“저의 몸과 저의 섹슈얼리티에 대한 이야기를 해보려고 합니다. 이것은 실로 부끄러운 고백이어서 저는 단 한 번밖에 말하지 못할 것 같습니다. 그러니 가만히 들어주세요.”

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes. Image sources: Aladin, NamuWiki.

I want to tell you a story about my body and my sexuality. But it’s going to be so revealing and embarrassing for me, that I can say it only once. So please listen carefully.”

If you can please indulge me, I just want to say I’m very proud of myself for ordering Bodies and Women ‘몸과 여자들’ by Lee Seo-su. It will be the first novel I’ll have read entirely in Korean!

I was instantly sold on it by reviews that mention its intimate coverage of beauty ideals, gender socialization and body-shaming in schools, sexual assault, pregnancy, sex in marriage, pervasive sexual objectification, and the male gaze.

However, there’s also the matter of the other members in The Grand Narrative Book Club,* who are much more knowledgeable and well-read than myself, and have often already read the original Korean versions of the translated novels we discuss. Because while I count myself lucky that I’m never the most interesting person in the (Zoom) room, does the fact I’m the dumbest really need to be so obvious?

In 2023 then, I want to work on disguising that. Starting by getting into the habit of reading novels in their original Korean myself.

Unfortunately, Bodies and Women will not be turning up in the club anytime soon. Lee Seo-su seems to be a relatively new writer, with a discussion in Korean Literature Now about of one of her short stories being all I could find out about her in English. So, although I could translate those persuasive reviews for you here, really any translation add-on for your favorite browser should more than suffice. Instead, hopefully I will find many interesting things in the book itself to pass on later.

Sorry. I did say this post was an indulgence!

However, with that my writer’s block does seem to be cured now too, so it served its purpose. Let me offer some humor too, as a parting gift—but also, a reminder of precisely why those reviews were so persuasive, and books like it so necessary. For I shit you not: these two sponsored ads on Facebook, I saw back to back after googling “몸과 여자들” the hour previously:

Again frankly, probably the juxtaposition is a complete coincidence. After the book itself, googling “몸과 여자들” in fact mostly brings up images of women perusing fine male specimens. But more to the point, during the evening rush hour, Korean advertisers on Facebook deliberately target men with ads for lingerie etc., which they won’t buy, but which do persuade them to swipe left to be rewarded with more lingerie models, then with ads for oh-so-masculine power tools and gaming equipment which they might.

Also, ever since I hit my mid-40s I’ve been inundated with ads for libido and erectile dysfunction treatments, and doubt it’s just me. I don’t mean to laugh at anyone or their partners who actually need to avail themselves of such products, especially since I’ll probably be joining their ranks sooner rather than later (sigh). But many prove just as creepy as campy. For instance, this one where the model’s head was cut off, in stark contrast to when a different advertiser used the same stock photos of her to advertise diet products to women:

Then there’s these screenshots from yet another ad in my feed today, from which I’ll let you form your own conclusion to this post to!

*Finally, the book for January’s meeting on Wednesday the 18th is Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung (2017), translated by Anton Hur (2021); I’ll put up an official notice soon. Sorry for not doing so earlier, which is my fault for not realizing that I may not be the only person out there who hasn’t actually read it yet!

Related Posts:

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

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

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

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes.

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

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

Source: Duo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED POSTS

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

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

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes.

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

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

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

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

So what are you waiting for? ;)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, on why I think quotas are absolutely necessary:

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Anh Tuan To on Unsplash.

And finally, in conclusion:

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

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

RELATED POSTS

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

Pornography Actors are People too. Greater, not Less Access to Their Work Will Help Remind the Korean Public of That.

In response to a former Korean pornography actor’s shame preventing them from dating, I like to think that if they were monogamous with me, and didn’t behave in real life the ways they’d been required to in their videos, then I wouldn’t mind their past at all. But that’s all very easy to say when an opportunity to meet is so unlikely to ever occur. If it did, would I turn out to be a hypocrite? Would you?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes. Source left, Namu Wiki. Source right, Joshua Gandara on Unsplash.

