Why is Korea’s Largest Marriage Agency Only Targeting Women?

Potential customers are put off by unequal sex ratios, and Duo already has more female customers than male ones. So what gives?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes.

I know, I know—I’m not even divorced yet, and I’m already looking at marriage agencies. But the reality is that Duo’s latest campaign ads are just impossible to avoid on Korean public transport at the moment. And the obvious emphasis on attracting female customers in them, for a service ostensibly about providing those women with as many romantic encounters with male suitors as their finances allow, should give everyone misgivings. For it’s not like correcting an excess of male customers is the motivation.

This concern may still sound odd. “Sweet,” I’d wager, is what usually comes to mind when most people see Duo ads. Indeed, I only did a double-take at this one at all because I happened to be reviewing my translations of a lavishly-illustrated, feminist Korean book about paintings of nude women (as any normal person does on the subway), and, glancing up, was immediately struck by how unlike those paintings the ad was. For actor Lee Shi-won/이시원‘s look back at the viewer doesn’t exactly scream pandering to the male gaze. Nor did all the other Duo ads on the subway carriage I could see from my seat, some of which just had Lee alone, and only one of which had model Noh Seong-Su/노성수 looking back with her.

Source: Duo.

Then my stop was coming up. And you don’t exactly need to have read Erving Goffman’s Gender Advertisements to be realize what the ‘relative sizes‘ of Lee and Noh in these ads signify in the ads I saw once I stood up:

But so what? What is the issue exactly, about Duo prioritizing women?

Well, the last time I checked in 2020, Duo had more female than male customers then, at a ratio of something like 6 to 4 or 5.5 to 4.5.

I don’t know if this ratio was affected by the pandemic. But regardless, more women competing for fewer men clearly disadvantages them. That extra level of competition also incentivizes charging women more for the same services offered men. Which indeed Duo, and most of the over 1000 other registered agencies out there, do so with a gusto.

Moreover, Duo, already experiencing massive drops in sales in the mid and late-2010s, almost made none at all in 2021 thanks to the pandemic, as marriages and childbirths, still inexorably tied together in Korea, dropped precipitously. Which, once again, was something the subway carriage wasn’t subtle about reminding me:

So, although Duo clearly retains the financial resources for its latest massive campaign, I speculate that it may actually represent a doubling-down on financially discriminating against young women. And, given Duo’s position as a industry leader and model, I have concerns about what this will have on Korean dating, gender roles, and marriage norms.

Not convinced? Really, it’s only a matter of degree. Please see my in-depth investigation from 2020 for a plethora of evidence on how that sexual discrimination has in fact been occurring for decades. And don’t let me forget the influence on body-image either: just a few months ago, one agency focusing on wealthy clients, with nearly half a million customers, came under fire for its strict financial criteria for admitting men, but only requiring a members’ vote of 3.6/5 on appearance alone to admit women. I also invite readers to consider that demanding women pay more to date men than vice-versa,* and deliberately skewing their customers’ sex ratios to justify this, is surely yet another form of “pink tax” that perpetuates the gender gap.

*(I realize that the norm in Korea is for men to pay on dates; no social issue that is interesting isn’t complicated!)

RELATED POSTS

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

MORE Upcoming Zoom Lectures and Webinars You Should Totally Register for ASAP

Reading time: 4 minutes. Image source: Photo by Fausto García-Menéndez on Unsplash

Am really far too busy…must resist…but neither spirit…nor flesh…is willing…

So, let’s just make letting you know about interesting online presentations and webinars I’m attending a regular thing from now on.

In chronological order then, with the first one starting just tomorrow (hey, I only just found out about it myself!):

On Wednesday 23 November, 18:00-19:30 Korean Time / 10:00-11:30 CET, the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism will host a live briefing for the release of the book Masculinity and Violent Extremism. More information and registration here:

Update: Here’s a recording of the webinar. One of the presenters, Professor Michael Flood, told me it’s going to be made into an open-access book soon too. I’ll keep you posted! :)

Next, on Tuesday 29 November, 12:00 Korean Time, Chuyun Oh (San Diego State Univ.) will give a talk about her book K-pop Dance: Fandoming on Social Media. More information and registration here and here:

Then on Friday 02 December, 09:00-10:00 Korean time / Thursday, December 1, 16:00-17:00 (Pacific), Hagen Koo will talk about his book Privilege and Anxiety: The Korean Middle Class in the Global Era. More information and registration here and here:

Finally, on Thursday and Friday, 08 and 09 December, 11:30-19:00 Korean time, 13:30-21:00 AEDT, the jam-packed Queering the Korean Wave: An International Symposium will be held, with multiple presentations spread over the two days. See here for more information and registration:

What are you waiting for? ;)

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

9th Busan Women’s Film Festival to be Held This Friday and Saturday

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes.

