For anyone interested, auditions for the 3rd annual Busan performance of the Vagina Monologues will be held on the weekend of January the 7th and 8th at the HQ bar in Kyungsung (the performance itself will be at the end of April). See Busan Haps for the details.
1) Single Korean Female, 30. Not Seeking Marriage.
Over at Seoulist, Stephanie Kim has written a great article on the pressures Korean women her age come under to get married. An excerpt:
Much like writer Kate Bolic, I also left a long-term relationship at the age of 28. It is never an easy explanation as to why a relationship doesn’t work out, but more disconcerting than my ambiguous story are the perplexed looks on the faces of my more conservative friends, especially those who believe that certain things must happen at certain times in one’s life….
…My Korean friends tell me that there is a very bad stereotype for a man who dates and then leaves a woman in the twilight of her twenties, letting her waste away into what my Chinese friends call a Leftover Woman. This was hardly my case. My ex-boyfriend was, and still is, a wonderful man. Smart. Caring. Supportive. The easiest answer I can give as to why the relationship fell apart is that things did not “feel right,” and that I was not ready for the next level of commitment, the marriage-minded track. It’s a scary feeling we all experience: everyday you feel one step closer to fulfilling a perfectly planned life, and it’s damn comfortable, but deep in your gut something tells you that that’s not what you truly want. I simply had the courage to act on that feeling. Though I don’t regret my decision, the stereotypes I face every day remind me that I took a non-traditional path.
Read the rest there. Note though, that unfortunately her message is a little confused by her referring to herself as a “Gold Miss” (골드미스), which she mistakenly thinks refers to an unmarried woman in her thirties or above. As regular Grand Narrative commenter Gomushin Girl points out however, actually it refers to women also highly successful in theirs career and/or financially well-off (the Joongang Daily says an income of 40 million won or above is required), which you can read about in depth in this discussion of the Japanese origins of the term at Ampontan: Japan from the inside out.
Not that I endorse the use of the term in any way: as even the Joongang Daily indirectly concedes in that above link, Gold Misses have little in common besides their salary and marital status, and one wonders at all the media attention on them a few years ago considering there were only 27,000 of them in 2006 (2 years before the article was published).
The explanation is that a Gold Miss is simply an invented role model for 30-something unmarried women to aspire to, all the better to sell them products that (supposedly) help them achieve that goal; or in other words, it’s normative rather than descriptive. This financial motivation becomes obvious when you realize that Japan-based Ampontan overlooks that the term is actually suspiciously similar to the “Missy” (미씨) term first used in 1994, about which So He-lee explains in her chapter “Female Sexuality in Popular Culture” in Under Construction: The Gendering of Modernity, Class, and Consumption in the Republic of Korea (ed. by Laurel Kendall, 2002; my emphasis):
As soon as it came out [in a Seoul department store advertisement], it was adopted widely to indicate a particular kind of housewife, a married woman who still looks like a single woman. Even the copywriter was surprised at the speed with which this term took on social meaning and evoked specific images of women and femininity. “Missy” rapidly permeated the Korean language once the advertising industry recognized the consumerist implications of this target age groups’ flamboyant desires.
The essential condition of being a Missy is a preoccupation with being looked at….Another fundamental condition of membership in the Missy club is her professional job.
You could argue that that this was simply luck by the copywriter rather than being part of a grand conspiracy between advertisers and the media, but then both are constantly inventing new terms in order to find one that’s likewise happily adopted by the public, as the never-ending creation of new “bodylines” makes clear. Tellingly, the terms also tend to be quite broad and vague, conveniently leaving others free to further define them as they see fit: say, when they want to blame all Korea’s modern social ills on working women for instance, in an appalling Korea Herald report on “Alpha Girls” that I eviscerate here. So I think So He-lee is a little misguided in assuming that Missys’ “flamboyant desires” came before rather than after that 1994 ad.
As explained by Charles at Korean Modern Literature in Translation:
Chasing down a question from long-time commenter Charles (not me^^) and some interesting information about Yi Kwang-su, I came across some interesting work by Gabriel Sylvian at The Three Wise Monkeys, .
I emailed him some questions and the answers were interesting (and lengthy!) enough that I decided to run them individually, with some comments they evoke from me.
