“Making Pretty Women” (예쁜 여자 만들기) — Consumerism, S-lines, and Learning that Healthy≠Beautiful in 1930s Korea

(Sources: left—unknown, right—KyoboBook)

As you all know, I’m very interested in women’s S-lin…let me rephrase that.

As you all know, I’m very interested in where body-labels like the S-line come from, how they’re used, why new ones appear so frequently in the Korean media, why Korean popular-culture is saturated with them, what role (if any) they have in comparative studies regularly finding that Korean women have the greatest levels of body dissatisfaction in the world (despite actually being the thinnest), and so on.

Unfortunately though, I’ve struggled for years to find Koreans that shared these interests. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not out there. More likely, I’ve just been looking in the wrong places.

I would never have guessed, for instance, that some of the first critical commentary on Korean ads I would find online would be in the form of student essays (and in English at that!), or that the first decent Korean discussion of excessive photoshopping in ads—next week’s translation—would be on a blog rather than in expensive advertising magazines. And somehow, inexplicably, it never occurred to me to simply type in “S-line” (S라인) and “history” (역사) into Korean search engines either.

Which is not to say that much came up at all actually. But it did lead me to Lee Yeong-ah’s (이영아, right; source) Making Pretty Women (예쁜 여자 만들기), published last year, en route to me as I type this. Based on the Busan Ilbo review of it I’ve translated below, it appears that while the S-line term itself wasn’t used back in the 1920s and ’30s, those were certainly formative years for Korean consumerism, in which the practice of encouraging and/or pandering to certain looks, styles of dress, and body shapes of especially female consumers was first established.

Many of these centered on what were called “New Women” (shin-yoseong; 신여성), very similar to flappers, who not only took advantage of scandalous foreign fashions and non-traditional lifestyles to assert their sexuality and women’s rights, but would also later face a backlash that would be eerily similar to that faced by “Beanpaste girls” (dwenjangnyeo; 된장녀) in the 2000s, and in similarly strained economic circumstances. Indeed, Yewon Lee of Yonsei Graduate School wrote about precisely that in 2007 (opens a PDF; see the end of the post for a full list of sources), and Gord Sellar and Gusts of Popular Feeling have also made the same connection.

Unfortunately however, the reviewer doesn’t mention this self-agency of New Women. Rather, he depicts them only as passive victims of new trends, who had no choice but to accommodate the new demands of the male gaze, manifest in the burgeoning media industry. Also, he ends the review with the curious assertions that, in light of this long history, today’s women shouldn’t be worried about likewise being obsessed with beauty, and that it is sufficient simply to be aware of his history in order to lead a happy life.

While such platitudes are common in the Korean media, I was disappointed to see them in what is otherwise one of the better pieces of Korean writing I’ve read in a while (again, my fault for looking in the wrong places!). And I hope that Lee Yeong-ah doesn’t share them.


1930년대에도 ‘S라인열풍 The ‘S-line’ Was Popular in the 1930s too

Busan Ilbo, 5 March 2011

한국 여성들의 ‘미인 강박증’ 역사

Korean women’s history of being obsessed with beauty

‘가슴을 앞으로 그냥 내밀며, 양손을 위로 쭉 뻗었다가, 손끝이 발가락에 닿을 때, 양손을 아래로 뻗으며, 전신을 굽힌다. 이 운동을 계속하면 가슴의 모양이 곱게 발달되고 미끈한 각선미를 갖게 된다.’

“Stick your chest out, stretch both arms up high, bend over and curve your whole body, touching your toes with your fingertips. If you keep doing this exercise, your breasts will beautifully develop and you’ll get a sleek, slender bodyline.”

몸매를 가꾸기 위한 기본적인 스트레칭 동작에 대한 설명이다. 요즘 발행되는 여성잡지에 실린 내용일까. 천만에. 이 미용체조법은 1935년 10월 ‘삼천리’란 잡지에 실렸다. 여성들이 1930년대에 아름다운 몸을 가꾸기 위해 이런 동작들이 필요하다는 것을 알고, 실천했음을 보여주는 사례다. 오늘날 미인들의 필수요건 중 하나인 ‘S라인’이 이미 1930년대부터 각광받기 시작했다는 말이다.

This is an explanation of a basic stretch used for shaping your body. But it’s not from a magazine published today. Rather, it’s from the October 1935 edition of Samcheonri. Women in the 1930s all knew that they had to do this sort of thing in order to get a beautiful body, and an example of them doing it in practice too. These days, beautiful women know they need to get an ‘S-line’, but it was in the 1930s that this sort of thing started becoming popular.


무엇이 이런 변화를 불러왔을까? 당시 조선에 볼거리를 즐기는 시각 중심 문화가 태동한 것이 결정적 이유다. 당시 인쇄매체의 사진과 삽화, 연극과 영화 속 여배우들, 길거리를 활보하는 신여성들을 통해 ‘여성의 몸’은 중요한 문화적 담론으로 부상했다. 여성들이 시각 중심 문화 속 남성들의 시선에 노출되면서부터 몸에 대한 인식의 변화가 시작됐던 것이다. 1931년 삼천리는 미인경연 대회를 개최했고, 미인대회는 갈수록 여성들의 몸을 노골적으로 드러내는데 치중했다. 당시 한 일간지는 여성의 아름다운 기준이 얼굴뿐만 아니라 풍만한 가슴, 잘록한 허리, 볼륨 있는 엉덩이, 미끈한 각선미를 고루 갖춰야 한다고 전했다. 바로 S라인이었다.

What brought about this change? In the final analysis, it was the quickening of Korea’s interest in and enjoyment of visual culture. At the time, through pictures and illustrations in print media, through actresses in plays and movies, and through “new women” just walking on the streets, women’s bodies became an important topic of cultural discourse. Because [this meant] they were increasingly exposed to the male gaze, women started changing Korean body and clothing culture. In 1931, the Samcheomri began holding beauty pageants, which stressed ever more suggestive clothing as time went by. A daily newspaper of the time would proclaim that beauty standards were no longer just focused on the face, but now covered the whole body, requiring voluptuous breasts, an hourglass waistline, voluminous buttocks, and a slender figure. This was the S-line.

1920~30년대 예술지상주의, 유미주의적 경향이 문화계에 확산된 것도 원인이다. 당시 예술가, 문학가, 사회적 유명 인사들은 건강한 몸보다 예쁜 몸에 더 중점을 뒀다. 그들의 ‘미인관’을 단적으로 보여주는 사례가 소설가 현진건의 관점이다. 그는 “키가 조금 큰 듯하고 목선이 긴 여자가 좋다. 제아무리 얼굴이 예쁘장하고 몸맵시가 어울려도 키가 땅에 기는 듯하고 목덜미가 달라붙은 여자는 보기만 해도 화증이 난다”고 했다. 그는 몸매 좋은 여성을 노골적으로 선호하는 데서 그치지 않고 몸매 나쁜 여성에게 화를 내고 있다. 오늘날 여성들이 보면 ‘정말 기가 막히고 코가 막힐’ 멘트다.


