The Surprising Reason Koreans Don’t Buy Red Underwear for Valentine’s Day

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes. Image sources, edited: Summer Yolo Shop, KoBiz.

Go clothes shopping in East Asia at the moment, and it seems impossible to avoid all the red underwear. But it’s not because of Valentine’s Day. It’s because red is considered a lucky color by the Chinese, and the Lunar New Year’s celebration is just around the corner.

Moreover, unlike loud red clothes, red underwear will suit any wardrobe. Those whose Chinese Zodiac falls in the coming year for instance, when ironically they’ll need extra luck, can don it without revealing their age. So too Mahjong Players in Macau, who hope to leave their opponents seeing a different kind of red.

All these associations explain why “Triumph, the biggest underwear-maker in Asia, says its sales of red items are usually ten times higher than usual in Singapore and Malaysia around the Lunar New Year,” according to the following 2015 BBC report (0:35):

But it’s not just those countries with large Chinese populations that fall for red—Japanese stores also have big promotions. And Valentine’s Day can still be a very big deal: as the then Director of Triumph, Doy Teo above brightly noted, Lunar New Year’s fell very close to Valentine’s Day that year, making red underwear not just a good romantic gift. They will be even closer together this year.

Buying red on such an occasion seems a natural fit for young Korean consumers especially. Consider how Valentine’s Day has already been expanded into 11 other monthly holidays on various romantic themes. Other non-native holidays, most notably Christmas, are not so much family occasions as rare opportunities to escape parents and spend time with partners or friends. “Couple clothes” are popular, and worn all year-round. Red is the color of the “Red Devils” soccer supporters, who the Korean media already portrays as young women in red, skimpy clothing. And in particular, red has many of the same lucky connotations in Korean culture too. As explained by Jang Jang-sik, Research Institute Director at the National Folklore Museum of Korea, it’s traditionally been worn by soldiers or those doing something dangerous, gifted to students doing exams, and there is a folk belief that it helps women who are finding it difficult to conceive a son:

국립민속박물관 장장식 학예연구관은 “전쟁이나 위험지역으로 떠날 때나 도박판에 갈 때도 붉은 속옷을 입는다”며 ” ‘수험생이 붉은 속옷을 입거나 지니고 있으면 합격한다’ ‘아들을 못 낳는 여자가 아들을 낳은 여자 속옷을 입으면 아들을 낳을 수 있다’는 속설도 있다”고 했다.

Chosun Ilbo, 7 March 2009.

There’s also a tradition of buying it for good luck from newly-opened stores. It rapidly sold out at the opening of Shinsegae’s Centum City branch in Busan in 2009 for instance, as well as at the opening of the Hyundai Department Store in Pangyo, Seongnam in 2015 (below), and at the re-opening of a Lotte Mall in Busan last July (video below):

Source: Korean Fashion + Tex News

Where then, is all the red underwear for lovers this Valentine’s Day?

To everyone’s relief, I have not done extensive field research in Korean lingerie stores to confirm its absence. The stores’ websites however, display no more red underwear than usual, nor do they have any red-themed promotions. Also, unlike couple outerwear, couple underwear has always been relatively expensive and limited in options in Korea, as I discovered before one frustrating anniversary recently. As friends later pointed out, if something was only for each other to see, then what on Earth was the point?

But if lingerie stores are not even bothering to offer much in way of red at all, on a combined Lunar New Year’s and Valentine’s when it should sell more than ever, there must be some alternative, non-romantic connotations that the color has in Korea.

A tradition of buying red lingerie for one’s mother would certainly fit the bill.

I first learned about this via an inquiry made to the Korea Studies Mailing List by Ron Lieber, a journalist for the New York Times:

…I write the Your Money column for the New York Times — all about anything and everything that hits you in the wallet. I write often about families and money — how not just dollars but also wisdom and values are taught and passed between generations.

On that note, over the years Korean-American friends of mine have told me about a tradition where new college graduates (or teenagers or college students or even some older adults getting their first paychecks at a new, prestigious workplace) buy a gift for their parents after they start their first full-time jobs. I’ve heard about everything from handing the entire paycheck over in cash to buying red thermal underwear for both parents or lingerie for their mothers.

