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:

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!

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:

(Review) Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams (2013)

Judy Garland & Lana Turner, Breasts Florence Williams(Source, left: Bombshell Bettie. Source right: unknown)

Many years ago, I was perusing the “Last Word” section of a New Scientist magazine, where readers submit and answer each others’ science questions. If memory serves, that week the questions were about why men are soooo attracted to breasts, and why human females’ are disproportionately large compared to other primates’. Much commentary ensued, in hindsight entirely by men. (And, entirely British men at that—but that’s a subject for another review.) Then, someone who actually had breasts stepped in, and said something along the lines of:

 “It occurs to me that few of the previous commenters have ever suckled a baby. If they had, they’d realize how important the shape is to prevent babies from suffocating while nursing.”

All of a sudden, I realized that much—probably most—of what I’d ever read about the evolution of breasts had been written by men, centered around sexual selection and the all-important male gaze. This lack of women’s voices meant I’d missed out on many obvious observations and insights, which strongly challenged theories I’d long taken for granted.

Much the same experience can be had from the first chapter of Breasts, greatly aided by Florence Williams’ similar, no-nonsense style of writing. For instance, from pages 22-23:

…there are problems with making sweeping statements about evolution based on studies about male behavior in pubs. For one thing, I am still hung up on the nubility hypothesis, which might as well be called the sag hypothesis [that age, gravity, and successive pregnancies take their toll on breasts, signalling to other men that younger women with perkier breasts might be more suitable mates]. But speaking from personal experience, I can report my breasts actually got bigger and fuller after pregnancy. I really can’t say they are sagging, not yet anyway. I am well past the age of what anthropologists call “peak reproductive value.” Does a man really need breasts to tell him a women is getting on in years? Aren’t there more obvious signs that don’t require awkward social glances? And as anyone who’s been to a public shower or springtime college campus can tell you, there is an enormous, and I mean enormous, variety of breast sizes out there. I’m talking 300 to 500 percent differences in volume, and these are in women of roughly the same age. What other body part is so variable, I ask? If breasts were such important communicators, wouldn’t they be more on the same page?

Further complicating the picture, there is also great variety in men’s tastes. [A male scientist interviewed] conceded that male preferences aren’t as universal as he’d hoped…

Nor does she simply critique such theories, but discusses several other equally plausible ones centered around health, fat deposition, and suckling babies. Indeed, “With breasts,” one anthropologist she interviews concludes, “men are just loading culturally a set of symbolizations onto something that really evolved for more direct reasons. We’ve got to be more scientific about it.” That’s a refreshing new perspective, and much-needed imperative, given all the misinformation about breasts out there.

Yet she overcompensates I think, in ending that chapter by rejecting the combined, complimentary roles of natural and sexual selection. Instead, she goes to the opposite extreme, completely dismissing the (literally snowballing) role of breasts’ sexual attraction to men in their greater and greater size over time (pages 34-35):

What if instead of men selecting breasts, the breasts selected the men? It’s possible that…Early Man loved lots of different specimens of Early Woman, some with no breasts, some with small breasts, some with hairy breasts, whatever. Man, for all we know, is sometimes not that picky. Then, for the [physiological] reasons described earlier…the women with the enlarged breasts and their infants gradually outlasted the others…

Consequently, the people who could talk and sing and have the biggest, best-fed brains were the ones born of women with breasts. It makes perfect sense that we would grow up to appreciate and enjoy breasts, eventually putting pictures of them in eye-trackers machines in universities.

Perhaps, all along, the breasts were calling the shots.

It’s just an off-the-cuff conclusion really, but it reminded me that with a breezy, persuasive writing style, tends to come arguments and examples that are often much more debatable than authors make them appear. It also felt alienating, because here she seems less concerned about scientific plausibility than in playing to her likely overwhelmingly female audience, justifiably sick of men lecturing to them about breasts.

To understand what I mean, imagine, say, a male author dismissing women’s preferences for tall men as having had no influence on humans getting taller over time. Rather, tall men just happened to do better in the competition for mates because of physically defeating shorter, weaker rivals for sexual access to passively awaiting women.

As for women’s own sexual preferences, and what they had to say about who they had children with? Or how those sexual preferences arose in the first place? Pfft.

Maybe I’m just making mountains out of molehills. But it helped me realize her book is only a starting point really.

