In the News: Korean Celebrity, Ethnic Nationalism, and Beauty Ideals

Kim Yuna may well be the “Ad Queen” in South Korea, but the reality is that precious few female athletes have the face and body-type necessary to get noticed by Korean advertisers. Whereas for male athletes, they just have to be good at their sports.
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes. Image source: YouTube via Humoruniv.

My writing is pretty erratic these days, because reasons. Sorry about that. One of those reasons is worth mentioning though: I’ve been fielding lots of inquiries from journalists instead. Here are some of the results:

First up, from “In Pyeongchang, a surprise visit from Queen Yuna” by Nathan VanderKlippe in The Globe and Mail:

For “Korean advertisers, all their Christmases came at once when Kim Yuna became popular,” said James Turnbull, a South Korea-based author who writes about Korean feminism, sexuality and pop-culture.

By at least one measure, celebrity matters more in South Korea than elsewhere. Roughly 60 per cent of the country’s advertisements feature endorsements, some six times higher as those in the United States. Former South Korean advertising executive Bruce Haines once called the country’s advertising “beautiful people holding a bottle.”

Mr. Turnbull is critical of the unfair standards this imposes. South Korean Ahn Sun-ju was among the best golfers in the world, but South Korean advertisers said she needed plastic surgery if she wanted to appear in commercials.

Ms. Kim, however, “was tailor-made for Korean advertisements,” Mr. Turnbull said. She is “young, attractive, photogenic, a figure skater – thin, tall – whose body is the type they want.”

“The question isn’t so much why she retired so early as why she retired so late,” he added. “Because really, did she enjoy what she was doing?”

There’s lots to unpack in that short segment. Starting with giving credit to Roboseyo for the point about advertisers’ love of Kim Yu-na, who wrote that in 2009:

Kim Yu-na…is a teen-aged figure skating phenomenon out of Seoul. She’s only eighteen years old now, and she’s been kicking the crap out of the ladies’ singles category for a few years already. She’s telegenic and cute: she appears in TV commercials here in Korea and sells, better than most of Korea’s other “Best in the world/Korea at X” stars, for example Park Ji-sung (family name Park), the Soccer (that’s Football to the rest of the world) star who is holding his own impressively on Manchester United, but who’s so ugly, and un-charismatic in front of the camera, that they can only make commercials like this [long since deleted example—sorry]: keep the camera at a distance, and show him kicking stuff, because that’s the only time he looks impressive. (Notice at the end of the ad, when the close-up is as short as they can make it and still have him be recognizable, as if the camera’s afraid to get close to his face).

Catch me on a bad hair day, and I’m hardly charismatic in front of a camera myself. I’m all about widening the media’s narrow range of beauty ideals too. But it’s objectively true: even at his physical peak, Park Ji-sung’s face would never have launched a thousand ships. As a male celebrity however, his phenomenal popularity for his sporting prowess meant that advertisers still flocked to him nonetheless, especially after it became apparent he was responsible for one million new Manchester United-branded Shinhan Mastercard accounts. Add various other factors responsible for that world-high celebrity endorsement rate of 60 percent of TV commercials (see my journal article), plus—in this case—Koreans’ (in)famous toleration of blatant photoshopping, then you can hardly blame Gillette for joining his bandwagon in 2009:

Sources: Hidomin (2006), Betanews (2009).

Like Park Ji-sung, golfer Ahn Sun-ju was one of the best at her sport in Korea. Unlike Park Ji-sung, she was cursed with being a woman, which meant advertisers were very concerned about her appearance—and her body type didn’t fit their narrow requirements. Frustrated with her ensuing lack of corporate sponsorship, she ultimately chose to compete in Japan instead, where—to my shock and pleasant surprise—advertisers were more interested in her sporting achievements. As The Korea Times explains:

…[Ahn] said that when she competed in Korea, her ability as a golfer was never enough.

“Some (potential Korean) sponsors even demanded I get a plastic surgery,” she said. “Companies did not consider me as a golf athlete, only that I was a woman. It mattered most to them was whether my appearance was marketable. I was deeply hurt by that.”

Ahn her made pro debut with the KLPGA in 2006 and won six tournaments before jumping to the JPLGA. But despite her stellar play, she struggled to find a corporate sponsor in Korea.

“As you can see, I do not have a pretty face, I am not thin, I am not what you would call sexy,” Ahn said. “But does that mean I shouldn’t be playing golf?

“Japanese companies, on the other hand, focused on my ability as a golfer. They are more concerned about my performance and how I treat my fans. I am being sponsored by six Japanese companies, including a clothing brand.”

Writing in Kore in response to that article, Ethel Navales speculates that we can’t “say for certain that Ahn’s decision to move to JLPGA was due to Korea’s inability to accept her physical appearance”, and that she may have just been reacting to one negative experience, so “we certainly shouldn’t assume that the KLPGA puts those expectations on [all] their players.” But personally, I see no reason to challenge Ahn’s stated motivations for leaving. As for the KLGPA, I turned to Transnational Sport: Gender, Media, and Global Korea (2012) by Rachel Miyung Joo to learn more about its attitudes towards its female players, but unfortunately she doesn’t mention Ahn at all, focusing largely on Korean women in the (US)LGPA instead. So, while her descriptions of their Orientalist and sexualized depictions therein are fascinating, and her description of its 2002-2007 “Five Points of Celebrity” marketing drive (a.k.a. “Anti-butch Campaign”), “understood to place a large emphasis and personalities of the players rather than on their performance as athletes” (p. 153), sounds particularly relevant here, indeed we still can’t automatically assume the same of the KLPGA. But she does note that “[i]n the current media climate in South Korea, female golfers are often sexualized through sports tabloids, fansites, and advertisements” (p. 156; see Le Coq Sportif example below). Also, her description of what happened to the Korean image of predecessor Pak Se-ri, “probably the most popular athlete in South Korea at the end of the twentieth century”, is quite telling. Because after Pak left for the LGPA in 1998:

Sources: Kaikaihanno (Pak Se-ri, 1998), Yonhap (Ahn Sun-ju, 2014)

…there [was] a considerable shift in ideas of public sexuality in [South Korea]. This shift can be read in the changes to the public appearance of Pak Se-ri. She was transformed from a dowdy twenty-something golfer at her debut to the tidy player of today through a national makeover. The masculinity of Pak—her broad shoulders, strong legs, dark tan, baggy shorts, and flat short hair covered with ill-fitting baseball caps—did not detract from her initial national fame….[But] [o]ver the years, her public image has been transformed through a wardrobe redo and the use of heavy makeup. She is often featured in women’s magazines in tailored designer sportswear with highly stylized hair and makeup. In the photos, she strikes poses that emphasize her “feminine side”—taking a stroll in the wood, relaxing on a couch, playing with her dogs, or cooking in her kitchen. The transformation of a tomboyish national icon to the womanly figure of today demonstrates that, although femininity was not a requisite for her national importance, she was normalized into public femininity through the transnational circuit of images of professional golf.

