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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, on why I think quotas are absolutely necessary:

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Anh Tuan To on Unsplash.

And finally, in conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But if felt insufficient.

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

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

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

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

Source, all images: Insight @Instagram.

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

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

[Insight reporter Gwon Gil-yeo]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Insight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blackpink’s Rosé Deserved So Much Better Than the “Young Silly Woman Puts Product on Head” Advertising Trope.

It’s all very cute and charming until you realize how rarely you see it used on men. Why is that?

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes. Right: So-hee of the Wonder Girls.

Yeah, Rosé does look very cute and charming in that poster. So it’s not like I’m about to boycott my local Homeplus over it. I have absolutely nothing against her either, who likely had little to no input in the direction of their advertising campaign. But when you realize that peach on her head effectively sabotages the whole concept behind that campaign, despite all the planning, preparation, and financial risks involved in hiring one of the hottest and most expensive stars in the world to help create that concept in the first place, then you really do have to ask why.

The poster, one of two of her that that now feature prominently at Homeplus stores (and online), is part of the chain’s “25 Years: A Fresh Way of Thinking” rebranding campaign to mark its 25th anniversary and launch of its new one hour delivery service. But critics were non-plussed by Rosé’s first, very different commercial for the campaign in February below, only grading it only a 2.6 out of 5. One of them thought the dancing and focus on Rosé’s face and body in the first half rendered the commercial more like one for Yves Saint Laurent, for whom Rosé already works as an ‘ambassador.’ Many others, that the luxurious, almost mature tone and atmosphere would only cause confusion among consumers when the logo for the homely supermarket chain then suddenly appeared. Also, that people’s attentions would be concentrated more on Rosé rather than on the service being advertised, and that stressing that she was 25 was unnecessarily ageist and alienating. (Actor Yeo Jin-goo was also hired as an endorser for being 25, with his own commercial rightly focused on high quality food. But the limelight has firmly been on Rosé.)

I tended to agree, especially about the unnecessary alienation of the bulk of its much older customers. Because well before I saw that commercial, I’d already noticed Rosé’s and Yeo Jin-goo’s glamorous visages in the giant banners below at my own local Homeplus, their eyes seeming to follow me as I perused the toiletries aisle, pondering which toilet paper best represented me as a person. Their purpose just baffled me. Neither of them offered any hint of any particular new Homeplus product or service, with both just saying (lit.) “Why? I have this fresh thinking because I’m 25.” Was Homeplus trying to remind me I’m almost twice as old? That just like when I used to run into my horrified students in bars, could I please just stop embarrassing them and leave?

Shockingly however, younger Koreans didn’t seem to care less about any of their elders and betters thought of the campaign. By April, there were 30 percent more visitors to brick-and-mortar stores in that age group than a year previously; of 20-24 year-olds specifically, a whopping 60 percent. Meanwhile, online customers in the 20s and 30s combined also increased by 60 percent.

(Staggering success stories like these are a major reason why Korea has the highest number of celebrity endorsements in the world. As is ignoring the 9 out of 10 times signing on expensive stars actually proves to be a complete waste of money.)

Which still doesn’t mean it was a good commercial. It wasn’t. But the next one, which came out on July 14, was. It refined the concept, presenting the perfect combination of the millennial dream of living in own’s one place in the heart of Seoul, of having the free time to luxuriate over the exquisite-looking grapes, and of having such a convenient fast delivery service for them available. And, lest I forget: that it was want-her or want-to-be-her Rosé showing us all of this too:

Which is why I’m so annoyed by the laziness of the two accompanying banner posters, which have since replaced those for the first commercial in stores (poor Yeo Jin-goo is nowhere to be seen):

This first one, ironically used as the YouTube thumbnail, is simply poorly executed: as it happens, I consider myself a more sensual person than most (just throwing that out there), but even I can’t picture anyone so enjoying the texture of grapes that they’d ever want to rub them against their face. But let’s say I do suspend my disbelief for a moment. Even then, I’m still not getting the feeling from this poster that Rosé was, say, really, really enjoying the grapes just a moment ago, but has suddenly just noticed me and is about to invite me to join. Instead, the poster simply shows what actually happened: she was instructed to put the grapes to her face, so she obliged. Not to pretend to be interested in them too, as she was asked and did so well in the commercial.