One reason for this was that aesthetic trends and the notion of art for art’s sake began to influence culture too. Artists, cultural scholars, and famous society-people all stressed that a beautiful body was more important than a healthy body [James — sound familiar?]. One example is the novelist Hyeon Jin-geon, who bluntly wrote that “I like women that are tall with long necks. Even if their faces are pretty, and they have good bodies, if they are so short as to be crawling on the floor then I hate even looking at them”, something which would be considered crazy if written today.

위생을 이유로 여성들의 의복 변화가 권장됐다는 사실도 몸매 중요성 증가에 일조했다. 20세기 초 근대적 지식인들은 조선시대 여성의 옷이 위생에 해롭다며 개선해야 한다고 역설했다. 긴 저고리는 길거리의 더러운 오물을 쓸고 다녀 호흡기 질환을 낳고, 가슴을 동여맨 가슴띠는 흉부 압박을 심화시킨다고 했다. 이에 따라 여성들의 옷이 점차 몸매를 드러내는 쪽으로 바뀌었다. 미니스커트와 브래지어가 등장했다. 옷이 변하자 여성들의 몸에 대한 인식도 달라졌다.

Another reason for this new interest in bodylines was that women were encouraged to change their traditional outer garments for the sake of hygiene. In the early 20th Century, public-health advocates stressed that the Jogori, a traditional coat, was so long that it kept dragging in the dirt of the streets and caused respiratory ailments [James — by raising dust around the home?], and that binding women’s breasts put a lot of pressure on their thoraxes. Accordingly, fashions gradually changed. Miniskirts and bras appeared. And notions and practices about women’s bodies also changed.

여성들은 이런 사회적 분위기 속에서 자신들의 몸을 어떻게 바라보고 관리했을까. 요즘의 여성들이 그러하듯, 그들도 자신의 몸을 대상으로 전환해 바라봐야 했다. 자기 자신을 남성의 시선으로 응시하는 법을 배우고 그것이 정답이라고 세뇌됐던 것이다. 여성들은 지식인, 예술가, 직업부인이 되기 위해 미인이 돼야 했다. 그것은 생존의 문제였다. 그렇게 여성들은 ‘S라인’이 미인이라고 말하는 남성들의 시선에 맞추기 위해 자신의 몸을 가꿔야 했다.


What did women think about this new social atmosphere, and how did they cope? Well, just like women now, they had to objectify their own bodies. It was drilled into them that they had to look at themselves how men would look at them. And in order to be respected [James — lit. a person of knowledge], or to be an artists, or to have a job, they had to become beautiful. It was a matter of survival. They had to adapt to and dress-up themselves to fit this notion of a beautiful woman being one that had an S-line.

예쁜 여자 되기에 성공했던 여성들의 운명은 어떠했을까. 그들은 세련된 미적 감각, 유행을 선도하는 패션, 화려한 외모로 인해 뭇 남성들에게 관심과 욕망의 대상이 됐다. 동시에 그녀들의 진보적인 사유와 자유로운 행보는 멸시와 질타의 대상이기도 했다. 1920년대 대표적 신여성이었던 윤심덕, 나혜석, 김원주 등은 그 누구도 행복한 말년을 보내지 못했다.

What became of the women who were successful in making such a transformation? They became the object of men’s desires for their sophistication, their sense of aestheticism, being leaders in fashion, and for their magnificent bodies. However, they were also the object of contempt and scorn for their progressive and free thinking. Of representative new women of the 1920s, such as Yun Shim-deok, Na Hye-seok, and Kim Won-ju and so on, none were happy in their old age.

‘예쁜 여자 만들기’는 한국 여성들의 미인 강박증 형성 역사를 보여준다. 예쁜 여자가 되기를 강요하고 압박하는 힘이 근대 이후 한국사회에 생겨난 것이기에 오늘날 여성들이 자책감을 가질 필요는 없다는 것이다. 근대의 몸, 여성 등에 관한 담론을 활발하게 제기해왔던 저자는 몸에 대한 모든 관심을 끊고 외양보다 내면의 아름다움을 추구하라는 식의 도덕적 결론을 강요하진 않는다.

Making Pretty Women shows us the history of women’s obsession with being beautiful. As the pressures women face in doing so have been around since the dawn of modern Korea, today’s women should not feel guilty about it. Moreover, in actively raising these discourses about women’s bodies, the writer does not moralize and argue that the practice should be stopped, or that inner beauty is more important than outward appearances.

대신 왜 우리가 몸에 대해 그렇게 지나치게 집착하는지를 제대로 알고, 그러한 앎을 통해 한층 행복한 삶을 사는 방법을 스스로 선택하라고 말한다. 여성들이 ‘앎’을 통해 위로받는다는 것으로도 족하다고 한다. 이영아 지음/푸른역사/343쪽/1만3천900원. 김상훈 기자 neato@busan.com

Rather, the author teaches us about today’s obsession with body image. Through this knowledge,women can choose to live happily, and this is sufficient (review by Kim Sang-hoon).


– Hellgren, Tess. “Explaining Underweight BMI and Body Dissatisfaction among Young Korean Women“, Spring 2011 Conant Prize in General Education, Harvard University, May 2 2011

Lee, Yewon. How Women Are Represented within the Patriarchal Nationalism in (neo) Colonial Times, Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, TBA, New York, New York City, Aug 11 2007

– Park, Bongsoo. “Sensational Politics of Desire and Trivial Pursuits: Public Censure of New Women in Private Lives in early 1930s Korea Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Sheraton New York, New York City, NY,  May 25 2009

(Please email me for PDFs if any of those links don’t work)

YTN: Sexual Questions and Jokes Common at Job Interviews

A brief report from YTN on Wednesday, which you can see the video of here (I can’t embed it sorry). Unfortunately, it provides no actual sources for its assertion that sexual harassment is common at interviews, but I’m inclined to believe it given how invasive and often needlessly humiliating the job interview process already is in Korea.

Indeed, when even Samsung admits that many Koreans “take it for granted that they have to tolerate anything in return for getting paid”, then it’s difficult not to see such an interview style as an integral and deliberate part of indoctrinating new workers.

Lest you scoff at the ensuing passivity and regular unpaid overtime however, and claim that you would never tolerate that crap from your boss, note that a 2011 OECD report found that “Korean workers [are the] most vulnerable to an economic crisis compared with their counterparts in other OECD countries, due to the country’s extraordinarily low levels of unemployment benefits” (i.e., lose your job in Korea, and you’re screwed). Also, that it’s very common to be interviewed in a group rather than individually, especially at larger companies, and that particularly stressful and demeaning interviews are so common as to have their own special name (abbak-myeonjob/압박면접, or ‘pressure interview’), mentioned at the end of the report.

면접 성적 모욕감 느꼈다면 성희롱” / “If you feel insulted from sexual jokes at a job interview, that’s sexual harassment”

Anchor Comment:

여성 구직자들이 입사 면접을 볼 때 면접관들이 성적인 농담을 던질 때가 종종 있습니다.