On a first reading though, you’ll be much too busy enjoying it to care.

First, because of the wide variety of topics she covers. I’ve only concentrated on the first chapter here, because of the strong impression it left on me. But, if curves don’t do it for you personally, there’s 13 more topics on various aspects of breasts which may have have a similar impact on you, such as changes during pregnancy, feeding, development in puberty, toxins, cancer, and so on.

Those strongly reflect Williams’ background as a science journalist, so readers hoping for in-depth discussions about fashion, lingerie, and/or cultural attitudes may be disappointed to encounter mentions only in passing (albeit frequent mentions). But I’d still encourage them to buy the book. Because these are breasts we’re talking about. Whatever your sex or sexuality, you do have an interest in and/or some opinion about them, in which case there will be something—probably many things—in this book in for you. (I have so many post-its in my The best moments in reading -- Alan Bennettown copy, it looks like I read it during a ticker-tape parade.)

Also, because however science-focused, it’s so humorous that you won’t want to put it down. For instance, take how she describes undergoing an examination in a cosmetic surgery clinic, to better understand what it’s like for patients (page 60):

The robe came off, and [the surgeon] pulled out a small tape measure, He measured me from collarbone to nipple, from nipple to under-breast fold, and from nipple to nipple, calling out numbers to [the assistant]. He took a step back and mashed my breasts together with his hands, then squeezed each one like a club sandwich. I felt like I was awaiting the word of St. Peter. I was secretly hoping one of the world’s foremost experts on flawed breasts would be so vexed by my nice, very normal breasts that he’d tell me he had nothing to offer.

That also stood out for me because while reading the first sentence, I had a feeling that if I had breasts, I’d like to walk into a cosmetic surgery and be told that mine were different, better somehow. Maybe even exceptional.

Then with the last sentence, Florence Williams literally spoke my mind.

As well as being funny, it gave me a simultaneously eerie and warmly empathetic feeling. One which I hope I’ve sometimes given my own readers in my own writing.

Or, if not, that’s something to aspire to. Helped along, by also providing much more readable—i.e., shorter—and relevant posts for you in 2016. Starting with reviewing only the books I think TGN readers would be interested in, instead of every book I read.

Any thoughts or questions on Breasts? How about on breasts in general? Anything you’ve been meaning to get off your chest? Please let me know in the comments.

Next Review: Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club, by Anne Allison (1994).

Related Posts:

Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 7: Keeping abreast of Korean bodylines

Park Shin-hye and Doll  (Source, edited)

Yes, I know. Korean bodylines again. Surely, I really do have some kind of fetishistic obsession with them, as my trolls have long maintained.

Perhaps. Mainly, it’s because I’ve been very busy (sorry) giving this presentation about them at Korean universities these past two months. Even, I’m very happy to report, getting invited back to some, and finally—squee!—making a small profit too. S-lines, I guess, are now very much my thing.

Instead of feeling top of my game though, frankly I’m wracked by self-doubt. I constantly worry about coming across a real fashion-history expert in the audience, who will quickly reveal me to be the rank amateur I really am.

skeletor bullshit(Source: Heal Yourself, Skeletor)

So, to forestall that day for as long as possible, here is the first of many posts this summer correcting mistakes in my presentation I’ve found, and/or adding new things I’ve learned. But first, because it’s actually been over a year since I last wrote on this topic, let me remind you of the gist:

1) Korea’s “alphabetization” (bodylines) craze of the mid-2000s has strong parallels in the rationalization of the corset industry in Western countries in the 1910s to 1940s.

2) Fashion and—supposedly immutable and timeless—beauty ideals for women change rapidly when women suddenly enter the workforce in large numbers, and/or increasingly compete with men. World War Two and the 1970s-80s are examples of both in Western countries; 2002 to today, an example of the latter in Korea.

3) With the exception of World War Two though, where the reasons for the changes were explicit, correlation doesn’t imply causation. Noting that bodylines happened to appear during in a time of rapid economic change in Korea does not explain why they came about.

Maybe, simply because there’s nothing more to explain, and we should be wary of assuming some vast patriarchal conspiracy to fill the gap, and/or projecting the arguments of Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth (1990) and Susan Faludi’s Backlash (1991) to Korea. Indeed, arguably it’s mostly increased competition since the Asian Financial Crisis that has profoundly affected the demands on job-seekers’ appearances, of both sexes. Also, the financial demands of the K-pop industry go a long way towards explaining the increased sexual objectification in the media in the past decade.

