Korean Gender Reader, March 23-29

Sex, Art, and American Culture Sistar Hyolin Loving U(Sources: left, right)

As I type this, I’ve just returned from having a vacuum cleaner stuck in my ear — an opening line I hereby copyright, just in case I do ever start that novel.

Seriously though, the procedure itself was mercifully painless and brief. But, it came after one trip to an incompetent dentist this week, then two to a much better ear, nose, and throat doctor. Add all the ibuprofen I’ve been taking too, then I didn’t have much time or concentration left for posts this week sorry.

There will be one next week soon about objectification and SISTAR though (specifically, SISTAR19), whom I’d be happy and grateful to hear your thoughts on as I finish writing this weekend. Or, on Camile Paglia, who’s Sex, Art, and American Culture (1992) — a collection of short, impactful magazine articles — has just blown me away since picking up a copy in Seoul a few weeks ago. I didn’t need to think twice about making her my first official writing role model, and am already calculating average sentence word counts!^^


All is Well in Gwangju Vagina World (Gwangju Blog)


For transgender Koreans, sex change not about organs, but “a question of life and death” (The Hankyoreh)

Dear Mr. PD, Give Me a Break! Female bodies on K-pop TV shows (Beyond Hallyu)

‘Leftover’ men of China: You’re okay (as long as you’re rich) (Shanghaiist)

There is now a stereotype for psychics in Korean cinema (Gord Sellar)

Queer Links from the Week (The Kimchi Queen)


Does Peer Pressure Ever Discourage Dating Differently? (Speaking of China)

Japanese Women Take Command, Finally (TIME)

The Korean Baby Box: What makes single moms give up their babies? (South Korean Human Rights Monitor)

Korean Subway Sexual Harassment Prevention Tips Constrict Women’s Behavior (ILDA)

Romantic North Korea: Comrade Kim Goes Flying (The Wall Street Journal)


Women warriors break down barriers across Asia (The Nation)

Has there really been a drop in Japanese suicides or should we look at it as a drop in homicides? (Japan Subculture Research Center)

In a Room Full of Naked Koreans, Margaret Cho’s Body Is an Unwelcome Sight (Jezebel)

5 K-hiphop Producers You Shouldn’t Miss Out On (Angry K-pop Fan)

Is immigration at sustainable levels? (The Korea Herald)


Flight Attendants Can Now Wear Pants, but the Question Remains, Does Sex Sell Anyway? (Busan Haps)

The Big Fat Post About Weight, Women, and Body Image in K-Pop (The One Shots)

Korea drama’s breastfeeding scene under controversy for being ‘too sexually suggestive’ (Netizen Buzz)

Chinese crackdown begins on illegal reproductive clinics (China Daily)

Soo Joo Park Doesn’t Want to Be Typecast As an Asian Model (The Cut)


The March 1st Independence Movement, Led By Teenage Girls (ILDA; Part 2)

What do you do when you discover your husband of nine years is gay? A new Taiwanese rom-com (Scene Asia)

“Censorship has had a long and storied history in South Korea” (The Marmot’s Hole)

Crackdown brings to light China’s lucrative black-market reproductive clinics (Shanghaiist)

Korean Teenagers Go Online to Find Random ‘Ghost Friends’(koreaBANG)


Kodansha & AKB48′s Kasai Tomomi cleared of child porn charges cause nobody cares anymore (Asian Junkie)

Women in Combat? Old Hat, in North Korea (TIME)

North Korean Defector Working as Prostitute Found Dead in Motel (koreaBANG)

— “Why is it that even completely American Korean-Americans get one whiff of Korean culture and then are obsessed with it like there is no tomorrow?” (Ask a Korean!)