Gabriel, a grad student in Korean Literature at Seoul National University, founded The Korea Gay Literature Project in 2004, and you can read more about him here. In any case, my first question was for background:
In other Korean LGBT-related news, a gay Korean man recently received refugee status in Canada because of the abuse and discrimination he would be expected to receive during his mandatory 2-year military service (see here also for more on sexual abuse in the military in general); anti-gay art caused a stir at a recent Seoul National University exhibition; and – sorry for not noticing earlier – the Korean gay movie 알이씨REC below came out last month, which you can find many links about here.
3) Japan’s ‘Mancession‘
As Tokyo-based New York Times reporter Hiroko Tabuchi put it:
Very interesting in its own right of course, that Bloomberg article referred to is also particularly useful in contrasting the Korean government and businesses’ decision to fire women in droves in response to the financial crisis, as in the US and – now Japan – it was actually men that suffered more. Indeed, in the former working women came to outnumber working men for the first time in its history (see story #5 below also).
4) Another Reason to Hate Naesoong and Aegyo
I can’t count all the times I’ve said “I’m going home” and attempted to leave wherever I was, and the Korean guy would be like “Oh, no you don’t!” and grab my wrists or shoulders or take my phone or hold me against a wall so I was physically unable to get out. No, man, I’m not just saying I want to go to be cute; I want to go. It’s not until I start thrashing around and yelling at them that they let go, and then they just act really confused. (I’m guessing that it’s a thing for Korean girls to pretend they want to leave a man so they can watch him beg for them to stay. Korean couples go on all sorts of weird power trips I just don’t get coming from the relatively sane world of American dating.)
Read there for her discussion of what lay behind that confusion. Also, I don’t mean to cause and/or perpetuate negative stereotypes about Korean men, and should be(!) the very last person to ask for dating advice, so please let me know how that does or doesn’t match your own dating experiences.
Update – By a wonderful coincidence, 5 minutes after I published this post this one appeared at Seoulbeats, about how seemingly every Korean drama features the male lead grabbing the female lead by the wrist and literally dragging her away with him like she was his property and/or child, despite her screams and protests. Sound familiar?
5) What do Women’s Groups Think of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF)?
Not much, according to the Hankyoreh, citing:
…its passive approach in the cases of the comfort women who had been coerced to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese military during World War II and a sexual harassment victim who was dismissed from a Hyundai Motor subcontractor. In the latter case, the occurrence of sexual harassment was acknowledged in January by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, and the victim held a nearly 200-day sit-in protest in front of the MOGEF building when she was not reinstated. The ministry made almost no efforts to offer support, merely reiterating that it was “not within our legal authority to help victims.”
And also that:
In addition to its failure to do its job, the ministry has also added fuel to existing conflicts in the most bewildering of places. A case in point was its embarrassment after indiscriminately handing out “19 and older” ratings to songs with references to alcohol in their lyrics. Meanwhile, a late-night Internet shutdown system for those aged 16 and under has stirred up a controversy over violations of freedom.
Hey, I’m no fan of the Lee Myung-bak administration, and indeed I think its mixed performance in other areas of governance pale in comparison to its appalling record on women’s rights, which will be one of its most enduring legacies. Having said that, it’s a real struggle to find a Hankyoreh article that doesn’t criticize the present government in some form or another, whereas MOGEF does have a point about its relative powerlessness (it has only 0.12% of the total government budget for instance), the editor’s assertion that “if its authority is limited, then it can only survive by constantly raising issues and making its voice heard” proving my own point that this is the very impetus behind its constant censorship of K-pop (but not that I’m for that either!). Also, when Lee Myung-bak himself encouraged the firing of women in 2008 (see #3 above), then it deserves at least some praise for its recent efforts at job creation (source, right):
On December 23, MOGEF presented its plans to provide individually tailored job assistance programs for 130,000 people in 2012 before the Korean Youth Counseling Institute with President Lee Myung-bak in attendance.
The plan stipulates expanding the number of job training centers for women to 111 by next year and developing more in-depth programs for those with less access to employment opportunities, such as migrant women and women with disabilities. Furthermore, the Women Friendly City program, which currently counts 30 cities among its members and has received growing interest from regional administrations, will expand to 40 cities. MOGEF will also perform assessments, differentiating for gender, to measure the effects of such programs.
Read the rest at Korea.net. It does have to be acknowledged though, that still much much more is needed to boost female employment in Korea, as today’s final link – this comprehensive report from the Korea Herald – makes clear.