“In the current media climate in South Korea, female golfers are often sexualized through sports tabloids, fansites, and advertisements.” One of many long, lingering shots of conventionally-attractive, (now) JLPGA player Lee Bo-mee in a 2016 Le Coq Sportif commercial. Source: YouTube.

In contrast, Kim Yuna shares the body type and looks of K-pop girl-group members, who are specifically chosen for their ensuing, very narrowly-defined suitability for advertising. So it comes as no surprise that, like them, the vast majority of her numerous endorsements appear to be for beauty and dieting-related products.

To note that isn’t to diminish her considerable achievements and hard work. But it’s entirely possible she would never have become such a national icon if her body didn’t fit the part. As was the case with Yi So-yeon, Korea’s first astronaut, whose treatment by netizens and the media was really quite shocking.

Finally, just for the record, the point about her retirement was actually made by Nathan, but I agreed. Also, it’ll be interesting to see to what extent the Garlic Girls’ endorsements will challenge all these body-standards for female athletes. But it’s time to move onto the (much shorter) second article.

Next, again for Nathan, a few days later I was quoted in “Behind Olympic death threats, a South Korean fan culture that takes speed skating seriously“,

It doesn’t help that the South Korean sense of nationalism also “stresses Koreanness through having Korean ‘blood,'” said James Turnbull, a writer and speaker on Korean culture. “This means many Koreans react the way they do because they feel like a member of their ‘family’ has been cheated.”

Admittedly, that last possibly sounds a little patronizing coming from a foreign observer. So I would have preferred Nathan had written that it was actually my Korean friend Ji-eun that said that, attempting to explain things after I expressed my mystification at the Korean (over)reaction to the Apolo Ohno controversy in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games—which included passers-by harassing my coworkers on the streets of (normally very pleasant and friendly) Jinju. But no matter: whoever points it out, bloodlines-based nationalism is very much a thing in Korea (and Japan), and has led to such oddities as numerous apologies for and a national sense of guilt and shame over the actions of Virginia Tech shooter Seung-hui Cho in 2007, despite his having left South Korea at the age of 8 and absolutely no-one in the US considering him “Korean.”

Left: highly-recommended further reading (source: Stanford University Press). Right: “A BBC poll from 2016 of various countries, asking what the most important factor in self identity was. South Korea has the highest proportion given for ‘race or culture – 25%” (source: BBC via Wikipedia).

Next up, a week later, I was quoted by Diane Jean in “En Corée du Sud, les femmes n’ont pas d’autre choix que d’être belles” (“In South Korea, women have no choice but to be beautiful”) for ChEEK Magazine. As you can see it’s all in French, so here’s a bad translation of my contribution:

“Of course these pressures are not unique to Korea, they are found elsewhere,” says James Turnbull, a specialist in feminism and pop culture in Korea. But without having lived here, where, on a daily basis, your beautician, your teachers, your parents, your colleagues, your bosses constantly repeat to you that you have to go on a diet […], we can not realize how these pressures are particularly harsh for Korean women. “

That Korean women face body image issues will come as a surprise to nobody. But it can be difficult to convey their intensity, especially to overseas observers who are constantly bombarded with negative body image messages themselves. Probably most effective then, is to hear from the victims in person, especially overseas Koreans who frequently express their shock at the level of body-shaming they experience here compared to in their home countries. Listen to Korean-American Ji Eun-gyeong for instance, writing for Ilda South Korean Feminist Journal:

In contrast to the casual attire and revealing clothing of some of the Korean American women in the student program, Korean female students were uniformly slim, wore formal clothing to school, and always had perfectly groomed hair and makeup. I remember gawking at the female students wearing formal suits and heels at nearby Ewha University, something that was unheard of at schools in the US, where it was perfectly acceptable to go to school wearing pyjamas and looking like you rolled out of bed.

In comparison to these women, I was fatter, did not know how to put on makeup “properly,” and was relatively not well-groomed. The physical standards for Korean women were a palpable social pressure on me and the Korean American women, and despite our best efforts to “fit in,” we always fell short. We did not have the skills, energy, or time to put on full makeup, to dress formally for school everyday, nor did we have the slim body types that almost everyone around us seemed to have. Most importantly, we were not “well-behaved” women.

As Korean American women, we were unused to having so many restrictions on our movement and our bodies. One student in my exchange program was slapped for smoking in public, and another was yelled out for having lightly dyed hair. Others were reprimanded for wearing revealing or messy clothing, such as shorts with “holes” in them (shredded shorts). We talked too loudly and laughed too hard. Because of these and the daily judgments about our physical appearance that left us lacking, most of the women in our program felt a demoralized and degraded while we were in Korea. The policing of our bodies was limited to Korean Americans, because we were being compared to Korean women, while the foreign women were help up to different standards.

In contrast, the Korean American men in our program had less restrictions on their dress or their physical appearance. While they were subject to some pressures – ie, having clean-cut haircuts and not being able to wearing shorts – they were subject to less judgment about their bodies than the foreign women.

Admittedly she was writing about 1994, but you don’t need me to tell you that very, very little has changed for the next generation. That is also indicated by the following damning statistics, collected in these slides for my lecture on body image for my “Gender in South Korea” course at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies last summer:

Statistic from “Explaining Underweight BMI and Body Dissatisfaction among Young Korean Women” by Tess Hellgren (2012). Screenshot: “Street Interview – Are you fat? (Asking Korean girls)당신은 뚱뚱한가요? Nicki Minaj VS Yoona” by Joo Won.Statistic from: “18% of Young Women Found to Be Underweight“, anonymous, The Chosun Ilbo (2014).
(Link to Georgia Hanias’s 2012 Marie Claire article in the slide, plus another one to an interesting critique.)

Finally, there was one more interview after that, but I was completely edited out of the article when it was finally published last week. I’ll wisely spare you my rant though, only mentioning it as a final excuse for the delay in posting. So too, that I also did a long podcast interview in March, which will hopefully be coming out in the next couple of months.

