South Korea’s Invisible Military Girlfriends

Turning Boys Into Men? The Performance of Gender for South Korean Conscripts, Part 5

The Longest 24 Months

(Source: HanCinema)

Wait for each other, or split up? It’s a dilemma as old as the military itself. In its modern Korean form, young couples have to decide if they will stay together for his 21-24 months of compulsory military service, with family members and friends competing for his few days of leave. And if they do stay together, lonely and miserable? She’ll worry that he’ll come back a patriarch, and/or have visited prostitutes; he’ll worry that she’ll sleep with his friends, and will wait in dread for a Dear John text.

To counter conscripts’ isolation, one measure developed by the military in 2015 was the provision of shared mobile phones. But they have limited functionality, and the Korean military still stands out for conscripts’ very limited ability to get in touch with people off-base, offering nothing like the level of contact most young couples would be used to. Physical visits are impractical too, most conscripts being sent to the DMZ, and/or far away from their hometowns or any other urban centers.

Which makes the following KT commercial so poignant:

For non-Korean speakers: both his mom and his girlfriend think the unknown number is just spam, so they hang-up when he calls. With the “olleh Love of Country Plan” though, now his girlfriend can see exactly who it is…only to hang up on him anyway because she’s on a date.

Never fear however, for she happily answers him the next time round. Perhaps the date didn’t go so well?

(Chrome users: Is this showing as grey in your browsers too, or just for me? The video is definitely there!)

I was confused by the phone plan at first, which seemed to offer no more than a glorified caller-ID. Pause the video to read the fine print though, and you can see it also offers 200 minutes of free calls and 200MB of data per month, provided the conscript obtains a “Love of Country Card” first. With that, it explains, he can call from KT phones on bases, from public phones, and even do video calls on a smartphone, and his nearest and dearest will be informed it’s him too. (Presumably, he would have to input a special number on the card first, like with old-style international phone cards.) And good for them.

(Note: The commercials are from early-2015, before the military started providing nerfed mobile phones to conscripts; I don’t know if this service is still available sorry.)

(Update: Thanks to Eames (@Eames29), who tells me it is:)

(Source)
(Source)

But the commercials got me thinking. I suddenly realized, I see military couples so rarely in Korean pop culture, and military girlfriends even less so. I wondered, is there a shared bond there in the collective Korean female psyche so to speak, that isn’t getting the attention it deserves? Or, with 250,000 men conscripted every year, and probably tens of thousands of them deciding to soldier on with their girlfriends, are military girlfriends’ experiences as diverse as the women themselves? Is it just me that has been overlooking them in Korean pop culture? Or, is it that, being so normalized and unremarkable, no one thinks to give them any attention at all?

(Source: MovieDiary)

I’d wager the latter. Despite their ubiquity, my Korean wife and friends can’t think of any specific terms for “military girlfriend” or “military couple,” and can’t think of any movies or dramas that focus on them either.* I myself can only think of one movie: the slightly old but still very watchable and relatable Crazy Waiting (기다리다 미쳐), a.k.a. The Longest 24 Months or Going Crazy Waiting, an intertwined story about four military couples, but which stresses the girlfriends’ perspectives (I’ll write a review in a later post in this series):

Yet our ignorance hardly settles the matter. One purpose of this post then, is just to throw all those questions out there, and to ask readers to share their own pop culture suggestions. As well as their own experiences of being in military relationships, and/or of people they know.

The second is to stress the importance of simply asking those questions at all.

Don’t just take my word for it though. Read some excerpts from “Militarizing Women’s Lives” by Cynthia Enloe, a short essay in The Socialist Feminist Project: A Contemporary Reader in Theory and Politics, ed. by Nancy Holmstrom (2002), which I just finished yesterday. And which has left me with such a buzz, I could quote from it all night:

One needs to take seriously the complicated militarized experiences of women as prostitutes, rape victims, mothers, wives, nurses, and feminist activists in order to make full sense of what happens when women are permitted in limited numbers to soldier in still-militarized militaries. To invest one’s curiosity solely in women as soldiers is to treat the militarization of so many other women as normal.

