No V-lines Required: Miss Korea in the 1960s

(Source: Munhwa Ilbo)

Alas, this brief article from today’s Munhwa Ilbo isn’t exactly a scathing critique of Korea’s body-labeling craze, and I don’t mean to imply that there aren’t much more substantial ones out there. But still, it’s good to be quickly reminded that perhaps “V-lines” aren’t as necessary as pop-culture icons would like us to think (e.g., see ZE:A in Brazil below), and I hope the photo makes it to the front page of major Korean portal sites.

See here or here for better quality versions, or here and here for pictures of the 1957 and various 1970s contestants respectively.

60년대 미스코리아는 ‘V라인 아닌 건강미’ / In the 1960s, Miss Korea Had a Healthy Beauty, not a V-line.

‘미인’의 기준은 문화와 관습에 따라 다르지만 시대에 따라서도 변합니다.

The criteria for a beautiful woman depend on time, culture, and customs.

사진을 보면 1960년 미스코리아 선발대회에 나온 여성들은 건강미가 넘쳤습니다. 당시에는 서구적인 마스크를 선호했다고 하죠. 1980년대 이후 한동안 도시형 미인이 인기를 끌었고, 요즘은 ‘V라인’의 작은 얼굴과 뚜렷한 이목구비가 대세라고 합니다. 성형미인도 많아졌고요.

If you look at this photo of the 1960 Miss Korea contest, you see women overflowing with healthy beauty, [even though] it is said that people preferred Western masks [looks?] then. [But] from the 1980s, for a while urban beauties were preferred, and these days having a V-line and distinct facial characteristics are huge trends. There are many cosmetic surgery beauties.

1957년 시작된 미스코리아 선발대회는 초창기 큰 인기를 모았습니다. 공중파 TV를 통해 전국에 생중계됐고, 수상자들은 카퍼레이드까지 하며 미를 뽐내기도 했었죠. 그러다 여성단체 등의 ‘성상품화 조장’ 반발로 2002년 이후 공중파에서는 중계를 하지 않고 있습니다.

(Source: Yufit)

Starting in 1957, from the beginning the Miss Korea contest was very popular. From being shown live on TV, to winners taking part in car parades, their beauty was shown off. However, later women’s groups denounced it as promoting sexual objectification, and from 2002 it was only allowed to be shown live on cable.

예전에는 미스코리아 선발대회를 통해 연예계로 진출하는 경우도 많았지만 요즘은 오디션 프로그램 등 연예계로 나설 방법이 다양하게 생겨났습니다. 그래서인지 대회의 인기가 예전만 못합니다.

In the past, there were many cases of Miss Korea contest participants entering into the entertainment industry through the competition, but these days there are a variety of audition programs that provide the same opportunity. Because of that, the contest can’t reach the level of popularity that it enjoyed in the past. (End.)

Update: Here’s a video of the 1981 to 2008 winners. As one of the commenters on YouTube put it, it’s interesting to see how much their faces seem to change from the late-1990s onwards.

Korean Sociological Image #69: Attitudes Towards Sexual Objectification, 2004 vs. 2012

Back in 2004, I would study Korean by translating articles about Lee Hyori’s breasts. Because that was much more interesting than reading about the joys of kimchi-making in Korean textbooks.

So, I hardly romanticize that era as more innocent and chaste than today’s. Nor, by highlighting just one complaint by one women’s group from then, do I mean to imply that the Korean public was necessarily more prudish back in 2004, or that it’s necessarily more permissive today. After all, my Google News Alert for “성상품화” (sexual objectification) still provides me with fresh critiques of the recent Miss Korea Pageant every day. And who can forget the role “Bikini Girl” played in April’s congressional elections?

Having said that, things definitely have changed in 8 years:

  • Starting about 2006, ubiquitous soju ads started featuring women in revealing clothing after decades of almost exclusively using demure, virginal-looking models.
  • A little later, dominant media narratives about girl-groups, depicting middle-aged male fandom as platonic rather than sexual, provided a window for their objectification to flourish.
  • Men have also been increasingly objectified, particularly after the “chocolate abs” label was coined in 2009.
  • The number of smutty online-ads has surged, especially in the last year.
  • And last but not least, it’s difficult to find an advertisement for water-parks (also ubiquitous) that doesn’t feature a scantily-clad girl-group, with one—Ocean World—even inventing a group specifically for that purpose. (Boy bands and male models are used also, most notably by Caribbean Bay below, but my strong impression is that there’s much less of them than women)

In short, it is via the increasing objectification of (especially) girl-groups that you can see a clear McDonalidization of Korean cultural industries in recent years (see here, here, herehere, and here for more on the hows and whys). And, because of that shift, it’s difficult to imagine a complaint like this being given much attention in 2012:

전남관광 책자 두고 ‘여성상품화’ 논란 일어 / Controversy over Sexual Objectification of Women in Jeollanam-do Tourist Brochure

Oh My News, June 15 2004. By Gang Seong-gwan.

지난 6월초 전남도가 여름 관광객을 겨냥해 제작배포한 관광 홍보책자 ‘남도스케치’에 사용된 비키니 차림의 여성사진이 논란이다. 광주여성민우회는 14일 성명을 통해 “남도스케치 배포를 즉각 중단하라”고 요구하고 나섰다.

Controversy has arisen over the use of women in bikinis in the June edition of tourist brochure Namdo Sketch, a widely-distributed brochure aimed at summer tourists . In an announcement on the 14th, the Gwangju branch of Womenlink demanded that it stopped being distributed immediately.

(Source: James Turnbull)

전 남도는 ‘남도스케치’를 제작하면서 책 표지, ‘전남이 추천하는 여름 여행지 BEST’ 중 완도 명사십리 해수욕장 등 7곳을 소개하면서 비키니를 입은 여성의 사진 10여장을 게재했다. 이 책자는 겉표지까지 총 85페이지로 구성됐으며 비키니 사진은 책자 앞 부분에 게재했다. 전남도는 제작된 책자 2만여부를 터미널 등 공공장소와 전남도내 기초단체 등지에 배포를 마친 상태이며 조만간 2쇄에 들어간다는 계획이다.

이에 대해 광주여성민우회는 “여성을 성 상품화했다”면서 전남도의 공개사과는 물론 책자 배포 중단을 요구하고 나섰다.