Park Si Hoo’s Sexual Assault Case: A Timeline Of What We Know So Far (Asian Junkie)


This is why there is only a 2.7% rate of success for adoptees that search for their families (Tales of Wonderlost; update)

Korean Media Deliberately Exaggerates Foreigners’ Crime Rates (Gusts of Popular Feeling)

Translation: Guidelines prepared for police to protect the rights of sexual minorities (The Kimchi Queen)

Case of prolonged abuse shows the need to protect South Korea’s intellectually-disabled from sexual violence (The Hankyoreh)

The Asia-Pacific may be home to 60% of the global population, but it only boasts 6% of the most beautiful female celebrities (The Diplomat)

(Links are not necessarily endorsements)

Korean Gender Reader, March 16-22

While You Were Sleeping 10, 2011, by Shin Sun Mi(While you were sleeping 10 by Shin Sun Mi, 2011. Source)

Remember this picture? I’ll wager you do — after all, it was probably the most liked and highly-shared thing I’ve ever posted to the blog’s Facebook page. So, I’m sure many of you will be happy to learn that the artist is having an exhibition at the Gallery Sun Contemporary in Jongno until April 7th…

See here for the details, and thanks very much to Gomushin Girl for letting me know!


Art Workshop for V-day, GIC, Gwangju, 5:30pm, Saturday March 30th (No previous experience required!)


Landmark legal ruling for South Korean transgenders (The Hankyoreh)

Zinni and crew hilariously not innocent on Music Bank (Frank Kogan)

Queer Links from the Week (The Kimchi Queen)

School administration shown to have responded poorly to signs of violence (The Hankyoreh)

Perfect Match? North Korean Wives for South Korean men (NK News)


BBC’s Mariko Oi on the history education in Japan (The Marmot’s Hole)

Japan’s nationalism targets hallyu stars (The Korea Times; also see “Japanese step up against anti-Korea demonstrations” at The Korea Herald and at koreaBANG)

Women’s Bodies Given Away For Medical Experiments (ILDA)

“Contract Marriages” Between Korean Gays and Lesbians (The Kimchi Queen)

Chinese parents bemoan their children’s laziness and greed, but this generation of young people has had enough (aeon)


Citizens’ choices of birth control made public in Dongguan (Shanghaiist)

K-pop and Korean Political Unrest (Seoulbeats)

Transsexual people can amend official gender without surgery, South Korean court rules (Gaystarnews)

A new message from Anti English Spectrum (Gusts of Popular Feeling)

Divorcing Your Chinese Spouse Doesn’t Mean A Divorce From China (Speaking of China)


The ironies of South Korea’s “digital generation” (The Hankyoreh)

South Korean Drama Actor Park Si-hoo in Rape Scandal (koreaBANG; A Koala’s Playground)

The K-Pop Police (Youtube Video; Steve Miller)

South Korea Expands Chemical Castration For Sex Offenders (Korea Realtime)

On the uniqueness of ‘Jeong’ and my inability to understand even if I tried really really hard (Idle Worship; The Marmot’s Hole)


Women’s lotions and potions in old Joseon (London Korea Links)

Finding (and Documenting) Love in China (Scene Asia)

Managers blackmail actor engaging in homosexual acts (Omona They Didn’t!)

Caution, Don’t Feed the Fans! (Seoulbeats)

Cross-Dressing Throughout History to Fit In (Slate)


China’s One-Child Policy Already Irrelevant? (Asia Society)

Park Geun-hye & Fashion: A Late-comer to the Race to Ascribe Stereotypes to the President (Korean Gender Cafe)

Wonju villa sex scandal keeps getting better (The Marmot’s Hole; koreaBANG)

Here come the princesslings: will the daughters of China’s new leaders finally break the glass ceiling? (Shanghaiist)

The Pregnant Murderer of Park Chorong-Chorong-Bitnari (Gord Sellar)


Vietnam’s Gender Policies Take a Progressive Turn (The Diplomat)

Sexual Harassment: It’s Not Just in the Seoul Streets (Tales of Wonderlost; update)

New South Korean Law Might Make Miniskirts Illegal (koreaBANG; Omona They Didn’t)

MTV’s Korean Drama Butterfly to Raise Awareness on Human Trafficking (The Diplomat)

“Blogging in Korea for so long…I’m watching the exact same conversations happen all over again” (I’m No Picasso)

(Links are not necessarily endorsements)

This is for, all the independent ladies…

This is for all the independent ladies(Source)

I’ve been asked to pass on the following:

SELF China is searching for Korean and/or Chinese women in their thirties and forties who have chosen the unmarried, single lifestyle by choice, and are willing to share their stories with our readers.

