Free The Nipple in Korea? Why Not? Uncovering the history of a taboo

Earlier this month, the Korean media ignored a Free the Nipple event held by Womenlink. This lack of coverage is just one reason why the campaign may struggle to take-off in Korea. But stranger things have happened. Once, men too were forbidden from exposing their chests in public. As Korean summers get hotter and drier, soon these double-standards may seem as absurd as no-pants laws and the skirt-length police.
(Source: @womenlink)

Boobs don’t get much love in Korea.

If they’re larger than average, their owners are often criticized for flaunting their femininity, and stereotyped as sexually voracious. Those same women also struggle to find comfortable, attractive bras that will fit them.

This, despite Korean women’s breasts getting larger for decades as Koreans’ diets have changed.

Of course, women the world over struggle with these issues. But it’s not just size, it’s exposure in general, and standards in Korea are that much stricter. As I’m no Picasso explains:

“Base line standard in Korea: If you are showing even the tiniest centimeter of a crack of cleavage, you are not dressed appropriately for work. Shoulders are also largely taboo, although we have noticed this changing a bit this past summer. Even too much exposed skin on the chest above the cleavage mark can be considered risque.

It’s a pain in the ass for girls with larger chests, because it’s really difficult to find garments that won’t show any cleavage, no matter what position you are in. I’ve also had to take to having an army of undershirts on hand, in order to be sure that not even the shadow of a bra can be seen…”

That probably explains why, per capita, more Korean women plump for breast reductions than enlargement or lifting operations. Also, why bust-reducing bras are so popular, despite Northeast-Asian women’s genetic tendency to have much smaller breasts than—for want of a better catch-all term—Western women. I suspect why braletteswhich can only be really worn by women with small breasts—haven’t been available in Korea either, as Korean women may not have considered them concealing enough. (Although this recent campaign to start producing them has been very successful, and this Japanese-sourced one is also making waves.)

In the midst of this, the Korean media and K-pop industries occupy ambivalent positions. On the one hand, the latter stumbled onto a strategy of emphasizing female performers’ legs instead, considered a “safer” body part in Korea and its Asian markets (well illustrated by this classic cartoon, and the surprising modesty of these “sexy dances“), which simultaneously sexualized the girls and women while deflecting criticism. On the other, the entire industry is centered around securing endorsement contracts with the advertising and beauty industries, which have vested interests in creating new markets through encouraging bustier, more revealing beauty standards.

Image Source: Rok Kim. Anonymous source (quoted with permission): “What are you, ladies? Personally I am 가슴 B컵 for Boobs Are Great In All Sizes and 얼굴 F급 for Fucks Given About Your Opinion Are Zero.” (Advertisement Caption: Breasts, D-cup; Face, A-grade.

But these are all necessary generalizations. The reality is messy, undercut by age, class, marital status, motherhood, occupation, and region. Every morning while working on this post, the range of women’s fashions and levels of exposure I witnessed even just on the subway would defy any of the neat conclusions I’d arrived at the night before.

So, two weeks of pondering nipples and breasts later, as one does, the only generalization I’m still confident of making is that all women suffer from the inconveniences—and, ultimately, the dangers—of the double standards of men’s and women’s fashion.

Most of the negative effects I’m aware of have been covered in those earlier links. But I also happen to be a guy, so I would appreciate female readers’ input. One I didn’t know about for instance, because I don’t shop for women’s clothes, one anonymous woman told me:

“When I came back here 5 years ago, I was shocked because…dresses and/or skirts were way too short in general even when they were meant for the ‘office look’. When you buy clothes online, often the pictures are very misleading because companies often use very petite models so dresses/skirts look something of a normal length. I’ve learned it hard way and started to double-check the length. Nowadays I tend to stick with only a few sites when I shop my work clothes. I should probably start exploring offline stores again.

I don’t mind sporting short skirts/dresses every now and then when time & place is right—I just don’t wanna be surprised when I expect to receive something in a normal length for my work.”

Continuing, I’ve just been wearing short-sleeved shirts to work for the last month, and just long-sleeved shirts before that. In contrast, as a Womenlink activist wrote on her placard at the event (see below), women always have to wear unventilated padding to hide their nipples; to wear bras to hide their breasts; to wear vests to hide their bras; and to wear t-shirts to hide their vests.

No wonder my very well-developed, very active 11 year-old daughter is so reluctant to make the transition from her flimsy training bras. Fortunately though, her school has no uniform, whereas many schools that do have one end up slutshame their female students and forcing them to wear such uncomfortable clothing.

Even more alarmingly, in one 2013 survey of Korean police officers, over half considered revealing clothing to be a cause of sexual assault (indicating little had changed from back in 1996). To those who would make fun of and dismiss Free the Nipple and Slutwalk campaigns in response to such attitudes, and continue to police women’s bodies so unfairly, I’m genuinely curious as to where they would draw the lines. Especially if they claim to still support women’s rights. For to whom else but misogynists, could so much shame and blame hinge on an exposed bra strap or visible nipple?

“I dropped a lot of money on a nice bra…one with frills and made of lace, not like all my other ones that I bought from Uniqlo.” / “Minju! You can see your entire bra! Don’t wear a white t-shirt!” Source, above and below: @bambooblock)
“But what about her? That’s the fashion!!” / Fashion you say… / Jeez… [put this on].” Ironic coincidence: this picture of Korean duo Love X Stereo appeared in my Facebook feed as I was translating!

But where did these attitudes come from? Again, the question is more difficult than it appears, and there’s no handy introduction akin to Laura Miller’s “Mammary Mania” chapter in her excellent book on Japanese body aesthetics.

So, I spent most of those last two weeks laying the framework for what may be my own equivalent chapter on Korea someday. Allow me to present the fruits of that research, in the form of themes and trends I’ve identified that any answer must cover, as well as some highlights from new sources I’ve discovered (please let me know if you have any difficulty obtaining copies of the journal articles). As you’ll soon see, there’s a lot of things to consider, and it can be very difficult—even naive and counterproductive—to separate nipple and breast exposure from taboos surrounding other body parts:

For a discussion of late Joseon Dynasty art, notions of eroticism, and dress codes, as well as a great introduction to a painter who turned out to be quite a maverick and social commentator for his time, see Saehyang P. Chung’s “Sin Yunbok’s Women on Tano Day and the Iconography of Common women Washing Clothes by a Stream,” Oriental Art, vol. 47, no. 5 (2001), pp. 55-69. For instance, consider Chung’s description of Women on Tano Day, painted at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries (p. 56; my emphasis):

“[Most striking of all] is the provocative portrayal of semi-nude bathers in the lower left-hand corner, where a woman stands sensually, her face turned in the direction of the beholder. Equally daring is the inclusion of two young monks, who observe the bathers with unequivocally frank poses and facial expressions…Considering that even in the West, the female nude in a contemporary setting—devoid of classical or biblical context (e.g. Diana or Susanna in Her Bath)—did not appear until the 19th century, the representation of bathing women in Sin Yunbok’s painting is all the more remarkable.

(Source: Wikipedia)

You may have noticed that the working woman carrying a load on her head is fully-clothed, but has her breasts exposed. This is because, as explained by Hyung Gu Lynn in “Fashioning Modernity: Changing Meanings of Clothing in Colonial Korea” in the Journal of International and Area Studies (2004; pp. 77-78):

“…during the Chosôn period, clothing was not a unifying medium for all Koreans, but rather a means of social differentiation. Considerable scholarly energy has been directed to the study of the regulations that governed what clothes and colors could be worn by [whom]. The results show, for example, that it was only women of the upper class who wore long coats and head covers called chang-ot when venturing outside. In contrast, commoner women who worked outdoors often wore short chôgori [blouses], which left their breasts exposed for ease in nursing their babies.”