And I was further intrigued by the answer provided by Dr. Barbara Wall, then Research Assistant in Korean Studies at the Asien-Afrika-Institut in Hamburg:

…if you search for first salary 첫월금+ present 선물 many of the results you get mention red underwear 빨간 내복. I am no underwear expert, but what people say is that the custom of wearing “modern” underwear in Korea started only in the 1960s at which time underwear was a luxury item. Dyeing nylon at that time was not easy and worked best with red. That is said to be the reason for the red underwear as symbol of filial piety. Red is also said to have the ability of blocking everything “evil”…

Stephen Redeker at Gwangju News adds:

There is an old saying that one should buy red “long johns” for one’s parents after receiving the first paycheck from your first job. People tend to give other gifts to show appreciation to their parents, but the red long johns have an explanation. Back in the day, when floor heating was not as prevalent as it is now, people wore long underwear at night. Red-colored underwear was more expensive than the other drab colors offered at the time and therefore more desirable. Anyone who still observes this belief will probably buy red boxers, briefs, bras or panties for their parents.

Numerous Korean sources confirm. In addition to the information provided in the video below (apologies to region-blocked Korean viewers), it’s interesting to note that in 2009, over a quarter of respondents would buy red underwear for their parents upon receiving their first paycheck.

Another source however, argues that it’s outdated in 2018, as parents’ memories of freezing winters and 24/7 thermal underwear-wearing in the 1960s and ’70s fade. This association with the middle-aged and elderly is evident in Japan too.

But we must address the red elephants in the room. “Underwear” is a wide-ranging term. Buying red thermal underwear for your parents, or long johns, is a far cry from buying sexy lingerie for them; as the Korean sources suggest, I’d wager children’s gifts are almost entirely the former. Also, even in Hong Kong, where the latter is supposedly all the rage, less than 1% of Chinese female undergraduates actually preferred that bra color:

Source: Sujoung Cha and Kristina Shin, “Hong Kong Chinese Breast Cathexis and Brassiere Design Preferences”, The Research Journal of the Costume Culture. 2011. Aug, 19(4): 780-793.

I also couldn’t help but notice that 60% preferred black. Because in An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality (2007), although author Jill Fields frustratingly doesn’t mention red at all, she does have a groundbreaking (albeit controversial) chapter on the connotations of black lingerie in the US, which she tied to stereotypes of African-Amercian hypersexuality. Not only do those obviously not apply to Hong Kong however, but Chinese lingerie-makers themselves boggle at the differences in consumer preferences between borders. This suggests it’s misguided to assume Pan-Asian similarities in tastes:

Guanyun workshops operate their own online stores in addition to producing wholesale stock for other brands. They are increasingly looking to sell overseas, which now only accounts for about a tenth of the county’s yearly output. But understanding the preferences of foreign customers remains an obstacle, according to [lingerie manufacturer] Lei. “There’s a huge gap in the aesthetics of different countries,” he explains. Sexy cop costumes are popular in Brazil, which Lei says is because Brazilians don’t like the police; French maid costumes don’t sell well in Poland because, he theorizes, the two countries don’t have a good relationship; and Japanese customers love any and all seductive outfits. The lingerie tastes of most European countries — except France and Italy — are still riddles to him. “Every collection that we deliberately designed has failed in their markets,” Lei says. “Germany borders France, right? But their taste is the most difficult thing for me to figure out.”

“Unzipping China’s Lingerie Capital,” Sixth Tone.

What do you think then, does explain Koreans’ distaste for red underwear this Valentine’s? Unsexy associations with parents? Associations of red with the psuedo-communist North? Or some other reasons? Please let me know in the comments!

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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 (can anyone confirm?), 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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Calling all Korean Conscripts, and Their Girlfriends and Family Members!

The Longest 24 Months

Estimated reading time: 1 minute. Image source: HanCinema

I’ve been asked to pass on the following:

My name is Mary Perez, and I’m a Documentary Photography student living in the UK. I am traveling to South Korea at the end of February to produce a photo series on Korea’s military and the ways in which the need for conscription manifests itself in today’s society.

I am looking for men currently serving (or have recently served) and girlfriends/family of military men, to introduce myself to and discuss the project with.

Contact me (15011313@students.southwales.ac.uk) if you or someone you know would like to participate, or if you know someone who will be serving in the near future. I’m a keen student and would appreciate any research sources that you’d also like to pass my way.

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Finding the Queer Female Gaze, and What it Says About Anda’s Touch

Part 1 of 3. Estimated reading time: 15 minutes. Source, all screenshots: YouTube

Face-sitting. A woman’s POV shot as Anda kneels in front of her crotch. Women making out in the background. Anda beaming at the viewer in anticipation as she admires another woman’s vagina. The complete absence of any men. Anda lying in bed as another woman appears on top of her. Spinning the bottle. Anda loving all of it, as Touch relentlessly serves-up its women to its sensual, strikingly objectifying queer female gaze.