Any thoughts? About any of the articles? :)

Related Posts:

Teaching Public Safety Through Objectifying AND Slut-Shaming Women Was a Bizarre Low, Even for Korea

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes. Image source: YouTube

The first time I watched the TVs on the KTX, Korea’s high-speed train, I wondered if graphic footage of insects eating each other was really the best way to showcase Korea’s glorious flora and fauna to tourists.

Fourteen years later, now I’m not so much fazed by this curious peccadillo of KORAIL’s, as eagerly look forward to the latest installment in these Boschian tragedies to entertain myself with on my trips to Seoul. And, it has to be said, they make a lot more sense than this safety campaign featuring women in bikinis did that I noticed last summer:

Fortunately, people with backbones complained, resulting in its removal and likely replacement with the same old invertebrate snuff films, as I’ve just learned from the following article:

“비키니 입으면 노출증?”…한수원 공익 광고 ‘성 상품화’ 논란 “Wearing a Bikini is Exhibitionism?” Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Public Service Commercial Causes Controversy Over Sexual Objectification

Chosun Biz, September 20 2017

한국수력원자력이 성을 상품화한다고 볼 수 있는 공익광고를 KTX와 서울 지하철 등에서 방영해 논란이 되고 있다.

A public service commercial by Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) that has been playing on the KTX train and Seoul subway has led to some controversy over its sexual objectification.

20일 한수원과 코레일 등에 따르면 한수원은 최근 신고리 5·6호기 공론화가 진행되는 동안 원전과 관련된 홍보를 중단하기로 결정하며 기존에 계약한 광고 시간에는 지난 2015년에 만들었던 공익광고를 내보내고 있다.

According to [a KHNP official earlier today], KHNP and KORAIL [the national railway operator], KHNP decided to halt public relations efforts related to nuclear power plants while a public consensus was being sought on the fate of reactors Shin Kori 5 and Shin Kori 6 [at Kori nuclear power plant, close to Busan.] Three preexisting public service commercials made in 2015 were put in their place.

이 광고는 “당신은 상식적인 사람인가요. 다음 영상에서 비상식적인 점을 찾아보세요”라는 말로 시작된다. 이후 해수욕장에서 여성 3명이 겉옷을 벗어 던지고 비키니를 입은 채 바다로 뛰어드는 장면이 이어진다. 이 때 여성들의 모습은 슬로우모션으로 처리되며 몸매가 부각된다. 이후 자막으로 ‘무엇이 잘못되었을까요?’라는 자막이 나온다.

In the offending example, the text begins with “Are you a sensible person? Try to find what’s out of place in the following video.” Next, three clothed women on a beach run to the water, throw their clothes off, then jump into the waves in the bikinis that they were wearing underneath. While this is happening, the women’s bodies are focused on and [later] put into slow-motion, followed by the caption “What was wrong?”.

(James—Actually, the video did linger but technically didn’t slow-mo over the women’s bodies, and ended with “Did you find it?”, as the screenshot in the article also shows.)

이어 한 여성은 “아이들이 앞에서 막 벗는 것?”이라고 답한다. 또다른 한 남성은 “흐흐흐”라고 웃으면서 고개를 좌우로 흔들기도 하고, 또다른 여성은 “노출증?”이라고 말한다. 이후 광고 자막에는 “그것도 맞지만, 더 중요한 것은 이것”이라며 수영을 하기 전에는 준비운동을 반드시 해야한다고 알린다.

After that, one woman suggests “Was it getting undressed in front of children?”. Next, a man shakes his head left and right and laughs, then another woman suggests “Is it exhibitionism?”. Then, the text reads “Those are correct, but there’s something more important,” before revealing that it was that the women should have warmed up before swimming.

(James—Yes, really. It then shows the women doing precisely that instead, with the caption “No common-sense is more important than that to do with safety.”)

한수원의 유튜브 계정에는 해당 광고 영상에 대해 “화창한 날씨. 넓게 펼쳐진 바다와 예쁜 백사장. 평화로운 시간을 보내던 가족들 사이로 갑자기 젊은 여성 무리가 나타나 다른 이들의 시선은 아랑곳하지 않고 옷을 훌렁훌렁 벗어 던집니다. 여기서 가장 비상식적인 부분은 무엇일까요?”이라고 설명되어 있다…

In the description of the advertisement on YouTube, it says: “Sunny weather, a wide open ocean, and a pretty white sand beach. A family enjoying the peace is suddenly disturbed by a throng of young women undressing without thinking of anyone else around them. What is out of place here?”

(James—And then, after giving more information about why KHNP had to start running 2015 commercials, a spokesperson explaining the organization wanted to stress public service rather than be seen to be showing favoritism to nuclear power, the article continues:)

…하지만 일각에서는 이 광고가 여성 입장에서 불편하게 느낄 수 있다는 지적이 나온다. 직장인 이지은(27)씨는 “해수욕장에서 비키니 수영복을 입은 여성들이 왜 노출증이라고 비난받아야 하는지 공감이 가지 않는다”라면서 “비키니 입은 여성들을 본 남성이 음흉한 웃음을 짓는 것도 성적 대상화를 하는 것 같아 불편하다”고 말했다.

…Yet it has been pointed out that the situation depicted is uncomfortable for women. Lee Ji-eun (27), an office worker, argued “I have little sympathy for a commercial that says women should be criticized for exhibitionism simply for wearing bikinis or swimsuits at a beach,” adding “It’s already uncomfortable enough for women wearing bikinis to be sexualized and smirked at by men.”

대중음악평론가 서정민갑씨는 자신의 페이스북 계정을 통해 “왜 공익광고에 젊은 여성의 몸매를 관음하고, 그들은 준비운동도 안하고 바다로 뛰어드는 신중하지 못한 존재 역할을 전담하는가”라고 지적하기도 했다.

A popular music critic, Seo Jeong-min, asked on his personal Facebook “Why does the ad so voyeuristically use women’s bodies this way, and why is it young women that are placed in the role of being foolish, thoughtlessly running into the sea without warming-up first?”

한수원 관계자는 “2015년 제작 당시 각 방송사 등에서 문제가 없다는 판정을 받았기 때문에 괜찮다고 판단하고 광고 영상을 상영했다”면서 “여성을 희화화한다는 지적이 있어 광고를 중단할 예정”이라고 덧붙였다.

The KHNP spokesperson explained “No problems with the advertisement were noted when it is made in 2015, which is why we decided to use it.” However, “due to the way women are depicted in it, we will discontinue it.” (End.)