By all means, the grapes do add an aesthetically pleasing splash of green, and vaguely fit in with the headline of “As fresh as you see.” Her mesmerizing gaze back at the viewer? It quashes all doubts of why she’s a superstar. And perhaps—okay, I see it now—the taut, tight skin of the grapes is meant to vibe with Rosé’s own. Again, symbolizing that freshness concept. (But so too, illustrating the huge potential for any celebrity endorser to completely overshadow the advertised service or product.) But surely it was possible to do so without losing the sensuality of the original commercial?

Just see for yourself. Compare this first of two additional images Homeplus released on its Instagram on July 15, but neither of which seem to be displayed in stores. (Yes, I’ve visited four in the last two weeks to check, feverishly snapping away at Rosé; by now, the security staff have probably flagged me as a perverted samcheon fan.) This one isn’t perfect by any means, but it at least retains some of the sensuality of the commercial, by reminding consumers that delicious-looking grapes are best enjoyed by actually eating them. And again, even if making a link to her youthful skin was considered just as or even more important (because Korea), why not combine both motifs?

This next, much cuter and more playful Instagram one, is very difficult to dislike (notice a recurring theme?). But it too represents a big step away from the sensual concept of the commercial, and of the commercial before that as well. And yet, still it would have been a far better choice than the second poster actually chosen for the stores and homepage:

There’s three big reasons not to like it. No, really.

First, in the second, very aspirational TV commercial it’s ostensibly tied to, we were supposed to pretend Rosé was just like you and (much younger) me, only with a nicer apartment and more carefree lifestyle. Which worked. To a greater or lesser extent, you could still roll with that vibe in all of the other images with the grapes above too. Whereas this one just casually tosses that carefully crafted fantasy aside. As playing with the product by putting it on your head, combined with her looking not at you, but at a more important, separate person/photographer instead, instantly identifies her as a glamorous model or celebrity. Ergo, not at all like you or me.

Second, just in case I haven’t stressed it often enough: the whole concept of the entire campaign, best expressed in the second commercial, was all about Homeplus gratifying your senses. Being able to get your fresh fruit quickly through its new delivery service, then enjoying, perversely lingering on and luxuriating in its look, taste, smell, feel, and—if you try hard enough—sound too. There was a strongly implied erotic potential as well. But here? What I actually see when my raging alcoholism drives me to head out to my local store for a cheap bottle of whiskey? That would be placing a peach on your head. As in, Homeplus no longer cared what I think of how that peach looks, tastes, smells, and feels like, the whole ostensible reason for signing on its to new, trendy, one-hour delivery service in the first place (what, you too had forgotten this is what the campaign was selling?). Rather, the peach has become instead just a prop, a toy even, which ultimately could be replaced by just about anything Homeplus sells and still have the same effect. Say, even that toilet paper I eventually did choose.

So, being generous, at best it’s lazy. It’s unoriginal. You could say the peach on her head loosely matches the headline of (lit.) “Whenever, with no burden, lightly,” but it’s tenuous. More likely, the advertisers asked Rosé for that pose because again, it simply makes her look cute and carefree, campaign concept be damned. And also because third, finally, and more likely still, that’s just what advertisers do with young female models.

Allow A Web Essay on the Male Gaze, Fashion Advertising, and the Pose to explain:

“Look at these images. What do they suggest to you about these men? Do they seem silly?”

“What about these images?”

“Most viewers find the images of the men odd or laughable. But the images of the women seem charming and attractive…Why should it seem funny to see a picture of adult men striking a pose when the same pose seems normal or charming to us in pictures of adult women?”

Or, to conclude by going back to where we started: no matter how cute and charming Rosé may appear in the last poster, the campaign’s concepts of sensuality, luxury, and convenience are frequently confused by focusing on her looks, skin, and cute personality instead. Had they been the focus from the get-go, that would have been fine, and I wouldn’t have been annoyed at all.

I really do have better things to do with my time than write about this shit.

Instead, I’m reminded that it’s just so normal and unremarkable to infantilize grown women in ads, and that advertisers just can’t help themselves.

