Turning Boys Into Men? The Performance of Gender for South Korean Conscripts, Part 4
“Do one thing everyday, that scares you.”
My personal motto adopted from Wear Sunscreen by Baz Luhrmann (1999), without which I wouldn’t be in Korea now. Nor have had intimate relations in a lot of strange places.
Now a middle-aged parent though, it’s difficult finding scary things to do during my daily routine. So, I force myself to take photos of interesting ads in public, including those with young women in them. It’s just terrifying you see, knowing that everyone in the bank or subway carriage will peg me as a pervertedsamcheon fan.
This ad however, seemed well worth my pain and shame. Much like Chou Tzu-yu’s ads for LG last year, taken when she was only 16, it can take a moment to realize she’s not actually the product being sold here:
That’s because of the red header, which reads “A special gift for Korean men.” The subheading in the center, with the black in bold, adds the Catch-22 that: “To qualify as a Korean man, you need a Kookmin Bank Korea Love Card”, which provides discounts at various cinemas, coffee shops, restaurants, language institutes, and stores.
Now that’s patriotism.
But humor aside, it would have been more accurate to say that only those with military experience qualify as “Korean men”, as the card is onlyavailableto currentor former soldiers who had their physical after January 2007 (i.e., mostly 20-somethings). This link to the military is made more obvious in the following ad, the top line of which reads “Anyone Can Be a Youth That Loves Their Country!”, under which it says you can apply for a card at a military recruitment office in addition to KB banks:
In fairness, even the most innocuous of Korean ads and government slogans often sound very much like propaganda when translated into English. Also, no-one is denying the great sacrifice made by young men doing their mandatory 21-24 months of military service. What clearly isn’t fair however, is how exclusionary ad campaigns like these effectively label women, the disabled, openly LGBTQ individuals, conscientious objectors, and (until just 6years ago) mixed-race Koreans as incapable of “loving their country,” which only serves to justify denying them various privileges given to former soldiers later.
Starting with this bank card. There’s many more reasons why women end up so excluded from Korean economic and political life of course, with modern, democratic Korea being ranked a shocking 115th out of 145 countries in gender equality by the World Economic Forum. But examples like this one undoubtedly form part of the process.
Did I tell you how much I love following Korean feminism on twitter? I’m completely addicted now. Add some sexual attraction to the buzz, thanks to my becoming acquainted with a self-professed loud and proud “fertile woman” (a.k.a. 나는 가임여성 이다/@niiaebi), and my body was all set to receive one powerful hit last week:
좆나 크리피하고 토악질나온다 무슨 재단사세요? 정육점 고기 품평하세요? 하 좆팔 김연아 선수는 외국에서 태어나셔야했다
“That [picture below] is so fucking creepy, I feel like throwing up. Are you a tailor or what? Are you judging her body parts like cuts of meat? Fucking hilarious. If only Kim Yuna* had been born in a foreign country. [Because they wouldn’t write about her like that there.]”
I know, right? If only I wasn’t already married. But she wasn’t finished yet:
진짜 국적이 죄다 국적이 죄야. 대체 왜 사람을 고기처럼 분석해놓는 거냐. 그리고 개쳐웃긴 점이 냄져몸은 ^절대^ 이렇게 상세히 나누고 재단하는 꼴 살면서 단 한번도 못봤음. 여성을 사람으로 안보고 인형으로 본단 걸 아주 당당하게 기사로 냈지요?
“It’s her nationality that is the real crime. Why on earth was she measured like meat? But the funniest thing is that I’ve never seen men’s bodies measured like this. Not even once in my life. The fact that this is from a news article clearly shows women are seen as dolls. Is the author proud of this article?”
I was so mesmerized, I couldn’t have agreed more. But then I glanced again at the images of Kim Yuna skating, and suddenly sobered up: didn’t she retire 3 years ago?
She did. It turned out, the left image came from a 7 year-old Chosun Ilbo article, which was also translated into English. And both are as vacuous as they are problematic. Rather than digging them up again, I began coquettishly tweeting back to @niiaebi, she should have burned them and buried the ashes. Lest they grow back again in the form of some mammoth blogpost somewhere.
Then I noticed that there was one crucial omission in the English translation, and it was too late.
Also, perhaps remembering that objects of your affection are not usually impressed if you have no opinion of your own and simply agree with everything they say, later I realized the articles weren’t problematic for the reasons @niiaebi mentioned, but were for exciting new ones that you will totally want to learn about.
