Books I Read in 2014: (Part 1 of 4)

my personal space(Source: Luca Vanzella; CC BY-SA 2.0)

Yeah, I may be straining the definition of “fashionably late” here. But most of these 22 books were already quite old, so let’s make this post just as much about the subjects they raise as about their authors and contents, which I hope you’ll find much more interesting.

To that end, it’s very long, which I’ve had to split into four separate posts so as not to overwhelm you. But by all means, just skim ahead just to whatever catches your eye, or to Parts Two, Three, and Four that I’ll link to once they’re completed. And, if you’re tempted to buy one of my recommendations but want to know more about it first, or if you think I’ve misread something by one of your idols, please do let me know in the comments section.

For those of you interested in a breakdown of the authors, 15 of the 22 were written by women, with one more co-authored with a man; needless to say, I’ll never understand men who are too embarrassed to be seen reading female authors, especially when some women are turned on by those that do. (At which point, it behooves me to mention the crucial role of the book I was reading when I met my first girlfriend.) Unfortunately though, to the best of my knowledge only three of the books were written by people of color, or included chapters by them. But, frankly, correcting that remains a luxury I literally can’t afford: just two of the books were new ones ordered by me, and delivery charges often make second-hand books from overseas just as expensive as new ones in Korea. Most of the remainder then, came second-hand from the limited choices available at Fully Booked—since closed down—and Nampodong Book Alley in Busan, or from What The Book in Seoul.

Also complicating matters are my 900-ish books which arrived from New Zealand last year, after 14 years in storage, some 50-100 of which were well overdue for a read even before they were boxed. For example, tempting me from the corner of my eye as I type this is the 654-page The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe, 1500-1800 by Olwen Hufton (1995), which I see from my note on the inside front cover* that I bought on October 26, 1997. Like a lot of things associated with turning 18, I’m not sure I can wait any longer.

Finally, alas, my total pales in comparison to the veritable library read by the person who inspired me to keep track. But I have many uncounted journal articles as an excuse, and it’s still on par with that of a busy io9 writer, as well as an improvement on the measly 16 I read in 2013. With only 13 read so far this year though, I’m going to have to seriously up my game to reach my goal of 30 in 2015.

But that’s what are summers are for, right?

(*A habit I picked up from Clive James)

Seeing Through Clothes thumbnail#1) Seeing Through Clothes by Anne Hollander (1980)

One of those books that completely shifts how you look at the world.

As a student in the mid-1990s, I was constantly disappointed with art history books, which overwhelmed with references to artists, works, and movements that I’d never heard of. But I wasn’t a beginner; if they’d been adequately illustrated, I’d have been able to follow along. Instead, they just left me feeling frustrated and ignorant, as if I shouldn’t even bother reading if I didn’t already have a degree in the subject. Better to learn something else to dazzle women at cocktail parties with, I soon realized, after ranting about snobbish art history writers inexplicably failed to impress.

Twenty years and thousands of books later, many with lots of big words and no pictures at all, I’m much more confident in calling out bad academic writers. But I’m also less quick to judge authors for things that are often out of their control, having some practical experience of my own with the arcane restrictions editors place on the use of images, and I’m much more willing to accept where my knowledge is lacking, and which subjects will need more of a commitment from me than others. For those, I’ve learned to approach via angles which I already have some background in, and know in advance I find interesting.

With art history, my interest was slowly rekindled through Erving Goffman’s occasional allusions to it in Gender Advertisements (1979), which I’ve done extensive work on (scroll down the right sidebar), then later through John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972). With Seeing Through Clothes though, I’ve become a giddy, wide-eyed teenager again, as not only does it have over 300 accompanying photographs (if only I’d found it 20 years ago!), but it made made me realize that art is one of our main and sometimes only source on changing notions of fashion, beauty ideals, status, and sexuality for much of human history. Rather than a study of art for art’s sake, that’s what this book is about, which makes it much more interesting and accessible for the lay reader, and means it’s thick with facts and insights that completely overturn what you thought you knew about those subjects. It’s clearly had quite an influence too, being referenced repeatedly in the very next books on fashion—The Language of Clothes by Alison Lurie (1981), and Fashion, Culture, and Identity by Fred Davis (1992)—that I read a year later.

That said, it’s still a solid, academic, 504-page tome, not for the faint-hearted. Also, while the first chapter on drapery was interesting enough (which, again in hindsight, there’s rather a lot of in medieval paintings), and the next two chapters titled “Nudity” and “Undressing” were fascinating, I have to admit that the remaining three of “Costume”, “Dress”, and “Mirrors” were really quite dull by comparison; naturally and obviously perhaps, but I’m not just being facetious, as the difference was so great that it was a genuine relief to finish the book. Still, I heartily recommend buying a second-hand copy at least, even for Korea-based readers that would have to pay $16.95 delivery.