With a cover title of “Best Recommended Tourist Sightseeing Areas in Jeollanam-do” [James – I can’t see that title myself, but unfortunately that opening photo was very small], Namdo Sketch introduces 7 tourist sights, including Wando and Myeongsashibri Beach, and uses a total of 10 pictures of women in bikinis on the front cover and in the first part of the brochure, out of 85 pages. By the end of its first printing, the Jeollanam-do Provincial Government had distributed roughly 20,000 copies to transport terminals, public places, and civic groups, and planned to make a second printing.

Gwangju Womenlink said that the brochure sexually objectified women, and demanded a public apology as a matter of course, as well as a halt on further distribution.

“여성 성 상품화 한 것, 배포 중단”…”문제제기 이해하지만, 시원한 여름을…” / “This is the sexual objectification of women, distribution must stop”…”We understand, but hey: this is summer…”

광주여성민우회는 “전남 관광홍보는 여성의 비키니만이 유일한 대안인가”라며 “공공기관에서 나온 책자인가 할 정도로 낯뜨거운 장면이 많이 실려 있어 당혹스러움과 황당함을 느낀다”고 밝혔다.

Gwangju Womenlink argued that “Are women in bikinis the only option for a tourist brochure?”, and said “We are embarrassed and perplexed that a public institution would go so far as to use such crude [James – I think this is a better translation of “낯뜨겁다” than “obscene” or “rude”] images in a tourist brochure.” (source, right)

이어 “지역에 관광객을 유치하기 위해 명소를 소개하는 것은 좋지만 관광지역의 구체적인 정보와 특색 있는 프로그램의 홍보 대신 여성의 비키니 복장을 내세워 시선을 끌어보고자 하는 공무원의 얄팍한 속셈은 용납될 수 없는 행위”라고 비판했다.

Continuing: “It is good that tourists are being attracted to this area by having places of interest introduced to them. But instead of providing concrete information and unique tourist programs, the PR simply consists of pictures of women in bikinis, designed to attract one’s attention. This is both shallow and misguided of Jeollanam-do officials, and can’t be forgiven.”

또 여성민우회는 “지역의 명소를 알려내기 위한 기본 조건은 다른 지역과 차별되는 테마를 만들어 남도만의 색다른 맛을 느끼게 하는 것이다”면서 “노력해야 할 것은 따로 있는데 엉뚱한 것으로 메꾸려는 것은 직무유기”라고 주장했다.

여성민우회는 “여성의 성 상품화를 부추기는 공공기관의 홍보책자는 결코 용납될 수 없다”면서 ‘남도스케치’의 배포중지를 요구했다.

Also, Womenlink emphasized that “What should have been done to inform tourists about places of interest was showing them how different they were to other ares and what unusual tastes, experiences, and feelings Jeollanam-do has to offer. Instead of making an effort and doing their duty though, officials offered this rubbish.”

It added that “Promoting the sexual objectification of women is never acceptable”, and so demanded an immediate halt to the distribution of the brochure.

(Sources: left, right)

이에 대해 전남도청 한 공무원은 “문제제기는 이해한다”면서도 “여성의 사진을 표지에 넣는다고 해서 이 책자가 눈길을 끌고 있는 것은 아닌 것 같다”고 말했다.

그 러나 또 다른 공무원은 “여성의 비키니 사진을 두고 상품화까지 이야기하는 것은 지나친 것 아니냐”며 “오히려 여성단체들이 그렇게 주장하면서 폄하시킨 것은 아닌지 모르겠다. 물론 어느 정도는 이해할 수 있지만 이런 사진을 많이 사용한 것도 아니지 않느냐”고 주장했다.

In response, a Jeollanam-do official said ” We understand the concerns, but it’s not because of the women in bikinis on the cover that people are drawn to the brochure.” Another emphasized that “It’s a complete exaggeration to claim that just pictures of women in bikinis is objectification. Rather, it’s women’s groups that are degrading women by doing so. And it’s not like we used many in the brochure.”

관광책자 제작 담당부서인 전남도청 관광진흥과 이명흠 과장도 “여성단체의 지적사항에 대해서 전혀 모르는 바는 아니다”면서도 “행정관청에서 발행한 책자여서 그럴텐데 여름에 맞춰서 시원한 해수욕장과 수영복을 입은 모습의 여성을 모델로 했을 뿐이다”고 말했다.

이어 이 과장은 “행정기관이 발행했다는 느낌이 들면 잘 보지 않는다. (관광객들의) 눈길을 끌 수도 있다는 생각에서 진행한 공격적인 마케팅의 일환이다”며 “너무 한쪽으로만 생각하지 말고 발상을 바꿨으면 좋겠다”고 주장했다.

(Source: Metro Seoul, 31 May 2012, p.49)

Lee Myung-hum, the head of the Tourism Promotion Office of Jeollanam-do Provincial Government that produced the brochure, said “It’s not like I don’t understand women’s groups concerns. But only swimsuits are appropriate for female models promoting cool swimming areas in the summer.” He added that “No-one ever pays attention to anything produced by a council tourism promotion office. The images were simply part of an aggressive marketing technique designed to get the attention of tourists, and shouldn’t be overanalyzed.”

한편 ‘남도스케치’ 표지모델은 전남도청 여성 공무원 중 희망자들이 참여하기도 했으며, 지난해에도 전남도는 여름 관광홍보 책자를 제작하면서 표지 등에 비키니을 입은 여성 사진을 게재한 바 있다.

The models used in the brochure included Jeollnam-do female officials [James — it says only the cover, but there were only 2 women on that], and a similar brochure was produced the previous year (end).

James — While the Jeollanam-do officials didn’t sound too sympathetic in that June 2004 article, another from the next month points out that in the second printing the bikini models were removed from the cover and 2 more pages, although some did still remain. It’s from that article that the before and after covers came from.

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 2: Kwak Hyun-hwa (곽현화), Pin-up Grrrls, and The Banality of Sex and Nudity in the Media

(Sources: left, right)

Apologies for the irregular posting everyone — I’ve been really busy for the last month or so, and to top it all off I’m recovering from a bad flu as I type this too. But fortunately the end of the semester is close, and I’m eager to get stuck into the two blog series I plan to devote myself to this summer.

One is looking at the evidence for double-standards in Korean censorship, while this one is about examining the public and media’s policing of — and consequent narratives about — “appropriate” displays of nudity and sexual subjectivity, set against a recent potential backlash against changing gender relations. In hindsight just two different elements of the same investigation, the former focuses on K-pop in 2011 and this one on political protests in 2012.

