Quick Hit: Consent is STILL Sexy

Consent(Source: Heal Yourself, Skeletor)

I’m just sick of Bora’s boobs.

Okay…no, not really. They’re just a constant reminder of the curse of blogging about sexuality and popular culture. Thanks to them, “Consent is Sexy: SISTAR, slut-shaming, and sexual objectification in the Korean idol system” is literally my most viewed post—but also, per view, probably one of the least actually read.

You’d never think it took a month to research and write, and that I consider it one of my proudest blogging achievements.

Ironically for the frustration that causes now though, it too was born out of the frustration of two weeks of watching interviews of SISTAR members, naively hoping that they would reveal something about the extent to which they consented to—indeed, hopefully played an active role in choosing—the sexualized costumes, choreography, and so on provided by their management company. Instead, I was left with nothing more substantial than learning their favorite flavors of ice-creams, and a firm resolve never to watch any more of the crap that counts as most K-pop entertainment.

But finally, nearly a year later, I’ve just learned of two interviews where girl-group members were able to talk about their jobs like actual human beings.

The first, on the new show The Spokespeople (대변인들), where Rainbow’s Jisook, Stellar’s Gayoung, and Dal Shabet’s Subin, from roughly 8:00 to 26:00 (it’s—grr—unavailable in Korea; click here to overcome that) discussed their recent ‘sexy concepts.’ It’s a still a little frustrating in places, the MCs being “spokespeople” for the “weaker people who can’t speak out” apparently meaning that guests should shut up while the MCs speak for them instead, with poor Subin barely getting a chance to speak at all. But when they did, all three sounded quite genuine:

Next, as Asian Junkie put it:

Ex-TAHITI member Sarah Wolfgang (Hanhee) did an AMA on Reddit recently, where she answered questions on everything from a group member smelling like shit to eating disorders.

And you can read a breakdown of the interview there, including those eating disorders, her complete lack of input into her image, and the debts members are sometimes left with.

Finally, it’s not a recent interview, but The Learned Fangirl just did a review of Nine Muses of Star Empire (2012), which I also covered in last year’s post. While that documovie may sound dated by K-pop standards, it easily remains the most revealing look inside the industry, and I completely agree with the authors’ conclusion:

Interestingly, Billboard‘s Jeff Benjamin had a very different take than us on the documentary, calling it a film that would cause “k-pop haters [to] completely shift their paradigm.” We doubt that — instead it will make a manufactured music form seem manufactured. It’s a warts-and-all look behind the curtain of music industry, and is an unsentimental look at what it takes to create pop star fantasy.


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5 thoughts on “Quick Hit: Consent is STILL Sexy

  1. Thanks for posting this and referencing your past posts. I’m going to have to check all of this out! In “Consent is Sexy: SISTAR” you quote Papdaki as saying “Objectification is negative, when it takes place in a context where equality, respect and consent are absent.” — I would argue that a context where there is equality, respect and consent is almost impossible to achieve given the fact that sexism/racism/lack of social justice is inherent across all cultures (some more than others). Thus, no objectification could ever be neutral.

    I personally struggle whether it can be positive. To turn a human into an object (the base definition of objectification) doesn’t feel right to me.

    Still reading through the post, but wanted to comment here to thank you for all your work on this topic.


    1. Thanks for your comment, and sorry for the very late reply (it’s been a tough week!). Frankly, I’m not sure what I can really add to what I wrote in that SISTAR post though (but would still love to hear your thoughts!), other than to admit that some friends, audience members in presentations I’ve given, and so on have been quite uncomfortable with the notion of “positive” sexual objectification when I’ve brought it up. Most likely that’s primarily my fault for not explaining it better, and also because, like I write there, that post is more of a starting point for my own research on sexual objectification rather than the final word — a roundabout way of saying I still have lots to learn, and may well be mistaken on some things. In addition, it would probably be wiser for me to simply use the alternative term “neutral” rather than “positive” in future (the authors I reference use them interchangeably), as I too would probably struggle with the latter if I hadn’t read those specific articles by Papdaki and so on (but not to imply that you can’t read them and still disagree with either notion of course!).

      Having said all that though, I do still think the usage of the term “(sexual) objectification” has become very reflexive and dogmatic in feminist critiques of the media and pop-culture, and maintain that sexual subjectivity and sexual objectification aren’t mutually exclusive, as explained in the post.