Sadly, Anne Hollander died just a few months after I’d discovered her.

The Politics of Women's Bodies#2) The Politics of Women’s Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior ed. by Rose Weitz (1998)

This was worth it just for Eugenia Kaw’s chapter, “Medicalization of Racial Features: Asian-American Women and Cosmetic Surgery“ (originally in Medical Anthropology Quarterly 7(1), pp. 74-89, March 1993), which led to the revelation I explained in my post “Those Damned Double Eyelids: How can a society still have Caucasian beauty ideals if its members explicitly don’t want to look White?“.

Of course, there’s still 19 more chapters on a very wide range of topics, albeit of widely varying quality, and although many are quite dated (I didn’t even bother with the final chapter on fetal rights), there’s still plenty to interest everyone. Personally, my three other favorites were:

Which has just reminded me that, many years ago, a (necessarily anonymous) reader emailed me on how to overcome that:

“…with Foucault, some people (like me) fall in love with him whereas others just wave him away. To answer your question [of which book is more appropriate for a beginner], his book, Discipline and Punish may be a better pick for you, indeed. It is difficult to understand (or appreciate) The History of Sexuality series truly without systematically following Foucault’s development of thoughts from his earlier books, just because Foucault himself was experimenting his ideas and didn’t really know where things were heading. I think Foucault finally clarified his thoughts, his plans, and his interests in Discipline and Punish and he completed them in History of Sexuality books. Besides, Discipline and Punish is more fun to read than History of Sexuality.”

  • Next, Chapter 5, “From the ‘Muscle Moll’ to the ‘Butch’ Ballplayer: Mannishness, Lesbianism, and Homophobia in U.S. Women’s Sports” by Susan K. Chen, which unfortunately is just as valid today as it was when it was written in 1993. For a good book on similar themes in a Korean context, I highly recommend Transnational Sport: Gender, Media, and Global Korea by (the awesome) Rachel Miyung Joo (2012), whom I’ve been fortunate to meet.
  • Finally, Chapter 8, “Selling Hot Pussy: Representations of Black Female Sexuality in the Cultural Marketplace” by Bell Hooks, who will already be familiar to many of you.* And I can see why: her writing style is very forceful and galvinizing, and I especially liked her brief examination of Tina Turner’s career, which she convincingly argues “has been based on the construction of an image of black female sexuality that is made synonymous with wild animalistic lust.” Then again, forceful writing doesn’t leave much room for nuance, so some of her arguments here are much too categorical for my taste.

(*By coincidence, as I type this I’m busy tweeting “15 Books That Changed Women Forever” open in another tab, where her 1981 book Ain’t I a Woman? is described as “a foundational text of intersectional feminism, explaining how the feminist movement failed to speak to women of color and the working class. Hooks continues to be instrumental in calling out mainstream feminism for its racism and classism.”)

My only, minor complaint with Women’s Bodies as a whole is that it exclusively looks at the US, which doesn’t become apparent until you’re already well into it.

#3) The Symptom of Beauty by Francette Pacteau (1994)The Symptom of Beauty thumbnail

From the introduction (p.13; emphasis in original):

The issue of beauty, as such, played little part in the initial feminist debates about ‘images of women’. Nevertheless, it formed the background against which the debates were staged. The anger directed towards advertising, for example, was basically in protest against a world of representations—in particular, the representation of a world in which a women was young, and ‘beautiful’ or she was nothing. The close-cropped heads, the burned bras, the functional overalls and the eschewal of make-up which characterized the appearance of feminism in the 1970s, represented the will to eject ‘beauty’ (seen as an oppressive male cliche) from the world of women.

Who among you wouldn’t want to buy it after reading that? Yet what followed was one of the most impenetrable volumes I’ve ever read, full of some of the worst excesses of postmodernist and poststructuralist waffle. Occasional semi-readable sections, for example Chapter 4—”The Girl of the Golden Mean”—which added slightly to my knowledge of 1950s narratives about female body shape, were scant compensation for the 19,000 won I’d wasted on a book I could barely comprehend.

In fairness, the back cover did promise “an intriguing psychoanalytic study of beauty that looks into the eye of the beholder and to the mind conjuring behind it”, and pointed out that the author is less interested “in the contingent object of desire than the fantasy that frames it”, and instead “considers the staging of the aesthetic emotion”—not necessarily a flaw of course, but certainly a red flag for those of us more used to focusing on those objects of desire (let alone us plebs not quite used to using the word “contingent” like that). Unspoken is that she also clearly assumes the reader is intimately familiar with the work of Jacques Lacan, although again I imagine that every undergraduate psychoanalysis student would be.