구직자가 이런 말을 듣고 모욕감을 느꼈다면 성희롱에 해당된다는 국가인권위원회의 판단이 나왔습니다.

조임정 기자가 보도합니다.

Female job seekers report frequently receiving jokes of a sexual nature from interviewers at job interviews. If they feel insulted as a result, that’s sexual harassment according to a judgment of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Jo Im-jeong reports.


취업을 앞두고 면접에 다녀온 여성들은 종종 무력감에 빠지곤 합니다.

면접 때 던져지는 이상한 질문들 때문입니다.

Prior to getting a job, women feel powerless after having an interview. That’s because they receive such strange questions in them.

Interview — Miss Gomo, a student preparing to start working:

“성적인 수치심을 느끼는 질문을 한다면, 사실 면접자 입장에서는 어떻게 강하게 대응할 수 있는 부분이 아니고…”

“If an interviewee feels a sense of sexual shame [from the questions in an interview], they’re not in a strong position to do anything about that…”

Interview — Son Ji-hee, 4th year university student:

“성품을 보기 위해서 그렇게 자극적으로 얘기하는 것에 대해서, 정말 실효성이 있는지는 두고봐야겠지만, 그렇게까지 상처를 받는 사람이 있다면, 자제될 필요는 있다고 생각합니다.”

“Saying provocative things like that in order to determine one’s personality…it has to be seen if that’s effective. And if it’s done to the extent that people are hurt by it, then it needs reconsidering.”

이처럼 면접을 비롯한 구직 과정에서 성적 굴욕감을 느꼈다는 진정이 잇따라 국가인권위원회에 접수되고 있습니다.

지원자에게 “남자친구 몇 명을 사귀어봤는지”처럼 업무와 관련 없는 질문을 던지거나, 심지어 회사 대표가 면접 과정에서 지원자의 특정 신체 부위를 만지는 경우도 있었고, 채용이 확정된 뒤 회식 자리에서 남자 직장 상사와 블루스를 출 것을 강요한 경우도 있었습니다.

인권위는 입사 면접 과정에서 면접관의 발언 때문에 구직자가 성적 굴욕감을 느꼈다면 성희롱에 해당한다고 판단했습니다.

문제는, 면접에서 결정적인 권한을 가진 회사 관계자가 성희롱을 해도 절대적 약자인 구직자가 제대로 대처하기 힘들다는 겁니다.

People who have felt humiliated like this in interviews have appealed to the NHRC.

Applicants report being asked questions like “How many boyfriends have you had?” that have no relationship to the job, and there have even been cases of company representatives touching certain body parts of theirs during the interview. Or, after they’re hired, of male superiors forcing them to dance the blues with them at company dinners.

Feeling sexual shame because of comments by interviewers has been judged sexual harassment by the NHRC.

The problem is that when the final decision about hiring is by the sexual harassers themselves, interviewees are in a weak position and find it difficult to cope with what has happened.

Interview — Kim Min-jeong, NHRC Discrimination Department Investigator

“압박면접을 시행하더라도 개인의 직무 능력이나 본인의 가치관 등을 알아볼 수 있는 질문을 하는 것이 훨씬 더 중요하다고 생각합니다.”

인권위원회는 해당 기업 관계자에게 인권위가 주최하는 특별 인권교육을 받고 피해자들에게 손해배상금을 지급하라고 권고했습니다.
YTN 조임정[ljcho@ytn.co.kr]입니다.

“Even if people are doing a ‘pressure interview’, we think questions about one’s work ability and the person’s value and so on are far far more important.”

The NHRC recommends that offending employees are given human rights education, while the victims should receive financial compensation.

YTN Reporter Jo Im-jeong reporting (end).

Korean Gender Reader

Via Hello Korea!, I’ve just learned of Donga TV’s Single Mom Story above, a series that looks at successful single mothers in Korea. Unfortunately, you’ll need to be fluent in Korean to watch it, but just that the series exists at all is very welcome news, especially considering the stereotypes they have to confront on a daily basis (and which in turn have very real effects on social welfare policy).

Meanwhile, I’m much busier than expected with translations this week sorry (see here, here, here, and here if you’d like a preview!), and on top of that I’m preparing to start teaching again from next week too. But as you can see, the stories still just keep coming!

Not Made Up: Tourists Boost Cosmetics Industry (Korea Real Time)

White Person + Asian Person = $? (New York, Pew Research Center, MSNBC; hat tip to Robert Koehler)

Vietnam to ban marriage with Korean men aged 50 years old or over (Korea Times; hat tip to Bobby McGill)

Korea only second in the world in plastic surgery operations per capita? (Toronto Sun)

Korean plastic surgeons charge foreign patients almost double that of Koreans (The Korea Herald)

The great gender divide: lunch time edition (I’m no Picasso)

Why half-Black, half-Korean Michelle Lee will not win K-Pop Star (Allkpop, SNSD Free for all, Omona!)

Office worker arrested for producing drug for sex crimes (Korea Times; hat tip to nayaCasey)

The Korean entertainment business: a statistical analysis of what happens after stars find trouble (Han Cinema)

Women and young people still underrepresented in National Assembly (The Hankyoreh)

China — “A wife has become a luxury good” (Global Times; hat tip to @MaraHvistendahl)

Female students Occupy Male Toilets in Guangzhou (Shanghaiist, Baidu Beat; hat tip to David Willis)

Border town brothels openly cohabit with military – “a shock to most Korean women, but no secret to their men” (Korea Times; hat tip to @tomcoyner)

Global Gender Imbalance Poses Critical Problems for Women (Inter Press Service)

The Hunt for Mr. Swirl – documentary on capture of pedophile that led to changes in Korea’s E-2 visa regulations (Gusts of Popular Feeling)

Rent a Husband (Korea Times)

“Be White” (Groove Magazine)

Education ministry threatening to limit students‘ hair freedom (The Hankyoreh)

Filipinos: Nannies, maybe; native speakers, no. (Gusts of Popular Feeling, The Dong-a Ilbo)

Plastic Surgery in the ROK: An Army of Clones (Expat Hell)

Kdramas, Rape Culture, & Complicity (Idle Revelry)

Asians Are Stealing Our Boyfriends On This American Life (Racialious; via My First Love Story)

Japanese rightists angry about Korean men stealin’ their women (The Marmot’s Hole)

• The Bodyguard Drama: When Women Protect Men (Seoulbeats)

(Links are not necessarily endorsements)

Challenging Stereotypes about Abortion


Okay, maybe I have overdone it a little with that above image. Because I certainly I don’t mean to appear flippant about the subject of abortion.

But hear me out — something just snapped in me when I saw the unnecessarily sombre cover (and tone) of Womenlink’s new book on abortion below. Because in reality, most abortion patients and their partners report feeling more relieved than depressed and regretful, despite what you usually read about them in the media.

So, the humor of the Yoda-like, oddly-appropriate Engrish above felt like a very welcome antidote. As did the additional images of happy couples you’ll find throughout this post, used in lieu of much harder to find “relieved” (안심했다? 안심이다?) ones.