      (Sorry for my verbosity — I’m about to go to bed now!)


      1. Sorry you had such a rough week. Hope you are feeling better.

        I think there is a huge difference between the way media endorses/promotes sexual objectivity and the way a young woman might embrace their own sexuality through subjectivity — even if that includes making their sexuality more public!

        Good resources for research include Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs and Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter for the public feminist media critique and Deborah Tolman for more scholarly work on female subjectivity. You may know them already, but not sure how much you are tapping into American stuff. So happy you are doing this work.


        1. What? Has it been a week since you replied already?? Sorry about that. I *am* better thanks — the food poisoning just took me out of commission for 24 hours (I’ll spare you the graphic details!) — but as you can tell, I’m still very busy. It’s very frustrating not being able to post.

          Anyway, I have read Chauvinist Pigs and Cinderella Ate My Daughter (wish my wife would hurry up and read the latter for our daughters’ sakes; only been asking her to for — grrr — 2 years!), but thanks for the recommendations, and I hadn’t heard of Deborah Tolman, so will get onto her work when I can. Any suggesions for which books or articles of hers I should start with?

          Until then though, I have to disagree that there is a huge, perceptible difference between the way “media endorses/promotes sexual objectivity (do you mean “objectification”?) and the way a young woman might embrace their own sexuality through subjectivity” sorry. Certainly I do think that, 9 out of 10 times, cases popularly labelled as sexual objectification will — and do — prove to be exactly that, and fully deserving of their critiques. But unless a case is particularly egregious, like all those magazine covers featuring clothed men but naked women that have been a hot topic recently, then there’s frequently nothing at all in, say, an advertisement featuring a scantily-clad woman to indicate her consent (or not) to her objectification and/or feelings of sexual agency and subjectivity (or not) in the process, which raises the issue of how a woman willingly choosing to present herself for a heterosexual male gaze would in any way differ from one being — for whatever reasons — being forced to. Having said that, of course I can see the potential for abuse in that argument, and I completely agree that there are still numerous problems of different body types, ethnicities, age-groups, and so on (not) being presented (as sexy), that more female sexual agency is only ever presented as showing more skin, even if it’s true that a model in an advertisement may just “happen” *rolls eyes* to want to show herself off that way, and so on…I guess I’m just saying all this because I’m just tired of all too many feminists citing individual examples of ads etc. as objectification, when in themselves those ads may be no more than a picture of an attractive woman in a bikini, and that such ready labels often alienate hetrosexual men (and others on the LGBT spectrum) attracted to her and/or women who may actually admire her. So, when I give presentations about ads myself, I’m careful to stress — and even better, give empirical evidence for — the biases and tendencies that I’ve alluded to above, which demonstrate that the way women’s (and increasingly men’s) body-image and sexuality are presented in the media as a whole is extremely problematic, even if one specific example may actually have nothing wrong with it at all.

          Ahem, sorry for your comment triggering off this mini-rant, and one that will be familiar to many long-term readers of mine. I will wisely go to bed now! :D


  2. My turn to take forever to reply:

    I agree with you on the single instance vs macro view of advertising. Though, in the way we teach consent in young people, it is to get ACTIVE consent, which isn’t done in ads (not sure how it can be done, but just to denote how sexualization in advertising should be discussed in schools for a variety of reasons). It would also be great if we can get young people to think about how they present themselves to others and why; why pop stars who are female are presented in a different way than male pop stars, for example. Even the songs they sing. What are the messages and how are they gendered/how do they portray sexuality?

    As for Deb Tolman, here are some good starts:
    Impett, E., Schooler, D. & Tolman, D. (2006). To be seen and not heard: Femininity ideology
    and adolescent girls’ sexual health. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 35(2), 131-144.
    Tolman, D., Impett, E., Tracy, A. & Michael, A. (2006). Looking good, sounding good:
    Femininity is bad for girls’ mental health. Psychology of Women Quarterly. 30(1), 85-95.
    Tolman, D. (2002). Dilemmas of desire: Teenage girls talk about sexuality. Cambridge, MA:
    Harvard University Press. (Paperback published in 2005).

    Also the APA report on the Sexualization of Girls is a good base — also shows how little actual evidence we have out there on this topic.


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