Still, most English speaking undergrads—and I’d venture even their French counterparts—would surely struggle to follow along as she applies her psychoanalytic lens to some extremely obscure figures and cultural works, the very first two discussed being the Sarrasine and The Unknown Masterpiece novellas by Honoré de Balzac (1830 & 1831), followed by the 5th century BC philosopher Hippias of Elis. Again, that’s not necessarily a flaw. But it is heavy going for the very first page of a book about a subject you expected to be much simpler.

Or am I just going to the wrong cocktail parties?

The Cult of Thinness Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber, Body Image Sarah Grogan#4) The Cult of Thinness by Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber (2007, 2nd ed.), & #5) Body Image: Understanding Body Dissatisfaction in Men, Women and Children by Sarah Grogan (2007, 2nd ed.)

Both excellent, comprehensive discussions of the subject of body image, but both written before the rise of social media (an issue I’ll address in a moment). So, I would encourage you to keep both names in mind, but to holdout for third editions.

When those do come out though, my preference would easily be for Sarah Grogan’s. Primarily, because this edition’s clear chapter structure means that information is easy to find (and hence a much better quick reference guide when I was asked for a quick contribution to an article on “Korean Primetime’s ‘Lookism’ Problem” for the Korea Times), whereas the vague, overlapping ones of The Cult (e.g., Chapter 5 “Becoming a Certain Body”, Chapter 6 “Joining the Cult of Thinness”) makes navigation difficult, and the content somewhat repetitive; this meant finishing the book became more of a chore than a learning experience. Also, because of personal preferences: first, because The Cult overwhelmingly discusses the US, whereas Body Image throws a much wider net, but with a focus on the UK; and second, because The Cult often breaks the text with random collages and so on, in contrast to the more spartan use of images in Body Image. I can hardly critique that on a blog of course, but when it’s in an academic book it does give the impression of catering to a much younger, less-informed readership.

In Body Image, the most interesting and eye-opening section for me was Chapter 5 on media effects, which raised my understanding of the subject to a new level by outlining the major theories of media influence—social comparison theory, self-schema theory, and self-discrepancy theory—and how these can and have been incorporated in strategies to overcome media effects. Students have asked me about the latter sometimes, but frankly I haven’t really known what to say; now though, they’ll be a core part of my presentations.

Also, the concluding paragraph from that section sounds quite prescient in light of recent shifts in model types and messages in advertising, although catering to attractiveness is also not without its critics (p. 132, my emphasis):

“Clearly, media portrayals of the slender (and muscular, for men) body reflect current cultural ideology of the body as well as promoting these ideals. However, since the portrayal of such imagery has been shown to reduce body satisfaction and create body concerns, this is surely sufficient reason for advertisers to opt for the use of models in a range of sizes. Although advertisers may argue that only thin models sell products, recent British evidence from a study by Emma Halliwell and Helga Dittmar [downloadable here] demonstrates that it is attractiveness, rather than size of models, that is crucial in making associated products attractive to consumers.

Originally, this post had 500 more words of breathless praise for Grogan’s book, and of what I learned from it. Wisely, I’ll race ahead to my conclusion instead, which I’d planned to be a lament on how dated both books were, the research I did for my article on the thigh gap teaching me that social media has had a radical effect on the ways and especially speed in which body image trends are formed and disseminated. And, as if to rub that in, theBellybutton Challengewas going viral as I began this post, followed by the “Collarbone Coin Test“(?) that’s emerged as I’m ended it.

Belly Button Challenge(Source: Mashable)

Skimming through Grogan’s book again a year later though, from which I realize I still have a lot to learn, I’m no longer convinced that things are that different to when I was young, and that insights gained about the effects of other, slower media are no longer relevant. Moreover, the rise of social media is hardly a uniform negative either, as a recent interview of young adult fiction writer Louise O’Neill recently taught me:

…Her books are equally unflinching about life in the social media age. “Social media is a double-edged sword,” says O’Neill, herself an enthusiastic user of Twitter. “There are extremely positive elements to it, particularly the way in which it makes it easier for us to connect and build our own communities. Even selfies can be positive – I think there’s something brave and amazing about teenage girls posting pictures of themselves saying, ‘This is how I look and I am beautiful’ but it’s also true that it can exacerbate feelings of not being good enough. There’s so much toxic competitiveness when you’re a teenage girl, so much are my thighs smaller than hers? Am I prettier? Do boys like me more? Social media adds to the pressure and then society tells young women that they must look sexy and act sexy but that they can’t be sexual beings.”