Also, it was ironic that something that set out to challenge stereotypes would confirm so many of my own in the process. Namely, that all too many Koreans are forced to seek abortions because of a lack of basic knowledge about contraception, and that women are still wary of keeping condoms on hand and/or insisting their partners use them, lest they “be regarded as a slut or an experienced and impure woman” (which in turn leads to the perception that contraception is only men’s responsibility).

But don’t get me wrong — these are minor quibbles really, and otherwise I have nothing but praise for the book!


‘낙태’ 사회적 배경을 이야기하는 이유, The reason why we talk about the social background of ‘abortion’

Ildaro, November 15th 2011

민우회, 낙태 사례집 <당신이 생각하는 낙태는 없다> 발간 의의, The Significance of the Publication of Womenlink’s Abortion Casebook There’s no such thing as the abortion you’re thinking of

필자 회색연필님은 비혼 페미니스트 방송 ‘야성의 꽃다방’ 활동가로, 현재 대학원에서 보건학을 전공하고 있습니다. [편집자 주]

The author, Grey Pencil, is a graduate student in health science and activist who is part of the unmarried feminist radio program “Wild Nature’s Flower Tea Room.” [Editor’s Note]

낙태 금지한 형법은 위헌‘ 헌법재판소 공개 변론, Constitutional Court public proceeding ‘for the criminal law that prohibits abortion’

지 난 10일 헌법재판소에서는 ‘낙태죄’의 위헌 여부를 두고 첫 공개 변론이 열렸다. 이번 소송은 2010년 부산에서 인공임신중절시술을 시행한 혐의로 기소된 조산사가 ‘낙태를 금지하는 형법 조항은 임부의 인간으로서의 존엄과 가치, 행복추구권, 평등권, 신체의 자유, 사생활의 자유, 혼인과 가족생활의 존엄 등을 침해하여 위헌’이라며 소송을 청구한 것에서 시작됐다.

On November 10, the first public arguments over criminal abortion began at the Constitutional Court. This case began after a midwife who was indicted on the charge of carrying out a procedure to terminate a pregnancy in Busan in 2010 filed suit, saying, “The criminal law clause that prohibits abortion violates a pregnant woman’s dignity and value as a human, her right to pursue happiness, right to equality, bodily freedom, privacy, and the dignity of her marriage and family life, and thus is a violation of the constitution.”

형법 270조 1항(업무상 동의낙태죄)은 임산부의 동의를 얻어 낙태시술을 한 의사, 조산사 등을 형사처벌하도록 규정하고 있다.

Criminal Law Article 270 Clause 1 (Professional Abortion with Consent) stipulates that doctors or midwives who receive the pregnant woman’s consent and perform an abortion will receive a criminal penalty.

이날 변론에서 청구인과 법무부는 낙태죄의 실효성 여부와 임산부의 자율권 침해 여부 등 쟁점을 두고 첨예한 의견 대립을 보였다. 청구인 측은 임부의 자기결정권을 주장했고, 법무부 측은 태아의 생명권 존중을 내세웠다.

At the proceeding on this day, the claimant and the Ministry of Justice showed sharply conflicting opinions on the issues of the effectiveness of the abortion law and the violation of the autonomy of pregnant women.  The claimant’s side insisted on the right to self-determination of a pregnant woman, and the Ministry’s side advocated respect for the right to life of a fetus.

현재 대한민국에서 낙태(인공임신중절)는 ‘불법’이다. 그러나 지난 몇 십년 간 낙태는 암암리에 이뤄져왔고, 사회적으로 큰 문제가 되지 않았다. 그러나 ‘저출산 문제’가 대두되면서 정부는 낙태율을 줄이기 위해 지금까지 쉬쉬하던 ‘불법’ 행위를 집중적으로 단속하기 시작했다. 그리고 작년, 낙태 근절 운동을 벌여온 프로라이프 의사회의 고발로 몇몇 병원과 조산원이 검찰에 고발돼 징계를 받으면서, 낙태를 둘러싼 찬반 논쟁이 촉발되었다.

Currently, abortion (the artificial termination of a pregnancy) is “illegal” in the Republic of Korea.  However, for the past few decades abortion has been done in secret, and it hasn’t become a big societal problem.  As the low birth rate problem comes to the fore, however, the government has begun to intensively crack down on this formerly covered-up “illegal” activity in order to reduce the rate of abortions.    Also, last year, as several hospitals and maternity clinics were reported to prosecutors and punished through the accusations of a pro-life medical association that has campaigned for the eradication of abortion, controversy has been sparked surrounding the pros and cons of abortion (source, right).

이러한 시점에서 한국여성민우회는 낙태의 당사자이면서도 정작 논쟁에서는 배제되었던 여성들의 목소리를 모으기 시작했다. 그렇게 모인 22명의 여성의 이야기를 엮어 올 가을, 낙태 관련 사례집 <당신이 생각하는 낙태는 없다> 발간되었다.

At this time, Korean Womenlink began to gather the voices of women, who, though they are the actual people whom abortion directly concerns, had been excluded from the argument.  The stories of women gathered like this were woven together and this autumn, the abortion casebook “There’s no such thing as the abortion you’re thinking of” was published.

여성들이 말하는낙태란 무엇인가’, What women say “abortion” is

사 례집은 낙태 경험이 있는 여성들을 인터뷰하고, 그 내용을 바탕으로 총 22명의 여성들의 이야기를 낙태 결정의 순간과 낙태를 하는 순간, 낙태 그 이후의 경험들 그리고 피임에 관련된 부분과 상대(남성)의 이야기 등으로 구분하여 엮었다.

Women who’ve had an abortion were interviewed, and from that material, a total of 22 women’s stories are divided up into the moment they decided to get an abortion, the moment they got it, their experiences afterwards, and a section about birth control and their (male) partner’s story, and these parts are woven together in the casebook.

사례집에 실린 각양각색의 배경을 가진 22명의 여성들의 이야기는 모두 다 다르면서도 같았다. 낙태를 하게 된 상황이나 상대에 대한 생각 등은 모두 다 달랐지만, 다들 ‘낙태는 어쩔 수 없는 선택이었다.’는 점과 ‘다른 여성들에게 힘이 되고 싶다’는 마음은 같았다. 그랬기에 이 어려운 이야기들을 선뜻 나서서 이야기할 수 있었던 것이리라 생각한다.

The stories of the 22 women of various backgrounds in the casebook are all different yet the same.  The situation in which they chose abortion or their thoughts about their partners are different, but all of them had the same feeling that, “Abortion was the only option,” and, “I want to be a source of strength to other women.”  I think that may be the reason that they were able to come forward and tell their difficult stories willingly (Caption, right: 한국여성민우회에서 발간한 낙태 관련 사례집 <당신이 생각하는 낙태는 없다>; The abortion-related casebook published at Womenlink {source}).

태아를 생명권으로 보아 생명을 우선시하느냐, 아니면 산모의 선택을 존중하느냐는 논쟁은 단순히 ‘낳을 것인가, 낳지 않을 것인가’의 ‘낙태’ 행위에만 초점이 맞춰져 있다.