Among self-identified queer female fans of K-pop and allies on social media, I’ve yet to find a critic. And who can blame them? “Queers are generally invisible in South Korean media,” researcher Chuk Tik-sze explains in her 2016 study on their representation, “and lesbians are more completely missing.” As if to prove her point, many viewers didn’t even notice the sex in Touch, so low were their expectations of encountering queer content in K-pop.

When they did get what the MV was about though, they really, really got it:

Yet I’ve also read that simply replacing the sex of an objectifier does not necessarily a queer female anthem make. To many seekers of queer content, authenticity is more important, and in this respect Touch seems lacking. The lyrics are gender-neutral. Live performances lack any sapphic elements. None of Anda’s other songs and MVs have any queer themes, nor has she ever given any public indication that she’s at all bi or lesbian. So, not only was it very easy to miss when it came out in June 2015, but the cynic in me says that the MV was just a failed gimmick aimed at drawing attention to a catchy but otherwise lackluster song. So too, that coy media descriptions—e.g., “The lyrics are about a girl telling everyone to forget their woes and just have fun”—aren’t so much evidence of heternormative conspiracy as of TV producers’ willing ignorance of the real nature of the MV.

Raising this critique is not an accusation. As a cishet man, I’m not about to argue that queer women who rave about Touch are superficial or desperate. (Spoiler: quite the opposite.) Rather, it’s to introduce the objectification-authenticity divide that makes the queer female gaze so hard to pin down. But why is it there in the first place?

When I began working on this post, I never expected I’d have to tackle such a question. All I’d wanted was a simple list of criteria that I could use to judge MVs with for queer female content, starting with Touch. (Naive, I know.) Something akin to the Bechdel or Maki Mori tests for movies for instance. After all, we all know what the heterosexual male gaze is (hereafter, just the “male gaze”) I thought, and we’d probably in broad agreement as to what that is. So, over 40 years after that concept first appeared, I felt I was on pretty safe ground assuming there’d be a similar consensus on the heterosexual and queer female gazes by now too.

As writer and director Jill Soloway explains though, “[M]edia that operates from the nexus of a woman’s desire is still so rare. We’re essentially inventing the female gaze right now” (emphasis added). Which, for starters, meant there simply weren’t as many online sources as I expected; with the benefit of hindsight, wider knowledge and discussion of alternative gazes is only just spreading beyond academia. Also, some of those online commentators on it I did find say that they just don’t have enough material to work with. The queer feminist critic Rowan Ellis in Bitch Flicks, for instance, argues that the queer female gaze “[simply] doesn’t have a present or strong enough canonical tradition in media.” As in, “when only 29 percent of current movies have female protagonists, and all women creative teams are rarer than panda sex”, then “[d]efinitions, classic camera angles, a checklist of what the [heterosexual] female gaze might be, are hard to find,” with even worse queer representation meaning the queer female gaze may lack any “real definition or direction” at all.

That said, most don’t share her despondency. A lack of canon hasn’t stopped filmmakers like Soloway from forging their own traditions either, nor them and other commentators from providing their own criteria as to what the hetero and queer female ones should be. Usually, by framing them around the aforementioned much better-known and more generally agreed-upon male gaze, as that provides something the female gazes can be distinguished from.

Which all sounds very logical, yet it’s also the source of all the trouble.

For if you want to stress that women are all about the feels, as it seems everyone I’ve read does want to stress, then it’s difficult to decouple that from the notion that men are much more visual creatures. Whether that truism is actually a thing, we’ll get to in Part 2. Well before reaching there however, it’s easy to see how arguing too forcefully for it can end up simply perpetuating crude stereotypes of both sexes.