I shouldn’t come on too strong though. So, let’s warm up to those with that omission first. It’s in the second paragraph:
서양인 못지않은 김연아의 ‘황금 몸매’의 가장 큰 특징은 긴 팔과 다리다. 1m64의 키에 체중 47㎏인 김연아의 하체 길이(허리~복사뼈)는 96㎝. 목 아래에서부터 허리까지 잰 상체 길이(50㎝)의 두 배에 가깝다. 패션 스타일리스트 김성일씨는 “일반인은 상·하체 비율이 4.5대 5.5만 돼도 다리가 긴 편에 속한다”며 “이렇게 다리가 긴 덕분에 똑같이 회전을 해도 회전이 크고 우아해 보이는 것”이라고 말했다.
In the English version:
Standing 164 cm tall and weighing 47 kg, Kim’s lower body from waist to the ankle bone measures 96 cm, almost double the length of her torso, which is 50 cm. Fashion stylist Kim Seong-il said, “With normal people, if the ratio of the upper and the lower body is 4.5:5.5, we consider them long-legged. Because of her long legs, Kim’s jumps look bigger and more elegant.”
It’s the first line that’s missing:
서양인 못지않은 김연아의 ‘황금 몸매’의 가장 큰 특징은 긴 팔과 다리다
“The most notable trait of her ‘golden [ratio] body’ is her long limbs, just like those of a Westerner’s.”
I admit that sounds pretty innocuous in itself. People use races and ethnicities as shorthand for body types and features all the time. In this case, author Jeong Sae-yeong is alluding to the common knowledge that Westerners are taller and have longer limbs than Koreans, and that Western women have larger breasts too.
But journalists shouldn’t be using such lazy stereotypes. This binary hinders more than it helps understanding, and can even lead to genuine harm.
For a start, because in practice “Westerners” usually only means “Caucasians.” Next, because Caucasians alone have a wide range of body types and sizes. Also, because even if the comparison was once broadly true, changes in Korean health and diets meant it was already out of date in 2010 (let alone in 2017).
Why do such obvious things need to be said? To someone purporting to explain bodies to us?
Continuing to position a fundamentally flawed representation of one race as the Occidental opposite of all Koreans though, does justify providing a very narrow range of small clothing sizes to the latter. It places the onus on consumers to fit their bodies to the clothes, rather than vice-versa.
This makes its absence in the English version of the article all the more glaring. Why did the anonymous translator not include it? Did they feel non-Koreans wouldn’t be interested? Did they feel embarrassed by it at all?
We can only speculate. But probably there is no grand conspiracy really: the same newspaper wasn’tshy in talking in terms of Western bodies in other English articles back then. It’s still depressinglycommon in the media today too. Alas, the very sexy quotes from Japanese sociologist Yoshio Sugimoto I planned to give, about the agendas of core subcultural groups dominating the mass media and intercultural-transactions, will have to wait for a more opportune time.
Yet the fact remains, English readers weren’t being given the full story. It’s something to chew on.
Moving on to the rest of the article and the image, to my surprise my issue with them was less with the fact that Kim Yuna’s body parts are presented like slabs of meat, as with ice-skating itself.
It’s all Camille Paglia’s fault:
Early on, I was in love with beauty. I don’t feel less because I’m in the presence of a beautiful person. I don’t go [imitates crying and dabbing tears], “Oh, I’ll never be that beautiful!” What a ridiculous attitude to take!–the Naomi Wolf attitude. When men look at sports, when they look at football, they don’t go [crying], “Oh, I’ll never be that fast, I’ll never be that strong!” When people look at Michelangelo’s David, do they commit suicide? No. See what I mean? When you see a strong person, a fast person, you go, “Wow! That is fabulous.” When you see a beautiful person: “How beautiful.” That’s what I’m bringing back to feminism. You go, “What a beautiful person, what a beautiful man, what a beautiful woman, what beautiful hair, what beautiful boobs!” Okay, now I’ll be charged with sexual harassment, probably. I won’t even be able to get out of the room!
We should not have to apologize for reveling in beauty. It is not a trick invented by nasty men in a room someplace on Madison Avenue….It is so provincial, feminism’s problem with beauty. We have got to get over this.
Which I take to mean that it is okay to exalt in magnificent bodies, whether for their looks, athletic prowess, or any number of reasons. It is okay to be curious about what it is exactly that sets them apart from everyone else in those regards, and to try to quantify that. So, when Jeong Sae-yeong writes (in the translation) that because “of [Yuna’s] long legs, Kim’s jumps look bigger and more elegant”, that because her arms are very long her “small arm movements look softer and more fluid”, and that “overdevelopment of muscles in certain parts of the body such as upper arms or thighs can make movements look stiff”? And when those certain parts of the body are all sized up in the graphic?
Then so what?
It pains me to say that, but, for all I know, those are all core tenets of figure-skating, and in that sense are no different to observing that, say, you need to be tall to play basketball well. If so, I can certainly disagree with those tenets and the values enshrined in them—short, toned people can’t help but be stiff and inelegant on the rink?—and I can strongly dislike figure-skating for that reason (and also because I believe anything entirely reliant on subjective, corruptible judging can’t possibly be considered a sport). But the point remains that athletes will always be sized up like this. It’s human nature.