If interested in participating, please contact Jean at jean.coolhunt@gmail.com for more information.

Korean Sociological Image #76: Gendered Innocence and “The Nation’s First Love”

Galaxy Pop Advertisement

Three celebrities, three natural labels.

After all, Kim Yoo-jung is young. Song Joong-ki is chic, or at least compared to us mere mortals. And Suzy?

Well, she is simultaneously the baby, the designated cute member, and the “most visual member” of the girl-group Miss A, all standard archetypes for cookie-cutter K-Pop groups. So, perhaps it’s no wonder she’s become known as ‘The Nation’s First Love’ (kookmin chotsarang;국민 첫사랑).

As the bearer of that label, last year she displaced even Girls’ Generation members to become the ‘CF Queen,’ and she became a major earner for label JYP Entertainment in the process (to the extent that she’s been accused of completely overshadowing the other members of Miss A). Clearly, she’s very popular.

Addicted to Feminist Media CriticismWhy then, does seeing this picture of her get me so hot and bothered?

Blame the 30-minute subway rides to work as I pass it everyday. After two weeks of those, I’ve realized there are several questions raised by that label of hers, which I’d love to hear your thoughts on (source, right: Guerrilla Feminism):

1) In Korea, has a male celebrity in his late-teens (or older) ever been explicitly marketed as “innocent”?

To be clear, I’m not saying that their general image can’t be innocent. For instance, as described by Bethany at Seoulbeats, this has certainly been the case for Lee Taemin (and, at 19 now, is something he’s trying to shake off):

Many K-pop fans probably also remember cutie pie Taemin debuting at the age of 15, all fresh-faced and adorable. But while he was the youngest member of SHINee, he also boasted the slickest dance moves onstage and in their music video for “Replay,” which still remains my favorite SHINee song to date. Taemin has been pegged as the cute member of SHINee since his debut days, and even though he has taken on a sexier, more mature look in “Lucifer” and more currently, “Sherlock,” noona fans still remember the days of innocent Taemin. It’s lucky that Taemin had such good hyungs who took care of him so diligently — looking at you, Key. He also graduated high school not long ago…

Taemin Etude House(Source: ningin)

And, of course, such innocent images have indeed been exploited and/or manufactured by advertisers; in Taemin’s case, by cosmetic company Etude House for one, with appropriately cutesy taglines. But explicitly identifying a young male celebrity as innocent, to the extent that there’s a “soonsoohan;순수한” next to his name like next to Suzy’s? Although I’d be happy to be proven wrong (and I do acknowledge the over-generalizations I may be making in this post), I have the strong suspicion that’s a gendered divide which advertisers and the public simply aren’t prepared to cross.

To buttress that point, consider the following thought experiment:Why Missha Kim Hye-soo TVXQ

2) Can anyone imagine the sexes reversed in the opening ad?

Alone or with other women, it goes without saying that women are indeed regularly depicted—or explicitly described—as “chic” in advertisements. Or, in any one of any number of other mature, positive terms. But mix the sexes up, and the tendency is to reaffirm gender stereotypes and roles.

Usually, this is subtle, like in the ways described in my Gender Advertisements in the Korean Context posts. In the opening ad though, it is explicit, the young and innocent females providing the binary opposite to the man’s chicness, thereby affirming his greater sophistication (for a similar example, see this vintage lego ad, ironically usually lauded for its gender neutrality). Which is fine in itself, but to see the sexes reversed is so uncommon as to be jarring, and all the more memorable for it.

Like in this 2011 Missha advertisement for instance (source: Metro), with then 41 year-old Kim Hye-soo and—albeit not exactly innocent-looking—25 year-old Jung Yun-ho and 23 year-old Shim Changmin of TVXQ. Personally, it reminds me of “Jane Bond” a little:

Jane Bond(Source: Tumblr, Gender Role Reversals)

3) Is this gender stereotype more prevalent in Korea than elsewhere?

