by the 가정법률상담소, or “legal counseling center for family” (which pertains to women’s laws as well) that specifically says:
        The boss should:

        2. 부하직원을 딸같다 아들같다 하면서 쓰다듬거나 안마를 요구하거나 하는 등의 신체접촉을 하지 않는다.
        2. You should never engage in physical contact with your lower-ranking employees such as patting or demanding a massage, while saying that they’re just like their son or daughter.



  10. Hugging a parent is not “aegyo” by most people’s reckoning. Once again, whatever you feel comfortable with is your prerogative. But who says all kids are uncomfortable with any sort of physical display of affection from their parents? There is certainly nothing inherently suspicious about it.

    With respect, I think you are missing my main point. Of course abuse or harassment is wrong, a minority of fathers have abused their children, and lame excuses about being “fatherly” are not good enough. Who is going to argue that we should not do our best to stop child molesters? But what has the excuse of a sick individual got to do with the average good father? Absolutely nothing. Fathers who, for instance, on occasion hug their child are not to blame for the actions of abusers or the excuses they employ. It is absolutely wrong to lay ANY blame at their feet and cite normal parental affection as a factor in abuse generally. Molesters are to blame, them and them alone — no one else.


    1. Okay, few things to clarify here:

      1. if the child is okay with it, then that’s fine. I’m certainly okay with my dad, for example, hugging me when I’m deeply sad or giving me a pat on the back. That’s fine with me. I’m not saying that all physical contact shouldn’t be allowed.

      2. But the reality is, physical affection is held up as the norm-so there ARE many daughters who feel uncomfortable with it who can’t speak out. You keep asserting that parents would stop if their children are uncomfortable with it but in Korea that isn’t true for many, many families (parents here seem to have a stronger notion that they own their child.) And by now I’m wondering why he’s touching where her bra strap obviously would be when she’s got visible signs of breasts. Couldn’t he have been more considerate and touch her in another place instead? Like on the head or shoulder? BTW, why does he need to check on her bra strap to see if she’s matured or not? (This IS implied heavily through the narrating)

      3. I think what you’re missing is- of course those weirdos are to blame- the fact that this sort of “oh, it’s my child, I can touch her even if she doesn’t feel appropriate about it” (see above) fosters, in not-so-rare cases, the environment that allows genuine perpetrators to get away with certain things that shouldn’t be tolerated (see my reply to Mr. Turnbull above.)

      In light of this, I think that there should be a discussion on whether children should have a greater power to ask the parents to stop doing whatever they’re doing. Which isn’t very prevalent in Korea right now. If the above condition are met then I agree with whatever you’ve been saying. But under current circumstances, parents should perhaps be more careful and be more considerate when displaying signs of physical affection towards their kids and not do it again when their kid shows signs of feeling uncomfortable.


  11. This is certainly fascinating. I can say as a woman living in the UK I have never experienced the kind of patting, stroking etc as said above by any older man I know such as a lecturer or whomever. I would definitely find it uncomfortable and probably take it as a sign that they wanted to inniciate sex/had sexual feelings towards me. I don’t think I could see it as fatherly affection, nor do I think that people actually ever do feel so paternal or maternal towards someone they are supposed to have a professional relationship with i.e. teacher/student, work colleagues, that they are compelled to touch them in THIS way.

    Touch is a very strange thing right? I wonder how it became so personal, so significant, to ‘touch’ another human being? It’s funny, I can completely understand not wanting to be touched by someone (sans my boyfriend/close friends/mother) yet at the same time… what is wrong with ‘touching’? I suppose it’s hard to put into words but we can all sort of understand it. Of course when ‘touch’ is sexual to one person, but unwanted by the other, that is another matter, but a father touching his daughter’s back? Although I can understand the daughter’s embarrassment about her bra, I don’t think the father, nor advert makers should be condemned. (Though of course I don’t know what the advert makers actually had in mind).

    I suppose the key to ‘touch’ is don’t push boundaries too harshly, if you have never been affectionate to your daughter/not the type to hug etc.. then accept that suddenly, innocently touching may be uncomfortable. The opposite of this is like my male friend, at 18 he still kissed his father, a peck on the lips, to say goodbye if he was going out or going away. I found this strange at first but I came to see what a nice relationship they had, and touch for them, even a quick kiss on the mouth, could be innocent and within my friend’s comfort zone.

    A final thought: I remember watching a documentary about breast feeding, an interview was shown with a wet nurse, she said that she gains great pleasure from breast feeding, even breast feeding other people’s babies. She was asked if the pleasure was at all sexual, and she replied that it was a mildly sexual experience for her. – touch, sexual feelings, pleasure are extremely complicated, the feeling toward a family member and a sexual feeling are not necessarily dichotomous, this may be a construction, there may be some, very un-sinister, overlap, in this case allowing for ‘uncle fans’ to deny the sexual element of their affection, and for touch between father and daughter to be slightly confusing. Maybe we should try not to separate ‘sexual feelings’ from all other feelings. Just a though, I’m not entirely sure, this article certainly raises some interesting questions


  12. I didn’t think the ad is awkward in a bad way! As an American woman I find it touching, humorous and cute. Yes, the girl may feel awkward, but it is funny, because she’s feeling awkward about something every human being goes through! Feeling awkward about it is typical, but makes no sense! You look back on it and laugh. There is nothing shameful about puberty or the girl’s body, and nothing inappropriate about the father’s touch or thoughts, in my opinion. I have also seen mothers act and think the same way regarding boys– “Soon he’ll be a father himself”, “Oh lord, he’s interested in girls now”, squeezing the son’s bicep, etc. Sunrise, sunset.

    I’m a 37-y-o woman and I kiss and hug both my parents (and my brother and other family members) whenever I see them. We often put an arm around the shoulders, etc. We always have, and it makes us feel good!