The debate over whether to put life first out of consideration for the right to life of a fetus, or to respect the choice of a pregnant woman, is focused into the act of abortion as simply, “have the baby, or not.”

보건의료학적 측면에서 보면 태아=생명이기 때문에 낙태는 비난받아야 한다는 결론이 난다. 그런데 보통 보건영역에서 정책을 결정할 때 단순히 건강만을 위한 것 외에도 사회경제적 요인도 같이 고려하여 판단한다. 여성의 낙태 문제 역시 보건 영역에 속하는 것으로 볼 수 있지만 희한하게도 ‘낙태’만큼은 사회-경제적 요인은 간과하여 판단하고 있다. 윤리적인 이슈가 이미 형성되어 있어, 낙태 행위 그 자체만을 놓고 이야기하려 하는 것이다.

From a health-care perspective, because a fetus = life, one comes to the conclusion that abortion must be criticized.  However, in the usual domain of health care, when making policy decisions, other socioeconomic factors besides simple health must be considered when making a judgment. Women’s abortion question could of course be considered in the domain of health care, but strangely, only in abortion’s case, socioeconomic factors are being ignored when making a judgment.   The ethical side of the issue is already formed in people’s minds, so the casebook attempts to discuss the act of abortion itself.

그렇기에 이번에 민우회에서 발간한 낙태 사례집은 이러한 ‘낙태’ 행위만을 보지 않고, 낙태를 둘러싼 ‘사회적’ 배경이 그녀들에게 어떤 영향을 미쳤는지를 당사자들의 목소리를 통해 잘 보여주고 있다는 점에서 큰 의미를 갖는다고 본다.

That’s why the abortion casebook that Womenlink published doesn’t just look at the act of abortion, it shows what kind of effect the societal background that surrounds abortion has on these women through the voices of the people involved; for this reason, it is meaningful.

흔히, 낙태를 하는 사람들은 ‘성적으로 문란하다.’, ‘순결하지 못하다.’, ‘미혼 여성들이 많을 것이다.’라고 생각하는데, 사례집에서 드러난 바로는 그렇지 않았다. 모두 우리 주변에서 볼 수 있는 평범한 사람들이었고, 비혼 여성이 많을 것이라는 생각과는 달리 오히려 기혼 여성들의 낙태경험이 많았다.

Commonly, people that have an abortion are thought of as “sexually promiscuous,” “impure”, or “probably mostly unmarried women,” but according to the casebook, that isn’t true.  They are all average people we can see around us, and different from the unmarried women that were expected, many married women had experiences with abortion.


혼인 유무를 떠나, 그들에겐 낙태는 어쩔 수 없는 ‘강요된 선택’의 문제였다. 기혼 여성의 경우, 육아를 둘러싼 경제적, 사회적 여건에 때문에 낙태를 선택할 수밖에 없었지만, 자식들을 기르면서도 마음의 상처를 안고 살아간다. 비혼의 경우 역시 크게 다르지 않다. 역시 젊은 나이라 경제적인 기반 등 아이를 낳아 기를 준비가 되어있지 않을뿐더러, 사회적 ‘낙인’ 때문에 산부인과에서도 애초부터 아이를 낳을 선택권이 주어지지 않는 경우가 많았다.

Whether or not they were married, abortion was an unavoidable “forced choice” to them.  For married women, because of the economic and social conditions surrounding raising a child, they couldn’t choose anything but abortion, but they live with that pain in their heart even as they raise their other children.  Unmarried women are also not very different.  They are young, of course, and so lack a financial base, so not only are they not prepared to have and raise a child, but there are many cases in which, because of their social label, they are not even given the right to choose to have the baby, even at an ob-gyn.

사례집에 실린 여성들 모두, ‘낳고 싶었지만 낳을 수 없는 상황’이 문제였다고 이야기한다. 낙태는 개인의 기호가 담긴 선택이 아니라 사회가 강요한 ‘선택’이었던 것이다. 사회는 저출산을 문제 삼으면서도 왜 여성들이 아이를 낳지 않으려하는지를 보지 않고 그저 낙태를 선택한 여성에게만 손가락질 한다.

The women in the casebook all say the problem was that they “wanted to have the baby but couldn’t in that situation.”  Abortion was not a matter of personal preference, but a “choice” forced by society.  Even as society makes an issue of the low birth rate, it doesn’t ask why women don’t want to have children, it just points the finger at women who have chosen abortion.

임신은 남녀가 함께 관여해서 발생하는 문제이고, 해결 역시 남녀가 같이 풀어야 될 문제이다. 하지만, 원치 않은 임신이 닥쳤을 때, 결국 책임지는 사람은 ‘여성’이 된다. 그렇기 때문에 여성에게는 임신이 갖는 의미가 굉장히 크다. 그럼에도 불구하고 사회는 이러한 임신의 문제가 단순히 여성이 10개월짜리의 고생으로 인식되고, 거의 대부분의 여성들이 감당하는 향후 20년간의 양육문제는 인식조차 하지 않는다.

Pregnancy is a problem that occurs with both men and women’s participation, and its solution should also be an issue that a man and woman resolve together.  However, when an unwanted pregnancy happens, the woman becomes the person who takes responsibility.  Because of this, pregnancy is very significant for women.  Despite this, society considers this issue of pregnancy as simply 10 months of hardship for a woman, and doesn’t even recognize the following 20 years of raising the child that is mostly done by women (source, right).

이로 인해, 임신 사실 조차 달갑지 않은 여성들도 많을 것이다. 미혼의 임신은 순결이데올로기와 맞물려 미혼모라는 이유만으로 손가락질 당하고, 그 자식마저도 편견으로부터 자유로울 수 없다. 그 뿐 아니라 경제적인 뒷받침도 미비하다. 기혼 여성이라도 크게 다르지 않다. 육아는 전업주부든, 직장여성이든 누구에게나 가벼운 문제가 아니다.

For this reason, there will be many women to whom the very fact of their pregnancy is unwelcome.  Unwed pregnancy is [negatively] connected to the ideology of purity, and so they are scorned just for being unwed mothers, and even their children are not free from prejudice.  Not only that, economic support is also inadequate.  Even married women are not much different.  Child-rearing is not an easy problem for anyone, full-time homemaker or career woman.

직 장여성의 경우는 더 버거운 문제이다. 임신과 동시에 직장에서는 그만두기를 강요당하고, 출산 이후 재취업이 쉽지 않아 임신을 더 꺼리게 만든다. 그 뿐인가, 맞벌이가 대세인 요즘에도 탁아시설 등의 인프라는 갖춰주지도 않고 여성 개개인에게 모성만을 강요하여 워킹맘이 슈퍼맘이 되도록 요구한다. 이런 상황에서 사회적으로나 경제적으로나 열악한 상황일 경우 누가 낳아 기르려고 하겠는가.