But why does women putting products on their head necessarily have that effect?

Because in addition to the aforementioned gender imbalance (which is the real issue; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being cute), let me leave you with two pages from the classic Gender Advertisements by sociologist Erving Goffman, first produced the same year as me—1976. Sometimes, as you’ll see, it’s astounding to realize how little has changed in the 46 years since then.

Or, for that matter, the last 25:

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How Korean Celebrity, Gender, and Advertising Intersect—Some Quick Key Points

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes.

But first, let me extend my warm thanks to Professor CedarBough Saeji (a.k.a. @TheKpopProf) for her invitation to talk on this topic to her class last week. Next, to her students also for their many interesting questions and observations, given to me both in person and as they live-tweeted the event!

As there were too many tweets to respond to individually afterwards however, and because most were related to some key points I’d ended up having to rush over because I’d wasted far too much time showing videos of time constraints, I decided to clarify them in a long thread instead. Please click to read, and, because the more in the discussion the merrier, please feel free to respond yourself, either on Twitter or in the comments section below.

Finally, seeing as we’re on the subject of talks, let me also remind everyone that if you too would like me to give one to your own class or organization, whether in person or via Zoom, then I’ll probably jump at the chance if our schedules work out. So please get in touch! :)

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

Two Ads With the Same Female Model, for the Same Kind of Product. Spot the Differences in the One Aimed at Men.

Needless objectification, and a power trip from being called Oppa. WHY do advertisers assume cishet men genuinely prefer these?

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes. In case of any lingering doubts that it’s the same model, check out the wisps of hair on her right.

“You’re a man in his 40s, aren’t you?” reads the offending ad’s headline. Ouch. I scroll social media for the dopamine hits thank you very much, not to be reminded of how much my knees hurt.

I also really, really don’t like being pegged as someone who’d prefer to see a woman’s body without her face either. But it’s what the ad says which is more repugnant, so let’s address that first.

The product being advertised is a diet supplement. (Yes, I thought it was for something to help with “men’s stamina” too.) At the top, the text about it extols, “I only took a packet a day and it took care of everything. I levelled up from being called an uncle to an oppa! These days, it’s time for men to take care of their diets too!”. Then, the headline next to the model, “You’re a man in his 40s, aren’t you?” and “We will ensure you’ll never be called ajeossi again!”

I’m not judging the implied huge age gap with the model. One sex being used to sell products to another will always be a thing too, however absurd it feels in this particular case. What I do have a beef with, is encouraging myself and my fellow ajeossis to crave being calling Oppa by women, especially those like her who are much younger than ourselves.

Although we’d like to pretend it really wasn’t all that long ago we were dancing to Wax‘s classic in nightclubs in our 20s, when the word had more innocent and romantic connotations, really we know most women now find the word distasteful at best. We also know they especially resent how all too many older male colleagues, acquaintances, friends, and bosses, taking advantage of their male privilege, will sometimes demand they perform infantilizing aegyo to them at company dinners and so on—which will invariably include demands to call them Oppa.

The men who still ask women to do so regardless then, only to claim it was just harmless fun later, are being completely disingenuous. The only reason any man does so in 2022 is to get his ego boosted, and to put the younger women being asked in their place. Behavior which whoever at Sery Box and/or enigmatic shopping site 형만믿어 responsible for the ad would know full well, and absolutely shouldn’t be encouraging.

Source: Kakao.

To give a recent for instance, in a surreal scene from an episode of the Omniscient Interfering View talkshow in February last year, veteran, internationally acclaimed actor Moon So-ri calmly explained she didn’t call her four year-older husband Oppa because its cute connotations made the woman using it seem childish, whereas she wanted a relationship of equals. One male panelist’s tactless, boorish response to her thoughtful comments? To ask her to call him Oppa instead. When she refused, he demanded a flustered young K-pop star do so in Moon’s place, ultimately forcing Moon to cover for her to save her further embarrassment.

The top tweet: “Actor Moon So-ri explained the gender politics of the word in an easy-to-understand and non-accusatory manner. He was just such a typical sexist han-nam though, with no intention of listening to or trying to understand her whatsoever.”

On top of all that, the model is headless. No pun intended.