In light of the symbolic and unifying role the hanbok plays for most Koreans today, unfortunately there has been considerable opposition to acknowledging that “uncivilized” aspect of Korean fashion history. For more on the controversy, see “The Bare Facts” by Robert Neff and “Time to sex up Hanbok” by Andrew Salmon at the Korea Times, this AskHistorians thread at Reddit, the comments to this well-known photograph from 1945 (update: also, the comments to this 1920s breastfeeding postcard), “Joseon girls gone wild” at ZenKatsuo, and From Fukuoka for more photos.

For a bare-breasted photography series inspired by—and in some cases directly replicating—Sin Yun-bok’s painting, see The Hanbok Project by photographer Kim Jung-nam and hanbok designer Lee Young-hee.

• In the chapter “Female Images in 1930s Korea: Virtuous Women and Good Mothers” in Visualizing Beauty: Gender and Ideology in Modern East Asia, ed. by Aida Yuen Wong (2012), Yisoon Kim notes that women were infrequently depicted in Korean art, even compared to other Confucian societies, but the new “Paintings of Colonial Women” genre exemplified by Sin Yun-bok (briefly) changed all that. What she writes about the anonymous picture on the left below however, contradicts the notion that breasts were not at all eroticized, a notion further corroborated by “firm breasts” being included in contemporary lists of beauty ideals (p. 93.):

(Sources: Naver, Daum, Vosub. On the right is a poster for the fanciful 2008 movie Portrait of a Beauty, which re-imagines Sin Yun-bok as a woman in disguise.)

“…[this left] picture recalls Sin Yun-bok’s style except for the absence of ornate hair accessories. Donning a short skirt, which tantalizingly reveals the breasts, the woman lifts one hand to adjust her hairdo. Although the hanbok is designed to fully cover the body, these paintings expose the flesh in strategic places. Sin’s picture [in the center] includes a silver knife, a traditional symbol of chastity, hanging from the shirt as a reminder of the sexual potential of the image. [Paintings of this genre] facilitated carnal fantasy. They could be made to hang on walls like Western pin-ups or portable scrolls for the convenience of private viewing, presumably at men’s leisure.”

Perhaps it was the elite status of the women depicted that made all the difference? Or, if the women depicted were actually low-status gisaeng, because of the novelty of seeing them bare-breasted, as opposed to commoners?

As Hyung Gu Lynn goes on to explain in her article, the adoption of Western clothing during the colonial period also had important class components, as well as becoming tied to anti-colonialism and nationalism. It’s difficult to understand the rise of—and misogyny against—the “New Woman” and “Modern Girl” ideals without those, so it’s worth quoting her at some length (p. 87, my emphases):

“[In addition to modernization bringing] increasing numbers of women out the house and into public spaces…the diffusion of technologies of visual reproduction and the development of the culture of tourism allowed for more men to consume more images of women, further multiplying the number of meanings embedded in a given piece of clothing.

Although increasing numbers of urban men wore Western-style suits, the changes in women’s clothing occurred at a far slower pace. The transition for women from Chosôn period ch’ima [skirt] to the “improved ch’ima” with the shorter skirt hem and the longer tops meant that the visual distinction between upper class women who had hidden under the chang-ot and the common women with exposed faces and breasts was eliminated. However, in the place of the exposed breast as a marker of commoner status, the degree of calf exposure became one of the indicators of female proximity to capitalism and modernity—more leg, more modern.

Students and workers were encouraged to wear shortened skirts and longer tops for their purported practicality in the more mobile world, but the exposed calf sparked heated debate over its sexual implications…The increased visual presence of women in public and the diffusion of romantic love imbued clothing with heightened sexual meaning.”

And (p.88):

“New styles of clothing which exposed more skin, legs in particular, influenced ideas of beauty that extended and encompassed to the shape of the female body. By the mid-1930s, articles on beautifying calisthenics for women that would not appear so out of place in twenty-first century magazines were appearing in the mass publications…Other articles introduced the proper way to put on makeup, what to wear for which occasions, and how to behave in the “modern life,” further supplementing the new definitions and ideals of beauty and grace. The changes in clothing clearly helped shape the sexual meanings imbued in various body parts, providing further evidence that the eroticized body parts and ‘proper’ areas of skin exposure changes with culture and time.

Developments in visual technology and tourism added to the intensified sexuality of clothing. Magazines, movie posters, and postcards distributed consumable images of women in various styles of dress…The complete covering of the female breast in the colonial period gradually eroticized what had previously been merely regarded a body part. The tourist and travel literature usually contained images of kisaeng in P’yôngyang, but in the late colonial period, the women sea divers in Cheju Island became increasingly popular subjects for postcards and photographs, usually pictured with their breasts exposed.

The ‘traditional’ ch’ima chôgori, which may have been the only clothes a Korean woman owned, or consciously wore as a symbol of resistance to colonial rule or as a reflection of class and status, could be perceived merely as an exotic costume by the unknowing male gaze. The multivalency of each piece of clothing allowed the ‘traditional’ female dress to symbolize Korean identity, and at the same time distend the exotic allure of travel in Korea by promising different vistas and enticing females to the male (predominantly Japanese) tourist.”

(Sources: Sturmgeschutz, OhmyNews. Left image is actually of Busan divers.)

Many years ago, I read that older Korean men (and women?) fondly remember those photos of semi-nude Haenyeo (Jeju divers) from when they were children, taken before the divers began wearing wetsuits in the 1950s and 1960s. Unfortunately, I’ve long since lost the source, so it was good to find indirect confirmation. Actual examples of those photographs however, remain surprisingly difficult to find online, the vast majority actually being of Ama divers in Japan. But they’re out there. The one on the left below for instance, is part of a romanticized series from the 1950s according to the source, although the costumes are authentic; that later one on the right, very likely taken for a Jeju postcard, is much more modest, but remains a good example of glamorization and sexualization.

(Sources: 유자향내를 따라서, hansoo7007)

Yisoon Kim provides a good summary of why a new trend of portraying “virtuous” women then arose, with depictions of breastfeeding in particular becoming the main subjects of paintings for the first time (p. 91):

“…[the 1930s were] the height of colonialism, when conservatism and progressiveness coexisted…Fine artists tended to depict the opposites [of the much-criticized Modern Girls], that is, virtuous women who demonstrated chastity and sexual restraint. Modernization was underway…but unfavorable economic conditions inside and outside the country made Koreans wary of change. [Under the conditions of the Great Depression and coming war], the colonized and impoverished Korean nation took comfort in the idea of women carrying out their motherly duties and grooming the next generation for a more prosperous future.”

In a previous chapter, “The Modern Girl as a Contested Symbol in Colonial Korea”, Yeon Shim Chung notes that other reasons for the adoption of the virtuous mother as a nationalist symbol include the facts that most of the new beauty products for the Modern Girls and New Women—as well as the original ideals themselves—came from Japan. Indeed (p. 82):

“Commerce and feminism intersected with colonialism in controversial ways. Korea’s access to Western goods was one vehicle for Japan to prove its utility as a civilizer and modernizer. As voracious consumers of these goods, Modern Girls inadvertently participated in Korea’s colonial subordination to Japan, which entailed [heavily] promoting [to both Koreans and to the West] progressive images of Japan while denigrating Korea as a remote, pre-industrial land…”

Which may have included bare-breasted women in hanbok, as the comment threads linked to earlier suggest, and why many Koreans’ understandable first reaction to seeing them is to dismiss them as Japanese propaganda.

• Most ordinary women entering the newly-created jobs open to them, of course, had no time for men’s criticisms of their newfound professional and sexual freedoms, or the shoehorning of their consumer purchases into narratives of nationalist betrayal. Indeed, as Young Na Kim describes in “Being Modern: Representing the ‘New Woman’ and ‘Modern Girl’ in Korean Art“, Western clothes became the norm by the 1930s (p. 222) “…not because they signified modernity, but because they were practical and comfortable.” Also, and in particular, further examples she gives caution against tendencies in previously mentioned sources that neatly categorize trends and depictions into the decadent 1920s vs. the virtuous 1930s (p. 238):

“One of the characteristics of the Modern Girl was her consciousness of her body. There were now attempts to freely express the physical strength or beauty of woman’s body. Nude paintings, which once were banned from being shown in public, now could be displayed at an exhibition with no restrictions, but they were still depicted in the setting of the artist’s studio. However, there is a photograph of famous dancer Choi Seong-hee [left, below] in 1931 which reveals that she exposed her body half naked in a public performance, as if to declare the freedom of the body. Kang Dae-sok’s photograph of a female nude [the first nude photograph in Korea; right, below] should be also noted in this context, in her stretched posture facing toward the sky as if to embrace the whole world, breaking away from the passive reclining or standing nude form.”