(p. 293)

This focus is relevant to Korea too. Where, as I wrote in Part 1

[The current economy] is so terrible…that even women are showing interest in the limited—but growing—number of positions open to them, despite the extreme discrimination and harassment they face once inside.

…but I’ve yet to see much media attention on present-day military prostitutes (as opposed to comfort women for Japan and then for the USFK), let alone military mothers, wives, and girlfriends.

Continuing with Enloe:

If we adopt the mainstream media’s fascination with women-as-soldiers, and thus devote only meager attention and thought to all other militarized women, we will, by our own very inattention, I think, perpetuate militarized officials’ capacity to manipulate many women’s hopes and fears and skills. Any militarized government’s manipulative capacity has relied on most people not being interested in military wives; on most people holding as “trivial” the mixed feelings of military girlfriends; on most people turning military mothers, wartime rape victims, and military prostitutes into either abstract nationalist icons or objects of shame and exclusion. Inattention is a political act.

(Ironic image source, left: Ilbe)

…Women who serve militaries’ needs differently usually do not see themselves as bound together by their shared womanhood or even by their shared militarization. In fact, some militarized women will see their own respectability, income, or career chances thrown into jeopardy by the actions of other militarized women. Mothers of soldier-sons, for instance, do not have any automatic political affinity with women soldiers. A woman who is a military wife may go to considerable lengths to not ask about the women who work in the discos around his base. Feminists working to help women soldiers overcome the institutional barriers of sexual harassment and homophobia inside the military may not give much thought at all to women as militarized mothers, wives, and prostitutes.

…Military officials and their civilian supporters go to great lengths in order to ensure that each of these groups of women feels special and separate.

(p. 294, emphases in original; bold emphases mine)

Next, a rallying cry for this series, condensing thousands of my own words:

…militaries and their supporters in both government and the general public have needed not only women, flesh and blood creatures. They have also needed ideas, especially ideas about femininity. Just as important to the maintenance of military life as has been the ideology of manliness, just as important as parades, alliances, and weaponry, have been certain feminized ideas—”the fallen woman,” “patriotic motherhood,” “marital fidelity,” “racial purity,” “national sacrifice,” and sexualized “respectability.” Sometimes militaries even have needed a very particular version of the idea “liberated woman.”

(p. 295)

And finally, in the strange event that you’re not yet having a braingasm yourself, and aren’t emailing me begging me to use my photo-to-pdf app on the five-page essay:

Precisely because the U.S. Military has become so physically and ideologically influential in today’s [2002] post-Cold-War world, we do need, I think, to pay special heed to American manipulation of ideas about women and to the appeal that those militarized ideas have for so many women. In the late-1990s the American armed forces provided not only traveling trainers, but their own formulas for AIDs prevention and peacekeeping…Each one of these international training programs is providing a site for the export of American ideas about what should be expected of a man, what should be expected of a woman—not just of a woman in uniform, but a woman in a soldier’s home and a woman in a militarized off-base disco.

(p. 296; bold emphases mine)

And if that’s the case for the U.S. military overseas, why not for the Korean military in its own country? An institution that affects a far greater proportion of both men and women than the U.S. military ever will of U.S. citizens?

Please send me your thoughts. And, has anyone else seen Crazy Waiting BTW? Let’s (re)watch it in the next two weeks for my review! :D

(“Couple in Ewha on their last date before he left for military service, in September, 2007,” by feetmanseoul; used with permission.)

*Update) With thanks to Bunny Bones who commented on the blog’s Facebook page, there is a word for military girlfriends: “고무신/곰신” (go-mu-shin/gom-shin), which literally means “wearing rubber shoes,” but comes from the expression “고무신 거꾸로 신다,” (go-mu-shin goh-gguro shin-da), or “wearing rubber shoes the wrong way.” There’s also a term for military girlfriends whose boyfriends have finally returned: “꽃신” (ggot-shin), literally “wearing flowers.”

