Korean Gender Reader


Some good news and bad news: after announcing earlier this year that monthly birth-control and morning-after pills were to be reclassified as prescription-only and over-the-counter respectively (i.e., the opposite of the current situation), the KDFA has just postponed its decision for 3 years.

Officially, the reason is because “there has to be careful consideration when overturning a classification system that has been retained for decades,” and because the extra time will allow the KDFA to “carefully monitor” the (supposed) side effects of the morning-after pills and also (unnecessarily) better educate the public on the side-effects and correct usage of monthly birth-control ones. But the more likely explanation is that the government was unnerved by the opposition to the reclassification of the month birth-control pill in particular, especially just before the election. In contrast, the opposition to the morning-after pill is mainly by religious conservatives, who would be very unlikely to vote for a different party.

One interpretation of such a long postponement is, of course, that the proposal will be quietly shelved in 3 years, although a negative of that would be a continued lack of access to the morning-after pill. But the realist in me thinks otherwise: as I explain in this Busan Haps article, the curious proposed simultaneous restriction and liberation of access to contraception has nothing to do with any dangers or women’s own needs or concerns, and everything to do with financial pressures within and between the Korean medical and pharmaceutical industries as Korea’s demographic crunch begins to bite. Those are not going to go away any time soon, particularly if the present conservative administration is reelected under Park Geun-hye — recall that her predecessor’s biggest solution to the declining birth rate and women’s inability to combine careers and children was simply to (re)criminalize abortion.

The conservative media’s framing of the contraception debate supports this pessimistic view: this article in the Korean Joongang Daily, for instance, explains that if reelected the government will continue to stress the opposition of “government officials, doctors, experts, women’s rights activists, religious groups and other civic organizations” to making the morning-after pill OTC, while simultaneously downplaying the far greater support for the status quo with the monthly birth-control pill. (And, possibly, support for making the morning-after pill over-the-counter too; I am unsure how much that has sorry.)

In sum, the combination of the (re)criminalization of abortion and now the proposed restriction of the monthly contraceptive-pill points to a “War on Women” every bit as real as the GOP’s one in the US, and which deserves to be far more widely known outside of Korea. Although, admittedly, I don’t know Park Geun-hye’s own personal beliefs on women’s reproductive rights, I do have genuine concerns that the Korean election of 2012 will be a eerie parallel of that of my native UK in 1979, when, to paraphrase my mother, “Millions of women voted for her simply because she was a woman, who then proceeded to crap all over them.” Certainly, her mere nomination as presidential candidate is already being widely described in feminist, empowering, and riding the crest of a wave of “women rising to the top” type terms, whereas I say that remains to be seen.


Meanwhile apologies for the lack of posts, but my first week of the new semester proved to be much busier than expected. Usually, I try to have at least 2 posts in between each Korean Gender Reader, but I decided I’d rather post (hopefully) much better quality ones next week than rush them this time!

Update: By coincidence, the birth control pill ad I used to open this post with is for the Mercilon brand, which is several readers’ favorite, and which they were stocking up on because it is unavailable in the US. But of course every woman is different, so if Mercilon is not for you then please see The Wanderlust Diary and/or Kimchiowner’s Blog for a list of available brands, and the process of buying them.


Care to visit some of Korea’s grandest museums? Help me to get there, get it written, then get it to you! (Kickstarter Project)

The Meet Market: White Party, Saturday September 1 (The Kimchi Queen)

Gay Friends in Seoul Meetup, Sunday September 2: Movie Night & Potluck (The Kimchi Queen)

Body Image/Health:

“Fat for an Asian:” The Pressure to be Naturally Perfect (XoJane)

Fukuoka Girls: Don’t You Wish You Were Cute Like Me? (Japan Realtime)

Doojoon’s Reaction to an Overweight Fan and the Blame Game (Seoulbeats)

Doojoon’s Faux Pas: The result of trainees’ social isolation? (Seoulbeats)

The politics of veils, ‘polleras’ and mini-skirts (Aljazeera)

Female Boxers: From disgust to admiration (The F-word)

Is Korea’s drug policy working? (The Korea Herald)


Production Firm Charged Over R-Rated Eminem Gig (The Chosunilbo)

Ratings board says it was lied to about Eminem show (The Korea Herald)

The Constitutional Court rules on the “real name” law and a controversial abortion law (Korea Law Today)


More sex offenders could be castrated; Critics say castration doesn’t address psychological origins of sexual violence (The Hankyoreh)

Push for chemical castration in wake of sexual offenses (Korea Joongang Daily)

Chemical castration to see wider use (The Korea Times)

Is chemical castration effective in preventing sex offenses? (The Korea Times)

Picture of the Day: Korean Self Defense Gadgets (ROK Drop)

Gov’t to toughen measures against potential sex criminals (The Korea Times)

Anklet-wearing murderer of housewife lived alone, having no friend (The Korea Times)

Stupid talk about rape: Not just an American thing (The Marmot’s Hole)

Breaking News: A second ‘Na-young Case’ in the making? (The Marmot’s Hole)


A North Korean love story: Defectors to marry in group ceremony (The Star; Isn’t Moonies style!)