(Sources: knnews, 술취한★북극성)

• Moving rapidly to the postwar era, two easy guides I recommend on the transition to the full adoption of Western-style clothing are: Sunae Park et. al., “The Process of Westernization: Adoption of Western-Style Dress by Korean Women, 1945-1962” in Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 3, 1993, which has more on the practical considerations behind the shift, and Karlyne A. Anspach and Yoon Hee Kwon, “Western Dress Styles Adopted by Korean Women” in Home Economics Research Journal, Vol. 4, No.4, June 1976.

Next, there is the oft-mentioned mini-skirt fever prompted by singer Yoon Bok-hee, hemlines reaching a peak of 30cm above the knee in 1968. But in my opinion, the liberalization of Korean clothing and attitudes then is exaggerated. While more revealing imagery from the period tends to stick out, it may not be representative, not unlike the aforementioned wide gap between the busty ideals promoted by the Korean media and ordinary Korean women’s attitudes today. Also, not only was Yoon quickly branded a “public enemy” and had eggs thrown at her, but this was hardly the swinging ’60s in Korea. In fact, the country was desperately poor at the time (less than 1 in 10 Koreans had washing machines, refrigerators, phones, or televisions), with most of the public unable to spend much on fashion, and possibly deeply resentful of those that could.

Fears of the ensuing social conflict are one big reason for the implementation of the highly authoritarian “Yushin System” of 1972-1981, which included forced haircuts for men, minimum skirt-lengths for women, and strict censorship of sexual media content.

(Sources: Joongang Ilbo, 나르샤)

This censorship would not just end in the early-1980s however, but in fact sexual content would ultimately be encouraged by the government, as part of its “3S” policy of “sex, screen, and sport” to distract people from politics. Accordingly, Madame Aema, “the most explicit of Korean movies ever made,” would hit the theaters in early-1982.

• In the late-1980s, the government began to lift restrictions on the use of foreign models in advertisements. First, they were allowed to appear in advertisements for foreign products, then in 1994, for domestic products also. Their use exploded after that, particularly after the liberalization of the magazine market in 1999.

This is relevant for understanding exposure taboos, because both Korean and overseas-sourced advertisements with foreign, overwhelmingly Caucasian, models tended to—and still tend to—portray them in more revealing clothing and/or sexually-themed advertisements than their Korean counterparts, perpetuating long-held stereotypes of Western lasciviousness and Korean modesty. In particular, various developments in the fashion industry meant that for roughly 10 years from 2000-2010, it was extremely rare to see a Korean lingerie model, until the entertainment industry began to see the attention-seeking possibilities and financial gains from having its girl-group members and female actors become endorsers.

That said, I remain unaware of any Korean female nipples that have ever graced any advertisements here.

(Sources: Metro, July 8 2010, p. 7., ckmania)

In the summer of 2002, record numbers of Korean women would take advantage of the soccer World Cup to, basically, go out and have a good time, directly challenging conservative standards of dress and representations of female sexuality in the media. Although both developments had in fact already begun in the mid to late-1990s, and were accelerated by the sexual politics of the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis, unfortunately the “movement” was then largely co-opted and channeled into narratives of support for the national soccer team by the media and government.

This set a modern precedent for the very literal use of women’s—and also men’s—bodies for Korean military, nationalist, economic, and soft power purposes, roles which would come to fit the K-pop industry like a glove.

Finally, in addition to the K-pop industry and government censorship regimes perpetuating the notion that breasts are bad, but women’s legs and men’s abs are good clean harmless fun, there is the dramatic rise of the cosmetic surgery industry over the last few decades to cosider. Fueled, I’d go so far as to say primarily by, Korea being one of only two countries in the OECD where photographs are required on resumes, despite multiple attempts to stop the practice. And this is the same industry that, as previously noted, is heavily encouraging bustier body ideals.

Exhausted after reading that? You’re not the only one(!). Yet that potted history of the taboo is still just the bare-bones, and needs considerable fleshing-out. Not least, from all the Korean-language sources I’ve also discovered and barely scratched the surface of, as well as the voices of Korean women and men themselves. I also acknowledge the almost complete lack of mention of men, and eagerly await your suggestions for further scholarly sources on Korean men’s nipples in particular ;)

Despite all the generalizations and gaps however, a clear theme of fluidity and rapid change in Korea’s exposure taboos emerges from all the above, and there’s no reason to suppose those won’t continue. Indeed, to those that feel that women walking around with exposed breasts is too much of an extreme to ever return to, it was once considered just as outlandish for men to expose their chests too, as pointed out in the Free the Nipple movie (2014):

(Via: Astronomy in Reverse)

Moreover, to those that feel a Free the Nipple campaign has chances for success in Western countries, but that a Korean equivalent will inevitably lag far behind, I’d point out how recent the call for change is in Western countries too.* And nobody who was in a crowd of Red Devils in Korea in 2002—or, indeed, in a candlelight democracy vigil in 2017—can fail to appreciate what ordinary Koreans are capable of when they’re tired of others’ BS.

Kudos then, to the activists from Womenlink earlier this month. You can read more about their event (and see many more comments) in two posts on Womenlink’s Facebook Page, or on their homepage, and here’s my translations of their posters and placards to round off this post:

*As friends have rightly pointed out, the puritan standards of the US referenced in those links do not represent those of all Western countries. In particular, nude beaches have been popular in much of continental Europe for decades, and standards for the workplace and presenters on television are much more relaxed. Also, nudity is common on French daytime and primetime TV. 

(Source: @womenlink)

(Speech Bubbles): Your nipples are showing! / Arrgh! (Women’s) Nipples! / Your nipples are too dark!

(Source, this image and following 3: @womenlink)

Those aren’t eyes there.

(lit.) Nipples have a wide language.

(Source, this image and following two: @womenlink)

We wear padding (which isn’t ventilated) to hide our nipples, we wear bras to hide our breasts, to hide our bras we wear vests, and to hide our vests we wear t-shirts…this prickly heat is so frustrating! We can’t live like this! Free the Nipple!

Q) If you have a lot of sexual experience, do your nipples get darker? A) No way!

Free the nipple / Why is looking at only women’s nipples restricted to over-18s?!?! Let’s stop the sexual objectification of women now!!

Update: Korea Observer reported on a very similar event in 2014, although I’m unsure if it was connected with Womenlink in any way. Here’s a video from that:

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic series:

Yes, Dove’s Real Beauty Bottles Commercial is Flawed. But Let’s Consider Where It’s Coming From.

Simple functionality can’t explain the incredible range of hourglass-shaped products aimed at women.
Screenshot: YouTube

Have you seen Dove’s “Real Beauty Bottles” commercial? The one which offers Dove body wash in bottles designed to mimic women’s body shapes?

You can understand the reasoning. Dove’s long-running “Real Beauty” campaign has always been about celebrating body diversity. So, why not offer alternatives to the typical hourglass design?

Ironically though, the execution completely contradicts that message, as the internet has gleefully pointed out:

  • It encourages paying attention to one’s body-shape, when that’s not supposed to be important.
  • It only offers six bottle designs, despite the huge diversity of women’s body shapes in reality. (And all of the bottles are white too.)
  • It’s really just a gimmick, offering only a very limited run of 6,800 bottles, spread among social media influencers in 15 countries. Meaning that even if ordinary women were somehow inspired to seek out the design that best matched their body shape, they wouldn’t actually be able to get one.
  • And, in being so short-lived, and only providing the same one, classic bottle design in practice, ultimately it implies that there may just be one best body type after all.