The first term did ring a bell for my wife (I’ve yet to ask my friends), but not “wearing flowers.” That’s probably because, Bunny Bones explained, it’s from 규찌툰 (Gyuzzi-toon), a now defunct but still very much available webtoon about a military couple.

(Source: Wikitree)

Now I sense that, outside of rare mainstream film and TV portrayals, there may be a whole wealth of alternative pop-culture representations of military couples and girlfriends out there. And if so, I’d be very happy to be proven wrong about their invisibility!

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“우리는 할수 있다!”

With permission, allow me to present Jen Lee’s Korean version of the iconic “We Can Do It!” poster:

(Source: nabichan@instagram)

I know: you’ve just got to have one, right? Unfortunately though, Jen, whom many of you will already know and love as the author of the Dear Korea webcomic, doesn’t offer it as a poster yet. But I’m hoping that so many of you will join me on her Facebook page in demanding one, that she’ll just have no choice but to find a way to print and sell them online ;)

Meanwhile, I hope you all had a great International Women’s Day (which is also my birthday BTW!), and sorry for not having a post up on Monday—I’ve just been very busy with the start of the new semester, and my wife has just started a new job too. But I’ll be back to my normal posting schedule next week.

See you then!

Update: In case you can’t get access to Jen’s personal Facebook page, please try her at her Dear Korea one or at her Instagram instead.

Update 2: It’s working! To help Jen work out the logistics, please click on this one-minute poll to give her an idea of what size you’d prefer, and if you’re inside or outside of Korea.

Update 3: Success!

Feminazi Killjoys Target Cute Children’s Song

And I’m one of them:

%ec%95%84%eb%b9%a0-%ed%9e%98%eb%82%b4%ec%84%b8%ec%9a%94

(Source: Instiz)

Here’s a transcript:

‘아빠 힘내세요’라는 동요 아시죠.

Anchor: You know the song Cheer Up Father, yes?

어깨 축 쳐진 아빠에게 아이들이 용기를 줬던 노래인데 이 노래가 양성평등을 저해한다는 판정이 나와 문화관광부가 해명자료까지 내는 소동이 벌어졌습니다.

This is the song which gives encouragement to exhausted, depressed fathers, but it has been recently criticized for hindering gender equality. In response, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism issued a statement clarifying what the song is really about.

무슨일인지, 박철현 기자가 보도합니다.

Park Cheol-hyon reports:

“아빠 힘내세요, 우리가 있잖아요”

1997년 발표된 동요 ‘아빠 힘내세요’입니다.

“Dad, cheer up/be strong, you have us”: this is the children’s song released in 1997.

“IMF때 굉장히 많이 들어봤고요. 아이들이 보자마자 불러줬을 때 저절로 힘도 났고..”

Cho Hong-joon, Person on the street #1:

“I heard this song a lot during the IMF Crisis. It  cheered me up when my kids sang it to me”.

그런데 문화관광부는 이 노래가 우리 사회 양성 평등 의식을 해치는 대표적인 사례 중 하나라는 연구 결과를 발표했습니다.

However, in a statement of research results released by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, this song was given as an example of something hindering gender equality awareness.

이 노래가 경제활동을 하는 것은 남성이라는 고정 관념을 키워준다는 겁니다.

This song encourages the notion that it is only men that should partake in economic activity.

특히 엄마가 요리하면서 아빠를 기다리는 만화 동영상은 여성은 가사 노동만 한다는 선입견을 심어줄 수 있다고 지적했습니다.

In particular, a popular accompanying video for the song depicts women cooking while waiting for their husbands, perpetuating traditional gender roles.

[James: Actually, only one of videos shown in the report does that; it can be viewed here.]

“여자들도 많이 일을 하고 더 힘들어요. 여자가 들어봤을 때는 별로인 것 같아요.”

Park Hyeon-joo, Person on the street #2:

“Women work a lot, and it’s harder for us. When they hear it, women don’t care for this song.”

하지만 황당하다는 반응이 많습니다.