Curiously unconcerned about consulting with me first (I know, right?), the organizers of the Busan Women’s Film Festival scheduled this year’s event to open on the day of my divorce hearing.

This somewhat complicates my own attendance. But don’t let that stop you!

Obviously if your Korean is good, then you’re spoilt for choice. As for non-Korean speakers though, unfortunately I’ve yet to hear if any of the Korean films will have English (or even hangul) subtitles available, and frankly doubt there will be. (Update: The organizers have confirmed only the two foreign films will have subtitles.)

However, there is the English-language The Ants and the Grasshopper screening on Friday night, and the French-language L’événement on Saturday afternoon. With translation apps or plugins, reserving tickets for either and arranging the bank transfers seem pretty straightforward.

So what are you waiting for? ;)

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

There are More Entry-level Korean Women Journalists than Men These Days. So Why do Most Leave the Industry in Less Than 10 Years?

It’s not as simple as just increased childcare responsibilities—Korea already has a record-low birthrate, and women journalists the world over have less children than women in most other professions. So what gives?

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes. Photo (cropped) by Dynamic Wang on Unsplash.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, I like to think, that a single industry so possessed by one sex, must be in want of dramatic reform.

Okay, I did force that Austen-like opener somewhat.

But when you realize that the entry number of Korean women journalists has started to exceed that of men in recent years, only for most women to leave the industry in less than 10 years? Also, that the ensuing absence of women mentors, and continued domination of newsrooms by masculine culture are, ipso facto, some of the main causes of that?

Perhaps awkward forced changes, such as quotas for board members of news organizations, are precisely what the industry needs.

I can’t pretend to possess insider knowledge in that regard, nor detailed solutions. But from now on, I can at least share everything I’ve collected about sexism and bias in the Korean media industry over the years to spread awareness, as well as anything new as it comes up. In particular, such a gold mine of information as Na Yeon Lee and Changsook Kim’s “Why Are Women Journalists Leaving the Newsroom in South Korea? Gendered and Emerging Factors that Influence the Intention to Leave” just published last month in Journalism Practice.

If your interest isn’t piqued just by the title alone, let me leave you with some telling quotes that demonstrate why it really should be,* and please get in touch if you don’t have access to a copy.

*Apologies for removing the numerous sources mentioned for the sake of readability. Please consult the original for those, many of which sound just as interesting and informative as this one!

Just four years, ago MBC anchorwoman Lim Hyeon-ju caused a sensation by defying the rule that female news anchors weren’t allowed to wear glasses on the job.

First, on why I think quotas are absolutely necessary:

…in South Korea in 1996, JoongAng Daily, one of the largest South Korean newspapers, employed only 24 women journalists out of a total of 402 journalists. Soon after, the percentage of women journalists began to surge so that by 2020 women accounted for about 32.8% of the total number of journalists. However, most women journalists were younger and about 10% of women journalists were in top-management positions.

And:

In South Korea in recent years, although the entry number of women journalists has exceeded that of men journalists , there were only 7 women out of 138 (5.07%) board members among the 29 major news organizations.

Next, on why a gender balance in news media is so important:

The under-representation of women journalists in newsrooms is regarded as problematic based on findings of previous studies that the gender of journalists influences their reporting practices as well as the content of news coverage. For example, a recent study found that news organizations where women journalists occupy positions at editorial levels were more likely to have covered the “#Me Too Movement” than organizations without women editors in high positions. In fact, previous studies have repeatedly reported that with fewer women journalists, portrayals of women as well as marginalization of women’s concerns are themes often overlooked in news stories. Therefore, if women journalists consistently exit the news industry, their voices in covering newsworthy topics will likely disappear along with recommendations for improved newsroom policies and culture.