Which brings me to today’s look at the evolving meaning of “glamour” in American English, which I use to illustrate the speed of those changes in World War Two:

Slide76Slide77Slide78Slide79Slide80Slide81Slide82Slide83Slide84These are necessary generalizations of course, whereas the reality was that contradictory and competing trends coexisted simultaneously, which you can read about in much greater depth back in Part 4. But this next slide was just plain wrong:Slide85With that, I went on to give a few more examples to demonstrate how glamour, then meaning large breasts, soon came to mean just about anything. But then I read Glamour: Women, History, Feminism by Carol Dyhouse (2010), and discovered that the word has always been very vague and malleable (albeit still always meaning bewitching and alluring). Moreover, to my surprise, “breasts”—the first thing I look for in new books these days—weren’t even mentioned in the index. Nor, for that matter, “glamour” in Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams (2013) either. Given everything I’ve said and written about them, I feel they deserved more attention that that (although Dyhouse does cover them in the chapter “Princesses, Tarts, and Cheesecake” somewhat), but certainly there was only ever a strong association with glamour at best. Also, my timing was wrong, for that association began as early as the late-1920s, and didn’t peak until after the war. (See the introduction or from page 134 of the dissertation Hollywood Glamour: Sex, Power, and Photography, 1925–1939, by Liz Willis-Tropea, 2008.)

For instance, take this excerpt from Uplift: The Bra in America by Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau (2002, page 103; my emphasis):

The War Production Board severely restricted the use of chromium-plated wire for civilian-use products. Brassiere manufacturers improved fasteners, but renounced wiring. Besides, glamour was not what brassieres were about in 1941-45. Posture, health, fitness, and readiness for action constituted the only acceptable raisons d’être for undergarments-at-war, dubbed “Dutiful Brassieres” by the H & W Company.

Indeed, it turns out those lingerie ads in one of my slides come from 1948 and 1949 respectively (and I’ve no idea what that girdle ad was doing there!). And here’s another excerpt, from The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s by Susan M. Hartmann (1983, page 198; my emphasis):

Women adapted their appearance to the wartime look, which deemphasized physical differences between the sexes, but they did not completely abandon adornments symbolizing femininity. While some adjusted to the disappearance of silk and nylon by going barelegged, others used leg makeup and some even painted on a seam line. Women emphasized their lips by favoring dark colors. The focus on breasts did not peak until later, but the sweatergirl look, popularized by Lana Turner and other movie stars, had its origins in the war years, and women competed in Sweater Girl contests as early as 1943.

In short, the trend is still there, and, “much of women’s social history [being] embedded in clothes, cosmetics, and material culture” (Dyhouse, p. 7.), remains fascinating for how, as a product of the era when cinema first began to have a profound impact on fashion, it set the standard of slim waists and large breasts that largely remains in Western—and global—culture today.

But covering all that in a stand-alone presentation, which I’ve really struggled to get down to an hour a half? In hindsight, it’s a poor, unnecessarily complicated choice to get my point about rapid change across.

Bagel Girl(Source: How do ya like me now?)

Likely, I fixated on glamour because it’s where “Bagel Girl” (베이글녀) derives from, a Korean bodyline that’s been popular for about 4-5 years. A blatantly infantilizing and objectifying term, I was happy to read back in 2011 that Shin Se-kyung at least has rejected being labeled as such (alas, Hyoseong of Secret is quite happy with it), echoing Lana Turner’s distaste at being the first “Sweater Girl.”

Then I discovered the Bagel Girl had a precedent in the “Lolita Egg” (롤리타 에그) of 2003, which, as the following advertorial explains, likewise emphasized the childish features of female celebrities (then) in their early-20s—who would surely have preferred being better known as adults instead. While I genuinely despair that its authors and interviewees actually got paid for their work (you’ll soon see why!), it does demonstrate the remarkable historical continuity to medical discourses about “Western” and “Asian” women’s bodies, and of the incessant drive to infantalize their owners.