But many people replied that the criticisms were nonsense.

“노래는 노래일 뿐이지, 거기에 그런 의미를 부여한다면 그게 더 문제..”

Jeon Byeong-rok, person on the street #3:

“This song is just a song, it only becomes problematic if you read too much into it.”

노래를 만든 현직 초등학교 교사 한수성씨는 가사는 아내가 썼고 이 노래로 국무총리 표창까지 받았다며 황당해했습니다.

The song writer Han Soo-seong, who is an elementary school teacher, said that the lyrics were written by his wife, and pointed out that he received an award from the Prime Minister for it.

“가사가 그렇게 깊은 뜻을 담고 있는 지 몰랐습니다. 말도 안되는 거죠”

“I don’t think that the lyrics have that deeper [sexist] meaning. It’s ridiculous to say so.”

논란이 커지자 문화관광부는 양성 평등 교육에 참고하라고 진행된 연구 결과일 뿐 유해 가요로 지정한 건 아니라고 해명했습니다.

In response to the controversy, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism clarified that the research was only conducted to further the cause of gender equality, not naming and shaming. (End.)

This report is actually a few years old. But the topic still regularly pops up in my Google Keyword Alerts and on Twitter, albeit usually only leading to Ilbe and DC Inside users having a good laugh at the feminazis. Emboldened perhaps, by the Ministry’s criticisms falling on such deaf ears.

Because it’s still taught to just about every Korean child, even those too young to understand it:

Demanding it of guests is still part of the repertoire of the variety-show hosts, used to elicit infantilized gender performances from girl-group members. For instance, from 20 year-old Yoo-a of Oh My Girl below (which is not to say her tears aren’t genuine):

It’s still such an ingrained part of Korean culture, that even insurance company employees will name their project teams after it, and the media will raise it in reports about the dutiful daughters of male politicians (as well as commenting on their beauty):

yoo-seung-min-yoo-dam-daughter(Source: Asiae)

And finally, because Korean fathers still work among the longest hours in the world, and wish they could be home in time to see their families. As this recent feel-good advertisement makes clear:

Who else but a feminazi would deprive Korean fathers of such a small source of joy?

But wait. Most of those examples above aren’t exactly compelling reasons to continue teaching the song to children. What’s more, even if you still don’t find the song problematic, or how it’s used, there remains the inconvenient fact that MOTHERS WORK TOO:

%ec%95%84%eb%b9%a0-%ed%9e%98%eb%82%b4%ec%84%b8%ec%9a%94%ea%b0%80-%ec%97%ac%ec%84%b1%ec%b0%a8%eb%b3%84-%eb%ac%b8%ed%99%94%ea%b4%80%ea%b4%91%eb%b6%80-%ed%95%b4%eb%aa%85%ea%b9%8c%ec%a7%80(“Women work a lot, and it’s harder for us. When they hear it, women don’t care for this song.”)

Is Park Hyeon-ju referring to work inside the house, outside, or both? A song about the former would hardly challenge traditional gender roles. Yet even that would be an improvement on something that only acknowledges the work of men. Twenty years after Cheer Up Father was written, it’s high time to acknowledge its flaws, and to begin teaching children something much more inclusive.

My suggestion is for the government to arrange a national songwriting competition. It should be determined by popular vote (the public tends to be better judges of what’s catchy), with the winning entry to replace Cheer Up Father in kindergartens and elementary schools.

Do any readers know of any examples like that from other countries? How did they go?

Update: A friend mentioned it would be a pity to lose such a catchy song, and jokingly suggested replacing appa “아빠” (father) with eomppa “엄빠,” a combination of appa and eomma “엄마” (mother) which is actually a word already, although one of those ones everyone knows but has never actually used. But I’d be all for that, especially if the videos and songbook illustrations were changed accordingly. While using the word would be awkward at first, much of this blog is about Korean companies’ and the media’s proclivity for inventing new labels and buzzwords, many—most—of which were also very awkward at first, but some of which have definitely stuck. So why not?

