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!)

5 thoughts on “A reading list for Korean Feminism 101!

  1. This is super late, but I just stumbled upon this and was pleasantly surprised to see the cover of one of my professor’s books in the post! Professor (Katherine) Moon teaches at Wellesley; I had the privilege of taking one of her classes two years ago and had a chance to discuss her book briefly. If you’re still interested, I can try to get you a copy of the book (though it’s also available on amazon haha). Professor Moon also published a new book just last year on anti-American activism in S.Korea during the early 2000s that you might be interested in: http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780984590964


    1. Thanks — I would LOVE a copy of her book if possible, and by coincidence wrote an essay on a similar topic for my MA ten years ago, coming to much the same conclusions (not that my essay and her book are comparable of course!). By another coincidence, I gave a presentation at Wellesley myself in late 2010, at the invitation of the WKSA, but unfortunately before both of you were there (although perhaps fortunately — it was my very first public lecture, so not really my best!).


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