As you’ll recall from Part 1 though, one problem with looking at anything explicitly political is that partisan reporting gets in the way, which means we need to consider as many sources as possible to be objective, and especially not just rely on English-language sources. So, let me start that by presenting my translation of a post by a blogger known as “비춤” (or on Twitter as @RainyDance01), which was originally posted on his or her blog Rainy Dance, then later reposted at Mediaus. About the photo on the right (source) of comedian turned model, singer, and actress Kwak Hyun-hwa (see Part 1 for the details), as you’ll see I think the blogger’s heart is in the right place, but unfortunately some of their reasoning dodgy at best, and evidence seemingly pulled out of thin air:

곽현화식 투표독려? 누드가 일상이 되면 식상하다  / Does Kwak Hyun-hwa’s Style Promote Voting? When Nudity Becomes Routine, it Becomes Boring

10 April 2012

국회의원 총선거를 코앞에 두고 투표율을 올리고자 수많은 유명인들이 투표 독려에 나서고 있습니다. 소설가 이외수씨는 투표율 70%가 넘으면 머리카락을 싹둑 자르겠다고 밝혔고, 안철수씨 또한 70%를 넘으면 미니스커트를 입고 율동에 노래를 부르겠다고 밝혔지요. 이렇듯 저마다 자신의 공약을 내세워 투표독려에 나서고 있습니다. 이들의 공약은 대중에게 소소한 재미와 더불어 투표참여의 의미를 되새겨주고 있는데요. 거창하진 않지만 자신만의 방식으로 사회적 메시지를 전달하는 유명인들의 모습은 새로운 문화가 되고 있는 느낌입니다.

Just before the general elections, many famous people are doing various things to encourage more people to vote. For example, novelist Lee Wae-soo has pledged to cut his trademark long hair if the voting rate exceeds 70%, while Ahn Cheol-soo has promised to dance wearing a mini-skirt (see below). While these may sound just trivial and fun, they do remind voters about the meaning and importance of voting. Also, while their ultimate impact may not be all that great, they point to a new trend of famous people spreading social messages.

그런데 같은 목표를 지향하더라도 그 방법 탓에 오히려 대중의 반감이 우려되는 경우도 있는데요, 개그우면 곽현화의 경우가 그렇습니다. 곽현화는 투표독려를 위해 자신의 미투데이에 ‘총선거 D-3, 우리가 대한민국의 주인이다! 투표로 보여줍시다’라는 내용이 적힌 종이를 들고 있는 상반신 누드 사진을 올렸습니다. 그 의도야 건설적이지만 이면에는 새로울 것이 없는, 우리의 식상해진 문화 코드가 선명하지요.

However, while they all have the same target, some celebrities’ methods may actually make voters more apathetic. One such case is that of comedian Kwak Hyun-hwa. In her case, she uploaded a photo on her me2day blog in which she is holding a sign in front of her nude upper body. The sign said “It’s 3 days to go before the elections. We are the owners of Korea! Let’s show this by voting!”. But while the intention was constructive, on the other hand this method is hardly original, and shows the paucity of our culture.

자신의 의사를 표현하는 방법에 옳고 그름을 규정하기는 어렵습니다. 하지만 그녀가 지금까지 보여온 행보를 본다면 아름다운 취지보다는 이면의 가십거리가 더욱 부각될 수밖에 없겠지요.  폭소클럽 출연당시 가슴노출이 심한 드레스를 입고 출연해 노출논란의 불을 지핀 이래로, 그녀는 꾸준히 노출의 길을 걸어왔었지요. 섹시화보가 누출되어 세간에 화제가 되기도 했으며, 지나치게 선정적인 앨범 이미지컷으로 눈총을 받기도 했습니다.

It’s difficult to judge what the best or most “correct” way of expressing oneself is. But looking at Kwak Hyun-hwa’s past history up until now, it’s difficult not to conclude that this stunt of hers was more aimed at creating gossip and attention about herself than anything noble. When she was on the comedy Foxclub for example [James — she quit in 2009], she used to create a lot of controversy by wearing a lot of revealing dresses, and since then has continued on a similar path. For instance, she has done a very sexy photoshoot, and received criticism for her provocative and suggestive images for her album.

(James: I’m not judging — and/or defending — Kwak Hyun-hwa in any sense, but just for the record: while she’s certainly done sexy photoshoots, and you can judge her album pictures for yourselves, I think it’s unlikely that she regularly wore a lot of revealing dresses on Foxclub. If she had, then presumably there’d be far more “노출” videos and photos of her on that show available than just those from one short skit back in 2008)

올 초에는 개그맨 동료들과 선정적인 포즈로 찍은 사진이 이슈가 된 바 있는데요. 비난이 잇따르자 이에 대한 반감으로 자신의 미투데이에 바나나를 먹는 야릇한 표정의 사진을 올려 더 큰 역풍을 일으키기도 했지요. 하지만 그녀는 떳떳하게 말합니다. ‘’성적인 감정을 일으켰다고 해서 지탄하는 것은 마녀사냥이다. 의도를 떠나서 개그맨 전체를 싸잡아 욕하는 성급한 일반화의 오류를 범하지 말아 달라’

Earlier this year, some pictures of Kwak Hyun-hwa in pretend sexual poses with some her comedian colleagues became an issue [James — they can be seen here]. In response to the criticism that followed, on her blog she posted pictures of herself with a perverted expression on her face while eating a banana [James — was the author too embarrassed to be more specific?], which led to even more criticism. But in response to that, she boldly replied, “Just because something is arousing doesn’t mean it should be criticized — to do so is nothing but a witchhunt. And whatever the intention(s), don’t make the mistake of making rash generalizations about all comedians.”


과연 그녀를 바라보는 냉랭한 시선은 성급한 일반화의 오류일까요. 사실 벗는 것은 여자에만 국한된 것은 아닙니다. 남자도 벗습니다. 초콜릿복근이니 식스팩이니 하며 매력을 뽐내는 남성들도 얼마든지 있지요. 하지만 남성의 매력을 규정하는 잣대에서 ‘벗는 것’의 비중은 상대적으로 크지 않습니다. 지적인 남자, 자상한 남자와 같이 이 시대의 여성이 매력을 느끼는 아이콘은 상대적으로 많은 편이지요. 그래서 벗는 것으로 일관하는 남자는 오히려 역풍을 맞기도 합니다. 여담이지만 한때 1박2일에선 이수근이 숱한 노출을 보이며 빈축을 사기도 했습니다.

Well, is looking at her coldly and making a rash generalization really a mistake here? Of course, it’s not just women that take their clothes off — men do too. To show off their attractiveness, they expose their chocolate abs, their six packs [James – actually, those are the same thing], and so on. But relatively speaking, taking clothes off isn’t as important for men as it is for women; because in this day and age, there are many ways in which women can find their male icons attractive — they can be intellectual or kind. It would be bad if men only took their clothes off. When Lee Su-geun showed too much of his body on an episode of 2 Days & 1 Night for instance, people didn’t like it.