Related Posts:

Korean Students Challenging Slut-Shaming and the Madonna-Whore Complex

ewha-madonna-whore(Source: ‏@smile_ystkyrk)

Today’s post is a collection of encouraging images and words from the incredibly woke students of the Ewha University Women’s Committee (이화여성위원회/@ewhalovewom), which were used in their 16th Feminism Festival.

I hope you’re inspired by them, and I’d love to hear of any similar examples, and/or of anything else you’d like translated. Especially if they’re related to my birthday International Women’s Day that is coming up in a couple of weeks, and will help spread the word about Korean events :)

ewha-16th-feminism-festivalThe title of the festival poster reads “Becoming a slut.” (Lit. “The technology/method of weaving/making a slut.”)

(Source: @ewhalovewom)
ewha-madonna-whore-2(Source: ‏@smile_ystkyrk)

From a noticeboard at the event.

ewha-madonna-whore-3(Source: @ewhalovewom)

It reads:

A word for a “male slut” doesn’t exist. If you search for it on Google, you’ll only find “transvestite.”

“Slut”: there’s no more powerful word for criticizing women. It has the power to destroy them. In practice, it is used in so many ways to attack women.

We are going to think about that at this festival. Everyone’s situation is different, but we need to talk more about the words “slut” and “prostitute,” and to redefine them. When even the most trivial things about women are used to attack them as sluts, rather than avoiding the word shouldn’t we instead reconsider the images the word evokes?

Although what we have written is not eloquent, please enjoy reading it.

Let’s begin the 16th Feminism Festival!

ewha-madonna-whore-4(Source: @ewhalovewom)

ewha-madonna-whore-4aIf you don’t look naturally at the many varied forms of women’s lives, but only look at them through one twisted lens, then that is a form of misogyny. In the end, it’s not that people hate women living alone or studying abroad per se. I think it’s more that people look suspiciously at women who are not under the protection of their families, calling them sluts.

“Nobody can avoid being accused of being a slut.” (Hee-da)

ewha-madonna-whore-4bHow can it be convincing when you say that “The cause of sexual violence has nothing to do with women’s exposure” on the hand, but on the other hand say to women “Don’t wear such revealing clothes”?

“DON’T DO THAT. Don’t do that!” (Yeol-mae)

ewha-madonna-whore-4cIf you talk about women working as tenpro* by just using that label, as if they were just numbers rather than real women with real names, then you’re dehumanizing them and indirectly criticizing them. Instead, we can talk about why they became tenpro, and how come that kind of profession exists.

“Even if they are numbered, their names are not numbers.” (Bam-cha)

*This means “high class prostitute”; am embarrassed to say this was the first time I’d ever heard of this surprisingly common word.

ewha-madonna-whore-4dA teacher and a prostitute. Or, a prostitute and a teacher. I hesitate at the point where these two subjects meet. But the more I hesitated, the more I thought I should write about this. This is about my fear and insincerity when I met a prostitute.

“This is about those things.” (Sung-hyeon.)

ewha-madonna-whore-4eTo victims of sexual violence, people commonly recommend saying that they were virgins. They have to prove that [they didn’t deserve it a little by showing that] they are not bitches, they are not women who exploit their sexual attractiveness, they are not women who just play around and don’t listen to people, and that they are not the kind of women who deserve to get raped, and so on.

“Our society’s S-line.” (Rumble.)

ewha-madonna-whore-4fTo a woman, labeling her a “prostitute” is like a warning to other women, which forces those other women to act modestly and appropriately. Ultimately, it functions to control women.

“A phase of the university festival.” (Yeon-o)

ewha-madonna-whore-5(Source: ‏@smile_ystkyrk)

This one, a test for whether you’re a saint, a kimchi-girl, or a slut, looks like a lot of fun, but formatting it for this post looks a little difficult sorry. But I’ll happily try if anyone asks.

