Korean Gender Reader


1) “Skinny Baby Hot Hot?” Not Really

Sometimes, people think I’m just being paranoid when I see pop-culture deliberately encouraging body dsyphoria among younger and younger fans. And to be sure, usually I do have to dig pretty deep to find such underlying message(s), only to be left with the nagging doubt that I’m just simply projecting really.

Frankly, the whole thing can be quite a chore.

But then something like BEAST (비스트) and A Pink’s (에이핑크) Skinny Baby (스키니 베이비) comes along. As Angry K-pop Fan explains:

Just by looking at this song’s title alone…it should be enough to understand why some fans are quite upset with this new release…

… [let’s] focus on the most disturbing issue at hand: the implicit, or even subliminal message this sends to not only BEAST and A Pink fans, but the general consumer audience of Skoolooks, the brand that this video serves as a promotion for.

Asides being the name of the song, “Skinny Baby” is also the newest collection of school uniforms released by Skoolooks…

However blatant though, Korean school uniform manufacturers have long used young celebrities to encourage girls especially to obsess over their body shapes, so Skinny Baby is exceptional only in its format really. But having said that, fans of either group at least are much more likely to be influenced by something more akin to a music video than a traditional advertisement, as Kpop Reality Check helped me realize (emphases in original):

Skinny Baby…has lyrical content that reinforces messages about what body types are attractive and superior. It is not subtle but instead is very blunt with messages such as “Skinny Skinny Boy Boy, Skinny Skinny Girl Girl, Skinny Baby Hot Hot.”

Now this easily forms an in group consisting of people who ARE SKINNY. They are not only reinforced with this song that they’re hot but they feel as if they can identify and a sense of belonging. They watch the music video and see the girls from A Pink and the boys from BEAST who are all skinny and feel abit closer to the idols.

Now this forms a direct out group. The out group is basically everybody who isn’t skinny. Those who have different body types or who feel offended watching the video. Those who aren’t skinny are discriminated against and aren’t allowed in the in group. Everyone in the out group is made to feel insecure, anxious and lost.

This is where the body image and self esteem issues come in. Everyone in the out group continues to watch and absorb the MV as it becomes something they aspire to become. They’re being fed this message that they too can be cool and hot like A PINK and BEAST only if they’re skinny and… surprise surprise purchase Skool Looks clothing.

2) Michael Stipe Produces Gay Korean Film

Update – Electric Banana has just informed me that they made a mistake. Stipe is actually the co-executive producer of Fourplay: Tampa, not Dol.

From Pink News:

Former REM frontman Michael Stipe is the executive producer behind a new short film of a gay Korean man who yearns for a family, which the director used to come out to his own parents.

The short, entitled Dol, will be shown at the Sundance Film Festival this year, Indie music news site Electric Banana reports.

Writer and director Andrew Ahn says he used the film to come out to his own parents, who agreed to feature in it as actors without knowing their son was gay.

As it happens, Michael Stipe quite literally represents my closest brush with fame, as I managed to get only about 2 meters away from him at a concert in Auckland in 1995. And come to think of it, the next time I was so close to a celebrity was the (now deceased) Andre Kim in Insa-dong in Seoul roughly 10 years later. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I now find myself writing about sexuality and gender issues?^^

Seriously though, in further LGBT news Charles Montgomery of Korean Modern Literature in Translation continues his Q&A series with Gabriel Sylvian, the founder of The Korea Gay Literature Project, and Gil at Seoulbeats has a controversial post on Super Junior (슈퍼주니어) member Choi Siwon’s (최시원) homophobia.


3) Korea’s First Lady of Space

Imagine you are runner-up in a contest to be the first person in your country to go into space. A month before launch, the finalist is disqualified by the hosting Russian Federal Space Agency due to security breaches and all eyes fall on you. You carry not only the nation’s pride, but also the reported $25 million your government paid to get you there. Yi So-yeon (이소연) was that woman. Nearly four years later, she talks about her life on earth and in space.

Read the rest of the interview at Busan Haps. I also highly recommend these video interviews of her by Michael Hurt (a friend of hers) at Scribblings of the Metropolitician, and especially these posts on the surprisingly negative way the Korean media handled what should have been one of Korea’s greatest achievements, which he makes a strong case for being entirely due to her sex.