As explored in great depth on this blog, the Korean media and government have a long tradition of sexualizing and/or sexually-objectifying young women for public causes, particularly of girl-groups for the military, so the complaints about this example came as a pleasant surprise. Was it because it was just so inane, and so egregious? Or was it the hypocritical slut-shaming that pushed viewers over the edge? Please let me know what you think in the comments.

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Why Korea Has so Many Celebrity Endorsements, and Why That’s so Important for Understanding Korean Pop-Culture

korean-celebrity-endorsement(Source)

To find out, please check out my journal article “Just beautiful people holding a bottle: the driving forces behind South Korea’s love of celebrity endorsement”, which has just been published in Celebrity Studies. There’s only a very limited number of e-copies available unfortunately, so please get in touch if you have any problems accessing it.

Part of a special cultural report on (South and North) Korean celebrity, it’s only 4000 words long, which, alas, makes it at least 4000 words too short for the topic. I’m especially gutted that I had to cut out a paragraph about the “Metal Tray Karaoke Room” segment of the first season of Happy Together. So, let me mention it here instead. For if you really want to understand the strong humanizing streak in Korean celebrity culture I discuss, which underlies why there’s just sooo many ads featuring them, then there’s no greater example than that of a variety show which:

  • regularly featured A-list celebrities and/or sex symbols (e.g. Cha Tae-hyeon, Son Yae-jin, and host Lee Hyo-ri below)…
  • wearing traditional high-school uniforms…
  • in a set made of egg cartons…
  • singing obscure children’s songs…
  • and getting metal trays dropped on their heads if they made mistakes.

It also just happens to exemplify just about everything I love about Korea:

All that said, only having 4000 words to work with (actually supposed to be only 3500, but my long-suffering editor gave up on me) does force you to—ahem—get to the point, and to only cover the bare essentials. If you have any questions about the article then, and/or would just like to know more about anything covered in it, please let know in the comments, and I’d be very happy to get into greater detail.

korean-variety-shows-scripted(Source)

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

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

Did I tell you how much I love following Korean feminism on twitter? I’m completely addicted now. Add some sexual attraction to the buzz, thanks to my becoming acquainted with a self-professed loud and proud “fertile woman” (a.k.a. 나는 가임여성 이다/@niiaebi), and my body was all set to receive one powerful hit last week:

좆나 크리피하고 토악질나온다 무슨 재단사세요? 정육점 고기 품평하세요? 하 좆팔 김연아 선수는 외국에서 태어나셔야했다

“That [picture below] is so fucking creepy, I feel like throwing up. Are you a tailor or what? Are you judging her body parts like cuts of meat? Fucking hilarious. If only Kim Yuna* had been born in a foreign country. [Because they wouldn’t write about her like that there.]”

I know, right? If only I wasn’t already married. But she wasn’t finished yet:

진짜 국적이 죄다 국적이 죄야. 대체 왜 사람을 고기처럼 분석해놓는 거냐. 그리고 개쳐웃긴 점이 냄져몸은 ^절대^ 이렇게 상세히 나누고 재단하는 꼴 살면서 단 한번도 못봤음. 여성을 사람으로 안보고 인형으로 본단 걸 아주 당당하게 기사로 냈지요?

“It’s her nationality that is the real crime. Why on earth was she measured like meat? But the funniest thing is that I’ve never seen men’s bodies measured like this. Not even once in my life. The fact that this is from a news article clearly shows women are seen as dolls. Is the author proud of this article?”

I was so mesmerized, I kim-yu-na-golden-ratio-s-line-bodycouldn’t have agreed more. But then I glanced again at the images of Kim Yuna skating, and suddenly sobered up: didn’t she retire 3 years ago?

She did. It turned out, the left image came from a 7 year-old Chosun Ilbo article, which was also translated into English. And both are as vacuous as they are problematic. Rather than digging them up again, I began coquettishly tweeting back to @niiaebi, she should have burned them and buried the ashes. Lest they grow back again in the form of some mammoth blogpost somewhere.

Then I noticed that there was one crucial omission in the English translation, and it was too late.

Also, perhaps remembering that objects of your affection are not usually impressed if you have no opinion of your own and simply agree with everything they say, later I realized the articles weren’t problematic for the reasons @niiaebi mentioned, but were for exciting new ones that you will totally want to learn about.

I shouldn’t come on too strong though. So, let’s warm up to those with that omission first. It’s in the second paragraph:

서양인 못지않은 김연아의 ‘황금 몸매’의 가장 큰 특징은 긴 팔과 다리다. 1m64의 키에 체중 47㎏인 김연아의 하체 길이(허리~복사뼈)는 96㎝. 목 아래에서부터 허리까지 잰 상체 길이(50㎝)의 두 배에 가깝다. 패션 스타일리스트 김성일씨는 “일반인은 상·하체 비율이 4.5대 5.5만 돼도 다리가 긴 편에 속한다”며 “이렇게 다리가 긴 덕분에 똑같이 회전을 해도 회전이 크고 우아해 보이는 것”이라고 말했다.

In the English version:

Standing 164 cm tall and weighing 47 kg, Kim’s lower body from waist to the ankle bone measures 96 cm, almost double the length of her torso, which is 50 cm. Fashion stylist Kim Seong-il said, “With normal people, if the ratio of the upper and the lower body is 4.5:5.5, we consider them long-legged. Because of her long legs, Kim’s jumps look bigger and more elegant.”

It’s the first line that’s missing:

서양인 못지않은 김연아의 ‘황금 몸매’의 가장 큰 특징은 긴 팔과 다리다

“The most notable trait of her ‘golden [ratio] body’ is her long limbs, just like those of a Westerner’s.”

I admit that sounds pretty innocuous in itself. People use races and ethnicities as shorthand for body types and features all the time. In this case, author Jeong Sae-yeong is alluding to the common knowledge that Westerners are taller and have longer limbs than Koreans, and that Western women have larger breasts too.

But journalists shouldn’t be using such lazy stereotypes. This binary hinders more than it helps understanding, and can even lead to genuine harm.

For a start, because in practice “Westerners” usually only means “Caucasians.” Next, because Caucasians alone have a wide range of body types and sizes. Also, because even if the comparison was once broadly true, changes in Korean health and diets meant it was already out of date in 2010 (let alone in 2017).

Why do such obvious things need to be said? To someone purporting to explain bodies to us?