반면 여성들에겐 유독 섹시미 혹은 백치미가 강조되지요. 5살 유아부터 70대 할머니까지 섹시하다는 말은 일상어처럼 사용되고 있습니다. 드라마에선 홀로 당당한 일어서는 여성의 이야기는 그다지 성공적이지 못합니다. 여전히 신데렐라의 환상이 더 잘 팔리는 시나리오지요

On the other hand, for women being sexy or being stupid but cute is emphasized. From when they are just girls of 5 to when they are grandmothers in their 70s, the word “sexy” is part of daily life for women. In dramas, the strong, confident woman that succeeds through her own efforts is never a popular story, whereas the Cinderella fantasy is a scenario that always sells well.

이 시대의 남성들은 여성의 매력을 이 한 가지로 국한하고 있는 걸까요, 혹은 여성이 자신 있게 내세울 수 있는 매력은 이 한 가지뿐일까요. 양성평등의 가장 큰 위협은 이렇듯 일방적으로 여성의 섹시함을 강요하는 작금의 문화가 아닐까 싶습니다.

Is this because men of this day and age set limits to women’s sexiness [as just showing off their bodies], or because this is the only sexiness which women can show off confidently? I think this culture of emphasizing just this one side to women’s sexiness is today’s biggest threat to sexual equality.

이 시대의 청년들에게 닮고 싶은 사람을 떠올려보라면, 남성 쪽에선 다양한 매력이 쏟아져 나올 수 있겠지요, 안철수, 안성기, 조국, 손석희, 유재석 등 다양한 분야의 사람을 떠올릴 수 있습니다. 헌데 닮고 싶은 여성상을 물었을 때 우리 사회의 한축을 담당하고 있는 여성을 얼마나 떠올릴 수 있을까요. 그 자리에 섹시아이콘만이 남아 있다면 우리사회가 얼마나 건강하지 못한지를 반증하는 것이겠지요.


These days, when teenagers are asked who are their role models, boys mention men who are attractive in many different ways and from many fields of life, such as Ahn Cheol-soo, Ahn Sung-ki, Kuk Cho, Son Seok-hee (above), Yoo Jae-Seok, and so on. In contrast, although there’s many women to choose from, girls just name sexy icons. I think this shows how unhealthy our society is.

(James: Other than their fathers, I don’t believe for a moment that teenage boys mention men in their 50s or older as their role-models, even when they want to impress whoever’s asking)

곽현화는 좋은 취지에서 누드시위를 했습니다. 하지만 그 이면에는 이 땅에서 쉽게 주목받고자 하는 여성의 식상한 방법론이 새삼스럽습니다. 우리 사회의 쓸쓸한 단면이겠지요.

Kwak Hyun-hwa [may have?] had good intentions, but her method was unoriginal and was just a way of getting noticed. This too is a sign of how unhealthy our society is (end).


What do you think? Again, I find the blogger’s logic — and especially notions of male and female desire — flawed, but at the very least I am now very interested in finding out more about Kwak Hyun-hwa. Not because I think she has any musical talent though (frankly, I hated Psycho above), nor because I naively think her “nude” photo was anything but completely self-serving. Rather, because:

She deserves a lot of credit for reinventing herself as a model, singer, and actress after being best known as a slightly chubby (by Korean entertainment standards) comedian.

Whatever her musical abilities, it was especially brave of her to even attempt to become a solo singer in her late-20s (old age by K-pop standards).

She’s a maths graduate of Ehwa Women’s University, and has even published a textbook for middle-schoolers (see below), so she’s probably quite smart. And I’m not being facetious when I say that many men and women may not be able to see past her cleavage to realize that (related, make sure to read the classic With Great Cleavage Comes Great Responsibility).

What solo celebrity’s public actions and statements aren’t motivated by self-interest? Which is not to say that they’re always cold and calculating of course, but still: it seems a strange criteria to dismiss someone as a person for (after all, heaven forbid that someone use their sex-appeal to advance their career), and is simply an ad-hominem method of devaluing that style of getting a political message across.

As for its effectiveness, for its stated purpose of encouraging people to vote that is? Well, determining things like that is what this whole series is about, but in the meantime let me pass on Tom Megginson’s take on a similar recent political campaign by Mexican politicians (my emphasis):

Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan is a little cynical about the use of “boobies” to get attention, but I applaud any effort in which women take back ownership of their bodies by using our primal fascination to deliver messages of solidarity for social change.


• And finally, remember when Lee Hyori recently publicly admitted that she has sexual feelings and experience? Judging by the reactions of K-pop fans, that was quite exceptional, and indeed I joined in praising her for it in Part 1. But to take a more detached perspective, that this was news at all is really quite an indictment of the sex-only-for-display-nature of Korean entertainment. For remember that we’re not just talking about a 33 year-old woman here, but one who was also Korea’s number one sex-symbol for much of the 2000s. It simply beggars belief that she has ever had to be coy about her sexual subjectivity.

Why do I mention that? Because despite the attention given it, Lee Hyori’s admission pales in comparison to Kwak Hyun-hwa’s stunts with bananas and her comedian friends. And recall that by my own definition, I shouldn’t have to seek-out pin-up grrrls, but rather they should do their darnedest to make me aware of them. In which case, Kwak Hyun-hwa more than qualifies!

And on that definitive note, what is coming in Part 3? Well, frankly a little disappointed with the blog post I translated, next I’ll try make sure to do something more substantial, namely this newspaper report on reasons for the recent “ladygate” phenomenon; i.e., the emerging backlash I mentioned. Thanks to Robert Koehler for the link.

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic Series:

Bikinis, Breasts, and Backlash: Revealing the Korean Body Politic in 2012

(Sources: left, right; edited from originals)

Whenever someone strips for the sake of drawing attention to some cause, usually my instant, gut reaction is to dismiss it as a crass stunt. Unless it’s for Slutwalk or FEMEN, then I’m just too suspicious of their real motives, especially if they’re not already famous.

That’s why I didn’t cover this woman back in January, who wrote a message of support for jailed Naneum Ggomsuda (나는 꼼수다) podcaster Chung Bong-ju (정봉주) across her breasts; as while she was anonymous herself (ish), other men and women that followed her example certainly weren’t. Although, in hindsight, only a handful of pictures would actually be sent in, despite an audience of millions, and I overlooked that one of the men was already semi-famous as Chung Bong-ju’s photographer, at the time the podcasters’ call for more bikini shots just seemed like an invitation for a repeat of 2006 and 2010, when women vied with each other to become famous by wearing the most revealing Red Devil costumes.