Comments such as this help explain why O’Neill’s books are read as much by the anxious mothers of teenage girls as by the girls themselves. “The key is to be honest,” she says when asked what advice she would give those parents. “I would hope mothers who read my books understand the pressures their daughters are under and why they are acting or behaving the way they are. Try to encourage honest communication, be open and interested, try to understand.”

So by all means, read “old” books on body image if you can get a hold of them, especially these ones. But also keep up with developments, these dozens of journal articles on gender and body image, freely available from Routledge until the end of September, being an excellent place to start (and one of the first ones is about Korean women!). And please feel free to discuss those in the comments too!

Addicted to Feminist Media Criticism Monday

In which I almost get carried away with my narratives about body-image and the Korean media—but discover an amazing role model instead.
Ok Tae-cyeon Lee Gook-joo My Ear's Pig(Source: SBS)

Remember My Ear’s Candy by Baek Ji-young, featuring 2PM’s Ok Taec-yeon? It was one of the songs that made me fall in love with K-pop, way back in 2010:

And I’m still quite fond of K-pop, although we’ve long since agreed to see other people. But, thinking about old flames over a drink last night, one thing led to another, and soon the whole family would be dancing to My Ear’s Pig, a parody performed with comedian Gang Ho-dong on the February 21, 2010 episode of 1 Night 2 Days. With lines like “My ear’s pig, number 1 rated wild pig…put it on top of lettuce”, it’s the perfect antidote to a rainy Monday (especially the guy at 1:48), 100% guaranteed to leave you grinning from ear to ear:

Here’s a longer version, which includes scenes from Gang-ho Dong’s month-long preparation for the performance:

But then I saw a 2014 version with fellow comedian Lee Guk-joo, and quickly sobered up:

Why? Because while Gang-ho Dong is often the butt of jokes because of his weight and size, he is also a former ssireum champion, and retains an image as a genuinely strong ex-wrestler…

…whereas Lee Guk-joo is overweight, in a country where a lot of television humor revolves around female comedians’ supposed ugliness and obesity. So, not knowing anything about her, and watching her perform for the first time above, it suddenly felt like I was joining in that all too common chorus of laughing at the fat girl; My Ear’s Pig, suddenly rendered a guilty pleasure at best, until I see Baek Ji-young perform it with people of a range of body types.*

But first impressions can be mistaken. Because Lee Guk-joo, it turns out, is the very last person in need of my pity:

Lee Gook-joo positive body image role model korea(Sources: Hikpop, Naesushi)

To learn why, read more about her cosmetic endorsements, her other cover songs, and her general, all-round spunkiness at Seoulbeats, in a post which I can’t possibly do justice to here. Sorry for the abrupt ending, but it’s true.

To further persuade you (my emphasis):

She is not allowing her weight to pigeonhole her personality, which she has expressed in an interview. Unlike what some would have you believe, she is fully capable of expressing her true self without apology and refuses to be discriminated for superficial reasons. Her physical makeup will neither hinder nor propel her for the simple fact that she has made up her mind not to be marketed through purely visceral means.

Having someone like this come into the market as a new role model for women is a welcome change in Korean entertainment. Lee Gook-joo doesn’t shy away from the spotlight because others would deem her unworthy, but rather she exhibits a glowing confidence that isn’t to be underestimated. She is a role model for those of us who appreciate a fun, outspoken woman who isn’t afraid to work her way to the top…

I’ve never been so happy to be so mistaken.

And how was your Monday? ;)

Related Posts:

  • Are Gorgeous Comediennes Really That Rare? Your Thoughts (The Atlantic)
  • What Donald Duck, Hani, and Big Tits Taught Me About Body-Image in Korean Comedy (The Grand Narrative)
  • “I am a plus sized girl living in Korea and I feel so unattractive.” (Life)

*The lyrics do require meat-lovers, but not necessarily those with the girth to match. And that applies to Baek Ji-young’s lines just as much as her partner(s)’.

Korean Sociological Image #91: Shameless Hussy Corrupts Korean Youth

With the decriminalization of adultery in February, Koreans seem more open about sex than ever before. But advertisers are slow to challenge traditional gender roles.

Motel, Park Ki-ryang, Yoo Byung-jaeThat Korean youth would include my two daughters, just off-camera in these pictures I took at a local bus stop. And the shameless hussy would be cheerleader Park Ki-ryang (a.k.a. “The Baseball Goddess”), intent on hooking-up with SNL writer and comedian Yoo Byung-jae in their ads for 여기어때 (Yogi-oddae, “How about here”), a motel-finding app. For someone whose first Korean girlfriend had a 10pm curfew, and who arrived in Korea the same year singer Baek Ji-young was disgraced for unknowingly being taped while having sex, it was remarkable to see something so brazen.