    But I know a lot of Americans would agree with the Korean academics quoted above. It saddens me deeply that people cynically project sexuality onto situations where it does not exist. The innocent joy of receiving affection from parents is important to a child! Do we need to be paranoid in order to protect people from molestation? I think it’s just as important to teach people, especially children, that their bodies are nothing to be ashamed of! Privacy is good, but shame is not; they are not the same thing. Privacy comes from respect; shame comes from guilt. Why should puberty be considered shameful? It’s only so in the context of sexuality being a sin.

    But I do think it might be a good idea if children were not allowed to be pop singers. It doesn’t seem to be a healthy career for them. It would hurt no one if people were required to attain an age of majority and be educated before beginning such a career.


  13. Obviously some people here are interpreting this ad as some totally innocent bit of affection between the dad and the teen, but I at least am totally, utterly squicked out:

    1) Do dads sometimes touch their daughters with affection? Of course. My dad and I hug. But you know what he doesn’t do? He doesn’t feel for my bra strap. And I’m assuming that if he does, by chance, end up percieving my bra strap under my clothes, he doesn’t then go off on a mental tangent about my sexual maturity and future reproduction. The firs major ick in this commercial is that the father is using his daughter’s changing body to speculate on these things. Independent of the bra-touch, thinking “Ah, my little girl is growing up” isn’t so weird. As a result of touching her bra? Kind of creepy.

    2) The girl’s reaction is downright strange. Either the commercial means to imply that she’s embarrassed but ultimately ok with her dad feeling her bra strap (which I can assure you is a pretty weird reaction for an adolescent girl who just realizes that her father felt her bra strap for the first time), or she’s still embarassed but putting on a socially acceptable face. Either way, we have a girl who is embarassed and discomforted (and NOT in an “aw, she’s so cute when she’s shy” way, either – that’s a problematic stereotype for another day) being used as a way to sell life insurance. Did I mention that her dad starts thinking about her reproductive future after feeling her bra?

    This ain’t cynically projecting sexuality where it isn’t. It’s there, and many Koreans reacted strongly against it.


    1. 1) My impression was not that he was *feeling*, searching for her bra strap, but that he simply patted her on the back and happened to notice it. The viewer can’t even see that a bra strap is involved until, after the father’s thoughts in the voice over, the shot of the girl adjusting the strap shows its existence.

      2) Why would you assume that one’s parents never notice or think about their sexuality? Is it automatically wrong if they do? If so, why?

      3) I find the girl’s reaction absolutely normal and realistic, and the father’s as well. What I find mildly offensive, if anything, is parents’ insistence that their children must, in turn, become parents.

      This ad can clearly take on different meanings depending on the outlook of the viewer. It is not inherently squick-causing; I’m proof of that.

      I think an important question is: how can we/society recognize (not deny) and honor the sexuality of children and of women without objectifying them? And how can we protect children/ourselves from pathological sexuality without this general demonizing of (especially men’s) sexuality?


      1. Having actually at one point been an adolescent girl, you’ll have to trust me that neither I nor any of my female acquaintances ever reacted in such a way to our father feeling our bra straps. And it’s apparently squick-causing enough for lots and lots of Koreans to find it weird, too, so even if it’s not setting off everybody’s internal alarms, it’s still doing so for people who are in the target audience. That’s probably not a good thing for advertisers. I also imagine you’d not be quite so relaxed about it if the genders were reversed, and a mother’s voice-over was heard talking about how her little boy is growing up and will one day father children when she discovers him throwing his sheets in the laundry at six am? Especially if you used that boy’s discomfort and embarrassment as means to see insurance.


        1. I am a woman, actually. And I remember very well being an adolescent girl. I remember my first bra and my pride in wearing it, and my parents knew I was proud and were happy for me. Sexual development does not have to be, should not be, traumatic. Addressing it does not equal abuse.

          And if you re-read my above comment, I *have* witnessed warm-hearted mothers noticing their sons’ facial hair, deepening voices, and interest in girls and commenting that soon they would be married and be fathers. And yes, the boys were a little embarrassed and yes, I thought it was funny and cute.

          A girl wearing a bra and a boy furtively stuffing sheets into the wash are not symbolically equivalent. That would be more symbolically equivalent to bed-wetting or some such, and, no, would not be appropriate for an ad.


    1. In the teaching program I was in many years ago, virtually every teacher assigned to a girls’ middle or high school said that things like that happened pretty routinely.


  14. I think people are reading way to much into this. It’s an ad. It’s meant to draw attention. It does this by puzzling the viewer and making him wonder, why does she seem a little upset and why the hell is she adjusting her bra.

    One of my middle schoolers once groped the girl in front of her and then announced to the class that she wasn’t wearing a bra. I wonder how the gender-readers would read that.


    1. Yeah, but people weren’t puzzled and wondering. Lots of people were creeped out, which probably isn’t the emotion you want associated with your product.

      Could you be bothered to explain the relevance of the last bit? You’ve left out the gender of one of the kids and any possible relationship this could have to the ad, besides involving a bra (or lack thereof)


      1. He wrote that one of his students groped the girl in front of *her*. So the groper was a girl, and the victim was also a girl. It’s a case, here, not of someone being a sex pervert, but of policing a peer’s adherence to gender norms. (Also a case of typical middle-school jerk behavior.) It does relate to this discussion of bra as signifier of sexual development.

        The father notices his daughter wearing a bra and thinks, “She’s growing up”; the middle-school kid notices her classmate is not wearing a bra and thinks (and broadcasts to the world) “She’s *not* growing up! She’s still a little kid!” Of course, while there may be a correlation between maturity and wearing bras, there is no causation, as evidenced by the very immature middle-school groper, who presumably wears a bra.


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