But then Nancy Lang (낸시 랭) paraded around Seoul in a bikini two days before the April elections, which made me sit very uncomfortably in my seat. Because after lauding her as a “pin-up grrrl” back in November, I couldn’t be quite so dismissive this time, even though her street performance was surely just as crass, and its connection to its ostensible cause — encouraging people to vote — tenous at best. Yet other than a long history of doing similar such performances, how was she really any different from those Naneun Ggomsuda supporters that wrote messages on themselves back in January, and for whom she’d even expressed her support? How about all the other similarly-themed protests and/or pledges over the past few months too, including Kwak Hyun-hwa’s (곽현화) above?

(Sources: left, right)

So, wanting to learn more about the efficacy of such protests, and particularly how useful — or possibly counterproductive — they are in a feminist sense, I realized that “Bikini Girl” deserved a second look. Or, more specifically, what her breasts ultimately raised. For as many of you will already be well aware, the reactions of the podcasters to them, and especially their encouragement of more such pictures, was soon critiqued by many on both the Left and the Right…which in turn led to counter-critiques of those critiques, then the Right chastising the Left for not critiquing the podcasters more, and so on — it was all very confusing. What was necessary was a chronology of events, which indeed I provide below.

But think about it: when breasts become not so much a mere body part as a titillating device for political parties and media allies to score points against each other, then to put it mildly you can’t trust just any one source’s interpretation and depiction of events, and especially not just rely on those that happen to be in English. Which is just common sense, but it deserves reiterating (and for another good illustration of partisan reporting, make sure to see the Korean media’s reaction to netizen attacks on newly-elected Philippine-born Jasmine Lee). So, the other posts in what must inevitably become this series will be translations of some Korean ones, starting with this, then this, this, this, this, and/or any more I can find (and/or readers recommend).


Still further complicating matters however, events have coincided with a potential emerging “~녀/girl” meme, in which a series of incidents involving (mostly) young women have left a host of misogynistic netizen reactions in their wake. In particular, for me personally it was this recent incident on a bus, in which a woman in her twenties — out of many angry passengers — was unfairly singled out for criticism, that signaled that something far more pernicious than simple netizen ranting was afoot, and that the backlash against changing gender-relations in Korea that led to the disparaging “beanpaste girl” (dwenjang nyeo; 된장녀) term in the mid-2000s was still very much around.

Even if, ultimately, there are no real connections, it would be strange to analyze bikini and nude protests — some of which arguably very much challenged prevailing conceptions of  “appropriate” displays of sexuality and expressions of sexual subjectivity — without also considering that a potential backlash against changing gender-relations is also occurring. Hence expect more translations about the latter also.


On top of that, as if to taunt me, over the last 2 weeks Uniqlo Korea happened to have a “Women’s Freedom Event“, used to sell their “BraTop”. By this stage thoroughly sick of breasts (okay, not really; but I’m sure you can appreciate the sentiment), this choice of language instantly raised some alarm bells, as it reminded me of the following:

…some advertisers, aware of the objections of the feminist movement to traditional images of women in ads, have incorporated the criticism into their ads, many of which now present an alternative stereotype of the cool, professional, liberated women…Some agencies trying to accommodate new attitudes in their campaigns, often miss the point and equate ‘liberation’ with a type of aggressive sexuality and very unliberated coy sexiness (G. Dyer, Advertising as Communication, 1982, pp. 185-86; quoted in D. Strinati, An Introduction of Theories of Popular Culture, 1995, pp. 187-88)

Or indeed “freedom” rather than “liberation”. And, technically speaking, Uniqlo is simply appropriating the word in order to simply sell more clothes. But even if I have always had a fondness for the company, it did interview some genuinely cool women as part of its campaign, and, recalling the line of inquiry that started this 3-week(!) post, provides a healthy reminder to myself to: a) reconsider some of my prejudices and gut reactions to things; and b) not read too much into things.

And on that note, let me apologize for how convoluted and wooly some of my own understanding and explanations of pin-up grrrls have been in the past, and very briefly give some clarifications and further observations on those before presenting the chronology. Not because they’re the final word by any means, but more because, hopefully, they’re good things to bear in mind as you consider the events of the past few months:


• Being a sex object doesn’t necessarily preclude one from also being a sexual subject. They are not mutually exclusive.

• However, expressions of sexual subjectivity remain a big taboo in Korea. Or in other words, we can have a 25 year-old’s S-line quite literally highlighted for a heterosexual male gaze, but heaven forbid she admit to having sexual feelings and experience herself. Certainly, this does apply to male celebrities too, but I’d argue to a much lesser extent. In turn, while this double-standard is present in other countries, it’s not difficult to think of female celebrities that thrive on challenging such taboos, whereas admissions like Lee Hyori’s seem to be few and far between among their Korean counterparts (although I’d be very happy to be proven wrong).

• While pictures (etc.) of sexually-attractive women are often framed as being exclusively for a heterosexual male gaze, there is overwhelming evidence (see Maria Buszek’s Pin-Up Grrrls, or this shorter essay) that heterosexual women can be just as if not more interested in them, finding the women — rightly or wrongly — to be confident, sexy role models. A good case in point is Girls’ Generation, who surprised many (including myself) with their huge female fan base in Japan, and who in hindsight may have many more female fans in Korea than is reported too. If that does turn out to be the case, then why the media stresses girl-groups’ “ajosshi” or “samcheon” fandom instead is an interesting topic for further investigation, and I’d speculate that it’s a side-effect of entertainment companies’ prerogative to frame that fandom as platonic (source, right).

• Nobody deserves criticism for financially benefiting from their sexual attractiveness. It is basic human nature, and applies equally whether one is a public or private figure. Moreover, while I can certainly respect those ballsy celebrities who are honest about doing so, nobody ever needs my approval for what they wear, and can give any reason they like — or indeed no reason — for their choices.

• Having said that, using self-sexualization to advance a cause is a double-edged sword, and can easily end up more distracting the intended audience than anything else. Which sounds facetious; but as we’ll see, Bikini Girl proves to be a good case in point.

• Nevertheless, it is hypocritical to criticize politically-motivated sexualization without also criticizing commercially-motivated sexualization, and betrays a political agenda. Indeed, given the pervasiveness of the latter, using skin to get attention is an obvious tool, so it’s strange that we don’t see people stripping for a cause more often in Korea.