Indeed, as @lsjkhj0903 points out in a reply to @niiaebi, it’s done to male athletes too:
What many of you will have already noticed though, is that the graphic doesn’t just give a basic run-down of the lengths her long limbs. As pointed out in a reply by @lifejogipogi:
이건 정도의 차이가 너무 다르네요 김연아 선수는 ‘s라인’ ‘황금몸매’ 등 주관적인 평가가 한가득 들어있고 몸매 평가위주예요 김요한 선수 사진은 사무적이고 데이터의 일종 같은데 김연아 선수 사진은 가십거리 같네요
“No they are very different. The one with Kim Yuna is full of subjective comments, saying she has an ‘S-line’ and a ‘golden body figure’, and it is definitely about evaluating her body. Kim Yuhan’s case is more objective, and more like simple data. Yuna Kim’s photo just looks like a tabloid article.”
Fashion stylist Han Hye-yeon said, “Unlike many other athletes, Kim has a slender, flexible body, so she has the natural ‘S’ curve when she’s performing.” Kim So-yeon, an executive at a modeling agency, said, “She has perfect body proportions for a fashion model.”
That is not okay. It’s quite a leap from discussing athlete’s bodies’ suitability for ice-skating, to positioning Kim Yuna as standard-bearer of a body image ideal for everyone else. Particularly when she’s been hawking diet and beauty-related products for her entire career.
I don’t bemoan her for that necessarily, as it’s a rare female celebrity in Korea that has the luxury of being able to say no to advertising offers; although she’s certainly rich enough to reject them now, especially those that make dubious links to their products and her athletic prowess. I’ve also recently learned from reading Autumn Whitefield-Modrano’s new book Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives (2016) about how having very specific statistics for the “perfect” body can even be liberating, in the sense that once you realize you can’t have something, you free yourself from trying (like with my accepting my being bald for instance, which I learned from a friend who’d accepted her own small breasts.)
I remain really struck though, at how this whole notion of ever obtaining such a specific combination of such perfect vital statistics so closely resembles that of a competition in the United States 100 years ago, fought over which college’s female students most closely resembled the Venus de Milo. Tens of thousands of women would be measured for it, and some women would come very close, even filing lawsuits to gain official recognition. But, crucially, none were ever universally accepted as the one and only, 20th century Venus de Milo. Because it’s almost like they were set to fail from the start:
The ridiculous thing about all this—well, one of the ridiculous things—is that these [measurements of women that came close] varied from one another by several inches. Not only that, but they were being compared to different standards, for there were multiple versions of the Venus de Milo’s measurements. Some physical culture practitioners quoted the statue’s bust-waist-hip stats as 39-26-38, while others believed she measured in at 34.75-28.5-36. The only stat everyone could agree on was the Venus de Milo’s height, which was set at 5-foot-4….
…times were changing anyhow—the flapper fashions newly in vogue looked best on tall, slender figures, and the Venus de Milo was starting to look a little too plump. In April 1923, the New York Times introduced the world to the “new Venus, whose proportions have been reduced by the athletic tendencies of the modern girl.” To be a true American modern Venus, women now “must be 5 feet 7 inches in height, a perfect 34, with 22-inch waist and 34-inch hips.” Furthermore, “[t]he ankle should measure 8 inches and the weight not exceed 110 pounds.”
And just like that, the beauty rules changed again. After decades of searching and dozens of contenders, America hadn’t found its perfect living, breathing reincarnation of Venus—because she didn’t, and couldn’t, exist.
Likewise, if they’re no longer presented in terms of their utility for her sport, then what is the purpose of providing Kim Yuna’s vital statistics, which is a combination that only she can ever have?
What else, but to remind women that their own bodies suck, and that they will probably die alone if they don’t at least try?
* For those of you that don’t know: “Kim Yuna” does read like “Kim Yoona” in English, but it’s a misspelling. Her Korean name, “김연아,” should be spelt “Kim Yeon-a,” and it actually sounds like “Kim Yon-a,” with the “on” in “yon” pronounced like the “on” in “on/off.”
Note that all of those links (but the last) are in Korean, so you’ll need to either speak Korean or get a Korean friend to help navigate them. But I’m sure the organizers will be happy to help if you contact them :)
(Caption: 이렇게 입으면 혼난다?: 경찰청의 과다 노출 단속 지침은 그 기준이 애매해 단속 경찰관과 대상자들 간에 갈등이 생길 것으로 예상된다. If you dress like this, you’ll get a telling-off? Police guidelines for cracking down on excessive exposure are vague; disputes between the police and public are expected)
I react pretty strongly when people claim I have no place writing about Korean feminism.
Partially, simply from turning 40. Because when you do, you realize that half of your life has passed, and that you probably have less than half remaining. Suddenly, you have zero time and patience for other people’s bullshit.