With the provisos that (sexual) innocence will always be treasured more in females than in males, as the latter will always have concerns about the paternity of their children; and that, as Brian in Jeollanam-do put iteverything in Korea “tries to be cute, in the same way everything in the States is “Xtreme” and too cool for school,” I’d wager this is indeed the case. Consider how:

  • Stressing the cuteness, innocence, and (supposed) asexuality of young female celebrities is the modus operandi — i.e., key to deflecting criticism — of “ajosshi fandom” and “uncle fandom.”
  • Through young, overwhelmingly female celebrities, Korean girls are heavily socialized to use infantilizing aegyo
  • Not only is there also a “The Nation’s Little Sister” out there in addition to Suzy being “The Nation’s First Love,” but: a) There are no male equivalents; and b) Technically, Suzy is actually the third first love!, with JYP, well-known for experimenting until a concept is shown to work, arguably more responding to this clear media-driven and/or public demand for one rather than deliberately over-promoting Suzy per se.

As a commenter at Netizen Buzz explains (my emphasis; source, right: 윤삼의 블로그):

Uncle Fan Girls' Generationppl always complaint that Suzy get too much spotlight, too much articles. But it’s funny that when there’re some articles/ objects about other members, nobody cares. I think it’s not Suzy’s fault to make other members become underrated. it’s just that fans ( specially K-fans) don’t love them enough. If everybody don’t love Suzy so much, she won’t be get so many CFs, drama invitations. You have to understand that they want Suzy to be in their dramas, CFs, not others. So we can’t say “Instead of using Suzy, why don’t we use Min/Jia/Fei?” And JYP can’t do nothing with it. And why ppl kept hating on her? She has to work with a murderous schedule, but she never complaint about anything. Just keep working so hard and share her money to her unnies, but still she get so many hates. You guys always think that’s not fair for others but I think that’s not fair for Suzy too.

And on that note, again I acknowledge any generalizations I may have made in this post (difficult to avoid with something ultimately based on just one ad!), and am happy to learn of exceptions. But even happier though, to learn of your own thoughts on those questions!

Update 1: An April 13 Netizen Buzz headline says “Suzy takes the lead as the star with the most CFs in 2013 with 22.”

Update 2: See KpopStarz for the November 2013 rankings of the various contenders for the title of “Korea’s Little Sister” over the last five years.

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

Korean Gender Reader, March 9-15

La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Frank Dicksee 1902(La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Frank Dicksee, 1902; source)

“This picture is fascinating to me because of its portrayal of a powerful female character who doesn’t fall into any of the typical modern ‘Strong Female Character’ cliches.

The woman is the powerful, sexually assertive and threatening figure here, while the man is the more passive figure, visibly vulnerable to her. However, this portrayal of a woman as assertive and powerful doesn’t rely either on sexualizing her or on presenting that power in masculine ways.”

(Kawabilia, via Peppermint Kiss)


Congratulations to Lee on the birth of his son Alex! (Lee’s Korea Blog; update)

Bake Sale & Flea Market for The (Gwangju) Vagina Monologues at GIC on March 23 (KoreaMaria)


A review of Gaijin: Cultural Representations through Manga, 1930s-1950s, by Karl Ian Uy Cheng Chua (Dissertation Reviews)

‘Supporting unwed moms key to reducing adoption rate’ (The Korea Times)

Queer Links from the Week (The Kimchi Queen)

Cute Girls Finish First: Is aegyo a form of power? (Beyond Hallyu)

Reading List: The Works of Alexander Chee (The Kimchi Queen)


Equal Opportunity Sexual Objectification in K-Pop (Footnotes)

2013 Blogs by Western Women Who Love Chinese Men (Speaking of China)

Editor calls netizens out on their bullshit, netizens deny everything (Netizen Buzz)

The Price of Marriage in China (The New York Times)

Honors for female cadet at top military academy (Korea Joongang Daily)


Confessions of a Fangirl: Exotics, You Guys Aren’t Half Bad (Seoulbeats)

Is Korean defamation law too strict? (The Korea Herald)