Continuing to position a fundamentally flawed representation of one race as the Occidental opposite of all Koreans though, does justify providing a very narrow range of small clothing sizes to the latter. It places the onus on consumers to fit their bodies to the clothes, rather than vice-versa.

This makes its absence in the English version of the article all the more glaring. Why did the anonymous translator not include it? Did they feel non-Koreans wouldn’t be interested? Did they feel embarrassed by it at all?

We can only speculate. But probably there is no grand conspiracy really: the same newspaper wasn’t shy in talking in terms of Western bodies in other English articles back then. It’s still depressingly common in the media today too. Alas, the very sexy quotes from Japanese sociologist Yoshio Sugimoto I planned to give, about the agendas of core subcultural groups dominating the mass media and intercultural-transactions, will have to wait for a more opportune time.

Yet the fact remains, English readers weren’t being given the full story. It’s something to chew on.

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

Moving on to the rest of the article and the image, to my surprise my issue with them was less with the fact that Kim Yuna’s body parts are presented like slabs of meat, as with ice-skating itself.

It’s all Camille Paglia’s fault:

Early on, I was in love with beauty. I don’t feel less because I’m in the presence of a beautiful person. I don’t go [imitates crying and dabbing tears], “Oh, I’ll never be that beautiful!” What a ridiculous attitude to take!–the Naomi Wolf attitude. When men look at sports, when they look at football, they don’t go [crying], “Oh, I’ll never be that fast, I’ll never be that strong!” When people look at Michelangelo’s David, do they commit suicide? No. See what I mean? When you see a strong person, a fast person, you go, “Wow! That is fabulous.” When you see a beautiful person: “How beautiful.” That’s what I’m bringing back to feminism. You go, “What a beautiful person, what a beautiful man, what a beautiful woman, what beautiful hair, what beautiful boobs!” Okay, now I’ll be charged with sexual harassment, probably. I won’t even be able to get out of the room!

We should not have to apologize for reveling in beauty. It is not a trick invented by nasty men in a room someplace on Madison Avenue….It is so provincial, feminism’s problem with beauty. We have got to get over this.

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

Which I take to mean that it is okay to exalt in magnificent bodies, whether for their looks, athletic prowess, or any number of reasons. It is okay to be curious about what it is exactly that sets them apart from everyone else in those regards, and to try to quantify that. So, when Jeong Sae-yeong writes (in the translation) that because “of [Yuna’s] long legs, Kim’s jumps look bigger and more elegant”, that because her arms are very long her “small arm movements look softer and more fluid”, and that “overdevelopment of muscles in certain parts of the body such as upper arms or thighs can make movements look stiff”? And when those certain parts of the body are all sized up in the graphic?

Then so what?

It pains me to say that, but, for all I know, those are all core tenets of figure-skating, and in that sense are no different to observing that, say, you need to be tall to play basketball well. If so, I can certainly disagree with those tenets and the values enshrined in them—short, toned people can’t help but be stiff and inelegant on the rink?—and I can strongly dislike figure-skating for that reason (and also because I believe anything entirely reliant on subjective, corruptible judging can’t possibly be considered a sport). But the point remains that athletes will always be sized up like this. It’s human nature.

Indeed, as @lsjkhj0903 points out in a reply to @niiaebi, it’s done to male athletes too:

초멘나사이합니다..비슷하게 남자도 있더라구요…

“It is similar with men too…”

kim-yo-han(Source: @lsjkhj0903)

What many of you will have already noticed though, is that the graphic doesn’t just give a basic run-down of the lengths her long limbs. As pointed out in a reply by @lifejogipogi:

이건 정도의 차이가 너무 다르네요 김연아 선수는 ‘s라인’ ‘황금몸매’ 등 주관적인 평가가 한가득 들어있고 몸매 평가위주예요 김요한 선수 사진은 사무적이고 데이터의 일종 같은데 김연아 선수 사진은 가십거리 같네요

“No they are very different. The one with Kim Yuna is full of subjective comments, saying she has an ‘S-line’ and a ‘golden body figure’, and it is definitely about evaluating her body. Kim Yuhan’s case is more objective, and more like simple data. Yuna Kim’s photo just looks like a tabloid article.”

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

Fashion stylist Han Hye-yeon said, “Unlike many other athletes, Kim has a slender, flexible body, so she has the natural ‘S’ curve when she’s performing.” Kim So-yeon, an executive at a modeling agency, said, “She has perfect body proportions for a fashion model.”

That is not okay. It’s quite a leap from discussing athlete’s bodies’ suitability for ice-skating, to positioning Kim Yuna as standard-bearer of a body image ideal for everyone else. Particularly when she’s been hawking diet and beauty-related products for her entire career.

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

I don’t bemoan her for that necessarily, as it’s a rare female celebrity in Korea that has the luxury of being able to say no to advertising offers; although she’s certainly rich enough to reject them now, especially those that make dubious links to their products and her athletic prowess. I’ve also recently learned from reading Autumn Whitefield-Modrano’s new book Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives (2016) about how having very specific statistics for the “perfect” body can even be liberating, in the sense that once you realize you can’t have something, you free yourself from trying (like with my accepting my being bald for instance, which I learned from a friend who’d accepted her own small breasts.)

I remain really struck though, at how this whole notion of ever obtaining such a specific combination of such perfect vital statistics so closely resembles that of a competition in the United States 100 years ago, fought over which college’s female students most closely resembled the Venus de Milo. Tens of thousands of women would be measured for it, and some women would come very close, even filing lawsuits to gain official recognition. But, crucially, none were ever universally accepted as the one and only, 20th century Venus de Milo. Because it’s almost like they were set to fail from the start:

The ridiculous thing about all this—well, one of the ridiculous things—is that these [measurements of women that came close] varied from one another by several inches. Not only that, but they were being compared to different standards, for there were multiple versions of the Venus de Milo’s measurements. Some physical culture practitioners quoted the statue’s bust-waist-hip stats as 39-26-38, while others believed she measured in at 34.75-28.5-36. The only stat everyone could agree on was the Venus de Milo’s height, which was set at 5-foot-4….

…times were changing anyhow—the flapper fashions newly in vogue looked best on tall, slender figures, and the Venus de Milo was starting to look a little too plump. In April 1923, the New York Times introduced the world to the “new Venus, whose proportions have been reduced by the athletic tendencies of the modern girl.” To be a true American modern Venus, women now “must be 5 feet 7 inches in height, a perfect 34, with 22-inch waist and 34-inch hips.” Furthermore, “[t]he ankle should measure 8 inches and the weight not exceed 110 pounds.”