It’s quite liberating, frankly.
The second reason is more personal. I’ve emigrated five times. The first time, from the U.K. to New Zealand with my family, when I was 11. Which means that for nearly 30 years now, I’ve had people lecturing me about how I couldn’t possibly ever understand some things about where I lived, simply because I wasn’t born and raised there.
So, I was already sick and tired of that before I came to Korea. Once I got my bearings, I was never going to put up with it for very long.
Where Korea differs from other countries I’ve lived in though, is that I didn’t really need to with Koreans. Not after a couple of years here, anyway. Maybe it’s just because I’m writing in English, but it’s always been more other expats and people outside of the country who would place limits on what are appropriate subjects for me to write about, solely based on my sex and ethnicity.
That’s not to say I don’t have many limitations with being a white, middle-aged, cisgender, heterosexual man working on the subjects I cover. Of course I do. When those raise legitimate issues in my writing, I can but do my best to overcome them, and to constantly remind myself of the importance of listening and research.
It’s also important to remember to sometimes write provocative and unusual introductions too, to make sure I’m actually read.
In that vein, this one, I hope, explains why I am so interested in “framing” with regards to Korean feminism, sexuality, and pop-culture, and why I chafe so much when their many gatekeepers tell me I can’t ask questions.
Which brings me to this week’s post: a magazine article from 1996(!), about a police crackdown on women’s revealing clothing that summer. Originally, I just planned to translate it for its own sake, for reasons I’ll explain later. I was also tempted to trick you by only revealing its age at the end, to highlight just how little victim-blaming attitudes have changed in 21 years. But, knowing that dominant media and governmental discourses about women’s bodies and revealing clothing would change so radically just 6 years later, and especiallywiththe second, K-pop-led Korean wave from 2006, I realized the contrast served as a chilling reminder of how brazen and manipulative our designated authorities can be, and how quickly they can make a volte-face when it serves their interests.
지난 여름은 여성의 노출이 그 어느 때보다 심했다. 80년대 말부터 불기 시작한 60~70년대풍 복고 바람에다, ‘육체도 패션의 한 요소’라는 새로운 인식이 덧붙었기 때문이다. 젊은 여성들의 거리 패션은 육체 그 자체와 육체의 선을 선명하게 드러내는 특징을 보였다. 광적인 다이어트 열풍도 여기에 합세해 날씬한 몸매를 과시하는 노출을 한껏 부채질했다.
This summer, women have been wearing more revealing clothing than ever before. This is because of the drive, since the late-1980s, to restore the freedom of the fashions of the 1960s to the [early-]1970s, and because of the new belief that one’s body is also a fashion item. Young women’s street fashions now emphasize and clearly display their figures. A fanatical dieting boom is also adding to this desire to display one’s body.
그런데 여름이 다 가고 가을이 오는 마당에 노출의 계절이 ‘연장’되고 있다. 국가 공권력도 복고풍의 영향을 받은 것일까. 지난 8월25일 경찰청은 70년대에 ‘유행’했던 복장 단속을 실시하겠다고 발표했다. 경범죄처벌법 제1조 제41항 ‘과다 노출’ 규정을 적용해 불특정 다수 또는 다수인의 눈에 띄는 장소에서 ‘알몸을 지나치게 내놓은 행위’등을 단속하라는 지침을 일선 파출소에 보냈다.
But the summer is almost over, and the autumn is coming. Yet still, the season for showing off one’s body seems never-ending. In response, the government’s zeal to crackdown on such fashions has also risen. On the 25th of August, the police announced that they will be invoking Clothing Misdemeanor Law, Chapter 1, Clause 41, to launch a crackdown on clothes, with guidelines sent to regional departments. (Just like in the 1970s.)
경찰청은 △여성의 신체 노출이 점점 과다해지는 추세인데, 유림 및 시민단체에서 강력히 단속해 달라는 건의가 있고 △과다 노출이 풍기 문란 및 성범죄의 원인이 되고 있는 실정이며 △배꼽 및 상반신 과다 노출에 대해 무죄가 선고되어 소극적 단속을 해왔다는 사실이 이번 단속의 배경이라고 설명했다.
Explaining the background to this crackdown, the police stated:
Women’s body exposure is increasing, and civic groups’ suggestions and requests to counter this have increased in response.
Excessive exposure is becoming a cause of excessive PDA and sexual crimes
Exposing the navel and more of the breasts have so far been considered publicly acceptable, and so the police have not actively cracked down on it. [Attitudes are hardening however.]