More disgust with gender stereotyping in Korean workbooks (Hagwon Style)

Another student commits suicide over school violence (Netizen Buzz)

On Int’l Women’s Day: Celebrated in China, Forgotten in America (Speaking of China)


How valuable are stars in the Korean film industry? (Modern Korean Cinema)

Alarming Lack Of Women Scientists In South Korea (Asian Scientist)

Korean ‘Baby Box’ orphanage saves babies’ lives (Netizen Buzz)

Korean single mothers in the eyes of Korean men (Loving Korean)

North Korea attacks South Korea’s president’s ‘poisonous’ skirt (The Telegraph; The New York Times)


Controversial Book on Abortion in South Korea Triggers Debate (koreaBANG)

Military chaplain applicants rejected on ideological grounds (The Hankyoreh)

South Korea Struggles To Rein in Bullying, Student Suicides (Korea Realtime)

China’s top ten porn search terms might surprise you (SFW) (Shanghaiist; see Korea’s here and here)

‘Insufficient dress’ rule goes viral on Internet (Korea Joongang Daily)


Hating Sexual Minorities Is Not a “Right” (Ilda)

Korea reels over the suicide of high school student as more info on his abuse is revealed (Netizen Buzz)

The Secret Behind Girl Group Members’ Abs Is… (Soompi)

What managers actually do behind the scenes (Netizen Buzz)

Short Films: Suddenly Last Summer (지난 여름, 갑자기 ) and Going South (남쪽으로 간다) (The Kimchi Queen)


Corporal Punishment Getting Punished in Japan; Don’t throw pens at the kids! (Japan Subculture Research Center)

When Scandal Statements Go South (Seoulbeats)

What’s in a Scandal? (Always Rational K-Pop)

Plastic Island (The Korea Times)

MUST READ: Meet the men who spy on women through their webcams (Arstechnica)

(Links are not necessarily endorsements)

A reading list for Korean Feminism 101!

An Intimate Affair Pin-up Grrrls(Sources: left, right)

Thanks very much to the 10 Magazine Book Club for being such a great — and forgiving! — audience last weekend. As promised,* here are the books I mentioned in it, as well as some of the websites.

First, there was An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality by Jill Fields (2007), then Pin-up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture by Maria Buszek (2006, which I talk about in much greater depth in Parts 3 and 4 respectively of my Revealing the Korean Body Politic series (which, in turn, is an extended version of my presentation). Although at 375 and 444 pages each, they’re not for the faint-hearted, both are still very accessible, and definitely reward the effort put into studying them.

Of the two, Pin-up Grrrls was much the more eye-opening for me personally (note the ensuing tagline of my blog!), giving a unique perspective and context on US feminism in the 20th Century that deserves a lot more attention. For a taste, see here for a short essay cum summary of the book, and here, here, here, and here for my own Who are the Korean Pin-up Grrrls? series it inspired.

Transnational Sport Gender Meda and South Korea Feminist Cultural Politics in Korea(Sources: left, right)

Next, I highly recommended “Feminization of the 2002 World Cup and Women’s Fandom” by Hyun-Mee Kim in Feminist Cultural Politics in Korea, ed. by Jung-Hwa Oh, 2005, pp. 228-243, for an understanding of the radical role the 2002 World Cup played in changing prevailing Korean attitudes to objectification and women’s sexual subjectivity. In hindsight though, that and most of the chapters in the book are a little dated now, so a better choice is probably Transnational Sport: Gender, Media, and Global Korea by Rachael Miyung Joo (2012) instead. I haven’t read it myself yet, but you can see here and here for reviews.

In the presentation, I used Kim’s chapter to argue that the intensely objectifying, body-centric nature of the current Korean Wave represented a confluence of commercial and governmental interests in exploiting women’s bodies, a precedent for which was set by the — for want a better way to describe it — patriarchal accommodation with and co-option of that feminization of the 2002 World Cup. This in turn was preceded by a long history of girl-groups entertaining foreign and then Korean troops, and at one point the exhortation by the Korean government for women to prostitute themselves to the USFK for the sake of acquiring then much-needed foreign exchange. For more on the former see here, and on the latter see Sex Among Allies: Military Prositution in U.S.-Korea Relations by Katherine Moon (1997).