And just like that, the beauty rules changed again. After decades of searching and dozens of contenders, America hadn’t found its perfect living, breathing reincarnation of Venus—because she didn’t, and couldn’t, exist.

Likewise, if they’re no longer presented in terms of their utility for her sport, then what is the purpose of providing Kim Yuna’s vital statistics, which is a combination that only she can ever have?

What else, but to remind women that their own bodies suck, and that they will probably die alone if they don’t at least try?

* For those of you that don’t know: “Kim Yuna” does read like “Kim Yoona” in English, but it’s a misspelling. Her Korean name, “김연아,” should be spelt “Kim Yeon-a,” and it actually sounds like “Kim Yon-a,” with the “on” in “yon” pronounced like the “on” in “on/off.”

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic series:

Korean Media Misogyny: Not worth monitoring?

korean-media-misogyny(Source, edited: tiffany terry; CC BY 2.0)

You know the media plays some role in perpetuating misogyny—let’s just take that as a given.

Let’s also take it as a given that the first step in dealing with a problem is determining how big it is. For a government that wants to show it’s serious about misogyny, that means setting up an organization tasked with monitoring it in the media, rather than simply relying on the public and NGOs. It means actually acting on what that organization finds too, challenging instances as they occur.

In Korea, the Korean Institute for Gender Equality Promotion and Education (KIGEPE) is given those responsibilities, under the auspices of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family’s Mass Media Sexual Equality Monitoring Project. And, judging by social media these days, its hands must be full:

korean-media-violence-misogyny(Source: IZE Magazine)

Unfortunately however, today’s story below is not so much about the heroic KIGEPE doing a sterling job under difficult circumstances, as about it not being given enough resources to do its job whatsoever. In short, the government just seems to be going through the motions, rather than really grappling with some of the underlying causes of misogyny.

Perhaps that same attitude also explains why there has been a rise in sex crimes and gender inequality under the Park Geun-hye administration, as well as its repeated attacks on women’s reproductive rights?

여성가족부, 대중매체 성차별 표현 개선요청 6년 간 단 21건

Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Monitors Sexual Discrimination in Mass Media for 6 Years, But Makes Only 21 Requests to Challenge Cases in That Time

공감신문, 04.11.2016, 김송현 기자 By Kim Song-hyeon, GoKorea.

지난 2일 박주민 국회의원(더불어민주당/서울 은평갑)이 여성가족부로부터 제출받은 자료에 따르면 여가부는 2010년부터 “대중매체 양성평등 모니터링 사업”을 실시한 이후 6년 간 진행한 개선요청이 21건에 불과하다고 밝혔다. 이 가운데 권고 등 시정조치가 이루어진 경우는 4건에 그쳤다.

This November 2, Congressperson Park Ju-min (Seoul Unpyeong District, Democratic Party of Korea), claimed that, according to materials provided by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, its Mass Media Sexual Equality Monitoring Project has only made 21 requests to remove or adapt offending segments in over 6 years of operation. Out of these requests, only 4 resulted in action actually being taken.

한국양성평등교육진흥원은 여가부로부터 예산 지원을 받아 2010년부터 대중매체를 모니터링해 성차별·편견·비하를 드러낸 내용에 대해 개선을 요청하는 사업을 진행해왔다. 그러나 모니터링 기간은 짧았고 그 대상범위도 협소하였다.

The Korean Institute for Gender Equality Promotion and Education is responsible for the monitoring, under the auspices of the Ministry. From 2010 onwards, the institute has been monitoring mass media for cases of sexual discrimination, sexual prejudice, and sexual insults. But the actual monitoring period each year is very short.

지난해 대중매체 양성평등 모니터링은 방송의 경우 단 1-2주의 기간 동안 10개 방송사에 대해서 이루어졌으며, 인터넷 포털사이트 내의 언론기사의 경우 35개 매체에 대해 단 1주일만 모니터링이 이루어졌다. 신문의 경우 월마다 신문사를 지정하여 6개월 간 6개의 신문을 모니터링했다.

Last year, the institute’s monitoring period of the 10 main television channels was only 1-2 weeks long, and 1 week for 35 news portal websites. For newspapers, 1 newspaper is chosen to be examined per month, up to a total of 6 newspapers in 6 months.

2016년 9월 기준으로 언론중재법에 따라 등록된 언론사의 수는 지상파 48개, 종합유선(위성)방송 31개, 방송채널 241개, 신문 등 간행물 16,520개에 이르고 있다. 최근 인터넷을 통한 개인방송이 늘어나는 실정까지 감안하면 여성가족부의 사업 규모가 지나치게 작다는 지적이 나오는 이유이다.

However, as of September the number of mass media-related outlets includes 48 main TV channels, 31 satellite channels, 241 cable channels, and 16,520 print publications. Considering the recent rapid growth of personal broadcasting on the internet also, the institute’s monitoring of the media is clearly inadequate.

여가부는 모니터링 사업에 지난 2014년부터 매년 3,600만원의 예산을 지원해왔다. 최근 온라인상 각종 혐오 문제가 대두되면서 이 사업의 확대실시와 내실화를 위해 예산을 늘려야한다는 목소리가 정치권에서 제기되었음에도, 여성가족부는 2017년 예산안으로 전년도와 동일한 3,600만원을 편성하였다.

From 2014, each year the Ministry has provided 36 million won in funds to the institute. [James: To get a sense of how much that is, that’s the annual salary of a completely hypothetical lowly assistant professor.] This amount has continued at this level despite the increasing problems of misogyny in Korea society however, and the growing calls to expand the monitoring project and funds made available.

박주민 의원은 “대중매체에 실린 혐오 표현은 부지불식간에 확산되기 쉽기 때문에 성평등한 문화 조성을 방해하는 심각한 요인으로 작용할 수 있다”고 지적했다. 또한 “갈수록 늘어나는 온라인 매체를 고려하면 예산을 증액하여 사업을 내실화할 필요가 있다”이라고 지적했다.

Congressperson Park Ju-min pointed out that “Expressions of misogyny in the mass media can easily spread and negatively impact on efforts to achieve sexual equality.” Also, “Considering the increasing growth of the online mass media, a reorganization of the project and more funds are urgently needed.” (End.)

kang-yong-suk-international-marriage(Source: MLBPark)

Another article gives a few more details about those 4 cases that were acted upon:

지난해 한 예능 프로그램에서 방송인 강용석 씨가 “외국신부를 데리고 와서 결혼하는 바람에 사회적인 문제로 번질 가능성이 굉장히 높다”는 내용의 발언을 하는 장면에 대해 방통심의위원회가 권고 조치를 내고, 한 음악 프로그램에서는 그룹가수 출신 위너 송민호가 “딸내미 저격 산부인과처럼 다 벌려”라는 가사로 랩을 해 방심위가 과징금을 부과했다.