(Caption: 70년대 미니 스커트와 잘리는 장발: 70년대 초 사진이다. 당시 경찰관들은 30cm 자를 들고 다니며 여성들의 치마 길이를 쟀고, 짧은 치마를 입지 못하도록 무릎 위를 때려 빨갛게 만들기도 했다. 장발은 당시 젊은이들이 정권의 물리적 위협에 반발하는 일종의 문화적 저항 행위이기도 했다. 90년대 들어 남성들은 경찰관이 머리를 자르지 않아도 머리를 깎는 경찰관(위 사진 왼쪽)과 같은 머리 모양을 하고 있다.)
(A woman wearing a mini-skirt and men’s hair being forcibly cut in the eary-1970s. Back then, the police carried 30cm rulers with them and measured women’s skirt lengths; if they were too short, they hit the women above the knees until they were red. Meanwhile, young men grew their hair long as a rebellious act of defiance against the government. [Prompting the police to cut it off.] In the 1990s, however, young men tend to have the same hairstyles as the police.)
경찰의 뒤늦은 단속을 지켜보며 풍기 문란을 염려해오던 쪽에서는 잘한 일이라며 응원을 보내고 있지만, 또 한쪽에서는 ‘시대착오적인 발상’이라며 비판을 서슴지 않는다.
There have generally been two kinds of responses to this crackdown from the public. On the one hand, people are relieved that the police are dealing with the excessive exposure. On the other, that this is a big step backward, which is completely out of touch with the changing times.
한국은 92년부터 스웨덴을 제치고, 미국에 이어 성폭력 세계 2위라는 오명을 안고 있다. 성범죄를 예방하기 위한 당국의 고육책인지 모르지만, 경찰청의 단속 지침은 예방보다는 성범죄와 관련한 통념, 즉 ‘여성의 몸가짐에도 잘못이 있다’는 고정 관념을 더욱 고착화할 것이라는 우려를 낳고 있다.
Since 1992, Korea has had the second highest rate of sexual assaults in the world, overtaking Sweden [James: I think the author actually meant in the OECD. Either way, both Korea and Sweden’s high rankings beg further investigation, but unfortunately no source is given for them]. This crackdown may be a desperate response to that, but the police guidelines have more to do with laying the blame on women and their bodies than with genuine preventive measures. There is a worry that the crackdown will lead to greater victim-blaming and bias against and stereotyping of women.
문제는 과다 노출이 성 ‘충동’이 아닌 성 ‘범죄’의 직접적인 원인이 되고 있느냐 하는 점이다. 한국여성의전화•한국성폭력상담소 등 관련 단체에 따르면, 노출 패션이 성범죄와 직접 관련이 있다는 근거는 없다. 조사 자료를 살펴보면, 성폭행을 당한 여성 중 19세 미만이 50% 이상(13세 미만은 전체의 30%)으로 노출 패션과 거의 관련이 없는 학생층이 절반 이상을 차지하고 있다.
The issue here is that while greater exposure does greater sexual urges, but does it lead to greater sexual crimes? This needs to be determined. According to the Korea Women’s Hot Line and the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, there is no evidence of a relationship. A survey of female rape victims (50% of whom were under 19, 30% of whom were under 13), shows that they were not wearing revealing clothes at their time of their rape.
다음은, 성폭력이 계절과 관련이 있다고 보는 인식의 문제이다. 노출의 계절이라고 해서 성폭력이 증가하는 것은 아니다. 성폭력 발생 빈도는 계절과 관련이 없다. 게다가 성범죄에서 가해자와 피해자의 관계를 보면, 친인척•직장 상사•데이트 상대•교사•동네 사람 등 아는 사람이 70% 이상을 차지하고, 모르는 사람의 경우도 대부분 계획된 범죄를 저지른다. 노출 패션이 성 충동을 불러일으킬지는 몰라도, 성폭력과 직접적인 관련이 있다는 근거는 없는 것이다.
Next, the notion that sexual violence is related to the season is also problematic. In fact, they are completely unrelated; so, just because it is the summer, it doesn’t mean there will be a spike in sex crimes. Moreover, if you break down the statistics of sex crimes based on the relationship between the perpetrators and victims, more than 70% are relatives, coworkers, dates, teachers, neighbors, and so on. Also, in the cases of perpetrators unknown to the victims, their crimes tend to premeditated. In other words, they are planned and executed regardless of the clothing of the victim at the time. So, there is no evidence for a direct relationship between exposure and sex crimes.
“경찰력 과다 노출이 노출 패션보다 심각” “The Excessive Use of Police Power is a More Serious Problem then Excessive Exposure”
성충동, 곧 성욕이 성폭력을 낳는 것도 아니다. 한국여성의전화 정춘숙 부장은 “성폭력은 여성을 성적 대상으로 삼아 지배하는 행위이지, 성욕과는 별 관계가 없다. 성폭력의 대상이 반항하지 못하는 어린 연령층으로 자꾸 내려가는 추세는 이 때문이다”라고 말했다. 일반적으로 성폭행은, 자기가 처한 환경에 대해 분노나 소외감을 갖는 이들이 자기보다 약한 사람을 지배하거나 통제력을 행사하는 차원에서 이루어지는, 철저한 권력의 문제인 것으로 알려져 있다.”