Stressed men drawn to heavy women (BBC)

Shall We Dance? Yes…But Not in Public (Speaking of China)

New Zealand experience suggests “marriage equality” will win where “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage” will not (Kiwipolitico)


An Expat`s Guide to Going to the Gyno in Korea (Busan Haps)

The Flip-flop over Foreskin (Nursing Clio)

Gayspeak: 끼탑 and 땍마 (The Kimchi Queen)

Campaign aims to kick Korean prostitutes out of Australia (The Korea Times)

China AIDS patients topple gate of gov’t office (The Huffington Post)

Eight things you didn’t know you could do with human sperm (io9)

Film Review: Stateless Things/줄탁동시 (The Kimchi Queen)

Reply 1997 Shin Wonho PD: “The real reason for putting in homosexuality…” (Omona They Didn’t)

Read: Behind the Red Door — Sex in China, by Richard Burger (Shanghaiist)


Can men be feminists? (New Statesmen)

Men Explain Things to Me: The origins of the term “mansplaining” (Guernica)


Young South Koreans face jobless woes with ‘graduate glut’ (My Sinchew)

Joblessness ruining young people’s health (The Hankyoreh)

Japan’s Graduates Face Tough Job Market (Japan Realtime)

Japanese Police Women To Go Up To 10% Of Force….by 2023 (Japanesesubculture)

Pop Culture:

GD’s “One of A Kind”: Musings on Looking For Meaning Kpop (Idle Revelry)

Korean Culture Through K-pop 102: Pass the Soju (Seoulbeats)

Pronunciation Tips: Practicing the aegyo intonation (Hangukdrama and Korean)

Idols Striving for Perfection: It’s a Hard-Knock Life (Seoulbeats)


Girl Commits Suicide After Being Bullied in KakaoTalk Chatroom (Korea Bang)

One Chinese child too many – 27-year old woman forced to abort 7-month fetus (The East Asia Gazette)

Constitutional Court deems abortion a criminal offense (The Hankyoreh)

Deaths of only children present social challenge in China (Want China Times)

Out-of-wedlock babies on the rise (The Korea Herald)

Breastfeeding flash mob in the heart of Singapore (Channel News Asia)

Chinese Government defends college policy favoring boys (Global Times)

South Koreans Balk at Saturdays Without School (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Teachers’ rights to be better protected (The Korea Times)

(Links are not necessarily endorsements)

13 thoughts on “Korean Gender Reader

  1. James: For the record, the post has been completely rewritten and expanded since “books” made this comment – after writing my reply to it below, I realized a big edit was necessary!

    I’m sorry i’m not sure what is so wrong w/ b.c. being subscribed. I realize that it’s not super comfortable or common for unmarried women to see a gynecologist in Korea, but b.c. is a medication and when not prescribed right, it can really do a number on you. As someone currently on and has taken b.c. for several years, it can take awhile for a doctor to figure out which brand is best for you, as they all have different hormone levels. I personally would not want to pick some random brand with/out taking my personal medical history into account. Also, women should see a gyno at least once a year. You have to take care of your lady parts. If it became a prescription, maybe it would help make going to see a gyno more of regular thing in Korea, that’s sort how it worked in the US. Most women only go for their yearly exam to renew their b.c. prescription. I have friend who was able to catch her cervical cancer early because of this.


    1. Thanks for your comment, but I disagree with most of it sorry. Saying “it’s not super comfortable or common for unmarried women to see a gynecologist in Korea” vastly understates the issues many Korean women have with them. And while you’re entitled to your belief that the birth control pill “can really do a number on you” if not prescribed correctly by a doctor, strangely the vast majority of Korean women that use them manage just fine without the intervention of one, and deeply resented suddenly being told they did. Particularly when the suggested law change was not because of any new, compelling evidence that the pill is unsafe, but simply for the KMA to make money. It was really quite patronizing.

      I do agree that making “going to see a gyno more of regular thing in Korea” would be a good thing, but please note that had the law gone into effect, women would not have been able to buy a year’s subscription at a time, but only a month’s. Again, and not that you’re saying otherwise(!), but this can’t be stressed enough: women’s needs and concerns had absolutely nothing to do with the suggested law change.