It’s time to point fingers. Re-enter Jill Soloway, whose keynote address on the [mostly heterosexual] female gaze at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival ranks high on the first page of google searches. Soloway, who “now identifies as a gender non-conforming queer person“, and is the award-winning creator of the immensely popular Transparent TV series, which has been “a major force in bringing discussions of trans rights to the mainstream“, was clearly a well-liked, very motivating speaker at the festival. What she actually said there though, was a hot mess. But also very useful as a framing device here, as its three main flaws are largely echoed by other commentators. Let’s dive right in to the first of those in this post, and cover the other two in parts 2 and 3 for the sake of length:

The first flaw is in the very reductionist definitions and examples of the male gaze provided, which assume the portrayal of women in popular culture is a fair representation of all hetero men’s actual desires. Here’s her main, actually almost only example, from 4:35-5:12 (all Soloway quotes from a rough transcript on her Topple Productions website; my emphases):

My favorite male gaze staple, was like, a shot that you’d see a lot on Love Boat

Scene starts, open on: a pair of perfect tits. A bartender adds the flourish to two pina coladas, said tits place the drinks on the tray, carries the tray to a table where two people are talking. Tits sets down the drinks and – scene begins. Classic male gaze.

Compare a definition and example from Rowan Ellis:

The Male Gaze is two-fold:

1. The sexual objectification of passive female characters, 2. More generally the tendency to default to male protagonists, points of view, and stories.

The Gaze can be seen literally as a gaze, the way the camera interacts with the women it looks on, doing things like introducing female characters by trailing slowly up their bodies rather than establishing them with their face and actions….Alice Eve’s controversial underwear scene in Star Trek Into Darkness would be a perfect example of how, although she was not a one-dimensional character in the film as a whole, she was given a pointlessly objectifying scene which established nothing about her character, and seemed oddly out of place.

And later:

As a queer woman it might seem to any men who are attracted to women, that I would love images of half naked oiled up women, because they do….It feels unbelievably naive and worrying that someone who is for all intents and purposes a pliant sexual object could be genuinely and maturely desirable. This is the source of a long held observation in the queer world that “lesbian porn” is so obviously and inexplicably made for straight men.

And from film critic Maitresse Hopper (a.k.a. @MsCinephile) at her CinemaVerite blog, quoting writer Dodai Stewart in Jezebel in the first paragraph:

“In addition [to the standard objectification of women], ‘sexy’ images of women generally involve us being relaxed, lying down, finger in the mouth like a child. Submissive, pliant, docile.”

I’m probably going to get a lot of flack for saying this, but if I had to describe the Male Gaze using only one word, it would be this: ENTITLEMENT. When women’s bodies get displayed on film for men to enjoy, they’re displayed for a very specific purpose: to sell men on the idea that they can have, own, and enjoy the woman on display.

Next, a bare-bones definition of the male gaze by M.Slade, via Everyday Feminism (click on the panel for the full strip), who joins Hopper in using the term as a pejorative to indicate feelings of ownership:

Source: M.Slade, via Everyday Feminism.

And there’s plenty more where those came from. But I’ll spare you, because you may already be feeling a little nonplussed. If that’s the case, then I understand—this is male gaze 101. So, when I now claim claim that we need to give them a second look, your confusion may suddenly turn to exasperation. Surely only a cishet male author, you’re thinking, would so miss the point as to complain that commenters on the female gazes don’t talk enough about men’s?

Again, I understand. But really, the focus hasn’t changed at all. This reexamination is necessary only because the discussion is so rooted in the male gaze. To state the obvious, if commentators’ definitions of that are flawed, then their definitions of the female gazes, defined in opposition, are going to be flawed too. If they hold up though, then we can happily move on.

But we’re stuck, because remember when I said the male gaze is well-known and generally agreed-upon? None of the commentators really challenge what I’ll call that layperson’s understanding of the concept, which is that it’s simply the way that hetero men look at women, and that it’s vastly overrepresented in popular culture. Instead, they simply repeat feminist dogma in their definitions. So, their takeaway message is that all cishet men objectify women and feel like they own them.

I know—this sounds suspiciously like the lead-up to a “not all men”-style argument. And you’re not wrong. But please let me roll with it a moment. Let me be inconvenient, and ask what actual evidence the commentators give for what they say about men. For when they say things like the male gaze is “objectification for straight male enjoyment” they do so because…well, because why exactly?

Because that’s what’s offered.

Hold on a minute though. The tits and the drink scene, doing it for me? It sounds cliched and patronizing. (And what are a pair of “perfect” tits anyway?) Loving images of half-naked oiled-up women? Not quite, because—sorry to spring this on readers—I do actually have sex sometimes, and my wife and I find I need a good grip on her for most positions. (Is it just us?). It’s not exactly news that “lesbian porn” isn’t for actual lesbians either, because fingernails that long should NOT go there. And finally, that I’m turned on by passive, submissive, pliant, docile women, finger in the mouth like a child? I wouldn’t kick a nubile example out of bed, but still: let me refer you to my last series on the male and female gazes, in which I wax lyrical about how turned on I am by confident, intelligent, sexually-assertive women—and much prefer to see them in my pop-culture, thank you very much.