Sexual desire doesn’t a role in sex crimes. Jeong Choon-sook, the director of the Korean Women’s Hot Line, said, “Sex crimes are a case of dominance targeting women sexually; they are little related to sexual urges. This is why the targets of sexual crimes are getting younger over time.” In general, sex crimes are known to be power games. So those who have feelings of loneliness or anger about their situation, they want to control those [they consider] weaker than themselves.
경찰청이 단속의 근거로 내세운 ‘과다 노출→성충동→성범죄’화살표 공식은, 단순한 심증만 있을 뿐 확실한 물증이 없다. 경찰청의 단속은, 노출 패션을 성범죄의 원인으로 간주함으로써 1차적 책임을 가해자가 아닌 피해자에게 돌릴 개연성을 안고 있다. 또 과다 노출을 성범죄와 연관시킴으로써 여성뿐 아니라 남성들마저 모욕하고 있다는 비판을 받고 있다.
There is little evidence to support the police’s logic that excessive exposure leads to sex crimes. Consequently, their crackdown has a strong possibility of victim-blaming, based solely on the victims’ clothing. The police have also received complaints that men can not control themselves in the face of excessive exposure belittles men also.
“경찰이 여전히 ‘여성 유발론’이라는 통념을 갖고 있다는 사실을 보여주는 단속이다. 여성에게 1차적 책임을 묻는 것은 가해자인 남성에게 면죄부를 주는 일이자, 피해자인 여성에게는 또 하나의 올가미를 씌우는 일이다.” 한국성폭력상담소 최영애 소장의 말이다.
According to Choi Yeong-ae, director of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, “This crackdown clearly shows that the police still subscribe to the conventional wisdom that women can be partially responsible for their rape. This indulges male perpetrators, and frames women.”
패션, 그 가운데서도 거리 패션은 한 시대의 정치•사회•문화 환경과 그로 인한 심리를 민감하게 반영한다고 알려져 있다. 신경정신과 전문의 신승철씨(광혜병원 원장)의 분석을 들어 보자. “정신분석학으로 보면, 노출 패션은 단순해지는 인간 관계에서 말미암는 것으로 보인다. 인간 관계에서 자꾸 소외되다 보면 몸을 통한 자기 표현 욕구가 극대화한다.”
Considering fashion, street fashion represents people’s feelings and thoughts about the politics, society, culture, and environment of its era. Neuro-psychologist Shin Sung-cheol, head of Gwanghye Hospital in Seoul, said, “According to psychoanalytic research, wearing revealing clothing comes from a need for relationships. People experiencing loneliness and/or who feel left out a lot experience an increased urge to express themselves through their bodies.”
[James: This is just as bizarre as the notion that revealing clothing is a cause of rape, and it hardly advances the author’s argument. Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s a mistake with my translation.]
경찰청의 단속 발표를 시대착오적인 발상이라고 비판하는 정유성 교수(서강대•교육학)는, 문제는 결국 여성의 노출이 아니라 성을 지배하고 소유하려는 남성들의 음험한 눈이라고 말했다. 어떻게 보이느냐가 중요한 것이 아니라, 어떻게 보느냐가 중요하다는 지적이다.
Education professor Jeong Yoo-seong of Sogang University, who criticized the police’s crackdown, described it as outdated, and that the problem is not women’s exposure, but rather an insidious desire of men to control and police women’s bodies. The issue is not with attracting the male gaze, but with the male gazers.
(Caption: 모호한 단속 기준:‘지나친 애정 표현’도 경찰의 단속 대상이다. Vague crackdown guidelines; public displays of affection are also a target.)
경찰청이 정한 단속 기준은 대부분 모호하다. ‘알몸을 지나치게 내놓은 행위’ ‘보는 사람으로 하여금 수치심을 느끼게 하는 행위’‘불쾌감을 주는 행위’등 단속 경찰관의 주관적·개인적 판단에 맡길 수밖에 없는 기준들이다.
The majority of the police’s guidelines are rather vague. Things like “revealing one’s body excessively,” “acts which make people feel embarrassed and humiliated,” “acts that cause discomfort among others,” and so on are extremely subjective.
“70년대의 장발 단속이 지금은 웃음거리가 된 것처럼, 이번 경우도 나중에 웃음거리밖에 안되는 단속이 될 것이다. 데모대에 총기 사용을 불사하겠다, 고무 총탄을 쓰겠다는 발표와 더불어 민주화 이후의 개방 분위기에 역행하는 조처로 보인다”라고 전상인 교수(한림대·사회학)는 말했다. 전교수는 시민 사회에서 숨어 있어야 할 경찰의 ‘과다 노출’이 ‘패션 노출’보다 더 심각한 문제라고 지적했다.