      1. James i respect your work and appreciate that you write on women’s issues, but read any b.c forum about the side effects of having the wrong prescription (extremely painful cramps, spotting, nausea, unusually heavy blood flow, depression, blood clots, heart attacks the list can on on) and you’ll see that having the wrong prescription is a serious issue. I fully agree with women having access and control over their bodies and making their own health choices, but medication is medication. I don’t appreciate your dismissive tone to my experience not “opinion” (actually backed by medical research) as a woman actually taking the drug, verus your word of mouth “experience” as a man. I know the issue isn’t black and white, as women in the US are fighting our own battles for access to b.c. and control of our uterus, since most government medical regulation generally does not favor the actual people. Remember that you are writing from a male perspective. Don’t disregard the experience of your female readers.


        1. I’m sorry you felt that way about my comment. But please note that I was not dismissing side effects per se, rather that women themselves are perfectly capable of reading about those, weighing up different brands, and deciding which is the most appropriate one for them; as a female friend has pointed out, there’s always detailed information, instructions, and warnings contained just inside the boxes themselves, let alone on the internet.

          If you felt I was being dismissive though, then surely it was a little hypocritical of you to dismiss what I said in turn as merely being “a male perspective,” which was just unhelpful and tiresome? But if that’s what you genuinely think though, then I challenge you to point out a single thing I’ve ever written about the pill or contraception in general that couldn’t have been written by a woman instead. Because in fact I do attach a great deal of importance to “the experience of [my] female readers,” let alone female friends and my wife, and as it happens the views expressed in this post were first expounded by several of them to me, let alone echoed by the vast majority of readers and commenters (70% of which are women I might add). Indeed, come to think of it there’s very little about the contraceptive pill in particular that I haven’t learnt from women!

          I’m sorry if we got off on the wrong foot, and by all means we can just agree to disagree. But please don’t accuse me of not listening to women, which I don’t think is very fair or accurate!


          1. James,

            I was not talking about side effects of the pill, but getting the right prescription for your body. If we take me for example. I have elevated levels of testosterone, b/c of that I have to use a pill that has high levels of estrogen. How did I did I know i had elevated levels? My DOCTOR tested my estrogen and testosterone levels before deciding which pill to prescribe me. Did i know this before hand? No, because i’ve never had a medical reason to get my levels checked. I have a friend who is in the opposite position, who has estrogen seeping out her pores, and needs a prescription with low levels of estrogen. As much as I like to play arm chair doctor, there is no way the internet could have told me this. I have been taking the pill for 10 years now. I’m happy i got medical advice for a medication I’ve been putting in my body for the last decade. You may think a doctor is unnecessary, and that it’s ok to play russian roulette with pill prescriptions, but I think a vast majority of the medical community would disagree.

            Do i think men can write about women’s issues? Of, course I do. That does not change the fact the you are still writing from an outside perspective. I do not have children (thanks to the pill). I can talk to a million parents, do a ton of research, hang out with a bunch of kids, and I would still be missing a level of knowledge from not experiencing it first hand. I can not research my way into parenthood. Same argument for pregnancy and going through labor. I do think outside perspectives are important and add to the overall discussion. I’m always happy for more male voices into the discussion for equality for women. That is always a good thing.


          2. Just because you and your friend got your hormone levels tested by a doctor before deciding which pill to use, and feel that it’s “play[ing] Russian roulette with pill prescriptions” not to do so, doesn’t mean that my wife, female friends, or hundreds of thousands of Korean women feel the same way.

            Any women that do share your concerns though, are still perfectly free to consult with a doctor if they choose, even if it’s not required by law.

            As for my “outside perspective” and “male voice” though, it is my overwhelming experience that anyone who brings my sex, race, and/or cultural background into a discussion is using it simply as an ad hominem attack, and I see no reason to doubt that you’re doing the same here. After all, you have chosen to ignore my challenge to “point out a single thing I’ve ever written about the pill or contraception in general that couldn’t have been written by a woman instead,” and, frankly, I don’t blame you: I have already pointed out that almost everything I have ever written about the contraceptive pill was actually first told to me by women (indeed, frequently I’m repeating them almost verbatim), so it must be really difficult in such cases to point out what my “outside, male perspective” is exactly, and how it’s relevant.

            Feel free to have the last word, but you’ll forgive me for wasting no more time on someone who stresses how irrelevant my perspective is.


  2. OK, Books, how about this?

    I’m a woman, and I think that your assessment of the pill is wrong, and your assessment of James’ ability to come to a reasonable insight regarding contraceptives is wrong.