Lee Hyori Lolita Egg‘롤리타-에그’ 얼굴 뜬다…2000년대 미인은 ‘어린소녀+계란형’ The “Lolita Egg” Face …Beauties of the 2000s have ‘Young girl + Egg Shape’

Donga Ilbo (via Naver), November 2, 2003

이승재기자 sjda@donga.com, 조경복기자 kathycho@donga.com / By Lee Sung-jae and Jo Gyeong-bok

‘롤리타-에그 (Lolita-Egg)’형 얼굴이 최근 뜨고 있다 The ‘Lolita Egg’ Face Trend Has Been Booming Recently

1990년대 성숙한 미인상으로 각광받던 ‘계란(Egg)’형 얼굴의 연장선상에 있으면서도, 길이가 짧은 콧등과 좁은 턱, 넓은 이마 등 어린 아이의 이미지로 ‘롤리타 콤플렉스’(어린 소녀에 대한 성적 충동·롤리타는 12세 소녀를 향한 중년 남자의 광적인 사랑을 담은 블라디미르 나보코프의 동명 소설에 등장하는 소녀 이름)를 자극하는 ‘이중적 얼굴’이 주목받고 있는 것.

While the 1990s trend for mature, beautiful women with egg-like faces continues, now it has combined with a short nose-bridge, narrow chin, and wide forehead, reminiscent of a child’s. This ‘double face’ stimulates the ‘Lolita Complex’, based on the Lolita novel by Vladimir Nabokov (1955), about a middle-aged man’s insane love and sexual urges for a 12 year-old girl of the same name.

Lolita Cover Detail(Source)

‘롤리타-에그’형의 대표는 탤런트 송혜교(21)와 가수 이효리(24)다. 또 드라마 ‘선녀와 사기꾼’(SBS), ‘노란손수건’(KBS1)에 이어 SBS ‘때려’에 출연 중인 탤런트 소이현(19)과 영화 ‘최후에 만찬’에 비행(非行) 소녀 ‘재림’으로 나오는 신인 조윤희(21)도 닮은꼴이다.

Representative stars with the Lolita Egg face shape are talent Song Hye-Kyo (21; Western ages are given) and singer Lee Hyori (24). Other women that resemble them include: the drama talent So Yi-hyun (19), who has appeared in Fairy and Swindler (SBS), Yellow Handkerchief (KBS1), and is currently starring in Punch (SBS); and movie rookie Jo Yoon-hee (21), who played the character Jae-rim in The Last Supper (2003).

조용진 한서대 부설 얼굴연구소 소장은 “이 얼굴형은 자기중심적이면서도 콧대가 높지 않아 ‘만만한’ 여성상”이라며 “경제 불황이 장기화하면서 퇴폐적이면서 유아적인 여성상을 찾는 동시에 수렁에서 구원해 줄 강력하고 성숙한 여성상을 갈구하고 있다는 표시”라고 분석했다.

Jo Yong-jin, head of the Face Research Institute affiliated with Hanseo University, explained “While this face shape is self-centered, the nose bridge is not high, making it a manageable female symbol,” and that “While the recession prolongs, people long for a decadent but childlike female symbol, but at the same time also strongly long for a mature female symbol to save them from the depths.”

롤리타 에그’ 얼굴의 특징 Unique Points about the Lolita Egg Face

얼굴선은 갸름하지만 전체적으론 둥그스름하고 부드럽다. ‘롤리타 에그’형은 90년대 채시라와 최진실에서 보듯 갸름한 듯하면서도 약간 네모진 미인형에 비해 특징이 적다. ‘어디선가 본 듯한’ 느낌을 주어 대중성이 강하다.

The face-line is slender, but overall it is roundish and soft. As you can see from images of Chae Shi-ra and Choi Jin-sil, in the 1990s the Lolita Egg face shape The Wrong Deodorantalso looked slender, but compared to slightly square-faced beauties didn’t have many characteristics. It was massively popular, because it gave the feeling of a face you could see anywhere (source, right).

얼굴의 포인트는 코. 채시라 등의 코는 높으면서도 콧등이 긴데 반해 이 얼굴형은 콧등이 낮고 그 길이가 짧아 ‘콧대가 높다’는 느낌이 없다. 다만 코끝이 버선코 모양으로 솟아올라 비순각(鼻脣角·코끝과 인중 사이의 벌어진 정도·그림)이 90도 이상인 것이 특징. 코가 짧은 동양적 특징과 비순각이 큰 서양적 특징(한국인은 평균 90도가 채 못 되나 최근 120도까지 끌어올리는 성형수술이 유행이다)이 동시에 나타난다.