Last year, on one entertainment program [above], the [controversial] panel-member Gang yong-seok said “The more marriages there are to foreign women, the more social problems Korea will have.” However, The Korea Communications Standards Commission simply let him off with a warning. Next, the singer Song Min-ho was fined for rapping, “I’m targeting your daughters; [they’ll] spread their legs like they’re at a gyno’s'” on a music program.

또 한 신문사는 특정 외국배우의 신체부위를 필요 이상으로 세밀하게 표현하고 선정적인 사진을 게시해 한국신문윤리위원회로부터 ‘주의’ 조치를 받았다.

한 드라마에서는 여성에게 술잔을 던지며 폭력을 행사하는 장면에 대해 방심위가 의견을 제시하는 등 2건의 조치가 이루어졌다.

Also, one newspaper received a warning for posting unnecessarily revealing pictures of a foreign actress. And finally, in one drama, they suggested alternatives to a scene in which a male character attacked a female one by throwing a glass of alcohol at her. (End.)

I’ve been unable to find out which newspaper and which drama sorry; if you do, please let me know thanks, and I’ll consider translating this (frankly) much more interesting related article, which provides some positive examples of combating sexual inequality and stereotypes too.

Update: Korea Bizwire reported back in September that the “The Korea Communications Standards Commission announced…[it] will be revising its regulations on broadcasting deliberation in an effort to promote gender equality on television programs and for online video content.” Given that it already said something similar in April however, as did the Ministry in January, then you can understand Park Ju-min for raising a fuss.

Related Reading:

(Guest Post) Misogyny is Sexy: The power structure of sex

korean-misogyny-k-pop(Source, left: Isabel Santos Pilot; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Source, right: SenseiAlan; CC BY 2.0. Both pictures edited.)

The 2016 US presidential election can be viewed as a struggle for power. Not only was it a struggle for political power, but there was a very basic struggle that permeated throughout the entire election season — the struggle between men and women. Late into last Tuesday night, we saw Donald Trump, a man with a history of misogyny, triumph over Hillary Clinton and dashing the hopes of those wishing to see the first female president in US history. As I sat in my living room watching the results unfold, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Misogyny is sexy.”

Misogyny, defined as an ingrained prejudice against women, is at its core an ideology which allows the man to assert power and dominance over the woman. This can be manifested in many variations, a prominent form of which is portrayed through the culture of sex. Misogyny is highly embedded into the culture of sex in that sex is often times presented as a power trip for men. Under the context of misogyny, women are the gatekeepers of sex and men are the conquerors who must get past the gatekeeper in order to claim the prize. By viewing sex as a competition of man versus woman, misogyny is inherently at play. In this cat and mouse game, the woman is initially presented as having the upper hand and the man’s goal is to shift the balance of power by conquering the woman through obtaining sex. In essence, misogyny is normalized in this kind of relationship and, in turn, a man’s dominance over a woman is at the very center of this culture of sex.

As with any form of culture, its inherent values are often highlighted in the media, and K-pop is no exception. Misogyny is widely at play in many concepts, storylines, and character tropes of our favorite groups and idols. It’s the normalization of misogyny, and its influence on our perception of sex, which makes some of these examples so subtle and hard to distinguish. However, it’s important to recognize misogyny in the things we consume and to identify the difference between what’s sexy and what’s sexist.

The roots of misogyny appear in many forms among a wide variety of cultures. Many civilizations have a popular mythology which represents the female embodiment of wrongdoing in which the foundation of misogyny resides. The most well-known of these mythological scapegoats among Christian societies is the story of Eve and the Original Sin which resulted in man’s exile from the Garden of Eden. Under the influence of the snake, Eve bites the apple despite God’s specific instructions not to and, as a result, Adam and Eve are booted from paradise. By listening to the treacherous snake and indulging in the Tree of Knowledge, Eve decided that knowledge was worth the price of utopia, and her female descendants have had to bear the scorn of her mistake ever since. The characteristics of the snake, the embodiment of deceit and evil, also happen to be attributed to Eve.

Ancient Greece introduced the idea of women as dangerous creatures who lured unknowing male seamen into shipwreck by their irresistible song. The Sirens of Homer’s The Odyssey are a prominent example of the demonization of women in popular mythology. They are the classic representation of a trope which depicts women as duplicitous, treacherous, and all the while irresistible to their male victims. The song sung by the Sirens introduces an element of temptation. The allure of their song can easily be interpreted as the irresistible offer of sex which draws in unsuspecting men. Very much like Eve’s snake, the Siren’s song is another embodiment of the deceitful and ill-intent female. In the case of the Sirens, these females are directly portrayed as villains and their ill-intent is specifically targeted at men.

Korea is not without its share of misogynistic roots in its popular mythology, the most prevalent of which is the Kumiho. As legend would have it, a nine-tailed fox that lives for a thousand years turns into a shapeshifting creature who’s out to ingest men. One of its most poignant tricks is to change into the shape of a seductive woman in order to attract men and devour them. While comparisons to the Sirens can be easily drawn, the Kumiho is certainly much more vicious in her deceit. The premise of shapeshifting, the ability to look like anyone or anything, can be truly horrifying when the creature is clearly a predator out for the blood of men. At best it’s a trope which adds to the element of deceit introduced by the Sirens, but at worst it may also be viewed as a painstaking metaphor for women who seem insincere, double-dealing, and generally untrustworthy — terms which happen to be associated with Hillary Clinton.

Not surprisingly, the Kumiho is often depicted as the Korean version of the treacherous, man-hating woman whenever she appears in K-dramas and in K-pop MVs. T-ara’s “Bo Peep Bo Peep” depicts the Kumiho as a seductive woman who frequents nightclubs to lure her prey, not unlike the monster in the Species franchise. There’s also this A-Jax MV which combines an odd mishmash of mythologies.

Woori, formerly of girl group Rainbow, plays a villainous mix of Eve, Siren, and Kumiho all at once. The boys are on some deserted island which may indicate that they were shipwrecked at some point. They happen upon the lifeless body of Woori who eventually awakens to entrap and devour each A-Jax member one by one. She’s constantly shown biting into an apple and there’s even a sequence of shots which shows five skulls by her feet, one for each victim. Then the screen flashes and the skulls turn into apples. As if the heavy imagery was not enough to drive home the point, the English title of the song is somehow translated into “Snake.” The tone of the MV is silly yet it hits upon many subtle points that are associated with this trope — women are lying evildoers who are dangerous because they possess the power of attraction.