Just like crackdowns on long hair in the 1970s are now considered laughable, this one will be too. Sociology Professor Jeon Sang-in of Hallym University said “This crackdown is an anti-democratic step backward, on a par with statements like ‘We will shoot protestors.'” He pointed out “Police excessive use of power is more serious than excessive exposure. Police are supposed to blend in seamlessly into civil society.”
“과다 노출이 비록 눈살을 찌푸리게 하는 일이더라도, 그것은 개인이 결정하는 자기 표현의 한 방법이므로 그 나름으로 존중해 줘야 한다. 성폭력을 방지하는 길은, 이런 유치한 수준의 단속이 아니라 성 태도 교육을 비롯해 사회 전체가 성문화에 대해 공개적이고 진지하게 성찰해야 가능하다” 라고 정유성 교수는 말했다.
“Even though excessive exposure can be something to frown upon, it is an individual’s decision to make as well as a way of expressing oneself. This is something to be respected,” continued Jeong Yoo-seong. “In order to prevent sex crimes, the public should be educated about sexual attitudes and public sex culture. Not endure childish crackdowns like this.”
경찰청의 노출 단속은 촌극으로 끝날 가능성이 많다. 일간지의 독자투고 난과 컴퓨터 통신을 통해 반대 여론이 거세지자 ‘주의를 환기하자는 뜻에서 발표했다’고 경찰청 관계자가 밝히고 있거니와, 무엇보다 노출의 계절이 지나갔기 때문이다. 게다가 패션 주기가 급격하게 짧아지고 있는 만큼 내년 여름이면 또 다른 유행이 거리 패션을 휩쓸지도 모른다.
The police’s crackdown is more likely to end in comedy than anything else. Because, as opposition has increased among the public, the police have since responded that “The announcement of the crackdown was just intended to make people more cautious.” The season of excessive exposure is almost over, and fashions change rapidly. Maybe next summer, even modesty might come back in style. (End.)
That extra reason I just wanted to post this translation just for the sake of it? Simply because it came from one of many popular tweets I’ve saved, from my Hootsuite Twitter feeds for “페미니즘,” “여성주의,” and so on, where I’m constantly finding interesting new stuff to read instead of writing. Whats more, unlike gender studies as an academic discipline here, which my professor friends lament is still grappling with second-wave feminism, I’ve found the Korean feminist Twitterverse to be really quite vibrant and progressive. I highly recommend following it, even if your Korean isn’t fluent enough to follow the links—just the tweets themselves provide convenient, bite-sized Korean practice.
I highly recommend following KLAWGURU too, who wrote about a change that has actually been made since 1996. In November last year, Korea’s exposure law was found unconstitutional, because its wording was too vague and subjective (see above). Ironically and perhaps tellingly however, it was a man contesting his fine for being half-naked in public that led to it being re-examined:
Watch how an innocuous video on vacations in history segues into admonitions against overspending:
To be precise, the 1971 video from 0:57 to 1:20:
2016 anchor: “In the 1970s the word ‘vacation’ was a buzzword, and many social issues associated with disorder, excessive prices, and overconsumption at vacationing spots occurred.”
Look past the black and white, and many scenes from that segment look surprisingly modern. That’s what makes the original anchor’s warning so jarring. Who the hell buys so many beach balls, I wondered, that they get into debt?
In 1971, I’m sure Korean viewers were thinking the exact same thing. So, what on Earth had been the government’s motivation in producing that?
The segment we’re interested in is “To the Extent You Can Afford It” (분수에 맞는 피서를), originally shown on Daehan News (대한늬우스) on 16 August, 1971; see here for the full version, with much better picture quality.
Here’s a transcript:
무더운 여름철 물놀이가 한창입니다. 도심의 백화점이나 시장에서는 필요이상의 피서용구들을 경쟁이나 하듯 사들이는 이가 많은데 이 가운데에는 빚을 내어가면서까지 분에 맞지 않는 놀이를 즐기는 분도 있다고 합니다. 하기야 애써 번 돈을 무더울 때 분에 맞게 쓴다고 해서 탓할바는 못되지만은 그렇다고 지나치게 낭비를 하거나 빚까지 얻어 쓴다는 것은 삼가해야 할 일이 아니겠습니까? 물놀이는 형편과 분수에 맞게 그리고 가족과 함께 즐기는 것이 좋겠습니다. 또 수영장이나 피서지에서는 공중도덕과 질서를 지킵시다. 술에 취해서 큰 소리로 떠들어 대거나 눈에 거슬리는 짓은 삼가해야겠습니다. 우리는 분수에 맞는 피서로써 무리가 없고 명랑한 여름철을 보내야겠습니다.