Still, I feel you. The temptation to throw in jokes about my not all men rebuttal is real. But whatever you think of my own personal perversions, or my hurt feelings at being lectured to about how I supposedly look at and think about women, surely it’s disingenuous to describe men’s most intimate feelings and desires without asking even a single one of them?

Source: unknown

Alternatively, just listen to Soloway herself (for one), who contradicts herself by likewise railing against what women want being defined by what’s offered (5:15-6:55):

The opposite of the male gaze, if taken literally, would mean visual arts and literature depicting the world and men from a feminine point of view, presenting men as objects of female pleasure.

​So, okay, I guess in it’s most simple that would be like, Magic Mike if it were written, directed and produced by a woman.

I remember when they tried to sell us that, thirty years ago culture was all WOMEN! HERE’S PLAYGIRL AND CHIPPENDALES!!!???

And so many women were so happy to have anything, something, that they dutifully bought Playgirl – hairy man laying across the centerfold, soft penis, ooooooh.

​Groups of women, going to Chippendales, screaming, laughing hooting….

Anyway okay that’s one version of the Female Gaze that we have been offered:

“Hey ladies! Here’s your fuckin’ fireman calendar!” But it’s kinda –- naaaahhh. Pass. We don’t want that. NOT BUYING IT.

Unfortunately for Soloway’s patronizing narrative, 1.1 million, supposedly desperate US women were buying Playgirl in the early-1970s, until it started being aimed more at gay men instead; more recently, Korea’s shirtless firemen calendars continue to sell like hot (beef)cakes. But these topics are best covered in Part 2. (Sorry.) For this post, a better demonstration that patriarchal pop culture is a poor barometer for tastes is provided by Girl on the Net in her must-read “What is ‘porn’, according to MindGeek.” Obviously its focus is pornography, but it’s much more widely-applicable:

It’s hard for me to argue against someone who says ‘porn is degrading to women’ when their primary experience of porn comes from major tube sites. Sites like PornHub, for instance, or YouPorn, or RedTube….

The front pages of these sites reflect, in general, what straight guys want to see from porn.

Or…umm…do they? They reflect what site owners and content producers think straight guys want from porn, but in reality straight guys are as diverse a bunch as any other group of people. In fact what they’re doing is similar to what Google does when it picks ‘sexy’ images, or what FHM does when it collects the 100 sexiest women: they’re using algorithms and consensus to reach a shorthand answer that will appeal to as many of their target users as possible.

So far, so obvious. Major porn sites surface the content that they think people will like.

Slightly less obvious: the content that is surfaced will in turn influence the kind of porn people seek out. Like Google telling us what it thinks we find sexy, porn sites are offering people an interpretation of what it thinks they’ll get off to, which in turn will influence what they click on. Because it’s hard to click on something that isn’t there – if more diverse content is never surfaced, it’ll naturally get fewer views.

On top of that, the fact that these huge sites have such dominance in search results and in media references to porn means they will also influences what we think porn should look like.

So too is the following by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano in Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives (2016). It provides a taste of her lengthy discussion on the big gap between the abstract checklist of female beauty ideals, manifested in what is presented for men and women to gaze at in popular culture, with what they would much rather gaze at in reality (pages 94-95; emphases in original. Image source: Simon and Schuster):

There’s a problem with believing that men pursue relationships with beauty foremost in mind. It’s not true. That [aforementioned] study of more than ten thousand people? It asked men and women about their preferences in dating, not their experiences. In fact, most empirical data on “what men want” is actually data on what men think they want….

[We may make such wish lists] in a state of cool rationality—but when faced with a real, live human, what we find ourselves attracted to may have little to do with what’s on that oh-so-rational checklist.

Closer to home, I could also mention the chapter “Mammary Mania” in Laura Miller’s Beauty Up: Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics (2006), about how breasts “were not considered critical attributes of women, beauty, or sexuality” (p. 73) in Japan until the 1980s, when attitudes suddenly and radically changed due to the influence of breast-centric US popular culture. (Image source: University of California Press.) Which, for one, upsets the assumptions about men underscoring E.L.‘s contention at Arco Collective that “there are no ‘tits or ass’ for hetero women—no single feature on the male body that concentrates desire with as much intensity and density as the woman’s breast does for the hetero man.”