Ironically though, they were gone from Busan bus stops the next day; I wondered if they had indeed been too much for the Korean public. But I couldn’t find any news about any complaints or controversy, and found another ad in my local university district the day after that:

Motel, Park Ki-ryang, Yoo Byung-jae University DistrictPerhaps the disappearance was simply because the May campaign was wrapping up. Also, its cable commercials, released in June, remained available on YouTube and Yogi-oddae’s Facebook page. As The Joongang Ilbo explained:

19일 관련업계에 따르면 인터넷서비스업체 위드웹이 운영하는 여기어때가 방송작가 겸 방송인으로 활동 중인 유병재를 앞세운 광고를 ‘tvN’ 등 케이블 채널을 통해 이날부터 방송하기 시작했다. 유병재는 최근 대형 연예기획사인 YG엔터테인먼트와 전속계약을 체결하며 주목받고 있다.

유병재의 광고 파트너로는 ‘야구여신’으로 불리는 롯데자이언츠 인기 치어리더 박기량이 낙점됐다. 유병재와 박기량이 등장하는 광고는 ‘불타는 청춘을 위하여’라는 주제로 숙박업종에 걸맞게 ’19금’ 위주로 내용이 구성된다. 관련 광고방송은 이날부터 유튜브 등 동영상사이트를 통해 검색이 가능하다.

위드웹 관계자는 “지난 4월 개그맨 유상무가 등장하는 첫번째 광고를 내보낸데 이어 이번이 방송광고 2탄”이라며 “광고는 숙박앱을 주로 이용하는 20대와 30대 젊은층의 공감대를 이끌어내고 웃음을 제공하는 내용으로 구성됐다”고 말했다.

According to an industry spokesperson, Yogi-oddae, run by the internet service company Withweb, started airing the commercials with Yoo Byung-jae…on cable TV channels such as tvN from the 19th of June. [He] is getting a lot of attention recently, due to signing with YG Entertainment. [The same entertainment company that has signed the likes of 2NE1 and Big Bang—James].

His partner in the commercials is Park Ki-ryang…the theme is “For The Burning Youth,” and, appropriately for the motel industry, have adult content. They can also be found on YouTube.

A spokesperson from Weedweb explained that, “This is the second series of commercials for this accommodation app; the first series with gagman Yoo Sang-moo aired in April. They are designed to get the attention of 20 and 30-somethings, and make them laugh.”

Motel, Park Ki-ryang, Yoo Byung-jae University District Bus Stop(A few hours before finishing this post, all of the bus stop ads were back up. Clearly, someone at Yogi-oddae is just winding me up.)

Based on the bus stop ads, I looked forward to a cheeky take on Korean sexual double-standards, akin to Korea’s first (and I still think only) example of femvertising from 2009. Instead, Park Ki-ryang is much more indirect than those suggested, and grossly overdoes the childishness and the aegyo:

(For non-Korean speakers: in the first, she needs somewhere to wash up; then, she had a nightmare about ghosts, and doesn’t want to be alone; they’re watching (presumably) a sex scene in the movie, and she asks “Is that possible?”; she says it’s late and the taxi is on a more expensive rate, which means the ride would cost 50,000 won, comparable to a night at a cheap to mid-range motel; and finally, her favorite male perfume is his own smell. For Korean speakers, here’s both discussing the making of the commercials.)

That said, my wife, very much in the target demographic, actually found them quite funny. I warmed to them too, the more I watched, as every guy can relate to that feeling of sudden realization that he’s getting some that evening. But therein lies the problem: not only do the commercials celebrate traditional dating roles, but they’re all done entirely from Yoo Byung-jae’s perspective.

This emphasis on male consumers was indirectly confirmed by Etoday:

지난 19일 공개한 TV CF 5편의 에피소드 중 ‘응원 편’과 ‘꿍꼬또 편’이 박기량의 섹시함을 익살스럽게 표현해냈다는 평가다. 20~30대 남성팬들에게 큰 호응을 얻고 있으며 CF 영상은 여기어때 유튜브 채널을 통해 빠르게 확산되고 있다.

People say that out of the 5 commercials released on the 19th, Park Ki-ryang’s sexiness is humorously expressed and well shown in the cheerleader and ghost dream versions especially. This has had a big effect on male 20 and 30-something fans in particular, who have been rapidly spreading the commercials via YouTube.