Writing in the Atlantic, Ian Bogost thinks that last is inadvertent; given how “hilariously stupid” this campaign has been (Jezebel), I’m inclined to agree. Regardless of any marketing campaign centered on bottles’ shapes, hourglass designs will always be much more stable and easier to grip than most of the alternatives, let alone those monstrosities provided by Dove.

That said, they’re not the only option. Which got me thinking: where had I seen so many hourglass bottles before? Why, with slimming drinks of course. What is up with that?

You know the answer, and it’s not ergonomics. Indeed, many marketers and advertisers are not shy about the connections they’re making between their products’ designs and the body ideals—and insecurities—they’re promoting, instead elevating them as a unique selling point. Most notoriously perhaps, in 2009, when Son Dam-bi endorsed “Today’s Tea” drink for Lotte Chilsung. Which:

(Source)

Not only sets up Son Dam-bi’s body as the one, singular standard for all the other women featured to define themselves against:

(Source, all screenshots: Paranzui)

But also makes sure to do so for teenage girls too:

And makes only the scene with the man humorous, to remind us how absurd it would be for men to ever do this sort of thing:

It’s really quite a feast of problematic messages. And, sadly, almost karmic in how Son Dam-bi herself has grappled with severe body-image issues in recent years, reports about her “still ‘frantically’ trying to lose more weight” emerging just as this post was published.

Usually, advertisers are less brazen, but they do still create and highlight a connection. See here for more examples and discussion from 2011 for instance, when there seemed to be a real trend:

(Source)

With that however, I don’t mean to imply they were the majority of slimming drinks. Nor are they in 2017, as a perusal of any convenience store fridge can attest.

But connections between bottle shapes and women’s bodies are definitely still being made, whether in the classic hourglass form or otherwise:

(Source: YouTube)
(Source: YouTube)

What’s more, if my search had extended to the packaging and marketing of slimming products in general, then I would have been simply overwhelmed with material. Wisely, I’ll confine myself to just one recent, representative example, that of Son Na-eun’s (Apink) commercials for Calobye:

(Source: Ezday)

Likewise, it’s never difficult to find an example of women’s bodies being used to represent a product or service. Again to give a recent for instance, below an obese woman magically loses weight and turns into model and actor Ray Yang, to represent a reduction in LG’s monthly installment rates (and, in a rare case of equal-opportunity objectification, has an obese man turn into model Choi Yong-ho too):

But it can seem like we’ve taken a long detour from a critique of Dove body wash bottles. So, let’s reflect on what we’ve learned on the way.

First, again, that hourglass bottles can’t be explained away by ergonomics, or claimed to be incidental. Who would even try, in the face of such overwhelming evidence?

Yet I’m often frustrated by the lack of mention in articles about their marketing campaigns, especially when writers otherwise wax lyrical over every other little detail. Why this blind spot exists, I’ll suggest a reason for in a moment.

(A rare exception: Apparently “the curve of the [sure] bottle beautifully captures both the swell of sea waves and women’s S-lines.” Source.)

Next, this is by definition gendered marketing, which is usually predicated on and helps perpetuate a whole host of problematic gender roles:

Also, no-one is saying that slimming drink companies can’t distinguish their products from competitors’ by packaging them in this way. In addition, perhaps there are practical limitations to quickly conveying slimming on packaging, on a box, or on a bottle, or through their shapes, without using an hourglass motif. We do, after all, make exaggerated cola-bottle shapes to convey we mean a woman for instance (or we did: now it just feels distasteful). It may explain why articles don’t bother to mention that, because by default an hourglass design is chosen to convey slimming. And, being so common, that choice is unremarkable.

Which begs the questions: does it really make a product stand out, if so many other companies are doing the same thing? Are scenes of Son Na-eun dancing, hourglass hips highlighted with CGI (just in case we didn’t notice), really the best Calobye could come up with to make their product stand out? Or is their campaign just yet another case of using a celebrity to quickly grab viewer’s attentions (*cough* as per my opening image *cough*), which may then linger on the actual product in the 15 second time-slot, and somehow persuade the viewer that the product is responsible for those hips? Wouldn’t, ultimately, ditching the celebrity with the unobtainable body be cheaper, and using models with a range of body types have much wider appeal?

Perhaps I’m being naive. But surely marketers and advertisers have good financial reasons to ask these questions themselves, not just pesky sociologists and feminazis with axes to grind. And, given photoshoppers’ skills in crafting an hourglass waist (or S-line, or wasp waist, or whatever) for almost every woman that appears in an advertisement or photoshoot? Then no, I’m no longer convinced that it’s all that difficult to convey slimming through a representing a range of body types. Or that some patriarchal conspiracy is afoot either, so much as sheer laziness on the part of marketers and advertisers.

(Source: instiz. The image on left is from a photoshoot for a 2014 commercial for Oceanworld)

What I am convinced of is how incredibly tiring this must be for women, constantly being reminded that your body doesn’t measure up to this one, monotonous standard, even though less than 1 in 10 women can ever achieve it.

I’d read about this pressure many times before of course. It can be difficult to relate to for a guy, no matter how sympathetic. But now, it feels just a little less abstract.

Which, all in all, is not a bad lesson to take away from some silly bottles.

Related Posts:

How Slut-Shaming and Victim-Blaming Begin in Korean Schools

From the moment Korean schoolchildren start developing, and their hormones start raging, Korea’s school uniform codes give them a daily reminder that girls’ bodies should be hidden and controlled.
Sources: left, “How much do you really know me?” by VisualValor/大前, used with permission; right, Mike Rowe, (CC BY-NC 2.0).

More than half of Korean men think revealing clothes lead to rape. Almost as many Korean women do too.

Those and other shocking statistics (English, Korean) come from a survey of 7,200 adults aged 16 to 64 conducted by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family last year. In 2013, a survey of 200 South Gyeongsang Province police officers by the Korea Women’s Development Institute found similar results.

But do those statistics shock though? Really?

Be honest. I know my audience. The fact you’re reading this at all, tells me you’ve probably read similar news before. However much you wish things were different, really you’re no longer surprised at all.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be trying to make that difference. In fact, I hope to convince you that the struggle is more important than ever. But, instead of my typical wringing of hands, let me make my case by posing you another question instead: why do people cling so strongly to such patriarchal, victim-blaming beliefs, when the evidence supporting them is non-existent?

Even as far back as 1996 for instance, Korean Women’s groups, lawyers, and academics had thoroughly debunked any supposed links between clothing and sexual assault. Yet still the beliefs remain over two decades later. Despite Korea’s Slutwalks. Despite the Gangnam murder. Despite all the hard work by activists, educators, women’s groups, academics, and lawyers. Despite…you know the rest.

What gives?

While pondering this myself, I came across “This Article Won’t Change Your Mind” by Julie Beck in the Atlantic, about the bases of the post-truth era. And then it clicked:

…[People] will occasionally encounter information that suggests something they believe is wrong. A lot of these instances are no big deal, and people change their minds if the evidence shows they should—you thought it was supposed to be nice out today, you step out the door and it’s raining, you grab an umbrella. Simple as that. But if the thing you might be wrong about is a belief that’s deeply tied to your identity or worldview—the guru you’ve dedicated your life to is accused of some terrible things, the cigarettes you’re addicted to can kill you—well, then people [will] do all the mental gymnastics it takes to remain convinced that they’re right.

Previously, I’d mostly seen this notion of cognitive dissonance raised when an author was talking about religious beliefs. Convincing people of the real causes of rape though? Surely, it was just a matter of presenting the facts?

Patently not. Instead, if those statistics are anything to go by, to many people it is just common sense that a short skirt and an exposed bra strap will lead to rape. Which, just like the notion that the world was created by a supernatural being, or that the mainstream media constantly lies about Trump, is a version of common sense that ultimately derives from some very closely-held beliefs, integral to people’s worldviews and identities. In this case, about sex, gender roles, and male-female interaction. And you don’t get much more fundamental and strongly-held beliefs than those.