“This hot summer, people are in the middle of having fun in the water. At city department stores and markets, many people are buying more leisure items than they need, as if they were competing with each other. Among them, some are enjoying themselves beyond their means, even getting into debt. Of course, people can’t be blamed for spending their own money which they earned themselves. Yet even so, isn’t overspending and getting loans something we should refrain from? It’ll be nice to enjoy the holiday with your family to the extent that you can afford. Let’s obey public rules and morals at swimming pools and leisure places. We should avoid speaking loudly while drunk, and behaving inappropriately. We should enjoy a bright summer to the extent we can each afford (end).”
Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any more information about the video online. But probably, that’s only because the first thing to take away from it is how normal it was for its time.
That’s partially because under President Park Chung-hee, accusations of personal enrichment could be used as a device to bring down political opponents and errant factory owners; as Mark Clifford explains in Troubled Tiger: Businessmen, Bureaucrats, and Generals in South Korea (1998), when “the system was at its heart corrupt, virtually everyone was vulnerable to punishment.” But primarily it was because, regardless of what one thinks of his means, Park wasat hearta developmentalist, who firmly believed in the necessity of short-term sacrifice and capital accumulation for the sake of longer-term goals—and who regularly reminded the public of that in his speeches.
Writing in Measured Excess: Status, Gender, and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea (2000), Laura Nelson stresses how important it is “to recognize how widespread and pervasive the censure of the pursuit of enrichment was” back then. In particular:
“During South Korea’s lean years in Park’s early tenure, quotidian frugality was ideologically transformed into an act of popular patriotism….Park placed the burden of responsibility for the success of national development strategies on the shoulders of individuals in all their daily economic decisions.”
(p. 113; emphasis added)
Nonetheless, in May 1970 the Health and Social Affairs Ministry issued a report arguing that income inequality was creating serious social problems. Yet more troublesome still, according to Joungwon Kim, author of Divided Korea: The Politics of Development, 1945-1972 (1976), was the simultaneous “conspicuous consumption of the new elite, who began building luxurious homes and riding through Seoul in expensive imported Cadillacs and Mercedes Benz.”
And I want to offer yet more fruits from my hitting the books, to convey just how dire I learned the domestic economic and international geopolitical situation was for South Korea then, how tenuous the support for the government was, and just how vulnerable it felt politically. Because it’s reasonable to suppose that it only meant such admonitions became ever more fervent and extreme.
We were talking about a warning about buying too many beach balls, after all.
That would require thousands of words though, and probably most readers are already quite familiar with the circumstances leading up to the authoritarian Yushin Constitution of October 1972.
Instead, the promised insight of the title is how to make those feel more real and convincing.
Doing so is especially meaningful to me, because when I first learned about them as a student in the mid-1990s, it was before the Asian Financial Crisis. Tales of hardship in Korean history back then sounded somewhat abstract, or even hyperbole. Even when I learned much later that, in 1973, the Minister of Education praised prostitutes for securing much needed foreign exchange from USFK soldiers, Korea’s poverty failed to really sink in.“Hardship” isn’t what comes to mind when watching that video either, nor with that much–shared image of women’s fashions in 1971 that I opened this post with. Nor with this personal favorite too:
(“Seoul 서울 1968-08-07 – 68D08-0723”, by Pal Meir; used with permission)
I mean, that pink dress, right? And that sweet smile? Could you look her in the eye, and tell her she couldn’t buy a second beach ball?
Ahem. But whatever the reasons such videos and images may or may not do it for you, the temptation to project a familiar, nostalgic Western image of the abundance of the ’60s onto Korea can be quite a powerful one. Perhaps even for Korean readers too, as it may be sufficiently distant that Korean popular culture now glamorizes that era.
That’s probably why it took cold, hard statistics to break the spell for me. Because at the time of that video, which looks so modern, and despite a miraculous-sounding average GDP growth rate of 10% between 1963-1970, still less than 1 in 10 Koreans had washing machines, refrigerators, phones, or televisions:
But let’s reserve answering those questions for the comments, and/or anything else raised here. Let me conclude instead with another quote from Laura Nelson, as she gives a much better sense than I could of how important the era is for understanding the negative, consumption-based stereotypes of Korean women that would come later. For remember those individuals, whose shoulders “the burden of responsibility for the success of national development strategies” would be placed upon? Ultimately, most of them would prove to be women:
…the image of the housewife as the archetypal consumer…begins to equate women as consumers and women as housewives, and is also part of the process by whereby men’s consumer practices become invisible. Moreover, the kind of consumption that women conduct as “housewives”…is a special case of consumption: women-as-housewives-as-consumers assume a responsibility for a collective interest….The dominance of the image of women-housewives-consumers foregrounds, for women consumers in particular, a moral distinction between responsible consumption and personal indulgence.
This leads to a consideration of the second gendered aspect of consumption: the danger…