While having bodies or their various parts presented in isolation isn’t inherently bad in itself, and is a practice that people rightfully tend to judge in context, the cumulative effect on the people it’s usually done to day in day out—e.g, women overwhelmingly more than men, and obese people in news reports about them—is to dehumanize them in the minds of observers, even if they belong to the group being objectified themselves. It’s also been demonstrated that if my fellow ajeossis and I consider a woman attractive, we’d also be much more likely to respond to her returning our gaze instead. The implied enthusiastic consent to our interest through a wide smile can be a pretty big deal too.

All of which begs the question of why, if Sery Box and/or 형만믿어 clearly had access to the same stock photos of the same model that Centheal and/or 하태핫태 responsible for the left ad had, did they not also select one with her smiling face?

I’m no photographer or graphic designer, but I refuse to believe there’s anything particularly significant in terms of aesthetics or layout that would compel the choice they did make. Even just raising the bottom of the image just enough to show a smile would have made a big difference.

I’m overanalyzing, I know. Numerous surveys have revealed that Korean internet ads in particular have gotten distinctly smuttier over the past decade, and the Oppa ad is really nothing special in that regard. Less a patriarchal conspiracy, than simple laziness.

Yet there’s something to the juxtaposition nonetheless.

But if you could please bear with me a just a moment longer before elaborating, there remains the task of confirming the gender divide in the two ads first. So again, the offending one is indeed explicitly aimed at men, and the link it takes you to only features two images of a woman—Kim Tae-hee—among the many more of main celebrity endorser Lee Jung-jae, as well as numerous images of muscled men. Most of Sery Box‘s products are actually aimed at women however, and feature Kim Tae-hee and various other female celebrities (with absolutely no men) in their advertising on their various webpages for those.

During rush hour, when men are glued to Facebook on their phones, Korean shopping mall target men with ads like these. The logic being, the images on the left will get their attention, even though they’re not interested in actually buying women’s clothes. Then, when they invariably look away, the next things they will see are the ads for products they will be interested in buying on the right. Image source: The PR News.

In contrast, the left ad (now below) is advertising a fortified extract of garcinia cambogia (가르시니아 캄보지아 추출물) sold by Centheal. Although there’s nothing on their website to explicitly indicate they’re targeting it only at women, only female models are featured, and the logo on the packaging has a woman’s waist incorporated into it. There’s also a “WomaNature” mentioned, although I’ve been unable to pin down what that refers to. Meanwhile, the screenshot actually being saved by me in February 2021, just before the Korean New Year, the text at the top reads “With Seollal approaching, let’s enjoy holiday food with worrying about it.” Then, next to the model, “This Seollal, don’t become like one of those people who’s put on weight from staying indoors all day due to Covid. Instead, take care of your body [even] while eating all that [holiday] food. [Take advantage of this] half-price discount event to celebrate the holiday.”

Finally, let me post the other ad again for the sake of that juxtaposition:

I’m writing here today because personally, seeing them together, I was instantly reminded of a surreal experience I had in 2010, when I innocently switched tabs between Elle Korea‘s photoshoot of Lee Hyori, and then MSN Korea’s article about it (which I’ve presented in GIF form below). Someone at the latter, an ostensible news site, had apparently found the body of then Korea’s biggest sex symbol inadequate:

That particular juxtaposition sparked the beginnings of my own learning journey over the next decade about Korea’s many, many problems with female body-image. Whereas writing about this more recent pairing, has forced me to think deeply about, first, the modern connotations of the word Oppa, which frankly I wasn’t originally going to mention at all (I wasn’t joking about my intense dislike of cishet men being pigeonholed as preferring headless women); and second, what other baggage from my formative years in Korea I absolutely need to jettison over the next decade if I want to continue my quest to properly understand Korean misogyny—which “Call me Oppa” ultimately is.

I hope you too find what’s revealed by the juxtaposition featured today, just as telling and motivating to learn more about as I have.

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Even When it’s to Businessmen, it’s Still Evil to Advertise Your Hotel with What Feels Like a Male POV Dating Sim. Here’s Why.

Tell me Korea has a huge gender pay gap, without telling me Korea has a huge gender pay gap

“Would you like to dance with me?” Estimated reading time: 7 minutes.