That is to say, no abstract surveys by slutty feminazis are ever going to change their minds.

So where then, do these victim-blaming notions of sex and rape come from? In short, from everywhere, which is how come those beliefs are held so strongly.

It’s only a feminist cliche because it’s so true.

Among the many methods and messengers, one is undoubtedly the romanticized depiction of dating violence in Korean dramas. Another is inadequate, heteronormative, marriage and biology-focused sex education, which teaches girls not to be alone with their permanently sexed boyfriends, lest he demand sexual compensation for paying for their date. Another is the government and media encouraging the exposure of women’s and girls’ bodies for soft power, nationalist, and military causes, but discouraging it when it’s of their own accord. Linked to which is women being told to cover up on public transport to prevent upskirt photos, rather than potential perpetrators warned not to take them. And yet another, which will be the focus here, are the double-standards and victim-blaming inherent to Korea’s school uniform rules. They’re such a big deal because, when kids start developing, and when their hormones start raging, they teach fresh young minds how to deal “appropriately” with both—and what punishments girls and women will receive if they don’t learn that lesson.

For those unfamiliar, here’s a taste of what Korean school uniforms are like:

Korean school uniforms have actually had quite a chequered history over the past decade. In the late-2000s to early-2010s, the focus was on their increasing cost, which was partially fueled by retailers’ habit of hiring K-pop stars to promote them; ultimately, the industry announced a voluntary moratorium on celebrity hires, which lasted for about two years. At about the same time, there was a great deal of controversy over girls wearing shorter and shorter skirts, which was tied to the liberalization of students’ rights (more on this later). Annual “naked graduation ceremonies” started hitting the news too, where students would attack their no longer needed, much-hated uniforms with knives and scissors. And then, in late-2015, Korean entertainment mogul JYP came under fire for girl-group TWICE’s overly-sexual and body-shaming advertisements for Skoollooks, which surprised because, JYP’s characteristic, pimp-like demeanor aside, their messages were little different from those which preceded them.

Compare Skoolooks’ 2015 ad with JYP and Momo of Twice (source: Instizwith Smart’s 2008 ad with Shinee and Victoria of f(x) (source: Soompi).

But what of the boys in that history? If they’re mentioned at all, they’re framed as victims, being so distracted by the girls’ uniforms that they’re unable to concentrate—along with their male teachers. Another strong theme is adults stressing how vulnerable the girls are on their commutes, simply for wanting to be fashionable by wearing their skirts high.* Peruse the links, and you sense a collective throwing of hands in the air, as girls are reminded again and again that everything that happens to them is their fault…alongside repeated, titillating, pictures of their offending legs.

(*Related: A recent Al Jazeera report discusses how Japanese schoolgirls are indeed more vulnerable to harassment than adult women, for whom the harassment drops once they graduate and stop wearing school uniforms. But this is because schoolgirls are perceived as less assertive and more vulnerable, and has nothing to do with the make-up of their uniforms per se.)

By coincidence, an ad from an unidentified retailer that popped up the day before publication. The text in the photo reads: A 3D-level bodyline, a 3D design which fits your body perfectly; Capture men’s hearts with the tulipline, a skirt which shows off your body; Control the length of your skirt freely; A very good figure zipper, shows off your good-looking clothes. Source: 라니‏@ComfortnLullaby. (Update: Shortly after publication, Korea Exposé published a more detailed look at the advertisement.)

Yet all these points are already depressingly familiar from similar discussions in Englishspeaking countries. And all of the above links happen to be in English too. So, I want to add something new to the English discussion of Korean uniforms by translating segments of some (mostly) recent Korean-language articles on the subject. Centered around this one:

속옷 입지 않으면 벌점… 황당한 학교 / Absurd Schools Punish Students For Not Wearing Underclothes

Written by Song Min-seo, edited by Son Ji-eun, OhmyNews, 26.02.2017

…지난 2016년 ‘청소년인권행동 아수나로’에서는 온라인을 통해 여성 청소년을 억압하는 서울시 소재 학교의 교칙들에 대한 설문 조사를 실시했다. 200여 건의 응답은 하나같이 학교보다는 수용소를 연상시키는 해괴한 교칙들과 사례들을 담고 있었다. 이 글에서는 해당 설문 내용을 바탕으로, 여성 청소년에게 가해지는 제재와 차별에 대해 다루어 보고자 한다.

…In 2016, the NGO “Asunaro: Action for Youth Rights of Korea” conducted on an online survey of Seoul school students about the ways in which their schools discriminate against and curtail the rights of female students. More than 200 responses revealed a series of bizarre rules and practices more reminiscent of concentration camps than of modern schools. In this article, I would like to discuss what sanctions and discrimination against women and youth emerged from the questionnaire.

The first part deals with restrictions on hairstyle and length, and discusses a case of a teacher in a school in Gyeonggi Province, who admonished a student with short hair for looking like a boy, telling her it wasn’t feminine enough and that men wouldn’t like her. Then later:

…복장 규제 또한 여전히 나아진 것 하나 없이 잔재한다. 치마 끝이 무릎 밑 몇 센티미터, 혹은 위 몇 센티미터에 오는지 재는 것은 빈번하고, 일정한 기간을 두고 복장을 대대적으로 검사하는 학교도 있었다. 한 학교는 여학생을 의자 위에 세워 놓고 교사가 자를 들고 치마 길이를 잰다. 이 행위는 학생들의 의사를 전혀 묻지 않은 채 강제적으로 이루어지고, 심지어 남교사도 참여한다. 응답자는 이 행위에 수치심을 느꼈다고 말한다.

…[Despite the Seoul City Council’s Students’ Rights Ordinance of 2011], uniform regulations showed little to no improvement also. Requirements that skirt lengths come to a minimum of a few centimeters above the knee, or even below the knee, were very common, and some schools regularly checked them. For those checks, all the girls in the classroom are required to stand on their chairs while the teacher measures the length of the skirts [This is discussed in several of the videos above—James]. This check is compulsorily, with no concern given to the students’ opinions or feelings at all, even if it’s a male teacher doing the checking. Respondents said that they felt very embarrassed and ashamed by these checks.

Let’s pause from the article for a moment with news about one such inspection:

“왜 이렇게 짧아” 교복 들어 올린 교사 ‘강제추행’ / “Why is Your Skirt So Short?” Lifting a Student’s Skirt Ruled ‘Indecent Act by Force/Compulsion’

MBN, 09.09.2015

A transcript (via MBN), with my translation:

지난 2013년 서울의 한 고등학교. 교사 56살 박 모 씨는 교실에서 자기소개서를 쓰고 있던 한 여학생에게 다가가 왜 이렇게 치마가 짧냐며 교복 치마를 들어 올렸습니다.

이 과정에서 여학생의 속바지가 드러났고, 박 씨는 강제추행 혐의로 재판에 넘겨졌습니다.

박 씨는 단지 복장 불량을 지적하려고 치마 끝자락을 잡아 흔들었을 뿐 추행하려는 의도가 없었다고 주장했습니다.

하지만, 1, 2심 모두 유죄로 보고 벌금 5백만 원을 선고했습니다.

공개된 교실에서 16살 여학생의 치마를 들어 올린 것은 객관적으로 볼 때 성적 수치심을 일으키는 행위라는 겁니다.

또 강제추행죄는 꼭 동기나 목적이 있어야 성립하는 것은 아니라고 판단했습니다.

피해 여학생이 치마를 살짝 건드린 것이라며 처벌을 원치 않는다고 진술했지만 받아들여지지 않았습니다.

처음 조사에서 속바지가 훤히 비쳐 수치스러웠다고 진술했기 때문에, 합의 과정에서 진술을 바꾼 것으로 판단한 겁니다.