Underneath, people are encouraged post about taboos and unwritten rules they’ve heard. The three examples at the top read:

  • “Don’t go on a working holiday to Australia, people might misunderstand [your reasons for going].”
  • “Isn’t that lipstick shade too slutty-looking?”
  • “Don’t wear that short skirt!”
ewha-madonna-whore-6(Source: ‏@smile_ystkyrk)

Apologies that the festival was actually held two years ago BTW, as eagle-eyed readers will already have spotted. But those images still resonate, which is probably why they somehow surfaced in my Twitter feed last week. So too this tweet below, which I think is speaking about stereotypes of passive Korean women, but am not sure if it’s critiquing them or perpetuating them sorry (even my wife struggled with its meaning). Hence this post, just in case in was the latter!

asian-women-western-women-false-dichotomyRelated Posts:

17-Year-Old Tzuyu: “A Special Gift for Korean Men”

Turning Boys Into Men? The Performance of Gender for South Korean Conscripts, Part 4

twice-tzuyu-kookmin-bank-a-special-gift-for-korean-men-1       “Do one thing everyday, that scares you.”

My personal motto adopted from Wear Sunscreen by Baz Luhrmann (1999), without which I wouldn’t be in Korea now. Nor have had sex in a lot of strange places.

Now a middle-aged parent though, it’s difficult finding scary things to do during my daily routine. So, I force myself to take photos of interesting ads in public. It’s just terrifying you see, knowing that everyone in the bank or subway carriage will peg me as a perverted samcheon fan.

Did I mention that all Korean phones have a faux shutter sound by law?

This ad however, seemed well worth my pain and shame. Much like Chou Tzu-yu’s ads for LG last year, taken when she was only 16, it can take a moment to realize she’s not actually the product being sold here:

twice-tzuyu-kookmin-bank-a-special-gift-for-korean-men-2The header, with the red, reads “A special gift for Korean men.” The subheading in the center, with the black in bold, adds the Catch-22 that: “To qualify as a Korean man, you need a Kookmin Bank Korea Love Card”, which provides discounts at various cinemas, coffee shops, restaurants, language institutes, and stores.

Now that’s patriotism.

But humor aside, it would have been more accurate to say that only those with military experience qualify as “Korean men”, as the card is only available to current or former soldiers who had their physical after January 2007 (i.e., mostly 20-somethings). This link to the military is made more obvious in the following ad, the top line of which reads “Anyone Can Be a Youth That Loves Their Country!”, under which it says you can apply for a card at a military recruitment office in addition to KB banks:

twice-tzuyu-kookmin-bank-a-special-gift-for-korean-men-3(Source)

In fairness, even the most innocuous of Korean ads and government slogans often sound very much like propaganda when translated into English. Also, no-one is denying the great sacrifice made by young men doing their mandatory 21-24 months of military service. What clearly isn’t fair however, is how ad campaigns like these effectively label women, the disabled, openly LGBTQ individuals, conscientious objectors, and (until just 6 years ago) mixed-race Koreans as incapable of “loving their country”, which only serves to justify denying them various privileges given to former soldiers later.

Starting with this card. There’s many more reasons why women end up so excluded from Korean economic and political life of course, with modern, democratic Korea being ranked a shocking 115th out of 145 countries in gender equality by the World Economic Forum. But examples like this one undoubtedly form part of the process.

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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:

Merry Christmas, Powergirls! And Powerboys Too!

Merry Christmas PowergirlsAs promised, I’ve gotten the writing bug again, and am just putting the finishing touches to some long posts. I’ve even decided to start publishing every Monday too! :D

Apropos of New Year’s resolutions though, starting this coming Monday sounds a little premature. By the same token, the next Monday as well, which will still be New Year’s Day in much of the world. But hey, you’ve got to start sometime.

So, Monday the 2nd it is. Until then, let me leave you with my favorite Christmas card again, found in Daiso while looking for some stocking fillers for my daughters. It reads: “Like a powergirl, always be confident! Spread/Brace your shoulders, be strong/cheer up! Yay!”

And on that note, Merry Christmas, Powergirls everywhere! And Powerboys too! :)