But there’s only so many ways like this you can point out that—to requote Girl on the Net—”straight guys are as diverse a bunch as any other group of people”, and that popular culture does a poor job of catering towards that diversity.

Let alone of everyone else.

Instead, it’s more pressing to acknowledge that I too have been guilty of generalizing the male gaze here, to which there are more components than simply the gaze of the camera. I’ve been overgeneralizing my sources too, one of whom—unfortunately since lost—was so bold as to point out that the male gaze is but a poor representation of an “average” man’s supposed gaze, and who in reality didn’t exist.

Yet my sources also have agendas, as well as word limits. Theirs goal is to draw attention to the grossly underrepresented female gazes. If nuance on the male gaze gets lost in the process, that’s completely understandable.

If nuance is so lost that a caricature is put in its place though? That men only look, which means women only feel? When that’s the fundamental basis of so many commentators’ descriptions of the female gazes, then my own agenda is to challenge theirs with inconvenient examples of men and women not being so different after all.

Those will be in Part 2, followed by incorporating them into my own criteria and applying those criteria to Touch in Part 3. Until then, apologies to Anda fans for the delay, and please all readers let me know what you think of the MV in the meantime, or about anything else in the post :)

(Apologies also for being so busy in 2017 BTW, and for having a terrible case of writer’s block these past few months. But I’m back now!)

Free The Nipple in Korea? Why Not? Uncovering the history of a taboo

Earlier this month, the Korean media ignored a Free the Nipple event held by Womenlink. This lack of coverage is just one reason why the campaign may struggle to take-off in Korea. But stranger things have happened. Once, men too were forbidden from exposing their chests in public. As Korean summers get hotter and drier, soon these double-standards may seem as absurd as no-pants laws and the skirt-length police.
(Source: @womenlink)

Boobs don’t get much love in Korea.

If they’re larger than average, their owners are often criticized for flaunting their femininity, and stereotyped as sexually voracious. Those same women also struggle to find comfortable, attractive bras that will fit them.

This, despite Korean women’s breasts getting larger for decades as Koreans’ diets have changed.

Of course, women the world over struggle with these issues. But it’s not just size, it’s exposure in general, and standards in Korea are that much stricter. As I’m no Picasso explains:

“Base line standard in Korea: If you are showing even the tiniest centimeter of a crack of cleavage, you are not dressed appropriately for work. Shoulders are also largely taboo, although we have noticed this changing a bit this past summer. Even too much exposed skin on the chest above the cleavage mark can be considered risque.

It’s a pain in the ass for girls with larger chests, because it’s really difficult to find garments that won’t show any cleavage, no matter what position you are in. I’ve also had to take to having an army of undershirts on hand, in order to be sure that not even the shadow of a bra can be seen…”

That probably explains why, per capita, more Korean women plump for breast reductions than enlargement or lifting operations. Also, why bust-reducing bras are so popular, despite Northeast-Asian women’s genetic tendency to have much smaller breasts than—for want of a better catch-all term—Western women. I suspect why braletteswhich can only be really worn by women with small breasts—haven’t been available in Korea either, as Korean women may not have considered them concealing enough. (Although this recent campaign to start producing them has been very successful, and this Japanese-sourced one is also making waves.)

In the midst of this, the Korean media and K-pop industries occupy ambivalent positions. On the one hand, the latter stumbled onto a strategy of emphasizing female performers’ legs instead, considered a “safer” body part in Korea and its Asian markets (well illustrated by this classic cartoon, and the surprising modesty of these “sexy dances“), which simultaneously sexualized the girls and women while deflecting criticism. On the other, the entire industry is centered around securing endorsement contracts with the advertising and beauty industries, which have vested interests in creating new markets through encouraging bustier, more revealing beauty standards.

Image Source: Rok Kim. Anonymous source (quoted with permission): “What are you, ladies? Personally I am 가슴 B컵 for Boobs Are Great In All Sizes and 얼굴 F급 for Fucks Given About Your Opinion Are Zero.” (Advertisement Caption: Breasts, D-cup; Face, A-grade.

But these are all necessary generalizations. The reality is messy, undercut by age, class, marital status, motherhood, occupation, and region. Every morning while working on this post, the range of women’s fashions and levels of exposure I witnessed even just on the subway would defy any of the neat conclusions I’d arrived at the night before.