In Korea, something pretty big was cut from Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson’s classic portrait of the 1970s LA porn industry. But it wasn’t what you might think.

Instead, it was the three-minute scene where Julianne Moore, playing pornography actor Maggie/”Amber Waves,” tries and fails to get visitation rights to her son. Not only is it an extraordinary performance by Moore, but it also shows a very human side to the industry, providing a profoundly dark, thoughtful counterpoint to the glamour, sex, drugs, and tension that defines the rest of the movie. It was easily the most memorable scene from when I first watched the movie in New Zealand in 1998, and why I was virtually apoplectic when I suddenly realized it was just not there at all when I watched it again in Korea two years later.

Seeing the headline “Adult actress Seo Ha-hee looks for genuine love through tears” the same day as tributes to 25 years since the release of Boogie Nights then, I felt a duty to highlight her story. Yet it’s not really a news item per se, but rather a few slides from Insight’s Instagram account about her appearance (and lamentation) on a new Disney+ show; as Netizen Buzz has already translated the comments, the least I could do is translate the captions in a moment below.

But if felt insufficient.

Looking ahead then, eventually I’d like to cleave through the mass of (contradictory, hypocritical, patronizing, completely ineffectual) censorship laws in an attempt to determine exactly how South Korea remains one of the few developed countries where pornography is largely illegal. In particular, considering just how simple it is to download pornography from overseas, I’m especially intrigued by how the legal domestic Korean pornography industry continues to exist at all, when even pubic hair may not be shown on it (let alone genitalia) and the sex is so obviously simulated. Is the hospitality industry literally its only consumer, given that even in 2022, Korean hotels, motels, and yogwans still invariably have a few cable Korean pornography channels available on their TVs?

Either way, as Kelsey the Korean points out in her recent video above (from 6:08), while there’s a great deal about mainstream pornography that’s objectionable, it’s not like Korean censorship laws are achieving their stated aim of protecting the sexual morals of Koreans from it. If anything, she alleges, they may in fact be no small factor in their utter corruption and distortion. The lack of healthier homegrown options, I tend to agree, may indeed play no small role in channeling many young men to what (illegal) Korean pornography has become notorious for instead—an ongoing spy-cam epidemic.

Yes, healthy feminist pornography does exist—provided you’re prepared to pay for it, to help ensure the working conditions and salaries which make it such. And, seeing how much damage Korean censorship laws seem to have done in promoting unhealthy alternatives, then why not unblock access to other options?

In that sense of changing hearts and minds about pornography, would you say Seo Ha-ni’s “confession” below is a step in the right direction? Or do you think her shame about her former profession, so great that she hadn’t been prepared to date at all in the last five years, merely perpetuates stereotypes? Please let me know in the comments!

Source, all images: Insight @Instagram.

“I’m looking for a man who can understand what it’s like [/not worry about] to be [dating] a [former] pornography actor.”

A woman sheds tears in her quest to find true love.

[Insight reporter Gwon Gil-yeo]

Many people claim their loved one’s pasts are not important.

But if it were you, to what extent would that be true?

An interesting new dating reality program tests whether you can really fully understand/[not worry about/forgive] your true love’s past.

Released on Disney+ on 5 October, Pink Lie is a show in which one cast member each episode confesses lies they’ve been living under, in order to find true love from people who accept them for who they are.

In the first episode, Seo Ha-ni (36) drew attention for having formerly worked as a pornography actor.

For the last five years, she has run a candle manufacturing workshop. She describes herself as a candle artist, never revealing her past as a pornography actor.

She has performed at a high level in the industry, appearing in such movies as The Purpose of Reunion 2 and Private Tutor: Advanced Course (NSFW). [James—Rather confusedly, the former has no sex or nudity, and indeed is even available on YouTube.]

Seo Ha-ni, who cried while talking about her past, said “[Because of my former job], men [constantly] send me photos of their genitals or nude body shots on social media.”