Most gendered marketing, I get. Obviously, when it’s for products or services related to physical differences, like bras or medicines. So too when, assuming equal access, it’s primarily one sex that purchases them, whatever the combination of nature and nurture responsibility for that. But it’s a risky strategy for companies. Only focusing on one sex can easily lead to an overreliance on crude stereotypes in advertisements. As the example of “boobs and burgers” Carl’s Jr. in the US suggests, any company that willingly alienates half its potential market deserves intense scrutiny of how its male leadership and managers treat women behind the camera. And don’t get me started on what anyone in favor of “pinking and shrinking” thinks of them.

About the staff behind Korean travel-app Tripbtoz, I reserve making any judgements for the moment. Because I confess, I like—no, love—their commercial for Westin Josun Seoul. The background track alone, Summer of Our Lives by Waykap (ft. Emmi), is legitimately sensual in its own right. In combination with model Chae Yu-jin‘s dancing and sultry stares, mesmerizing.

But of course I would think that. The commercial is so squarely aimed at cishet men, to describe it merely as a classic example of the male gaze feels insufficient:

Just prior to watching, by coincidence I’d been reading “Privileging the Male Gaze: Gendered tourism landscapes” in Annals of Tourism Research (October 2000),* in which authors Annette Pritchard and Nigel Morgan persuasively argue that “the language and imagery of [tourism] promotion privilege the male, heterosexual gaze above all others.” While it’s not an empirical study, so not definitive “proof” as such, making the radical assumption for the moment that that bias does exist helps us formulate several uncomfortable, revealing questions we could ask of the commercial.

What it is, is a teaching moment.

Source: “How BTS is redefining art for the female gaze” by Michelle Fan.

First, we could ponder how difficult it would be to find a commercial with a male model in place of Chae. Certainly, in keeping with the theme of Pritchard and Morgan’s focus on transnational tourism imagery, catering to the foreign hetero female gaze has become a significant element of the Korean Wave. But specifically, a commercial featuring a young man strutting his stuff in a hotel for his female partner? Whatever the nationalities of the intended audience?

I suspect the world yet awaits. Yet even if enterprising, lusty readers do find an example, that exception would prove the rule: that no-one’s wanting for videos of scantily clad young women in luxurious surroundings appealing to the fantasies of middle aged businessmen. That in contrast to how awkward an equivalent video with a male model might feel due to its rarity, ones with women are so normalized and routine as to be boring.

In fact, I only clicked on this otherwise unwelcome YouTube ad break at all due to the background music.

Next, could it be not in fact be aimed at women? The idea being that, through showing Chae’s enjoyment of the many luxurious services the five-star hotel has to offer, many women would now just love to be in her shoes? (This may even be the advertisers’ genuine intention, a point I’ll return to a moment.)

If so, it’s strange how we never actually see what those services would look like from a female guest’s perspective. Instead, through the exclusion of anybody but Chae in our field of view, we’re only given that of her besotted paramour as she leads him into their shared room and bed, or acknowledges his admiring glance in the bathroom or corridor.

Should what she’s expecting of him from those glances isn’t already obvious enough, background lyrics like “Give it to me like you know you should now baby” help further clarify.

Is he necessarily a businessman? It’s true I have no figures on the sex ratio of business travelers, who would surely make up the bulk of guests at Korean 5-star hotels during a pandemic. But given that only 5.2 percent of Korean executives are women, only 3.6 percent of Korean CEOs are, and that Korea had the highest gender wage gap in the OECD prior to it (and only widened since), then it’s a safe assumption. It’s further reinforced by the use of the honorific language of “시” (as in “저랑 춤 추실래요?” instead of the more equal but still polite “나랑 춤 출래요”) in the “Would you like to dance with me?” of the opening image. While it is simply a polite way to ask, it’s much more likely to used by a younger woman to an older man than vice versa (make of that what you will), and also the level of politeness older businesspeople would be accustomed to.