In career women’s case, it is a more unmanageable problem.  When pregnant, they are forced to quit, and re-entering the workforce after giving birth is not easy, so they are reluctant to become pregnant.  Not only that, even in this time in which dual-income families are the general trend, infrastructure like day-care facilities are not provided and each woman is pressured to be maternal, and so working  moms are asked to become super moms. In this kind of situation, when both the social and financial situations are inadequate, who would want to have and raise a child?


남자들도 수술대에 앉아 본다면…If men also tried sitting on that operating table

무엇보다 낙태에 대한 정부의 태도가 여성을 재생산의 측면에서 보고 있다는 점은 무례하고 후진적이다. 출산율을 올리기 위해 낙태를 금지하는 정책을 편다는 것은, 여성을 자아실현 등의 욕구가 있는 한 개인이 아니라, 아이를 낳는 존재로서  ‘관리’해야 하는 대상으로 간주하는 것이다.

More than anything, the government’s attitude towards abortion looks at women from a reproductive aspect, which is disrespectful and backwards.  Implementing a policy that prohibits abortion in order to raise the birth rate is considering women not as individuals with desires like that of self-realization, but as beings that give birth and thus objects [in the sense that they are the targets of an action] that need to be managed

과거의 인구조절정책을 봐도 그렇다. 인구가 많았던 시절에는 낙태를 쉬쉬했으며, 남녀 모두 정관수술이나 난관수술 등을 권장하고 강요했다. 그러던 정부가 20~30여년이 지난 지금, 이제는 출산률을 올리기 위해 ‘낙태’를 금지하겠다는 것이다.

Past population-control policies show this as well.    At the time when the population was large, abortion was done quietly, and men and women were encouraged or compelled to have vasectomies or tubal ligations.  Twenty or thirty years have passed and now the government that did that has resolved to prohibit abortion in order to raise the birth rate.

사실, 낙태를 반대하는 입장에서는 ‘낙태는 피임만 잘 하면 줄일 수 있다’고 말하는데 나는 일부는 동의한다. 사례들을 살펴봐도 남녀 모두 피임법을 잘 몰랐던 경우가 많았다. ‘피임’이라는 개념 자체를 몰라서 덜컥 임신이 된 경우들도 있었고, ‘질외사정법’이던가 ‘체온주기법’과 같은 피임 성공률이 낮은 방법을 사용하고 있었다는 점이다.

In truth, I agree in part with the anti-abortion position that says, “We can reduce abortions just by using birth control well.”  Looking at the casebook, there were many instances in which neither the man nor the woman knew much about birth control.  There were cases in which they didn’t know of the very concept of “birth control” and so unexpectedly became pregnant, and also those who were using types of birth control with a low success rate, like the “withdrawal method” or the “body-temperature cycle method.”


최근에 성교육이 많이 보급되었다고 하지만, 위의 사례들을 보면 아직도 성교육이 부족하다는 생각이 든다. 한편으로, 피임이 완벽히 성공할 것이라는 우리의 생각과는 달리 실제로 100% 피임은 불가능하다는 사실도 인정해야 한다.

Sex education has become quite widespread these days, but looking at the cases above, one gets the impression that sex education is still deficient.  On the other hand, different from our belief that birth control will be perfectly effective, we must recognize the fact that 100%-effective birth control is not truly possible.

성관계 시 작용하는 남녀 간의 권력구도 역시 짚고 넘어갈 필요가 있다. 사례들을 보면 여성이 피임도구 사용에 대해 이야기할 수 없는 상황이 많았다. 피임 성공률이 가장 높은 콘돔을 사용하자고 이야기 할 때 ‘헤픈 여자’, ‘경험 있는 순결하지 못한 여자’로 치부될까봐 말하지 못하거나 남성 쪽에서 콘돔 사용을 꺼려한다는 이유로 사용하지 못하는 식이다.

There is also a need to deal with the power structure between a man and woman who start to have sex. Among the cases, there were many in which the woman was in a situation in which she couldn’t talk about using birth control.  She couldn’t say anything because she was afraid that if she suggested using a condom – the birth control with the highest success rate -she would be regarded as a “slut” or an “experienced and impure woman”, or she didn’t use a condom because the man was reluctant to (source, right: unknown).

자신이 준비되지 않았음에도 불구하고 남성의 요구를 차마 거절하지 못하고 성관계를 맺은 사례도 많았다. 그리고 심지어 부인에게 정관수술 했다고 거짓말하는 남편들도 있었다.

There were also many cases in which the woman couldn’t bear to refuse the man’s demand and so had sex even though she wasn’t ready. There were even men who lied and told their wives that they had had vasectomies.

이처럼 가부장제하에서 ‘순결이데올로기’와 맞물린 남녀 간의 권력구도가 여성에게 상당히 불리하게 작용함을 알 수 있었다. 그러나 사례집에서 나타난 여성의 임신 상황에 대처하는 남자들의 태도는 미숙하기만 했다. 걱정해주고 함께 고민하는 남자들도 있었지만, 나 몰라라 하고 사라지는 경우도 적지 않았다. 그런 남성을 만난 어떤 여성은 ‘남자들도 그 수술대에 앉아 보면 좋겠다.’고 말한다. 오죽하면 그런 이야기를 했을까 싶다.

In this way, we see that in a patriarchal system, the power structure between men and women, which is connected to the “purity ideology,” is considerably disadvantageous to women.  However, in the casebook, the attitude of the men who are dealing with the women’s pregnancies is merely one of inexperience.  There were men who were anxious and who worried with the woman, but there are also not a few instances in which the man did nothing and disappeared.  One woman who met a man like that said, “I wish that men would try being on that operating table.”  She must have had a hard time, for her to say that.

낙태, 말할 있게 하라, Make it possible to talk about abortion

아직도 우리사회에서는 낙태에 대한 인식이 좋지 않다. 사례집의 몇몇 사례들에서 이야기한 ‘낙태 경험’에서 심지어 낙태를 시술하는 의료인까지도 사회적 통념의 틀을 벗어나지 못하고 있음을 잘 보여준다.

In our society, the perception of abortion is still not good.  The “abortion experience” section of several of the cases in the casebook shows that even some of the doctors who perform abortions can’t think outside the box of societal norms (Caption, above: 임신출산결정권을 위한 네트워크는 헌번재판소 공개변론일에 맞추어 ‘낙태 처벌 반대’를 주장하며 집회를 가졌다; A network for pregnancy and childbirth decision-making rights holds a gathering and argues for “opposition to abortion punishments” to address the public proceedings at the Constitutional Court).

낙태를 결심하고 병원을 찾은 여성들 역시 죄책감에 시달리고 말 못할 비밀을 갖게 되는데, 미혼이니 당연히 낙태를 선택할 것이라 생각한 의사며, 헤픈 여자라는 시선으로 싸늘하게 대한 간호사의 태도는 그들에게 낙태에 대한 부정적인 인식을 더욱 강화하게 만든다. 낙태는 축복받을 일도 아니지만, 어떤 측면에서는 ‘시선의 폭력’이라는 생각이 든다. 그리고 이런 식의 ‘낙인’들이 낙태 경험을 가진 여성을 더욱 더 말할 수 없는 존재로 만들어버린다.