Yogi-oddae is in stiff competition with Ya-nolja, a similar, much older company that has also recently launched its own app, and its previous advertisements were much tamer. So, however much I want to read into the campaign, it’s difficult not to conclude that Yogi-oddae was just exploiting the hype surrounding the decriminalization of adultery in February. Nothing wrong with jumping on that bandwagon of course, but it does frustrate with not delivering on its promise of a shameless hussy. (Not unlike Ashely Madison, which turns out to be a rather unreliable source for would-be Korean adulterers.)

I do concede that they’re just commercials though, and that I’ve got nothing but praise for the advertisements. It’s just that it would be nice to see a Korean advertiser place challenging gender stereotypes at the core of a campaign again. Not in a haphazard, conflicting fashion like in this one, or, like Durex Korea, by occasionally copying positive foreign examples, but quickly returning to its normal, very laddish themes thereafter. I’m also confused by the bizarre lack of attention to female consumers in the commercials, which seems to be an increasingly common trend.

The Reader The Lens The Baggage(Source, edited: Laurence Musgrove @The Illustrated Professor; used with permission.)

But my biases are clear, and perhaps I’ve misjudged how positively Korean women would respond to it. What do you think of them? Or this example by American cosmetics manufacturer Benefit?

As pointed out by Lizzie at Beyond Hallyu (see also: Branding in Asia), it’s much more daring, yet again it ultimately falls short (my emphases):  

This change in attitudes can be seen no more clearly than in this advert. A few years ago even the hint at the idea of a woman having the agency to initiate a sexual encounter with a stranger would have been scandalous. But this is not just a woman, it’s a married woman and it’s not just a hint, it’s a full-on kiss scene which takes up a third of the commercial’s one minute long run.

SNSD on Dating, January 2013Clearly the ad is an example of a massive shift in attitudes surrounding women’s relationship with sexuality that has occurred in recent years in Korea. We’ve seen that lately on shows like Witch Hunt where even female idols have been hinting at the fact they may actually have a sex life.

(James: That’s Girls’ Generation on the right, shortly before some of their members—and seemingly every other K-pop idol—either started publicly dating, or admitted that they’d been doing it all along. Source: unknown.)

But even so, condoning adultery is still a bit of an iffy move on Benefit’s part and I’m not entirely sure how this is supposed to entice female viewers. Perhaps this is supposed to make women feel empowered to make their own sexual decisions but I can’t help but feel it serves mostly just to reinforce the idea that women are liars.

Alternatively, it could be Benefit trying to show how in touch they are with the social issues in South Korea. Or maybe it’s just intended as a clever gimmick to show how long-lasting and non-smudging the tint is.

Intentions good or otherwise, the cynic in me sees this as nothing more than a half-hearted attempt at female ‘sexual empowerment’ in order to sell more lipstick.

I agree about the K-pop stars dating of course, best symbolized to me by Suzy, “The Nation’s First Love,” being caught going to hotels with Lee Min-ho after less than a month of dating, and it’s true that celebrities have a disproportionate role in sparking—or legitimating—new social trends in Korea. But, for us mere mortals, has there been “a massive shift in attitudes surrounding women’s relationship with sexuality” though? (My emphasis.) I’m not so sure, and would cite such things as: the female celebrities receiving the brunt of fans’ anger for all those dating ‘scandals’; the government restricting access to the pill for the sake of shoring up doctors’ incomes; the ongoing (re)criminalization of abortion, in order to increase the birth rate (but effectively only making it more inaccessible and expensive for the poor); and Korea’s curious lack of politicians willing to stick their neck out for those and other progressive issues, epitomized by Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon backtracking on his support for LGBT rights.

Which, by coincidence, was also mentioned by journalist and author Daniel Tudor, in an interview for The Hankyoreh that appeared as I was finalizing this week-long post:

The New Politics Alliance for Democracy is basically just the shadow of the Saenuri Party. [In most democracies] if you’re progressive, you care about social minorities, weak people, poor people in society. You care about women’s equality, maybe gay rights, you care about things like that. But I don’t see much of that [in Korea]. These two parties are dominating the Korean political scene.

What do you think? How would you assess shifts in attitudes surrounding women’s relationship with sexuality? What criteria should we use? Please let me know, so that I can finally begin working on my follow-up to Korean Sociological Image #89: On Getting Knocked up in South Korea(!) :D

Addendum: Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed the name Yoo Sang-moo being mentioned as launching Yogi-oddae’s campaign back in April, not Park Ki-ryang and Yoo Byung-jae. For the sake of completeness, he was indeed hired, along with freelance model Bae Da-bin (a.k.a. Lisa Bae), and their own versions of the commercials were talked about in the media in the same heady terms as those by their replacements a month later, with no indication that their endorsements would only be temporary. I suspect they were just quickly and quietly let go then, because:

  • a) Yang Sang-moo looked just a little too goofy in his commercials;
  • b) At nearly 35, he was towards the upper limits of the target market, and had too much of an age gap with 21 year-old Bae Da-bin (whereas Park Ki-ryang and Yoo Byung-jae are 23 and 28 respectively);
  • And finally c), because the popularity of Yoo Byung-jae and especially Park Ki-ryang was just too great to pass up.