So, two weeks of pondering nipples and breasts later, as one does, the only generalization I’m still confident of making is that all women suffer from the inconveniences—and, ultimately, the dangers—of the double standards of men’s and women’s fashion.

Most of the negative effects I’m aware of have been covered in those earlier links. But I also happen to be a guy, so I would appreciate female readers’ input. One I didn’t know about for instance, because I don’t shop for women’s clothes, one anonymous woman told me:

“When I came back here 5 years ago, I was shocked because…dresses and/or skirts were way too short in general even when they were meant for the ‘office look’. When you buy clothes online, often the pictures are very misleading because companies often use very petite models so dresses/skirts look something of a normal length. I’ve learned it hard way and started to double-check the length. Nowadays I tend to stick with only a few sites when I shop my work clothes. I should probably start exploring offline stores again.

I don’t mind sporting short skirts/dresses every now and then when time & place is right—I just don’t wanna be surprised when I expect to receive something in a normal length for my work.”

Continuing, I’ve just been wearing short-sleeved shirts to work for the last month, and just long-sleeved shirts before that. In contrast, as a Womenlink activist wrote on her placard at the event (see below), women always have to wear unventilated padding to hide their nipples; to wear bras to hide their breasts; to wear vests to hide their bras; and to wear t-shirts to hide their vests.

No wonder my very well-developed, very active 11 year-old daughter is so reluctant to make the transition from her flimsy training bras. Fortunately though, her school has no uniform, whereas many schools that do have one end up slutshame their female students and forcing them to wear such uncomfortable clothing.

Even more alarmingly, in one 2013 survey of Korean police officers, over half considered revealing clothing to be a cause of sexual assault (indicating little had changed from back in 1996). To those who would make fun of and dismiss Free the Nipple and Slutwalk campaigns in response to such attitudes, and continue to police women’s bodies so unfairly, I’m genuinely curious as to where they would draw the lines. Especially if they claim to still support women’s rights. For to whom else but misogynists, could so much shame and blame hinge on an exposed bra strap or visible nipple?

“I dropped a lot of money on a nice bra…one with frills and made of lace, not like all my other ones that I bought from Uniqlo.” / “Minju! You can see your entire bra! Don’t wear a white t-shirt!” Source, above and below: @bambooblock)
“But what about her? That’s the fashion!!” / Fashion you say… / Jeez… [put this on].” Ironic coincidence: this picture of Korean duo Love X Stereo appeared in my Facebook feed as I was translating!

But where did these attitudes come from? Again, the question is more difficult than it appears, and there’s no handy introduction akin to Laura Miller’s “Mammary Mania” chapter in her excellent book on Japanese body aesthetics.

So, I spent most of those last two weeks laying the framework for what may be my own equivalent chapter on Korea someday. Allow me to present the fruits of that research, in the form of themes and trends I’ve identified that any answer must cover, as well as some highlights from new sources I’ve discovered (please let me know if you have any difficulty obtaining copies of the journal articles). As you’ll soon see, there’s a lot of things to consider, and it can be very difficult—even naive and counterproductive—to separate nipple and breast exposure from taboos surrounding other body parts:

For a discussion of late Joseon Dynasty art, notions of eroticism, and dress codes, as well as a great introduction to a painter who turned out to be quite a maverick and social commentator for his time, see Saehyang P. Chung’s “Sin Yunbok’s Women on Tano Day and the Iconography of Common women Washing Clothes by a Stream,” Oriental Art, vol. 47, no. 5 (2001), pp. 55-69. For instance, consider Chung’s description of Women on Tano Day, painted at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries (p. 56; my emphasis):

“[Most striking of all] is the provocative portrayal of semi-nude bathers in the lower left-hand corner, where a woman stands sensually, her face turned in the direction of the beholder. Equally daring is the inclusion of two young monks, who observe the bathers with unequivocally frank poses and facial expressions…Considering that even in the West, the female nude in a contemporary setting—devoid of classical or biblical context (e.g. Diana or Susanna in Her Bath)—did not appear until the 19th century, the representation of bathing women in Sin Yunbok’s painting is all the more remarkable.