The point of the face is the nose. Compared with the cases of Chae Shi-ra and so on, whose noses are high and have long nose bridges, the nose bridge of a Lolita Egg face is low and short, so it doesn’t give the feeling of a high nose bridge. However, the tip of the Lolita Egg nose is marked for resembling the tip of a bi-son (a traditional women’s sock), soaring upward, and the philtrum is more than 90 degrees (see picture). A Lolita Egg face has a combination of this philtrum, which is a Western trait (Koreans typically have one less than 90 degrees; however, the trend in cosmetic surgery is to get one between 90 and 120 degrees) and a short nose, which is an Asian trait.

미고 성형외과 이강원 원장은 “다소 나이 들어 보이고 노동을 즐기지 않는 듯한 느낌을 주는 긴 코에 비해 짧고 오뚝한 코는 귀엽고 애교 있으며 아이 같은 이미지를 준다”고 말했다. 이런 코는 이미연의 두텁고 귀티 나는 코가 주는 ‘접근하기 어려운’ 느낌에 비해 ‘만인이 사랑할 수 있을 것 같은’ 느낌을 유발한다.

Migo Cosmetic Surgery Clinic head Won Chang-un said “A long nose gives an impression of age and that one doesn’t enjoy one’s work, whereas a short but high nose gives one of cuteness and aegyo. A thick but elegant nose like that of Lee Mi-yeon’s [James—below] gives a cold, stand-offish impression, but a Lolita Egg one gives off one that the woman can be loved by all.

이미연 (Lee Mi Yeon) and Niece(Source)

턱은 앞으로 다소 돌출했지만 턱의 각도가 좁아 뾰족한 느낌도 든다. 이는 일본 여성의 얼굴에 많이 나타나는 특징. 28∼32개의 치아를 모두 담기엔 턱이 좁아 덧니가 있는 경우가 많다. 어금니가 상대적으로 약해 딱딱한 음식을 씹는 것에는 약한 편.

[However], while the jaw of the Lolita Egg protrudes forward, it is narrow, giving a pointy feeling. This is characteristic of many Japanese women [James—see #3 here]. But because 28-32 teeth are crammed into such narrow jaws, there are also many cases of snaggleteeth. The molars also tend to be weak, making it difficult to chew hard food.

눈과 눈썹은 끝이 살짝 치켜 올라가 90년 대 미인상과 유사하나, 눈의 모양은 다르다. 90년대 미인은 눈이 크면서도 가느다란 데 반해 이 얼굴형은 눈이 크고 동그래 눈동자가 완전 노출되는 것이 특징. 가느다란 눈에 비해 개방적이고 ‘성(性)을 알 것 같은’ 느낌을 준다.

The end of the eyes and eyebrows raise up slightly at the ends, resembling the style of 1990s beauties, but the shape is different. Compared to that large but slender style, the Lolita Egg eyes are rounder and more exposed. This gives a feeling of openness and greater sexual experience.

얼굴에 담긴 메시지 The Message in a Face

‘롤리타 에그’형의 여성들은 남성들의 ‘소유욕’을 자극하는 한편 여성들에게 ‘똑같이 되고 싶다’는 워너비(wannabe) 욕망을 갖게 한다. 예쁘면서도 도도한 인상을 주지 않아 많은 남성들이 따른다. 이로 인해 이런 여성들은 선택의 여지가 많아 독점적으로 상대를 고르는 듯한 인상을 주기도 한다.

you chumpsOn the one hand, the Lolita Egg stimulates men’s possessiveness, whereas to women it turns them into wannabees. It’s a pretty face shape, but doesn’t give off a haughty, arrogant impression, proving very popular with men. Women who have it can pick and choose from among their many male followers (source right: unknown).

인상전문가 주선희씨는 “낮은 코는 타협의 이미지를 주는 데 반해 선명한 입술 라인은 맺고 끊음이 분명한 이미지가 읽힌다”며 “이런 얼굴은 남성을 소유한 뒤 가차 없이 버릴 것 같은 느낌을 주기 때문에 여성들이 강한 대리만족을 얻게 된다”고 말했다.