Despite appearances however, women may actually have been the target. That the overwhelming majority of media is produced through the perspective of a supposed “average” cishet (usually white) man’s point of view, to the extent that it’s widely assumed to be an objective neutral, is painfully clear to anyone familiar with the concept of the male gaze. So, it’s entirely possible that the—very likely—men at Tripbtoz and Westin Josun Seoul responsible for the commercial may genuinely have been aiming it at women, and had no idea of how seeped in their own vision of luxury their notion of what women really wanted was. (The evidence from Tripbtoz’s YouTube channel is mixed.)

But whomever it was aimed at, the commercial is primarily about conveying a sense of luxury, and further questions could be asked about how gendered and sexualized life for the one-percenters is portrayed in Korean advertising as a whole. Specifically, I’m thinking of the eerily similar messages provided by Korean Air’s “Color of Perfection” campaign from 2007:

Designed to showcase “a refreshed image of a sophisticated, modern and creative airline,” complete with a specially-composed background track that likewise got people’s attention in its own right, unfortunately for Korean Air it was overshadowed by the image below in its print ad. Which, while unremarkable in East Asian markets, was wildly misinterpreted in Europe and North America:

Ironically for all the fellatio jokes however, perhaps that overshadowing is also why so few people noticed that in the accompanying commercial, cringingly unsubtle ejaculation imagery was provided by a champagne cork popping from a man’s crotch:

(NSFW image appearing in a moment.)

I’m no prude, and am all for fellatio and ejaculation when done well. What’s at issue is how the women are portrayed compared to the men. Of the three men you see, all of them are fully clothed. Of the seven women you see, two are virtually half-naked, one is on her back in (potentially nothing but) ultra-feminine high heels, another shows off her luscious red lips as the camera lingers on them, and another is the flight attendant waiting upon a male passenger. Of the two that remain, the first stands in front of a sculpture of a disembodied female torso—as if it wasn’t already clear enough that to Korean Air, “luxury” means ready access to women’s bodies, available to serve a wide variety of men’s needs.

I’ll let Pritchard and Morgan explain this conception of it is crucial (my emphases):

Kinnaird and Hall (1994:214) comment that tourism advertising and the myths and fantasies promoted by marketers are dependent upon shared conceptions of gender, sexuality and gender relations and that women are often used to promote the exoticized nature of destinations:

Sexual imagery, when used to depict the desirability of places in such a way, says a great deal about the gendered nature of the marketing agents and their fantasies…the sexual myths and fantasies extolled in the tourism promotion lead to the construction of these ideas in the hearts and minds of tourists (Kinnaird and Hall 1994:214).

Again, in themselves, these two cherry-picked commercials provide no proof of anything. But there are many more examples to choose from Korean tourist imagery for those who care to look, let alone from other areas of advertising. Sexualized imagery of haenyeo in the 1970s used to promote sex tours to Jeju to Japanese businessmen for instance. Or colonial-era postcards depicting kisaeng for the purposes of promoting the gigantean sex industry for the world-biggest number of colonial officials in Korea then. Segueing into my favorite musical genre, Korea is no stranger to electronic dance music’s notoriously sexualized aesthetics either, peddling only very narrowly-defined cishet male fantasy that is part and parcel of a deeply sexist industry—and which in Korea also has an additional Occidentalist element through its widespread theft of pictures of non-Korean models, who are unlikely to sue Korean nightclubs for copyright infringement from overseas. And so on.

(It’s Miranda Kerr.) Source: MS-Photograph; (CC BY 2.0).

Are any of the above examples offensive, or sexist? That’s not for me to decide for anybody. But in my experience, cases like them rarely generate any outrage. Most likely, because feminist activists generally have far more pressing concerns than a hotel gently indulging middle-aged businessmen’s fantasies. Possibly, also because it would be counterproductive to scream “sexism” about things most men would consider inoffensive, and maybe even like.

You tell me.

I feel on more certain ground though, in lamenting that were it not already bad enough that Korean women are so financially disempowered that luxury hotels might not even bother advertising to them. Or, when they do, that in the process their advertisements would so actively perpetuate the gender and sexual stereotypes underpinning that status quo.

I am not naïve about how companies perceive their social responsibilities. But in Korea in fact, they hold them more dearly than most. So perhaps appealing to that sense of duty could result in change? Combined with demonstrating the financial benefits to be gained from adding more women’s and sexual minorities’ voices to advertising campaigns?

Please let me know your thoughts!

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