대법원 역시 상고를 기각하고 박 씨에게 강제추행죄를 적용해 벌금형을 확정했습니다.

In a Seoul high school in 2013, a 56 year-old male teacher identified only as “Mr. Park” grabbed the skirt of a female student who was writing a self-introduction letter, lifting it as he accused the student of having a skirt that was too short. In the process, the student’s underwear was exposed, and Mr. Park was accused of causing an “Indecent Act by Force/Compulsion.”

In his defense, Park insisted that he did not intend for the student to expose herself, but only to grab and shake the end of the skirt to point out that it was too short. However, it was judged that raising a girl’s skirt in a classroom in front of others is always an act of sexual shaming, regardless of the intent or motivation. Consequently, he was found guilty in both his first sentencing and by the Supreme Court in his appeal, receiving a fine of 5 million won.

Back to the article:

여학생이 무조건 교복 치마만 착용하도록 여학생의 바지 착용을 교칙으로 금지한 학교도 있다. 19세기도 아닌 21세기에, 학교 밖 여성들은 자유롭게 원하는 옷을 입는데, 학교만이 아직도 여성에게 바지를 착용하지 못하게 하는 19세기에 머물러 있는 것이다.

Some schools prohibit schoolgirls from wearing pants, only allowing them to wear school uniform skirts. But this is the 21st century, not the 19th, and away from our schools girls and women can wear what they want freely. Why do schools seem so firmly entrenched in the past?

And another break already sorry, because this pants vs. skirts issue was a big deal for me back in 2011, when I was concerned that my daughters would ultimately have no choice but to attend a skirts-only Korean middle school (my eldest daughter was starting elementary school then). Fortunately, we ultimately found an underfunded but otherwise lovely multicultural school for them, which among its many other benefits doesn’t actually have a uniform. But reading the above suddenly got me was curious as to how many Korean schools still insist [only] their female students freeze every winter:

교사 ‘성차별’ 발언 등 여학생 인권침해 여전 / Teachers Are Still Violating Female Students’ Rights Through Sexist Language and Verbal Attacks

Kwon Su-jin, Veritas, 07.03.17

…여학생에게 치마교복만 입도록 할 경우 성차별적 관행이 될 수 있다는 점에서 여학생의 바지 교복 선택권을 보장해야 한다는 내용도 담았다. 2015년 서울교육청 학생생활규정 점검 결과 ‘치마와 바지 선택권 조항’이 있는 학교 비율은 중학교 73%(281교), 고등학교 59%(189교)에 그쳤다.

…it was stated that girls should have the right to choose school uniforms because it is a sex discrimination practice if girls are allowed to wear skirt school uniforms. According to the Seoul City Education Office, in 2015 the ratio of schools with optional skirts or pants was only 73 percent (281 schools) of middle schools and 59 percent (189 schools) among high schools.

Note that this only refers to Seoul schools, and that the Seoul City Council Students’ Rights Ordinance of 2011 was only followed to varying degrees by schools in the rest of the country; consequently, the nationwide figures are likely to be lower. Continuing:

‘여학생다움’을 강조한 두발, 복장 기준의 개선도 필요하다고 봤다. 여학생과 남학생에게 상이한 기준을 적용한 용의복장 규정 여부를 점검해야 한다는 내용이다. 상담 사례에 따르면 학교평판을 이유로 여학생은 춥더라도 치마만 입어야 한다는 교칙이 있는 학교도 있었다.

I [the author] think that it is necessary to improve dress codes, which currently seem to be focused on female students. It is necessary to check for double-standards. According to a case heard by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education’s Students’ Rights Center for instance, one school had a rule that girls should wear only skirts “because of the school’s reputation.”

Back to the main article:

학교 안의 여성들은 스타킹의 색깔마저도 하나하나 통제당한다. 이상한 점은, 스타킹 색에 관한 규제가 학교마다 통일되지 않았다는 점이다. 어떤 학교는 검은색만을, 어떤 학교는 살색만을 신게 한다. 그러나 이유는 같다. ‘야해 보이기 때문’이다. 스타킹 색마저도 성적 대상화의 소재가 되는 것이다.

The color of girls’ stockings is controlled by schools too. What is strange is that the rules for those aren’t uniform [no pun intended—James], but vary widely depending on the school. Some schools demand black stockings only, some schools demand flesh-colored ones. But in each case, the justification is the same: “It has to be dull.” It seems even stockings’ colors are considered a potential source of sexual objectification and sexualization.

응답자 A의 학교에서는 카디건을 허리에 묶는 것을 금지하는 교칙이 있었다. 허리 라인이 드러나서 선정적으로 보인다는 것이 근거라면 근거였다. 이 교칙은 여학생에게만 해당되었고, 당연하게도 여학생의 반발을 샀다. 그러자 학교가 취한 조치는 교칙을 없애는 것이 아닌 남학생에게도 똑같은 규칙을 적용하는 것이었다.

One respondent to Asunaro’s survey had a school rule that prohibited cardigans from being taken off and tied around the waist, as this was considered to draw attention to and sexualize the wearers’ waistlines. Of course, this rule only applied to girls, who complained a lot about it. In response, the school didn’t just eliminate the rule, but decided to apply it to boys as well.

머리부터 발톱까지… 그것도 모자라 속옷도 통제 / From Student’s Heads to Their Toenails…Even the Underwear They Can Wear is Controlled

여성 청소년의 속옷까지 통제하는 학교. 변화하지 않는 교칙으로 학교 안 청소년들은 억압받고 있다 / Schools Even Control Female Adolescent Girls’ Underwear. Unchanging School Rules Are Pressuring Female Students. Source: jackmack34@Pixabay.

학교는 여학생의 속옷에 관해서도 교칙을 만들어 규제한다. ‘흰색속옷, 티셔츠, 나시만 허용’, ‘작년까지는 셔츠 속에 나시 입는 것 금지, 현재는 무채색이고 프린팅 없는 티만 가능하고 꼭 입어야함. 브라만 차고 셔츠 입어도 벌점’. ‘브라 등 속옷 입지 않으면 벌점’.

Schools regulate female students’ underwear with such rules as “Only white underwear, t-shirts, and vests are allowed” at one school; at another, “Until last year, wearing vests under shirts was prohibited. Now, you have to wear a vest or t-shirt over your bra [and under your shirt], otherwise you get punished. But only black or white t-shirts are permitted, with no prints on them”; and at another “You get punished if you don’t wear a bra or other type of underwear.”

이상한 것은, 이런 교칙이 있는 대부분의 학교에서는 남학생에 관한 속옷 규제는 없는 경우가 많았다. 여학생만이 더운 여름에도 티셔츠(심지어 프린팅도 색도 없는), 나시, 브래지어를 껴입어야 하는 상황이다. 게다가 이러한 교칙들이 존재하는 이유를 물으면 ‘성범죄 유발 가능성이 있기 때문’이라고 답한다. 성범죄의 잘못이 가해자가 아닌 피해자에게 있는 것이라고 말하는 것과 같다.

Strangely, in most schools with these rules, there was usually no underwear regulation for boys. Only girls have to wear t-shirts (even with their colors regulated), vests, and bras, even in the hot summer months. In addition, if you ask what these rules are for, the answer is they’re because of the increased possibility of sex crimes without them. It’s like when such crimes occur, that it’s the victims’ faults, not the perpetrators’.

A quick addition to those rules:

바지교복 금지·생리공결제 미준수…학교 ‘여학생 인권’ 실종 / Prohibiting Pants, Not Provided Mandated Menstrual Leave…Schools Are Violating Female Students’ Rights

Anonymous author, Money Today, 07.03.2017.

불합리한 교칙으로 불편을 겪는 여학생도 있다. 서울 B고등학교는 여학생의 경우 무조건 검정구두에 흰 양말을 신어야 한다. 혹한기에만 한시적으로 운동화를 허용하기도 했으나 학교가 정한 디지인만 신을 수 있다. 이 학교에 다니는 한 여학생은 “차가운 구두를 신고 미끄러운 길을 걸을 때면 다칠까봐 불안하다”고 토로했다.