Finally, the chronology. Sorry that the Bikini Girl protest is actually the only one that I cover in it, albeit interspersed with all the “~녀” incidents, but another purpose in all the coming translations is getting on top of all the (far less well-documented) other ones, and I’ll either update this chronology or produce a new separate one once I do:

December 26:

— Chung Bong-ju jailed (Korea Realtime)

January 20:

— “Bikini Girl” posts photo, which gains much wider public attention over the next week (DKBNews; translation via Korea Bang)

January 21, 27:

Naneun Ggomsudua podcasters Kim Young-min and Choo Chin-woo (주진우) encourage (and receive) more bikini photos (Korea Times)

January 28:

The Crucible/Dogani (도기나) author Gong Ji-young (공지영) demands apology and calls for the hosts to retract those statements (Korea Times):

“I’ve written a novel to call for heavier punishments for child molesters in the Republic of Korea, which is a world of male chauvinism. This is a country where those sexually assaulting a female schoolmate are released with suspended jail terms because they were drunk, the girl was insufficiently dressed, or she was deemed a slut. This is a country where 70 percent of men have bought sex, so it is natural that people’s perspective on women’s bodies is political,” she said.

— See the Korea Herald (here and here) and Modern Korean Literature in Translation for a discussion of this reaction. In the latter, author Charles Montgomery argues that “immediately [going] to ‘child molestation’ and ‘assault’ in her argument against what is essentially a bikini shot” is too much of a jump, and that with her blanket statement of opposition to them, “Gong is doing a different version of what the GNP has tried to do to her – shutting down a clever method of getting publicity.”

February 1 (source, right):

— “Nude Male Campaign Appears After Bikini Girl Protest Criticized” (Daum; translation via Korea Bang):

Nude male photos in support of the imprisoned ex-MP Jung Bong-ju from the campaigning group ‘Jung Bong-ju and Future Power’ appeared on the web today. This was in response to accusations against the bikini protest as female sexual harassment.

Choi Young-min, a professional photographer who worked closely with the ex-MP was equally famous among his followers.

Painting the message ‘I’m dead serious’ and ‘Give back my model’ on his body was to remind the viewer of his support for the ex-MP.

In his interview with Money Today, Choi argued that “the female bikini campaign to publicize Jung’s case was seen as trivializing the campaign by ‘using’ the female body. I wanted to counter those criticisms by using male nudity.”

February 5:

Naneun Ggomsudua podcasters refuse to apologize,  head host Kim Ou-joon (김어준) arguing “that their comments were not sexual harassment, nor were they intended to be” (Korea Times):

Kim said that in order for the comments to be sexually harassing, inequality of power must exist.

“The woman who uploaded the picture must feel like she would be disadvantaged if she said she was sexually humiliated. However, the woman did not feel that way and we don’t have the power to suppress her from saying it. Therefore, sexual harassment did not take place,” he said.

Kim made it clear that they would not retract or regret the comments. “The right to express a political opinion using one’s body should be recognized,” he said.

— But note that The Korea Joongang Daily provides a slightly different, more positive translation of the above (surprisingly, considering it is a conservative newspaper):

“We didn’t have any intention of sexual harassment and she [the female protestor in bikini] didn’t feel in that way,” Kim said. “She has the right to express political issues and her rights should be respected. No one can limit that right because he or she feels uncomfortable.

“It’s true that I was impressed by the biological perfection [of the woman] at first, but at the same time, I was also impressed as a political comrade by this new kind of protest,” Kim said.

— See Korea Law Today for an analysis, where author Nathan McMurray (quite presciently) noted:

I know the whole modus operandi of the creeps is to be irreverent and provocative. But irreverence is only useful when it furthers, rather than hinders, the show’s goals. I am curious if these recent events will have any impact on the upcoming presidential election, where the conservative candidate will likely be a woman (Park Kun-hye, the daughter of Park Chung-hee, who I briefly mentioned here). Plus, this stuff is just not funny. If you insist on “working blue,” please make me laugh.

— Indeed, with the benefit of hindsight, at best the controversy created distracted people from more important issues, whereas at worst it presaged deep divisions in the Left’s support for them, well before years-old misogynistic comments of one of them, Kim Yong-min (김용민) emerged in April.


— On the other hand, it’s important not to judge Kim Ou-joon’s above defense in light of those comments either, or the efficacy of Bikini Girl’s and other protests. That would just be an ad-hominem attack and guilt by association respectively.

February 6:

— Three “of the nation’s liberal online communities – Ssanghwa Tea Cocoa, Souldresser, and Hwajangbal – issued a joint statement on Monday evening that they were disappointed by the reckless remarks of the liberal hosts regarding women (Korea Joongang Daily; see the full [Korean] statement here):

“Their remark related to nosebleeds means they see women with typical male-centric views, considering women as mere tools for sexual entertainment to cheer up men’s political activities,” the joint statement said. “They also fueled controversies once again saying ‘impressed by biological perfection,’ implying that its natural to view women as sexual objects.”

“The show’s hosts should realize their show is no longer a B-level alternative broadcast and has grown into a political representative if they want to become real liberals,” the statement said.

The Web site for Chung’s fan club, called Chung Bong-ju and Future Powers, was filled with posts criticizing the joint statement…

March 1

— “Swearing Woman” slapping man on Seoul subway video goes viral (Korea Bang)

March 9:

— “Hot Soup Lady” proves not to be at fault (Korea Bang).

March 19:

— “And then there was Bundang Line Smoking Girl” (The Marmot’s Hole). See especially this, this, and this commentary on that, linked to earlier, and especially this prescient one from 2010 made at Scribblings of the Metropolitician (via Gusts of Popular Feeling):

I’ve also noticed the trend of collective, public humiliation of Korean Girls Behaving Badly. That’s not to say that the women involved are innocent or that men are let off scot-free. But you definitely don’t see the same reaction when Korean men “act out of line.” There might be public criticism, to be sure, but nothing like the witch-hunts and publicity we’ve seen in the case of women….

March 21:

 — New subway swearing “Cigarette Lady” video goes viral (Korea Bang)

March 27:

— “Beer Girl” smokes on subway, pours beer on pensioner (Korea Bang)

March 30:

— “Soju Girl” debuts, same girl as “Beer Girl”? (Korea Bang)

April 6:

— Kim Yong-min, by this stage a candidate for the main opposition Democratic United Party candidate in the northern Seoul constituency of Nowon-A, was revealed to have made vulgar and misogynistic comments when he appeared on an Internet broadcast in 2004 and 2005 (The Korea Herald):

Some of his recently revealed remarks include: “If all escalators and elevators at the City Hall metro station are dismantled, (conservative) old men and women will not be able to gather around the City Hall to hold demonstrations” and “If we take all U.S. soldiers in Korea hostage and run an armored vehicle over them one by one, Bush cannot help but step down”; and “Let’s release (serial killer) Yu Yeong-cheol and rape and kill (Condoleezza) Rice and kill Rumsfeld and Bush.