    Let me lay it out straight – your description of having “too much testosterone” and needing a different formula doesn’t strike me as a complete fiction, but the idea that you had a high level of testosterone that both you and your doctors were completely ignorant and you only caught because of blood screening prior to going on the pill strikes me as a little odd. First of all, because women with problematically high levels of testosterone actually do show symptoms, most of which people would seek treatment for. Second, blood tests aren’t common as part of how doctor’s prescribe the pill (at least in the US). Nor do doctors usually have tests they do that match women to individual formulations – the evaluation usually is to determine whether hormonal birth control is the best/most appropriate course *compared to other forms of birth control, including IUDs*. and usually only includes a blood pressure test and verbal inquiry into any major health problems the person might have and their sexual history. When blood work is involved, it’s usually for liver function and anemia, not testosterone levels. If you were getting blood work done, my guess is that you were there for an overall gynecological screening or consulting about other symptoms of raised testosterone, not just to get a prescription for the pill.

    Doctors don’t have special tests that match women with specific brands and formulations. They ask you some questions about your general health and sexual history. Then they give you a prescription for whatever pill is most familiar to them/covered by your insurance/seems like a good choice. But they actually don’t have any special insight that means that you’ll get the right stuff for you the first time. Lots of people have to go back for a different prescription. The difference is, in Korea, I can go to the pharmacist, pick up some pills, and give it a try. If they don’t work or I don’t like how I feel on them, I go back to the pharmacy and pick up a different brand and try it out. In places where you have to go to the doctor for a prescription, you end up doing the *exact same thing* EXCEPT you have to pay for and find time to go to the doctor. Again. And that is frankly just a gigantic waste of time and money for the very vast majority of women who are seeking one of the safest medicines you can get. You are more likely to die from aspirin or Tylenol than from birth control, ok?

    In the meantime, South Korean women *desperately* need to have safe, confidential access to birth control. Birth control pills are hands down one of the best ways to ensure that – as they have been here for more than forty years. There’s no special reason to think that suddenly Korean women are too stupid or unable to take a medicine that has gotten even safer over the past few decades. However, requiring women to visit the doctor and obtain a prescription would undoubtedly lower the rates of women relying on BC.

    As for the idea that James and other men can’t comment intelligently on the pill . . .There are places and times where an experience of something is meaningful in a way that book learning isn’t. This ain’t one of those times. James probably can’t give personal testimony on what it’s like to take birth control, but lots of women can’t either. And it’s not necessary. The physical and sociological impact of the pill is well known, and he hasn’t reported anything outside of that.


    1. Wow,

      I thought this was a safe place to have a discussion and share my thoughts. I’m not going to go into detail of medical history, but I’m a normal healthy girl. Almost all women I know, have had trouble with their prescriptions, and have had them changed. I guess I’ve always had good doctors. I have always tried to state in my responses that i value and respect James’ work and was not attacking its worth, nor do i think it’s irrelevant. I never said that. I’ve never said James cannot write intelligently on this subject, as he clearly has in the past.

      This seems to be a moot point to be arguing about since no one here is actually a medical doctor. Since we all agree that women need access to safe, and affordable health care, I’m just going to leave this discussion before someone else says there is something medically wrong with me or waste anyone else’s time.


      1. I’m not saying there’s something medically wrong with you, I’m saying that you and the “anecdata” you’ve provided here don’t really make a good case for birth control being prescription only.


    2. As for the idea that James and other men can’t comment intelligently on the pill . . .There are places and times where an experience of something is meaningful in a way that book learning isn’t. This ain’t one of those times. James probably can’t give personal testimony on what it’s like to take birth control, but lots of women can’t either. And it’s not necessary. The physical and sociological impact of the pill is well known, and he hasn’t reported anything outside of that.

      Thanks for all your comment: naturally, I’ve never gotten a prescription for the pill myself, so your description of the procedure was illuminating.

      Your last paragraph especially though, made me realize I was a little overzealous in defending against the charge that I “disregard the experience of [my] female readers,” as of course I can and regularly do have some things of my own to say on “wimmin’s issues,” which can’t be dismissed simply because I’m a guy. And because your explanation of how and why that’s the case is so much more eloquent and succinct than I could ever write myself too, I’m afraid I’ll be referring many “You’re White/A Guy/Western so STFU”-type trolls to your comment in the future sorry! :D

      Update – Oops: @books, I didn’t mean to imply with that last that I consider you a troll sorry. Quite the opposite, although I do think you didn’t realize how much of a contradiction it was to claim to respect my work etc., but earlier stress that I could only offer an outsider’s perspective.


      1. I’d also like to add too that women’s access to the pill and other forms of birth control does directly impact their male partners, if they have them. Many men have an immediate and vested interest in making sure birth control is easily available!


  3. haven’t actually read any of the posts yet, although I’m about to, but before I begin the East Asia Gazette really should say “27 year old woman” instead of “girl.” That’s just a poor show on their part.


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