Face-expression specialist Ju Seon-hee said “A low nose gives an impression that the owner will readily give-in and compromise, whereas the clear lipline of a Lolita Egg gives an image of decisiveness,” and that women with the latter can gain a strong sense of vicarious satisfaction through using (lit. possessing) and then discarding men.”

최근 인기 절정의 댄스곡인 이효리의 ‘10 Minutes’ 가사(나이트클럽에서 화장실에 간 여자 친구를 기다리는 남자를 유혹하는 내용)에서도 나타나듯 “겁먹지는 마. 너도 날 원해. 10분이면 돼”하고 욕망을 노골적으로 강력하게 드러내는 이미지라는 것이다.

Like the lyrics of Lee Hyori’s song 10 minutes say (about a woman who seduces a man at a nightclub while he is waiting for his girlfriend in the bathroom), currently at the height of its popularity, “Don’t be scared. You want me too. 10 minutes is all we need”, this a strong and nakedly desiring image. (End)

Western vs. Eastern Ideals of Beauty(Source)

For more on the negative connotations of “Asian” bodily traits, perpetuated by cosmetic surgeons and the media, please see here (and don’t forget Lee Hyori’s Asian bottom!). As for the infantilization of women, let finish this post by passing on some observations by Dyhouse, from page 114 (source, right; emphasis):

Nabokov’s Lolita was published (in Paris) in 1955: the book caused great controversy and was banned in the USA and the UK until 1958. Baby Doll, the equally contentious film with a screenplay by Tennessee Williams, starring Carroll Baker in the role of its lubriciously regressive, thumbsucking heroine, appeared in 1956. The sexualisation of young girls in the Glamour Women History Feminism Carol Dyhouseculture of the 1950s had complex roots, but was probably at least in part a male reaction to stereotypes of idealised, adult femininity. Little girls were less scary than adult women, especially when the latter looked like the elegant Barbara Goalen and wielded sharp-pointed parasols. Images of ‘baby dolls’ in short, flimsy nightdresses infantilised and grossly objectified women: they segued into the image of the 1960s ‘dolly bird’, undercutting any assertiveness associated with women’s role in the ‘youthquake’ of the decade.

Did I say you shouldn’t project Western narratives onto Korea? I take that back. Because goddamn, would that explain a lot of things here!

Update: See here for a Prezi presentation on “Trends of beautiful faces In Korea.”

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic Series:

Media and Body Image Workshop, Bar Carmen, Seoul, Sunday 30th, 5-8pm

(Sources: left, center, right)

Yes, it’s back on, and I promise that none of my relatives will be in hospital this time!

Once again, please see Disruptive Voices’ Facebook Event page for more details and RSVPs, or if you’re not on Facebook then please feel free to ask any questions in the comments here, and/or to just turn up to Bar Carmen in Itaewon on the day. (Note that it’s not on the main drag though, but on the other side of the hill: see here or here for maps.)

Media and Body Image Workshop, Bar Carmen, Seoul, Sunday 23rd, 5-8pm

Pear Banana Body Shape(Sources: left; right, “Bunch” by Amanda S. Lanzone)

And I’ll be the guest speaker! Please see Disruptive Voices’ Facebook Event page for more details and RSVPs, or if you’re not on Facebook then please feel free to ask any questions in the comments here, and/or to just turn up to Bar Carmen in Itaewon on the day. (Note that it’s not on the main drag though, but on the other side of the hill: see here or here for maps.)

Blogging-wise, unfortunately the timing is terrible sorry: my father-in-law is having a major operation in Seoul in a few days, and my wife will be attending to him, leaving me to look after our children until the night before the workshop. A demanding enough job even when we’re both here, that means that all my spare time will be spent on preparing my presentation (yes, they really do take that long!). So, apologies to readers, and I’ll get back to writing here as soon as I can.

Update, Saturday 22nd: PRESENTATION HAS BEEN CANCELLED — I’m not used to this sort of thing sorry, so I’ll just say it: I’m afraid my father-in-law’s condition has rapidly deteriorated, and there’s a possibility he may not make the night. I’ll keep you posted, but of course I can no longer give the presentation. Sorry everybody, and thanks for understanding.

Update, Sunday 23rd: To clarify sorry, the workshop itself is still going ahead.

My father-in-law is still in critical condition.

Update, Thursday 27th: There were some very scary moments, but I’m happy to say that father-in-law recovered earlier in the week, and is due to be discharged today :)