This has meant she’s never been comfortable in romantic relationships.

Source: Insight

“I’m always worried that someone will recognize me in public,’ Seo Ha-ni said. “So, I’ve never held hands with a boyfriend while walking among the cherry blossoms. I’ve never had fun in water with a boyfriend in the summer, never walked together in the Autumn leaves, and never gone skiing with someone in the winter.”

In fact, Seo Ha-ni has [been so nervous she has] avoided men completely, confessing she has not been in a relationship in a whopping six years.

There is a lot of interest in her case, and everyone is anxious for her to find true love with someone without prejudice.

[James: The remaining two slides just explain a little more about the show.]

Meanwhile, three other women and four men appeared in the first episode.

They were: Han Ba-reum (33), a researcher at Samsung Electronics’ Future Technology Research Center; Han Da-on (31), a beauty company marketer; Kang Da-hae (26), an intern at a fashion company; Hong Ha-nu (32), CEO of Hallyu Entertainment; Park Han-gyeol (25), a wedding video company CEO, and Mo Chan-sol (29), an elementary school gym teacher.

Although they disclosed their age and occupation, in fact, just like Seo Ha-ni [at first], they were all lying.

According to the rules of the show, they must not reveal their lies [until their turns in later episodes].

MCs singer Kim Hee-chul, actor Lee Sun-bin, and YotuTuber RalRal all expressed their curiosity about what truths were hidden by the cast.

Episodes 1 and 2 of Pink Lie were released on 5 October, which single episodes to be released once a week on Wednesdays. (END)

Related Posts

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

ZOOM TALK: “Missing Voices that Matter: a history of Japanese women law professorial pioneers, considering the social impact of their scarcity,” Tue 11 October 6pm (PDT)/ Wed 12 October 10am (KST)

Pervasive sexual inequality can feel like death from a thousand cuts. No one source of pain or minor irritation isn’t possible to dismiss or play down in favor of other, more visceral struggles against the patriarchy. But as it turns out, women’s relative absence from the legal profession has cascading effects across all society.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes. Photo by cottonbro at Pexels.

When young Korean men return to university after doing their military service, they’re generally two to three years older than their female classmates. In a society where age really, really matters, this gap can grant those men a great deal of privilege. For example, by being able to avoid various mundane tasks periodically required of students by the university, as these get foisted onto the young(er) women instead. Like during this coming December after the university entrance exams, when some of my female students will be expected to “volunteer” to waste a precious day before their tests by bowing in the freezing cold to visiting high-schoolers as they arrive on the bus, while my male students study from the warmth comfort of the library.

Damn right, do I see a direct link to why so many talented and highly educated women are wasted answering the phones and making the coffee at Korean workplaces.

All of which may feel like an odd introduction to announce an upcoming hybrid talk (register) by Mark A. Levin and Tomomi Yamaguchi at the David Lam Centre of Simon Fraser University, which is not actually about Korea at all. But, based on its description below, it still feels intimately useful and relevant nonetheless. Specifically, I’m wagering it will reveal many more instances of how something seemingly innocuous like a slight age gap can have surprisingly wide implications for sexual equality, offering many similar possibilities to explore—and combat—in the Korean context:

“While the U.S. and Japan’s earliest generation of female legal scholars showed roughly similar numbers, their paths soon diverged dramatically. The number of women in the two legal academies in the 1950s to about 1960 were not all that different. Both nations counted phenomenally low numbers similarly. The U.S. took an early lead, but not by all that much. One report counted five women in tenure track positions in the U.S. in 1950 and another counted fourteen women before 1960. Japan could count five women by 1956 and eight women by 1958. Neither fifteen women in the U.S. nor eight women in Japan represent even token counts among individuals who made up the two countries’ legal academy professoriate in those times.”

“The difference then is in what followed. In the U.S., we crossed a count of 100 women around 1970 and then accelerated to 516 women by 1979, while Japan’s count essentially flatlined. From 1958 in Japan, there were no new women entrants for about ten years and then the next uptick in Japan was just five women entering the field in the late 1960s through 1974. After a second near hiatus of about eight years, Japan then saw some modest growth to have a total of twenty-two women who had entered law teaching by 1988. Our next found data point is 402 women in 2004.”