The ruling Saenuri Party, women’s rights groups and even liberal figures have piled pressure on the DUP leadership to withdraw his candidacy…

— As readers will be well aware, the DUP decided to keep him, and indeed his popularity before news of these comments emerged should not be underestimated. But with the benefit of hindsight however, this decision is widely considered to have cost the DUP the election (The Korea Herald; see this [small] poll at Korea Law Today also):

…The opposition party should have withdrawn his nomination for damage control, but it did not.

The failure to act decisively against the podcaster turned moderates and swing voters against the opposition party, undoubtedly making it possible for the ruling party to win in many closely contested districts.

If it had not been for the podcaster’s nomination, the main opposition party could have won a majority of electoral districts, if not alone, in alliance with the small United Progressive Party. Instead, the DUP won 127 seats in the 300-member National Assembly, and the United Progressive Party took 13. On the other hand, the ruling Saenuri won 152 under the leadership of Rep. Park Geun-hye.

April 9:

— “Girl in bikini uses pussy to encourage voters” (Korea Bang)

April 18:

—  “Bus Girl” demands driver apologize on knees” (Korea Bang; also source, right):

As the photo went viral, other articles surfaced explaining the what presumably really happened. One such article stated that with passengers getting frustrated and the driver showing insincerity towards the situation, he was asked to get down on his knees. Another blog post claims that as the bus finally arrived at the bus terminal, the ground staff showed indifference to the passengers’ inconvenience, to which they suggested the staff get down on their knees. Refusing, the bus driver did instead. The latest “Ladygate” incident shows how just one photo can be subject to open interpretation, and how netizen opinions in Korea, no matter how far-fetched and ridiculous they may seem, are not taken lightly by news outlets – having the power to change entire news stories or even make new ones.

April 27:

— “Woman Crushes High School Girl Between Two Cars, Does Nothing” (Daum; translation via Korea Bang). The blog post translates (generally) disparaging comments from Daum of the stereotypical female driver described below, echoed by (English-speaking) commenters on the post itself:

Note: Mrs. Kim is a name frequently given to women drivers who hog the road and don’t know how to drive. perceived as a rich house wife who does nothing. Kind of like a trophy wife (but not necessarily pretty). The driver in the video is most likely NOT actually named Mrs. Kim.

— “Poo Girl” does poo on Seoul metro, netizens forgiving (Korea Bang). As The Korea Times explains:

The “poo-poo girl on the subway” incident, which created the latest online buzz, was later found that the woman was mentally unstable.

This case and several others showed Internet users are sometimes quick to harshly criticize and make comments about a situation without learning the exact details or hearing the full story….

Accordingly, the comments selected by the Korea Times do give the impression that the “~녀” meme may well be at an end. But if so, then I think something similar will soon take its place.

In the meantime, apologies for the long wait on this post, and expect the first of those translations next week soon (possibly with a Korean Gender Reader in between)!

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic Series:

Learning From Korean Family Planning Advertisements of the 1960s-1980s

…American military officers helped make abortion the population control tool of choice in those Asian countries where they wielded influence, first in Japan in the late 1940s and 1950s, then South Korea in the 1960s. USAID, America’s aid agency, provided Jeeps for mobile clinics which roamed South Korea performing abortions. At one point, a quarter of the country’s health budget was going on population control and the number of abortions hit an all-time record in Seoul, where, in 1977, there were 2.75 abortions for every live birth. “What would have happened if the government hadn’t allowed for such easy abortion?” asks one sociologist. “I don’t think sex-selective abortion would have become so popular.”

(Review of Mara Hvistendahl’s Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, @The Economist)

Apropos of the above quote, let me present some government advertisements of the period to give you a better impression of that amazing zeal for population control back then. Also, that whereas couples were encouraged to have two children in the 1970s, and not to favor boys over girls, that this would be reduced to only one child by the 1980s. Messages about the sex-ratio were invariably diluted.

Obviously, these would come to play a huge role in today’s world-low birthrate, the difficulty many Korean men are now having in finding wives (although fortunately the sex-ratio among newborns has since been normalized), and the ensuing massive influx of overseas brides. Less obviously, they defy stereotypes about Koreans’ squeamishness when it comes to sexual matters, as I’ll explain.

But first, some context. All 30 or so advertisements I’ve been able to find were produced by the Planned Parenthood Federation of Korea (대한가족계획협회; now known as the Planned Population Federation of Korea {PPFK; 인구보선복지협회}) and/or the now defunct Ministry of Health and Social Affairs (보건사회부), and can be found here, here, here, and here, as well as (best) on the PPFK’s website.

(Text, both calenders—”Did you know that the most effective, safest, and simplest device is the loop (IUD)? People who want one, please go to a welfare or family planning center.” Black headline, right calender—”Let’s have the proper number of babies, and raise them well!”)

Formed in April 1961 just before the coup, the PPFK would soon have the strong support of the military government. But according to Seungsook Moon in Militarized Modernity and Gendered Citizenship in South Korea (2005; pp. 81-2), its activities wouldn’t really take off until the 1970s, which possibly explains its rather uninspired efforts above (but note though, that the government itself was extremely active in population control well before then):

The modernizing state had to launch aggressive propaganda for family planning because the idea of contraception was foreign to most Koreans, who tended to believe that having many children meant good luck and that every child would bring his or her own food into the world….

….The state…worked closely with the PPFK to change the public perception of birth control, establishing a department of public relations in 1970 to make the idea and practice of contraception familiar to the populace. The PPFK increasingly relied on mass media (radio, television, newspapers, magazines and education texts of its own) to disseminate positive images and information about families with a small number of children. To encourage popular participation, the PPFK organized popular contests of various kinds, ranging from posters, songs, and slogans to stories of personal experiences by mothers and wives concerning contraception.