Which again points to the campaign being very haphazard, rather than a concerted attempt to smash the patriarchy :(

Addendum 2: Just for readers’ interest, here’s two fun videos about using the Ya-nolja app, found in passing while researching this post. Have any readers also used it, or Yogi-oddae?

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

“She Accused Me With Her Eyes”: The Sexual Politics of Skirt Length on Korean Subways

Remember this picture from a Seoul subway escalator, from last year?

치마는 가려 주세요Source: 허지은@limpidlimpid

For those of you who can’t read Korean, the text accompanying the center image read “Please cover your skirt.” Which seemed to blame the victims of upskirt photos, rather than those who took them.

What’s more, even covering up can be a problem too. Because, as Hwang So-yeon of OhmyNews explained in March, apparently that can really upset some men’s delicate sensibilities:

…백번 양보해 범죄예방 차원에서 치마를 가린다고 해도 또 다른 문제에 봉착한다. ‘마치 뒤에서 올라가는 사람을 치한·변태·성범죄자 취급한다’는 사회적(?) 압박에서 자유로울 수 없기 때문이다.

…even if for the sake of argument, we allow that women do have cover up their skirts, they still face the constant fear that the men following behind them may be deviants or rapists.

치마를 주로 입는 여성들에게 씌워지는 잣대 역시 문제가 된다. “아니, 저 사람은 치마를 입고도 가리질 않네, 경박해라”와 “아니, 왜 내가 뒤에 있는데 치마를 가려? 나를 치한으로 보는 거야 뭐야?” 등의 시선이 동시에 여성을 옭아맨다. 치마를 입은 사람들이 뒷모습을 가리는 것이 아무렇지 않게 받아들여지는 것은 기대하기 어렵다. 가리지 않는 것도 마찬가지다.

Yet while women who wear short skirts are also pressured by people saying things like “That woman isn’t covering up, how trashy”, at the same time they face accusations like “Why is she looking at me like that, for standing behind her? Does she think I’m a pervert?”. It’s hard for women to live up to such conflicting standards and expectations.

이는 온라인에서 이미 오래된 논란 중 하나다. “나를 치한이나 변태·범죄자로 보는 기분”이라며 불쾌해하는 사람들이 많다. 물론 앞에 가는 사람이 뒷사람을 치한 취급하는 듯한 말을 한다면 기분 나쁜 건 당연하고, 나아가 항의도 할 수 있다. 그러나 정말 치마를 가리는 게 뒷사람을 모욕하는 일일까. 대화도 아닌, 단지 행위만으로 ‘일면식 없는 사람들을 무안주는 일’이라고 판단할 수 있는 근거는 어디에 있는지 의문이다.

This has been a long-standing point of controversy online, as some men feel uncomfortable by women covering themselves up in front of them. Of course, if women do treat the men around them as such, and go so far as to verbally accuse them of being perverts, then the men will be upset and complain. However, is just the act of women covering up really so offensive? You really have to ask why something so innocuous could make some men so angry.

나 역시 이 도식을 보고 치마를 가려야 하는 것 아닌가라고 판단했다. 그러나 곧 내 잘못도 아닌데 왜 치마를 가려야 하며, 더 나아가 ‘치마를 가리든 말든 무슨 상관인가’라고 생각했다. 둘 모두 개인의 선택이며, 모두 누군가에게 피해를 주는 행동이 아니다. 애초에 ‘어그로'(짜증 나는 행위를 하는 상대방에게 위협수준을 높인다는 뜻의 인터넷 용어)가 되지 말아야 할 이야깃거리가 바로 ‘치마 가리기’다.

At first, [when I considered this sign], I thought women should indeed cover up. But then I started thinking, “[People’s problems with it] are not my fault, so why should I?”. And, furthermore, “Who cares if women cover up or not? It’s a personal choice, and, whatever they decide, neither choice harms anyone.” So, really, this shouldn’t be an issue at all.

여성이 경험하는 이런 동시성은 에스컬레이터 벽에 붙은 문구와 다르지 않다. ‘치마 속을 촬영하는 것은 범죄지만, 일단 치마를 입은 사람이 나서서 가려야 한다’는 논리가 그렇다. 치마를 가리는 여성에 대한 왜곡된 시선은 ‘범죄는 스스로 예방해야 하지만 내 기분 나쁘지 않게 치마는 적당히 가려달라’는 어투의 연장선이다. 치마를 가리는 일도 어렵지만, 이 모순된 시각 속에서 행동을 결정해야 하는 과정은 더욱 어렵다.