4) Korea’s Nationalistic Adoption Quota Hurting Children

As reported by Sean Hayes on the Korean Law Blog last November:

Korea has one of the highest populations of orphans in the OECD because of an unwillingness, in large numbers, of the local Korean population to adopt non-blood related children and a new policy that limits the number of overseas adoptions. The majority of local adoptions are the adoption of the children of family members.

The good news is the government may be changing its policy because of its plan to join the Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention) and realization that its present policy is harming the psychological health of children.

In 2005 over 2100 overseas adoptions were granted in Korea, while in 2010 a little over 1000 adoptions were granted. The reason for the decrease was the decrease in the overseas adoption quota in favor of a policy of supporting domestic adoptions. The policy failed to the detriment of needy children.

And now photographer Romin Lee has written a moving photo-essay at Groove Korea on the very real effects of that on Korean children and the overseas couples that want to adopt them, a story which you can continue to follow at Our Happily Ever Afters.

Meanwhile, Hello Korea!, my favorite blog on Korean overseas adoptee-related issues, passes on the following video by Korean Unwed Mothers & Families Association worker Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, with “powerful images and rational arguments by an adoptee/scholar/poet on re-humanizing the women who gave birth to us [adoptees]”:

See also this Groove Korea article on those regular adoption scapegoats, single moms, whom the Ministry of Health and Welfare described as “ignorant whores” until as recently as May 2010. Also note that the photo above is from Korea’s nearly decade-long “Letters From Angels” (천사들의 편지) campaign to encourage domestic adoption (but which of course is not bad in itself).

5) Quick Links

– Anti-sex buying campaign causes stir

From the Korea Times:

“You will get 410,000 won if you promise not to buy sex during year-end drinking sessions.”

This is a campaign a male rights group is promoting in a bid to criticize the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family’s anti-prostitution policies.

But the campaign is causing a stir, as the prize money is fake and the ministry’s policies which the group stated have been non-existent.

To play Devil’s advocate however, the Ministry has indeed had similar campaigns in the past, as the article points out.


– “Women Only” in Korean Swimming Pools

At NateOn’s local pool, frequently only women are allowed. Against which he argues:

In Egypt, I got the separate gender stuff a little bit.  The religion in many contexts called for it, and the men there are idiots.  It’s the Middle East, and gender and sexual  issues are rampant.  But this is Korea.  It’s the 21st century.  Why do we need two hours of open swim that are women only?  And why is that in the middle of the day?  Oh, yeah, because women aren’t supposed to work.  And are home at the day.

In an update, he clarifies that his problem is not with women’s only swimming in itself, but that 2 hours of women only for every 3 hours of mixed sessions seems a little excessive. And why aren’t there any men-only ones?

– Saturday Night Live Korea does Blackface

Not strictly-related to gender issues sorry, but for those that are unaware, the December 31 show had a skit with Blackface, which has generated a lot of negative publicity overseas (at least on Korean fan sites and so on):

It’s also a real pity, especially after the first show seemed so progressive. But Angry K-pop Fan at least thinks some of the accusations are unwarranted.

Meanwhile, see My First Love Story for a list of recent problematic and/or offensive Korean music videos, which includes those that have used Blackface.

5 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. What about Kpop fans threatening children based on an episode of “Kids React to Kpop”?

    http://www.6theory.com/forum/index.php/topic/77381-kids-react-to-kpop/. Another thread had over 3000 speeches of hate for these kids.

    This is alarming and quite sad because it seems that these fans actually believe the hype and are clearly living in a bubble created by smart marketers knowing human weaknesses. It reminds me of the old Bette Davis movie “Of Human Bondage”. SK entertainment companies are cruel but they have many willing on-lookers of this shared psychosis or mental illness. It’s gotten out of hand and the fans are fed more and more “idols” and “entrance into their perceived lives” to fill the skies with this pollution… Knowing some idols every move or word is laughable but they consider themselves “stans” so it fits.

    Hiding behind a computer screen will not allow some people to avoid doing the perp walk.
    I have officially laid Kpop to rest. Now, if I can wean myself from kdramas, all things South Korea will be dead and buried….. :)


  2. The Yi So-yeon article is a dead link. You haven’t made a mistake, because the article is mentioned on the Busan Haps homepage and the URL is the same, but the link goes to a “Sorry – we couldn’t find that” page.


  3. I’m surprised to see that the issue of Choi Siwon and homosexuality is only just starting to garner attention. The article that Gil referred to, which appeared in the Yale Globalist, was, I believe, written in late 2008 by my college roommate!


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