“The profound scarcity of voices of women academics as leaders, teachers, and scholars in Japanʻs legal academy for several decades remains significantly detrimental for Japanʻs gender circumstances today. The story demonstrates how crucial womenʻs and other feminist voices are in addressing gender gaps and dismantling patriarchy in a society. In particular, having women and feminist allies in the legal academy is essential for feminism to advance in a society. Conversely, deficits regarding women and feminist allies in the legal academy will invariably impact the overall society’s gender circumstances for the worse. And so, just as feminist legal theorists would suggest, it seems essential to assess those circumstances in Japan with the idea that gender gap deficits in Japan’s legal academy must be at least a contributing factor to the nation’s profound and distressing gender gap situation more generally that continue to the present day.”

“This talk aims to explore not only how, but why the two paths diverged so significantly. With time allowing, some effort will be made to draw upon Canada’s circumstances to add another historical sequence into the telling here.”

Truthfully though, it was not those possibilities that first convinced me to sign up. Rather, it was the disjuncture the blurb noted between Japan’s postwar democratic, egalitarian ideals and the actual practice in Japanese women’s personal and professional lives. For it all sounded very familiar (as it probably did to many of you too), having already read much the same in a chapter from a classic Korean studies book: “The Concept of Female Sexuality in Korean Popular Culture” by So-hee Lee (pp. 141-164) in Under Construction: The Gendering of Modernity, Class and Consumption in the Republic of Korea (ed. by Laruel Kendell, 2002). To refresh your memories from page 144, with my emphases:

“[Korean women in their early-30s {now early-60s}]…were the first female generation to go to school en masse, side by side with their brothers. As Wonmo Dong (1988) argues, they learned democracy and its fundamental principles of liberty and equality as an academic subject, not as something to practice in everyday life. From the beginning of their university days, around 1980, they were pushed into the whirl of extremely violent demonstrations to demand national political democratization. Although political protests had long been a part of Korean student life, there was something about the culture of protest that emerged in the 1980s that was different from what had gone before; student activism became an all-pervasive and all-defining experience. In those days, various slogans and ideologies relating to the struggle for democracy were strongly imprinted on the consciousness of this generation as a metadiscourse. However, the students of the 1980s never examined these democratic values in the context of their own everyday lives.”

“Go Alone Like the Rhinoceros’s Horn (Source, left: Whitedevil) illustrates the bifurcation between theory and practice. Looking at their mothers’ lives, Korean women in their early thirties believed that their marriages would be different. Because the Korean standard of living and patterns of material life changed very quickly, they believed that Korean ways of thinking had been transformed with the same speed. This is where their tragedy begins. As Hye-Wan in the novel says, mothers “teach daughters to live differently from themselves but teach sons to live like their fathers” (Kong 1993, 83–84). As a result, the daughters’ generation experiences an enormous conflict between the real and the ideal. During sixteen years of schooling, they have learned that equality is an important democratic value, but nowhere have they been taught that women experience the institution of marriage as a condition of inequality. Many married women of this generation have experienced a process of self-awakening similar to that of Yông- Sôn, who early in the novel tries to kill herself. She says,“Where have I been during the last eight years of my marriage?” and concludes,“Though I don’t want to accept it, I’ve been a sincere and faithful maid who must carry out his every request” (109). Korean wives in their thirties cannot envisage a real-life alternative to the self-sacrifices of their mothers’ generation.”

See “Women Getting on Top: Korean Sexuality in Flux in the 1990s” for a further discussion of Lee’s chapter. And, please feel free to say hi in the private chat if you are able to attend the talk! ;)

(But if you can’t make it, hopefully the talk will be made available on the Centre’s YouTube channel later.)

Update—Indeed it was. There seem to be technical difficulties embedding it here however, so if the video below doesn’t work please watch it on YouTube:


Related Posts

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