Unfortunately, I don’t have Moon’s book, but I do have — and was blown away by — Militarized Modernity and Gendered Citizenship in South Korea by Seungsook Moon (2005; yes, a different Moon!), which provides a lot of context. In particular, it’s essential to know about the military regimes’ population control policies, which were every bit as draconian as China’s one-child policy, in order to understand modern Koreans’ attitudes to abortion and contraception. And, once you do read it, you realize that the language I used above was by no means simply hyperbole for the sake of making a point!

Militarized Modernity Sex Among Allies(Sources: left, right)

If you’re more interested in the surge in male objectification in the last decade though, see Korean Masculinities and Transnational Consumption by Sun Jung (2010), or for an online essay see Stephen Epstein’s and (again) Rachael Miyung Joo’s “Multiple Exposures: Korean Bodies and the Transnational Imagination” in The Asia-Pacific Journal last year. The latter also covers — no pun intended! — entertainment companies’ strategic exposure of girl-group members’ legs, and I discuss the role of that in the rise of ‘ajosshi fandom’ and ‘uncle fandom’ here.

Before moving on to women and girls again though, as one does, note that Sun Jung’s book is also essential for anyone further interested in the (very related) rise of kkotminam (꽃미남), which I did a lot of work on a few years ago here and here.

Korean Masculinities The Lolita Effect(Sources — left; right: author’s scan)

For more on the increasing objectification of teenage girls in Korea, I recommend first reading The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It by M. Gigi Durham (2008) for some international context; then, especially if you’re a parent, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein (2011), which is much more related than it may sound; and finally, my (self-explanatory) Reading the Lolita Effect in Korea series, especially Part 2: The role of K-pop and the Korean media in sexual socialization and the formation of body image.

(Update: As mentioned in the presentation, also see Gusts of Popular Feeling here for more on the perceived spate of sex crimes against children that led the public to seriously question previously uncritical media narratives of ajosshi fandom.)

The next two books I mentioned were Measured Excess: Status, Gender, and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea by Laura Nelson (2000), then The Home Front & Beyond: American Women in the 1940s by Susan Hartmann (1983). The first is essential reading for anyone wanting to know more about the 1990s in Korea, and in particular the frequent government and media campaigns against over-consumption (in practice aimed almost exclusively at women, these were important precursors to the “beanpaste girl” stereotypes of the 2000s). Meanwhile, unfortunately Susan Hartmann’s book is difficult to get a hold of, but if you do you’ll find it’s a wonderful, very comprehensive introduction to the decade (I’d love to get those on the 1920s, ’30s, and ’50s also, albeit all by different authors). And, as I discuss here (and will expand upon in a later post), the minefield of contradictions presented to women as they were encouraged to remain “feminine” despite entering practical, “masculine” wartime industries in large numbers, yet also being criticized for being so wasteful, frivolous, and unpatriotic for beautifying themselves, is eerily reminiscent of the double-standards and backlash arising from women’s rapid entrance into the part-time workforce in the last decade in Korea also.

Measured Excess The Home Front and Beyond(Sources: left, right)

Finally, see the end of this post on male objectification for those scans of Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen’s prologue to their Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness (1992), which should convince even the most die-hard skeptic of the genuine influence that advertising has on us, no matter how sophisticated and aware we like to all think we are.

If anyone would like more information and/or to discuss the books and websites mentioned above, and/or some specific part of the presentation, then please just let me know in the comments. Of course, they’re just a handful of what would be required for such a reading list really (4 of the 10 mentioned don’t even have anything to do with Korea!), so I’d be very happy — and grateful, frankly — if readers would rather recommend, seek information about, and/or discuss any Korea-related book instead really. After all, I’m sure it would useful to get new perspectives on those we’ve already read, and/or to get recommendations for good ones we haven’t! :)

*(Sorry for the long delay with this post, but unfortunately I have a very good — and somewhat graphic — excuse!)