Despite what these tropes may implicate, they alone do not indicate misogyny. However, these tropes point to a perceived suspicion of women and the power that men believe women have over them due to their ability to use attraction as a form of deception. This correlates with the notion that women are the gatekeepers of sex and that they hold all the power in deciding who gets to have sex. By equating sex with power, it creates a power structure where women have all the power and men must gain it back by obtaining sex from women. And thus misogyny rears its ugly head as it is used as a tool for men to regain the power they feel they have lost due to the perceived imbalance of power in their pursuit of obtaining sex.

Under this notion, men become naturally drawn to mediums which reassure them of their power, and nowhere is this balance of power so skewed, so unevenly distorted in the favor of men as it is in porn. As explained in this brilliant Ted Talk, porn is often a misogynistic power fantasy for men which reaffirms the “male domination of women, [the] subordinance of women, not only as a sexual preference [but] as a way of being, a genderial hierarchy of this world.” Porn has the power to dictate what is sexy by giving men what they truly crave and wish to reclaim — power. As a result, because corporations know that sex sells, mainstream media has imitated the imagery of porn in order to appeal to men. In other words, what is sexy becomes influenced and ultimately defined by porn. And because porn is influenced by misogyny, it’s easy to cut out porn as the middleman and make the logical leap that what is sexy is defined by misogyny.

There are a ton of examples of how mainstream media, particularly girl group imagery, imitates porn but, since we’re cutting out the middleman, let’s focus on how popular culture induces misogyny into its products in order to make them sexier. Sailor Moon is an underrated example of misogynistic depictions because, although the show has its share of feminist supporters citing examples of strong bonds between female characters, the autonomous decision-making of its female protagonist, and even its willingness to explore gender roles, the show’s underlying misogyny rests in the particular method in which it sexualizes the show’s cast of underage girls.

Aside from the skimpy fetishized uniforms that Sailor Moon and her team of Sailors transform into, there is a gendered power structure which the show very subtly exploits to further insatiate the sexual appetite of its male audience. On the surface, the Sailors are presented as powerful women with extraordinary powers which allow them to overcome obstacles and destroy their enemies. Despite their powerful demeanor, however, there are many incidences where they fall for some sort of trap laid out by the villain, get tied up, and require the rescue of the show’s male protagonist, Tuxedo Mask. In these moments where strong female characters are shown to be physically vulnerable and in need of a man’s rescue, there’s a shift in power which reaffirms the man’s dominance. Despite all the time the show spends displaying the strength of its female characters, they still must rely on a stronger male character to save them. Combined with the sexual imagery of underage girls in fetishized costumes, the shift in power from the powerful women to the more powerful man invites the male viewer to take further sexual pleasure in the show’s underlying message.

It’s not too dissimilar from the Women in Refrigerators trope which uses the murder of a strong female character to motivate a male character into action, subtly implying that the strength of the female character is inferior when juxtaposed against the power of the male character, reaffirming the shift in power which once again favors that of the man.

In similar fashion, the idea that even an empowered woman can be conquered by the sexual desires of a man makes it so alluring, so provocative, and so misogynistic all at the same time. Not only is it sexy to depict a strong and confident woman as being physically and sexually subordinate to a powerful male figure, it’s even sexier to depict her as being physically and sexually resistant to the man’s advances before eventually succumbing to them. This is the ultimate shift in power that caters to the male viewer’s delicate ego and fuels his power-hungry libido. Under this context, sexual assault can even be viewed as sexy, as is conveyed by Mamamoo’s “Decalcomanie” beginning at the 3:14 mark.

As mentioned in Qing’s review at Seoulbeats, the encounters depicted during a sequence of scenes are borderline displays of sexual assault against each member, deploying wrist grabs and wall slams in order for the male figure to secure a kiss, and possibly more depending on how one interprets the symbolism of the bursting fruit and blindfold removing imagery. The MV subtly builds to this climactic moment by portraying the male in each scene as a stranger to each of the members and implying that these are completely random encounters in very isolated and vulnerable environments for the victim, such as the side of the road, an empty hallway, and inside an elevator. Not to mention that there was an actual struggle depicted between Solar and the man in the elevator which was quickly edited out after Mamamoo’s agency received a litany of complaints from upset viewers.

mamamoo-decalcomanie(Source: Asian Junkie)

Furthermore, we’ve come to know Mamamoo as a strong and confident girl group through their powerful singing and rapping voices, funny and confident variety personalities, and elegant yet non-exploitative concepts. “Decalcomanie” seemed to follow the same pattern until scenes of sexual assault were seemingly strung in for none other than to satiate the sexual appetites of its male audience. The shots of Solar struggling against her male assailant (I was unfortunate enough to see the original MV before the edits) is in the same vein of Sailor Moon getting tied up and Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, falling victim to the Joker in The Killing Joke — it’s a form of misogyny meant to satisfy the male libido by demeaning a strong female persona.

In a culture where misogynistic portrayals of women are considered sexy to the point where sexual assault, entrapment, and even murder is used to stimulate a man’s sexual desires, is it really that surprising that the same narrative occurred in this year’s presidential election? A woman with decades of political experience was defeated by a man who’s never held a political office. With the odds heavily in his disfavor, the man was able to shift the balance of power and triumph over the woman to reaffirm for all men that the gender hierarchy is still in their favor.

Like the men who feel disempowered by the culture of sex, many voters gravitated towards Donald Trump because he was misogynistic. They turned to him because his narrative is one they can understand and are familiar with. They turned to him because misogyny is sexy while acceptance and inclusion is not. The misogynistic culture of sex which exemplifies the degradation of women as a form of sexual arousal is harmful, distasteful, and discomforting. It also provides insight into how a misogynist was elected into the highest political office in the US.

Mark is a writer and editor at Seoulbeats. If you’d like to be a guest contributor, you can send your regards to recruiting@seoulbeats.com. Otherwise, you can follow Seoulbeats on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

(Guest posts reflect the opinions of the author{s}, and do not necessarily reflect those of The Grand Narrative. Please get in touch if you’d like to make your own contribution.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next:

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

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

Reporter John Power also provides some things to think about:

Finally:

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

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

Thoughts?