These conflicting standards women are faced with are no different to those underlying the controversy surrounding this sign. So, while it’s a crime to take upskirt pictures, it’s women who are wearing skirts that should cover up? That’s part of the same view that women who don’t cover up are trashy, yet at the same time should never cover up so as to make a man feel accused as they do so.

Covering up can be certainly be uncomfortable and inconvenient. But it can be even more so just trying to figure out what is right to do! (end)

치마는 가려 주세요 A4Source: Olive@spinach_olive

Meanwhile, for those of you who were wondering what happened to them, a couple of months later the Segye Ilbo explained that in most Seoul subway stations the offending image and text had been covered with A4 paper. It also added that:

…이에 대해 안행부 관계자는 “에스컬레이터 안전 홍보물을 제작하면서 불법적인 촬영을 하지 말라는 취지로 만든 것인데 표현이 부적절했다”며 “문구가 잘못됐다는 것을 인지하고 ‘촬영은 안 됩니다’로 수정하기 위해 잘못된 부분만 따로 다시 제작하고 있다. 며칠 내로 수정하겠다”고 해명했다.

…An official from the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs said, “Our intention was to make people aware that it is illegal to take upskirt pictures, but the accompanying text was unwisely chosen. The signs will be changed to ‘No pictures allowed’ in a few days.”

안행부에 따르면 이 홍보물은 지난해 12월 산하기관인 승강기안전관리원이 200장 가량을 제작했다. 이후 지하철을 운행하는 전국 광역도시 지하철공사에 배부해 주요 에스컬레이터 벽면에 부착했다.

According to the Ministry, 200 copies of the sign were made in December 2013 by the Korea Elevator Safety Institute, and distributed to cities with subways all over Korea. (end)

Don't Take Upskirt Photos Busan SubwayAnd which brings me to why I’m suddenly talking about this sign over a year later: I was leaving Seomyeon station in Busan recently (Exit #9, if you’re curious), and noticed the changed version above. It was actually the first time I’d seen the sign in person, which I’d assumed had only been distributed around Seoul.

Don't Take Upskirt Photos Busan Subway -- Close-upHave any readers also noticed the changed signs? Or originals that subway staff didn’t get around to? Please let me know in the comments. I’m also curious if men being offended by women covering up in front of them is really a thing, or if you feel that Hwang So-yeon was exaggerating. Have any of you ever encountered such attitudes in Korea, or elsewhere?

Update: To clarify, I’m not talking about simple misinterpretations of men’s gazes by women, which of course do happen, and which, like me, I’ll assume most guys just shrug off. If (some? many?) Korean women are so worried as to not want to offend men by covering up in front of them however, as Hwang So-yeon claims, then I’m guessing that a vocal minority of Korean men aren’t shy about complaining about false accusations of ogling, nor in exaggerating their frequency.

Either way, note that the sign was still well-motivated, as the numbers of cases in Seoul have been increasing rapidly in recent years, as explained by Hwang So-yeon below; also, subway sex crimes in general, of which these upskirt photos make up about a third. However, the increase may also reflect greater policing, awareness, and willingness for victims to come forward:

…서울지하철이 걱정해야 할 정도로 치마는 위험한 옷차림일까. 계단이나 에스컬레이터 아래에서 카메라로 촬영하는 사람들이 당국의 골칫거리이긴 한가 보다. 지하철 역사 내 ‘도촬’ 범죄는 증가 추세에 놓여 있다. 몰래 카메라 성범죄 발생 건수는 2009년부터 807건(검거 인원 716명)에서 2010년 1134건(1051명), 2011년 1523건(1343명), 2012년 2400건(1816명)으로 꾸준히 증가했다. 지난해 8월 말 기준으로는 2766건(1816명)의 몰래카메라 촬영 성범죄가 발생했다.

…Are short skirts so provocative and dangerous that Seoul subway companies have to worry about? It is true that people taking upskirt pictures on escalators and stairs are an increasing source of concern for authorities. The numbers of people being caught for it have been steadily increasing. In 2009, there were 807 cases perpetrated by 716 people; in 2010, 1134 by 1051; in 2011, 1523 by 1343; in 2012, 2400 by 1816; and; up to August 2013,  2766 by 1816.

(Hat tip to Suzy Chung, whose tweet about the original sign first alerted me to the controversy last year.)

Update: The Economist covers a similar case on the Beijing subway in June 2012.

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)