There are other ways in which female students suffer from unreasonable uniform requirements. At one high school in Seoul, girls could only white socks with black shoes, or, for a very limited time in winter, sneakers specially designed by the school. A girl at the school said, “I’m worried about getting hurt in my cold shoes when I walk on icy roads.” [I’m guessing she’s referring to the black shoes?—James.]

The next section of the main article deals with rules about cosmetics, and the sexual language used and/or stereotypes raised by teachers as they punish the students that flout them. That doesn’t just happen when enforcing cosmetics rules of course, and indeed is so often mentioned by the above articles above that I may cover it in a separate post later. But for now, the article concludes:

학교는 이처럼 아주 당연하게, 청소년을 보호 또는 교육한다는 허울 좋은 명목으로 자신이 원하는 자신의 모습을 직접 결정할 권리를 앗아간다. 이러한 학교에서 여성은 누군가에게 자신의 몸이 통제당하는 것이 이상한 일이 아니라고, 당연하다고 생각할 수밖에 없다. 학생의 모습, 학생의 표본을 교사의 권력과 폭력적인 언어로 규정하는 이상하고 작은 낡고 폐쇄적인 사회, 이런 작은 사회 안에 밀어넣어지는 여성들. 그들이 “내 몸은 내가 알아서 할게!”라고 외칠 수 있게끔 더 많은 여성청소년인권에 관한 지지와 관심이 필요하다.

Schools have to decide for themselves if they want to be known for “protecting” or for educating youth. In the meantime, the young women in them can not help but think how strange it is that their own bodies are so controlled by others. This is such a strange, small-minded, old, and closed society that judges the appearance of its students so, that allows for teachers to abuse their powers to this extent, and that so readily restrains women with such rules and such violent language. We need more support for and concern about the human rights of women and youth so that they can grow to stand up as independent adults who can say, “I will be the one to take care of my own body!”.

Source: Isabel Santos Pilot, (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Let me end with a segment about a school where the students’ rights ordinance has been fully implemented, and what positive changes it has brought to the school’s educational culture:

“교복 위 패딩 안돼”…‘학생인권’ 관심 늘었지만 갈 길 멀어 / “No Padding Allowed in Uniforms”…Interest in Students’ Rights Has Increased But Still Has Far to go

Kim Ji-yun, Hankyoreh, 31.01.17

…조례가 교육 현장에서 잘 안착해 의미를 보여주고 있는 사례도 있다. 서울 금옥여자고등학교에는 ‘금옥인권위원회’라는 이름의 동아리가 있다. 소속 35명의 학생들은 차별금지와 의사표현의 자유, 학습에 관한 권리 등 조례 속 정신을 녹여낸 6개의 소위원회에서 활동한다. 이민혁 담당교사는 “학생인권, 장애인권, 여성인권, 아동학대예방 등 학생들의 관심사에 따라 자발적인 소위원회를 꾸려가고 있다”며 “고등 교육과정을 마친 학생들이 졸업 뒤 사회 구성원이 되어서도 조례로부터 시작한 관심을 지속하길 바란다”고 전했다.

There are cases where the students’ rights ordinance has been fully implemented and is beginning to have a real influence. For example, there is a club named “Geumok Human Rights Committee” in Geumok Women’s High School in Seoul. Of the 35 students that belong to it, there are further grouped into six subcommittees that focus on different areas of the ordinance, including such as discrimination prevention, freedom of expression, and the right to learning. Geumok Women’s High School teacher Lee Min-hyeok said of them, “We are making voluntary subcommittees based on students’ interests, such as student rights, disability rights, women’s human rights, and child abuse prevention.” I hope the students continue fighting for these causes after they graduate.”

이 교사는 “학생인권소위원회의 경우 최저시급, 근로계약서 작성법 등 청소년노동권을 비롯해 ‘휴식권’(조례 10조)을 주제로 야간자율학습에 관한 토론을 진행했다”며 “차별받지 않을 권리에 주목한 장애인권소위원회는 근처 중학교에서 ‘장애 이해교육’을 진행할 만큼 내실 있는 활동을 펼쳤다”고 말했다. “서울 남영동의 경찰청 인권보호센터(옛날 대공분실)를 동아리 학생들과 함께 방문한 적이 있습니다. 권리침해로부터 보호받을 권리, 양심·종교의 자유 등 조례 내용을 마중물로 근현대사 교육까지 진행할 수 있었죠.”

Lee continued, “In the case of the Student Human Rights Subcommittee, we recently had a discussion night on the theme of the minimum wage. Another subcommittee on disability rights was able to carry out activities that increased their understanding of disability education and came up with ideas that will be utilized at nearby junior high schools.[An unidentified student] said, “With my clubmates, I visited the Human Rights Protection Center of the National Police Agency in Namyeong-dong in Seoul, and learned a lot about my rights of protection, my rights of freedom of conscience and religion, and so on.”

인권동아리 단장으로 활동한 금옥여고 3학년 김조은양은 “보통 학생은 억압받는 게 당연하다고 여기는데, 조례 제정을 씨앗으로 삼아 우리의 의무와 권리에 대해 생각해볼 수 있었다”며 “성별, 나이, 장애로 차별받지 않는 사회를 꿈꾸게 됐고 조례 등 정책의 중요성도 깨닫게 됐다”고 전했다.

Kim Jo-eun, a third grade student at the school and former president of the club, said, “Students these days think it is normal to be oppressed. But using the rights ordinance as a spark, I began to learn about my human rights. I could dream of a society in which I was not oppressed, and I realized the importance of policies such as ordinances that could make that happen. “

조례를 통해 학교 문화를 민주적으로 바꾸는 사례도 있지만 갈 길은 여전히 멀다. 2015년 11월27일 서울시의회 교육위원회 장인홍 의원이 공개한 ‘(서울시교육청 관내) 중·고등학교 학교규칙 점검 결과’에 따르면, 중·고교 702곳 가운데 87%(609곳)는 여전히 교칙에 두발 길이·염색·파마 등에 관한 엄격한 규제를 두고 있다.

There are more cases where a school’s culture has become more democratic through the students’ rights ordinance, but there is still much to be done. According to a inquiry published by the Seoul Metropolitan City Council on November 27, 2015, 87 percent (609) of the 702 middle and high schools examined still had strict regulations on the dyeing and perming of hair, and so on.

Let me conclude by returning to Beck’s article in the Atlantic that inspired this post. After noting that group discussions are much more effective than lectures for changing hearts and minds, she concludes herself that:

“One real advantage of group reasoning is that you get critical feedback,” McIntyre [a research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University] says. “If you’re in a silo [like Facebook], you don’t get critical feedback, you just get applause.”

But if the changes are going to happen at all, it’ll have to be “on a person-to-person level,” Shaw says.

He tells me about a patient of his, whose family is involved in “an extremely fundamentalist Christian group. [The patient] has come to see a lot of problems with the ideology and maintains a relationship with his family in which he tries to discuss in a loving and compassionate way some of these issues,” [former cult member Daniel Shaw] says. “He is patient and persistent, and he chips away, and he may succeed eventually.”

“But are they going to listen to a [news] feature about why they’re wrong? I don’t think so.”

When someone does change their mind, it will probably be more like the slow creep of Shaw’s disillusionment with his guru. He left “the way most people do: Sort of like death by a thousand cuts.”

And on that note, please do share this post with friends, family members, and/or coworkers that you wouldn’t usually—if just one changes their mind, then the last two weeks(!) spent on it will have been worth it. And who knows? Maybe that person’s influence will ultimately lead to a school changing its uniform rules too.

Please also note that I’ve never taught in a Korean school, and haven’t taught Korean teens in over seven years, so I would really appreciate any feedback on anything in this post, especially if you have any recent experience at/with either. Thanks!