Moreover, in the absence of upper-level women journalists…

…several studies have shown that while the number of women journalists has increased, characteristics of newsrooms as masculine domains remain entrenched. In fact…“Young women journalists decided to resign because of men-centered culture and they felt they had less attention than men journalists from their organizations.” [Also], although there has been an increase in the number of Korean women journalists in recent decades, the traditional model of newsrooms based on a male model that expects strong work commitment and unusually long hours has not substantially changed. In addition, in South Korea, women journalists often face work-family conflicts after marriage due to society’s concepts of the traditional gender role of women, influenced by Korean cultural standards.

Photo by Anh Tuan To on Unsplash.

And finally, in conclusion:

…the results of this study show that the three most important factors in women journalists’ leaving the newsroom are (1) the weakening of social status, (2) a newsroom dominated by masculine culture, and (3) additional online workloads.

…although more and more women journalists have entered the news industry, the masculine newsroom culture has not changed because most of high-level positions in news media organizations are still held by men journalists. Interestingly, in-depth interviews, conducted…with nine young women journalists who resigned with less than 10 years of experience, revealed they had voluntarily left because they were unable to “find a role model who overcame the male-centered culture of a journalist society and the organizational culture of newspaper companies.” Their responses indicate that women journalists in South Korea continue to be perceived as “often excluded from the internal networks established by men.” Also, they are less likely than men to have the benefit of mentors.

RELATED POSTS

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

Upcoming Zoom Lectures You Should Totally Register for ASAP

Reading time: 3 minutes. Image source: Photo by Fausto García-Menéndez on Unsplash

It’s been a while, I know. Sorry. Please rest assured many posts are coming soon, and many more ideas are being worked on.

However, time and tide wait for no (wo)man. Nor, indeed, do the registration periods for Zoom lectures care much for what bloggers have got going on in their lives.

So, while of course I can’t post about every interesting-sounding Zoom lecture and webinar out there, I will always try to at least let you know about the ones I’m personally attending.

If you are able to make it to any of them, that’s just great, I hope you enjoy them, and please feel free to say hi in the private chat any time!

(But please do register soon!)

First up, at 9am Friday 11 November Korean time:

As described at the Stanford website (register):

In this talk, Hyunjoon Park will give a brief overview of how Korean families have changed over the last three decades in various family behaviors. Although the trends of falling marriage rates and rising divorce rates, along with the increase in the population living alone, are well known, less known is divergence in those family behaviors between the more and less educated. Tracing family changes differently for those at higher and lower ends of the educational hierarchy highlights growing educational differentials in family life. Compared to their college-educated counterparts, it is increasingly difficult for those without a college degree to form and maintain a family in Korea, making the Korean family a ‘luxury good.’

Next, literally as soon as that finishes, at 10am Friday 11 November Korean time:

As per the Facebook page of the SNU International Center of Korean Studies (register):

The International Center for Korean Studies of the Kyujanggak Institute is hosting a Book Talk series, introducing Dal Yong Jin’s Transnational Korean Cinema: Cultural Politics, Film Genres, and Digital Technologies.

Title: Transnational Korean Cinema: Cultural Politics, Film Genres, and Digital Technologies

Date: November 11 (Friday) 10:00 – 12:00 (Seoul)

Author: Dal Yong Jin (Simon Fraser University)

Moderator: Seok-kyeong Hong (Seoul National University)

Discussants: Jihoon Kim (Chung-Ang University), Chung-kang Kim (Hanyang University)

The event will be held online via Zoom. The link for Zoom meeting will be sent a day before the event after your registration is confirmed.

Please contact icks@snu.ac.kr (Tel. 02-880-9378) for more information.

Finally, at 10am Thursday 17 November Korean time:

Spurred by this review at The Japan Times, I read the book last December and thoroughly enjoyed it, rating it 5 out of 5. So please do be warned that if you click that link, you’ll doubtless end up ordering a copy too ;)

As for the webinar, USCDornsife explains (register):

Gabriele Koch is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. Gabriele is a sociocultural anthropologist whose research focuses on the social meanings and consequences of care in contemporary Japan. Her first book, Healing Labor: Japanese Sex Work in the Gendered Economy (Stanford University Press, 2020), explores the relationship between how adult Japanese women working in Tokyo’s sex industry think about what sex is and the political-economic roles and possibilities that they imagine for themselves. The book examines how Japanese sex workers regard their services as a form of socially necessary care and highlights the gendered interdependencies and inequalities that shape women’s work in the Japanese economy more generally.

See you there!

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