Women who decide to have an abortion and find a hospital suffer from a sense of guilt and acquire a secret they can’t tell, of course, and while there are doctors who think that it’s natural to get an abortion because a woman is unmarried, the attitude of nurses who consider them sluts and treat them coldly further reinforces to them the negative perception of abortion.  Abortion isn’t a blessed event, but in some ways, this [attitude] seems like a “violence of perception”.  Also, those kinds of labels make women who’ve had abortions more unable to speak.


사실, 국내에서 낙태에 대한 정확한 수치를 파악조차 하기 힘들다고 한다. 국가에서 의료인과 일반 여성들을 대상으로 인공임신중절 실태조사를 했지만, 생각보다 적은 수로 나온다. 그만큼 낙태는 음성적으로 행해져왔고, 대책을 세우기도 쉽지 않은 상황이다. 여성의 낙태 경험을 이야기 할 수없는 사회적 분위기가 낙태를 ‘비현실적인 것’으로 만들어버린다. 하지만 낙태는 여성에게 ‘일어날 수 있는 사건’이다.

Truthfully, it is said to be difficult to even figure out the exact number of domestic abortions. Research on the artificial termination of pregnancy has been done targeting the country’s health care providers and average women, but the numbers were smaller than expected.  Abortion has been done that secretly; also, it is not easy to establish measures.  The social atmosphere in which women can’t talk about their abortion experiences has made abortion an “unreal thing.”  However, abortion is an event that can happen to women.

낙 태 경험을 드러냄으로써 낙태가 단순한 것이 아니라 복잡한 상황 속에서 내린 매우 어려운 선택이었고 큰 고통이었음을 세상에 이야기하는 것이 중요한 의미가 있다는 생각이 든다. 나 역시도 사례집을 읽기 전까지는 낙태를 경험했던 내 친구가 겪었을 고통을 깨닫지 못했으니까. 내 주변에는 낙태 경험이 없다고 생각했었다. 적어도 사례집을 읽기 전까지는 친구가 내게 낙태 경험을 이야기했다는 사실 조차 기억하고 있지 못했다.

Through the disclosure of experiences with abortion, it occurs to me that abortion is not a simple thing, but a very difficult choice made in a complicated situation, and telling of that great pain to the world has important meaning.  That’s because before reading the casebook, I too did not realize the pain that my friend who had an abortion went through.  I had thought that no one around me had had an abortion.  Before reading the casebook, at least, I hadn’t even remembered the fact that my friend had told me she’d had an abortion.


몇년 전, 방학이라 한동안 연락이 끊어졌던 친구가 개강 후 만난 내게 가볍게 ‘애 떼러 갔다 왔다’고 웃으며 이야기했던 적이 있었다. 그 당시의 나는 ‘아, 그랬구나’ 대수롭지 않게 넘겼지만, 사례집을 읽으면서 뒤늦게 그 친구가 내게 그렇게 이야기하기까지 얼마나 힘들었을지, 웃음 뒤에 숨겨진 그 친구의 아픔을 이제야 이해하고 공감할 수 있었다. 이런 낙태 경험을 공유함으로써 어쩌면 여성들끼리의 연대가 형성되고, 또 그렇게 여성들이 뭉칠 필요가 있지 않을까 하는 생각이 든다. 그런 의미에서 이 사례집 발간은 연대의 시발점이 되지 않을까 싶다.

A few years ago, a friend who I hadn’t been in contact with during a [university] break said to me, when we met after the start of classes,  “I went to have a baby removed,” lightly and with a smile.  “Oh, I see,” I said, passing over it as not a big deal, but while reading the casebook, I can finally understand and sympathize, belatedly, with how hard it must have been for her to tell me that, and the pain that was hidden behind her smile.   I think that through sharing these kinds of experiences, solidarity may be formed between women, and that women standing together in that way might be necessary.   In this kind of meaning, the publishing of the casebook could become a starting point for solidarity.

인간은 사회적 동물이기에 사회가 인간에게 미치는 영향력은 굉장하다. 그 맥락에서 낙태를 여성 개인의 한 문제로 볼 수 없을 뿐더러, 여성 개인의 문제로 국한시켜서 책임을 지울 수도 없다. 낙태를 금지(pro-life)냐 허용(pro-choice)이냐로 먼저 따지기 전에, 낙태를 둘러싼 입체적인 사회적 배경을 먼저 읽어야 할 것이다.

Because humans are social animals, the influence that society has on people is tremendous.  In that context, not only can we not look at abortion as an individual woman’s problem, but we also can’t limit it to an individual woman’s problem and thus saddle her with the responsibility.  Before quibbling over being pro-life or pro-choice, we need to first read about the multi-dimensional, societal background that surrounds abortion.

(Many thanks to Marilyn for the mammoth translation)

Korean Gender Reader

This being the week of romance, allow me to repost this 2005 Mis en scène commercial featuring Ha Ji-won (하지원) and Jo In-sung (조인성), still the sexiest Korean commercial ever.

Apologies for the poor quality, but unfortunately this copy of mine appears to be the only one available. I have found (via A Koala’s Playground) a good copy of the 15-second version though, but, alas, you really need more of a build-up to fully appreciate Ha Ji-won’s smouldering stares!^^

V-Men Auditions in Busan, Sunday the 19th (Busan Haps)

Marriage and tears in Joseon Korea (The Marmot’s Hole)

All Camp in Korea (Bathhouse Ballads)

While Brazil Telenovelas Shrink Families, Jdramas Seek to Expand Them? (YAM)

Does Confucianism have a place in modern Korea? (The Korea Herald; hat tip to Colette Balmain)

The Korean Look Travels Well in China (The Three Wise Monkeys)

Brian’s “Let This Die” MV: Romanticizing Violence In Korean Media (Musical Dialect)

Cesarean Nation: The cautionary tale of how China came to have the world’s highest C-section rate (Slate)

Brokered marriages hurt husbands, too (Korea Joongang Daily)

The Baby Owner’s Manual: Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance (Geek in Heels)

Itaewon in 1984: A paradise for foreign gypsies that lead Korean women astray (Gusts of Popular Feeling)

Putting the fun into feminism (The Sydney Morning Herald; via: Blog in a Tea Cup)

DONA-International Workshops for Birth and Postpartum Doulas (10Magazine)

K-Pop and Consumer Nationalism (Seoulbeats)

Middle school students to spend more time on physical education (The Hankyoreh)

How young is too young to model? (Work That Matters)

(Links are not necessarily endorsements)

Learning From Korean Family Planning Advertisements of the 1960s-1980s

…American military officers helped make abortion the population control tool of choice in those Asian countries where they wielded influence, first in Japan in the late 1940s and 1950s, then South Korea in the 1960s. USAID, America’s aid agency, provided Jeeps for mobile clinics which roamed South Korea performing abortions. At one point, a quarter of the country’s health budget was going on population control and the number of abortions hit an all-time record in Seoul, where, in 1977, there were 2.75 abortions for every live birth. “What would have happened if the government hadn’t allowed for such easy abortion?” asks one sociologist. “I don’t think sex-selective abortion would have become so popular.”