If You Don’t Have Kim Yuna’s Vital Statistics, Your Body Sucks and You Will Totally Die Alone

(Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 12)
kim-yuna-golden-ratio-body-s-line-tweet(Source: @niiaebi)

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 kim-yu-na-golden-ratio-s-line-bodycouldn’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’t shy in talking in terms of Western bodies in other English articles back then. It’s still depressingly common 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.

meet-the-meat(Sources: left; right)

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.

(Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays by Camille Paglia {1992}, pp.264-5; my emphases in bold.)

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:

초멘나사이합니다..비슷하게 남자도 있더라구요…

“It is similar with men too…”

kim-yo-han(Source: @lsjkhj0903)

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.”

It also provides her bust size, the implication being that only those within a very narrow range can be elegant. Which is absurd, as is finding significance in instances of the golden ratio in the human body. So too with her “well-balanced” waist and silhouette (you have to wonder why the rest of us don’t topple over), as discussed in the article. Which concludes:

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.

kim-yuna-light-up-protein(Source: YouTube)

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.”

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic series:

노출이 강간 유혹?…허튼소리 말라 Wearing Revealing Clothes Leads to Rape? Don’t Be Absurd

(Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 11)
%eb%85%b8%ec%b6%9c%ec%9d%b4-%ea%b0%95%ea%b0%84-%ec%9c%a0%ed%98%b9-%ed%97%88%ed%8a%bc%ec%86%8c%eb%a6%ac-%eb%a7%90%eb%9d%bc(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 especially with the 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.

What will you take away from it?

The Chosun Ilbo August 7 2015 Korean Women Korean Flag Korean Nationalism(Korean Sociological Image #92: Patriotic Marketing Through Sexual Objectification. Source: The Chosun Ilbo, August 7 2015.)

[문화현실] 노출이 강간 유혹?…허튼소리 말라 Wearing Revealing Clothes Leads to Rape? Don’t Be Absurd.

과다 노출→성충동→성범죄’ 물증 없어…경찰의 단속은 여성에게 올가미 씌우기. There is no evidence for the notion that revealing clothing leads to sexual urges, leads to sexual assaults. This police crackdown is victim-blaming.

by Seong Woo-jae, Sisa Journal, 12 September 1996

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:

  1. Women’s body exposure is increasing, and civic groups’ suggestions and requests to counter this have increased in response.
  2. Excessive exposure is becoming a cause of excessive PDA and sexual crimes
  3. 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.]

70%eb%85%84%eb%8c%80-%eb%af%b8%eb%8b%88-%ec%8a%a4%ec%bb%a4%ed%8a%b8%ec%99%80-%ec%9e%98%eb%a6%ac%eb%8a%94-%ec%9e%a5%eb%b0%9c-70%eb%85%84%eb%8c%80-%ec%b4%88-%ec%82%ac%ec%a7%84%ec%9d%b4%eb%8b%a4(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.”

%eb%aa%a8%ed%98%b8%ed%95%9c-%eb%8b%a8%ec%86%8d-%ea%b8%b0%ec%a4%80-%ec%a7%80%eb%82%98%ec%b9%9c-%ec%95%a0%ec%a0%95-%ed%91%9c%ed%98%84%eb%8f%84-%ea%b2%bd%ec%b0%b0%ec%9d%98-%eb%8b%a8패션, 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.

korean-overexposure-laws(Image not in original article. Source: KLAWGURU)

“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:

Thoughts?

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic series:

“An epic battle between feminism and deep-seated misogyny is under way in South Korea”

(Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 10)
panorama-stad-amsterdam-1935-verhaal-ill-trampassagiers(Source: janwillemsen; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Update: See @lookslikechloe’s blog for a Korean translation of the entire article.

Back in August, I was interviewed by reporter Isabella Steger for her article “An epic battle between feminism and deep-seated misogyny is under way in South Korea”, which came out at Quartz today. It’s a good introduction to current trends and conditions, as well as being a great read. So for this post, let me just add a few links and extra context to those segments attributed to me. Starting with:

In the late 1990s, the Asian financial crisis upended the stability of the Korean “salaryman.” Many men who lost their jobs started to compete with women for work. “A lot of the negative stereotypes about women, a lot of very gendered labels, started appearing in the early 2000s,” says James Turnbull, a long-time resident in the southern city of Busan who writes about feminism.

To be more precise, a large cohort of men lost their regular, full-time jobs between 2002-2004, and started having to compete for irregular work with women, who’d already lost their own regular, full-time jobs five years earlier in the wake of the Asian financial crisis (under the rationale that they would be provided for by their husbands or fathers). Then another point of friction came in 2013, when the percentage of women in their 20s that were working began to slightly surpass that of men.

Tellingly, the media portrayed achieving equality with men as a “tornado” of female power.

For the exact statistics, and my analysis of their implications, see part 6 of this series in the links below. As for those negative labels and gendered stereotypes, see Parts 3 and 4, or Part 7 for a summary.

Next:

While overall crime and homicide rates in Korea remain very low, more women in Korea are murdered than men, which is unusual in a developed country, says Turnbull. The United Nations singles out Japan, Hong Kong, and Korea as places with some of the lowest homicide rates in the world but where the share of male and female victims is near parity, with intimate partner violence also an acute problem in Japan (pdf, p.54-56).

In addition to the extra information on that provided in Isabella’s article, see this Facebook post by a friend of mine (which he generously made public) for a breakdown and analyses of the statistics involved, which was originally prompted by the blog post “Women Are More Likely To Be Murdered In South Korea Than The U.S.” by Matt Pressberg.

Reporter John Power also provides some things to think about:

Finally:

While women have gained some power and independence in Korea, a preference for male children in the 1970s and 1980s has resulted in an excess of men–and the disparity in numbers contributes to tensions. In 1990, thanks to the availability of selective abortion, Korea’s sex ratio at birth was 116.5, meaning 116.5 boys were born per 100 girls, a ratio that since has evened out (paywall). Many of those 1990 male babies are now grown men unable to find girlfriends and wives, says Turnbull. At the same time, more Korean women are choosing not to marry at all.

Again, see Part 6 for more detailed information on those statistics and their implications (also see the tweet below, which graphically shows the number of excess men by age group.) By a huge coincidence, the Korean media would only finally begin reporting on the potential consequences of this imbalance in April this year, just a month before the murder in Gangnam.

Thoughts?

Guidelines for a Beautiful Penis

'Atomic Avenue #1', by Glen Orbik(“Atomic Avenue #1” by Glen Orbik, detail. Via: Dark Roasted Blend)

Remember the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s guidelines forbeautiful breasts“?

By definition absurd, the reaction was vociferous, and the Ministry scrambled to remove the offending post from its website.

Somehow amongst all the commotion though, a response by cartoonist and illustrator @ickjong got overlooked, at least by the English-language media.

That just won’t do. So, for phallus-lovers and/or owners everywhere, let me hereby present his “guidelines for a beautiful penis“. Or as I like to think of it, the “P-line/피라인” (you heard it here first):

Guidelines for a beautiful penis 1

When viewed from the front, it should look like Mr. Elephant, who has a nice personality. [And is from a well-known children’s song.]

Guidelines for a beautiful penis 2When viewed from the side, the head of the penis should be lower than the approximate position of the anus. [“Approximate” because it’s difficult to see from the side I guess. No, I’ve never really thought about it either.]

A response:

“Wouldn’t this be hurtful to someone who couldn’t get it lower?”

“That’s why it’s important to squat. If you squat properly, and maintain it, it’s possible to raise your anus.”

Good to know. Continuing:

Guidelines for a beautiful penis 3Left, top: The number of wrinkles on each testicle should be three times your age.

Left, bottom: As the length of “C’ is the source of men’s pride, it should be measured from somewhere between the belly-botton and the sternum to the tip.

Right: Testicles are different sizes, and are extremely sensitive. You have to take good care of them!

But…THREE times your age? Even for teens, that’s going to require a lot of counting. So, make sure to ask your nearest and dearest to lend a hand, and I guarantee you’ll both have a good day! ;)