A fascinating book, it’s difficult not to quote much more here, as the next few pages make it clear that Korea’s population policies were just as systematic and draconian as China’s. In light of what is revealed in Hvistendahl’s more recent book though, it is strange that it doesn’t also discuss abortions, but it does mention that while IUDs insertions were offered freely in the 1960s (with the Marine Corps mobilized to provide them to isolated islanders), and considered the “patriotic” and “ideal” form of contraception (but with the pill also introduced in 1968 to alleviate their effects, in stark contrast to Japan), by the second half of the 1970s it would be female sterilization that was offered and aggressively applied, becoming “what can only be described as a sterilization mania” by the 1980s. Between 1982 and 1987, over 2 million Korean women would be sterilized, a “semiforced mass sterilization” that “led to abrupt reductions in the fertility rate and the rate of population growth in the 1980s” (p. 85).

(Left, umbrella—”The path to youth and beauty is family planning.” Both posters—”Don’t discriminate between boys and girls, have only two children and raise them well.” {This slogan can be seen on many 1970s posters}.)
(Left, headline—”Which method is good?”; cup—”Family planning consultations”; man, text —”I’ll do it”; text, bottom—”1975 is International Women’s Year.” Right, 19th Family Weekly Magazine May 5-12 1974—”The World has One Destiny”; “NCC=The National Council of Churches in Korea.”)

This poster on the left above is particularly interesting, and not just because that was the year that March 8—which *cough* happens to be my birthday—was made International Women’s Day (alas, I was born a year later). Rather, it’s because of the guy saying “I’ll do it”, which couldn’t help but remind me of young Koreans’ surprising attitude that contraception is exclusively men’s responsibility (as indeed the Japanese think too). However, women were overwhemingly the focus of population control drives back then (Moon notes that only 1 vasectomy was performed for every 10 IUD insertions, although I think the ratio to female sterilizations would have been more useful), and women’s organizations co-opted or specifically created by the state to carry them out, so it seems anachronistic to see a connection between young Koreans’ attitudes today and those of their parents at the same age.

Indeed, this one on the left below turns out not to be about family-planning at all, but rather women’s rights:

(Left, headline—”We are all [the same] human”; Man (clockwise from hat)—”Family registry rights, parental rights, inheritance, children, estate”; Text—”Women’s Family Law Change Committee”. Right, arrow—”The path to a Gross National Income of of $1000 in 1981″; Text, below—”[Previous 1970s’ slogan]”.)

Next, before moving on to posters from the 1980s, note that sterilization campaigns would come to be complimented by various economic incentives (p. 85):

In 1981, confronting negative economic growth for the first time since 1982, along with a decrease in the number of sterilization acceptors, the state issued “Countermeasures to Population Growth.” These measures were characterized by incentives to a family with one or two [James – ?] children; priority in getting housing loans and business loans, monetary support of low-income families, and free medical service for the first visit. During the 1980s, variations of these kinds of incentives were introduced almost every year.

(Left—”Two children is many too!”. Right—”Korea’s population has already exceeded 40 million”.)

And here are two posters with sons, and then two with daughters. But note that, confusedly, there were also some with two children like those in the 1970s though, and that clearly the government and PPFK were still very much concerned about the sex-ratio.

However, like I said that message was surely somewhat diluted by having some posters featuring and explicitly praising having a son, and it would be interesting to do a content analysis to determine the ratio of those that depicted sons to daughters, two children, or (preferably) a sex-neutral image like the eggs above:

(Left—”One family, full of love. One child, full of health”. Right, headline—”Because of one son”; Text—”Overpopulation is everybody’s responsibility”.)

(Top—”A blessing of one child, loved strongly”. Bottom—”Raise one daughter well, and you won’t envy [those who have] ten sons”.)
(Left, sign—”Korea’s current population: 40,524,837, Korea is overflowing”; Text in map—”Even if you only have one child, Korea is overflowing”. Right—”Korea is already overflowing”.)

Finally, please note that these posters are just a handful of those available on the PPFK website, and which in turn must be a small sample of all that were produced. But in combination with what I’ve learnt from Militarized Modernity, they’ve still lead me to an interesting conclusion. Which is that, bearing in mind Koreans’ reputation for procrastination, yet doing things with outstanding zeal and efficiency once they set their minds to them (albeit usually precisely because of putting them off for so long), sexual matters are no exception, despite Koreans’ conservative reputation. Moreover, and intriguingly, it appears that young Korean couples of the 1970s and 1980s were likely to have been much better educated and informed than their children are now.

Assuming it does exist, what on Earth happened in the 1990s and 2000s to account for this curious generation gap? And why, even though technically adults rather than children were the target of government campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s, is sex education in Korea today so appalling?

Question from a Reader — Help Sought for Pregnant Rape Victim

(Source: unknown)

For obvious reasons, the reader that submitted this email would like to remain anonymous. Unfortunately I’m unable to think of any organizations that can help myself (especially after the baffling responses from the ones the couple has tried), so he would greatly appreciate any help or information readers can give:

xxxxxMy wife (Korean) was recently raped and became pregnant. We had been trying to get pregnant for a few months, so due to the timing of the attack, she assumed it would be impossible for it to be the attacker’s baby and decided to keep it a secret until recently when she finally told me about what happened. It turns out that she was misguided and it is actually very possible, though not probable, that the rapist impregnated her.

Every avenue we have explored for getting support has been a non-starter. We have gone through the police, rape hotlines, and the Seoul Global Center. Everyone seems to have never heard of a situation like ours, does not have the answers to our questions, and is unwilling to help us find the answers to our questions (mostly they just seem like they’re uncomfortable and try to get us off the phone as soon as possible). We briefly thought we might qualify for free counseling services for my wife, but we were later told that she is not eligible because she didn’t make a report. The police won’t take a report because she cannot identify her attacker.

We are unable to undergo any genetic testing (via amniocentesis or CVS) to determine if the baby is mine. We have been told there was a recent change in Korean law because of Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk that made it illegal to perform any tests on fetuses in the womb. This sounds ridiculous considering the ease with which one is able to procure an abortion. This is critical information for us, as I am a Caucasian-American and the child is likely to face questions its whole life about why it looks totally Korean (depending on if we decide to continue with the pregnancy), not to mention the strange looks from family and friends. We will all have a lifetime of reliving this horrible experience. I’m also thinking about possible issues that might come up with trying to get the child American citizenship, and my wife her permanent residency.

We are currently looking at going overseas to undergo the testing that needs to be done, but the information on that seems sketchy as well. I’m hoping that you might be able to put us in contact with an organization (preferably non-governmental) that would be informative, non-judgmental and understanding. Suffice it to say, this has been an incredibly difficult time for us. All we want is to know what the actual odds are that the child is mine, and perhaps some assistance in finding the best overseas options for genetic testing. So far it has been a dead end, although I know it is possible.

It seems like this may be a tall order, but I greatly appreciate any information you might be able to send my way.