(Review of Mara Hvistendahl’s Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, @The Economist)

Apropos of the above quote, let me present some government advertisements of the period to give you a better impression of that amazing zeal for population control back then. Also, that whereas couples were encouraged to have two children in the 1970s, and not to favor boys over girls, that this would be reduced to only one child by the 1980s. Messages about the sex-ratio were invariably diluted.

Obviously, these would come to play a huge role in today’s world-low birthrate, the difficulty many Korean men are now having in finding wives (although fortunately the sex-ratio among newborns has since been normalized), and the ensuing massive influx of overseas brides. Less obviously, they defy stereotypes about Koreans’ squeamishness when it comes to sexual matters, as I’ll explain.

But first, some context. All 30 or so advertisements I’ve been able to find were produced by the Planned Parenthood Federation of Korea (대한가족계획협회; now known as the Planned Population Federation of Korea {PPFK; 인구보선복지협회}) and/or the now defunct Ministry of Health and Social Affairs (보건사회부), and can be found here, here, here, and here, as well as (best) on the PPFK’s website.

(Text, both calenders—”Did you know that the most effective, safest, and simplest device is the loop (IUD)? People who want one, please go to a welfare or family planning center.” Black headline, right calender—”Let’s have the proper number of babies, and raise them well!”)

Formed in April 1961 just before the coup, the PPFK would soon have the strong support of the military government. But according to Seungsook Moon in Militarized Modernity and Gendered Citizenship in South Korea (2005; pp. 81-2), its activities wouldn’t really take off until the 1970s, which possibly explains its rather uninspired efforts above (but note though, that the government itself was extremely active in population control well before then):

The modernizing state had to launch aggressive propaganda for family planning because the idea of contraception was foreign to most Koreans, who tended to believe that having many children meant good luck and that every child would bring his or her own food into the world….

….The state…worked closely with the PPFK to change the public perception of birth control, establishing a department of public relations in 1970 to make the idea and practice of contraception familiar to the populace. The PPFK increasingly relied on mass media (radio, television, newspapers, magazines and education texts of its own) to disseminate positive images and information about families with a small number of children. To encourage popular participation, the PPFK organized popular contests of various kinds, ranging from posters, songs, and slogans to stories of personal experiences by mothers and wives concerning contraception.

A fascinating book, it’s difficult not to quote much more here, as the next few pages make it clear that Korea’s population policies were just as systematic and draconian as China’s. In light of what is revealed in Hvistendahl’s more recent book though, it is strange that it doesn’t also discuss abortions, but it does mention that while IUDs insertions were offered freely in the 1960s (with the Marine Corps mobilized to provide them to isolated islanders), and considered the “patriotic” and “ideal” form of contraception (but with the pill also introduced in 1968 to alleviate their effects, in stark contrast to Japan), by the second half of the 1970s it would be female sterilization that was offered and aggressively applied, becoming “what can only be described as a sterilization mania” by the 1980s. Between 1982 and 1987, over 2 million Korean women would be sterilized, a “semiforced mass sterilization” that “led to abrupt reductions in the fertility rate and the rate of population growth in the 1980s” (p. 85).

(Left, umbrella—”The path to youth and beauty is family planning.” Both posters—”Don’t discriminate between boys and girls, have only two children and raise them well.” {This slogan can be seen on many 1970s posters}.)
(Left, headline—”Which method is good?”; cup—”Family planning consultations”; man, text —”I’ll do it”; text, bottom—”1975 is International Women’s Year.” Right, 19th Family Weekly Magazine May 5-12 1974—”The World has One Destiny”; “NCC=The National Council of Churches in Korea.”)

This poster on the left above is particularly interesting, and not just because that was the year that March 8—which *cough* happens to be my birthday—was made International Women’s Day (alas, I was born a year later). Rather, it’s because of the guy saying “I’ll do it”, which couldn’t help but remind me of young Koreans’ surprising attitude that contraception is exclusively men’s responsibility (as indeed the Japanese think too). However, women were overwhemingly the focus of population control drives back then (Moon notes that only 1 vasectomy was performed for every 10 IUD insertions, although I think the ratio to female sterilizations would have been more useful), and women’s organizations co-opted or specifically created by the state to carry them out, so it seems anachronistic to see a connection between young Koreans’ attitudes today and those of their parents at the same age.

Indeed, this one on the left below turns out not to be about family-planning at all, but rather women’s rights:

(Left, headline—”We are all [the same] human”; Man (clockwise from hat)—”Family registry rights, parental rights, inheritance, children, estate”; Text—”Women’s Family Law Change Committee”. Right, arrow—”The path to a Gross National Income of of $1000 in 1981″; Text, below—”[Previous 1970s’ slogan]”.)

Next, before moving on to posters from the 1980s, note that sterilization campaigns would come to be complimented by various economic incentives (p. 85):

In 1981, confronting negative economic growth for the first time since 1982, along with a decrease in the number of sterilization acceptors, the state issued “Countermeasures to Population Growth.” These measures were characterized by incentives to a family with one or two [James – ?] children; priority in getting housing loans and business loans, monetary support of low-income families, and free medical service for the first visit. During the 1980s, variations of these kinds of incentives were introduced almost every year.

(Left—”Two children is many too!”. Right—”Korea’s population has already exceeded 40 million”.)

And here are two posters with sons, and then two with daughters. But note that, confusedly, there were also some with two children like those in the 1970s though, and that clearly the government and PPFK were still very much concerned about the sex-ratio.

However, like I said that message was surely somewhat diluted by having some posters featuring and explicitly praising having a son, and it would be interesting to do a content analysis to determine the ratio of those that depicted sons to daughters, two children, or (preferably) a sex-neutral image like the eggs above:

(Left—”One family, full of love. One child, full of health”. Right, headline—”Because of one son”; Text—”Overpopulation is everybody’s responsibility”.)

(Top—”A blessing of one child, loved strongly”. Bottom—”Raise one daughter well, and you won’t envy [those who have] ten sons”.)
(Left, sign—”Korea’s current population: 40,524,837, Korea is overflowing”; Text in map—”Even if you only have one child, Korea is overflowing”. Right—”Korea is already overflowing”.)

Finally, please note that these posters are just a handful of those available on the PPFK website, and which in turn must be a small sample of all that were produced. But in combination with what I’ve learnt from Militarized Modernity, they’ve still lead me to an interesting conclusion. Which is that, bearing in mind Koreans’ reputation for procrastination, yet doing things with outstanding zeal and efficiency once they set their minds to them (albeit usually precisely because of putting them off for so long), sexual matters are no exception, despite Koreans’ conservative reputation. Moreover, and intriguingly, it appears that young Korean couples of the 1970s and 1980s were likely to have been much better educated and informed than their children are now.

Assuming it does exist, what on Earth happened in the 1990s and 2000s to account for this curious generation gap? And why, even though technically adults rather than children were the target of government campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s, is sex education in Korea today so appalling?