(Source: Wikipedia)

You may have noticed that the working woman carrying a load on her head is fully-clothed, but has her breasts exposed. This is because, as explained by Hyung Gu Lynn in “Fashioning Modernity: Changing Meanings of Clothing in Colonial Korea” in the Journal of International and Area Studies (2004; pp. 77-78):

“…during the Chosôn period, clothing was not a unifying medium for all Koreans, but rather a means of social differentiation. Considerable scholarly energy has been directed to the study of the regulations that governed what clothes and colors could be worn by [whom]. The results show, for example, that it was only women of the upper class who wore long coats and head covers called chang-ot when venturing outside. In contrast, commoner women who worked outdoors often wore short chôgori [blouses], which left their breasts exposed for ease in nursing their babies.”

In light of the symbolic and unifying role the hanbok plays for most Koreans today, unfortunately there has been considerable opposition to acknowledging that “uncivilized” aspect of Korean fashion history. For more on the controversy, see “The Bare Facts” by Robert Neff and “Time to sex up Hanbok” by Andrew Salmon at the Korea Times, this AskHistorians thread at Reddit, the comments to this well-known photograph from 1945 (update: also, the comments to this 1920s breastfeeding postcard), “Joseon girls gone wild” at ZenKatsuo, and From Fukuoka for more photos.

For a bare-breasted photography series inspired by—and in some cases directly replicating—Sin Yun-bok’s painting, see The Hanbok Project by photographer Kim Jung-nam and hanbok designer Lee Young-hee.

• In the chapter “Female Images in 1930s Korea: Virtuous Women and Good Mothers” in Visualizing Beauty: Gender and Ideology in Modern East Asia, ed. by Aida Yuen Wong (2012), Yisoon Kim notes that women were infrequently depicted in Korean art, even compared to other Confucian societies, but the new “Paintings of Colonial Women” genre exemplified by Sin Yun-bok briefly changed all that. What she writes about the anonymous picture on the left below however, contradicts the notion that breasts were not at all eroticized, a notion further corroborated by “firm breasts” being included in contemporary lists of beauty ideals (p. 93.):

(Sources: Naver, Daum, Vosub. On the right is a poster for the fanciful 2008 movie Portrait of a Beauty, which re-imagines Sin Yun-bok as a woman in disguise.)

“…[this left] picture recalls Sin Yun-bok’s style except for the absence of ornate hair accessories. Donning a short skirt, which tantalizingly reveals the breasts, the woman lifts one hand to adjust her hairdo. Although the hanbok is designed to fully cover the body, these paintings expose the flesh in strategic places. Sin’s picture [in the center] includes a silver knife, a traditional symbol of chastity, hanging from the shirt as a reminder of the sexual potential of the image. [Paintings of this genre] facilitated carnal fantasy. They could be made to hang on walls like Western pin-ups or portable scrolls for the convenience of private viewing, presumably at men’s leisure.”

Perhaps it was the elite status of the women depicted that made all the difference? Or, if the women depicted were actually low-status gisaeng, because of the novelty of seeing them bare-breasted, as opposed to commoners?

As Hyung Gu Lynn goes on to explain in her article, the adoption of Western clothing during the colonial period also had important class components, as well as becoming tied to anti-colonialism and nationalism. It’s difficult to understand the rise of—and misogyny against—the “New Woman” and “Modern Girl” ideals without those, so it’s worth quoting her at some length (p. 87, my emphases):

“[In addition to modernization bringing] increasing numbers of women out the house and into public spaces…the diffusion of technologies of visual reproduction and the development of the culture of tourism allowed for more men to consume more images of women, further multiplying the number of meanings embedded in a given piece of clothing.

Although increasing numbers of urban men wore Western-style suits, the changes in women’s clothing occurred at a far slower pace. The transition for women from Chosôn period ch’ima [skirt] to the “improved ch’ima” with the shorter skirt hem and the longer tops meant that the visual distinction between upper class women who had hidden under the chang-ot and the common women with exposed faces and breasts was eliminated. However, in the place of the exposed breast as a marker of commoner status, the degree of calf exposure became one of the indicators of female proximity to capitalism and modernity—more leg, more modern.

Students and workers were encouraged to wear shortened skirts and longer tops for their purported practicality in the more mobile world, but the exposed calf sparked heated debate over its sexual implications…The increased visual presence of women in public and the diffusion of romantic love imbued clothing with heightened sexual meaning.”

And (p.88):

“New styles of clothing which exposed more skin, legs in particular, influenced ideas of beauty that extended and encompassed to the shape of the female body. By the mid-1930s, articles on beautifying calisthenics for women that would not appear so out of place in twenty-first century magazines were appearing in the mass publications…Other articles introduced the proper way to put on makeup, what to wear for which occasions, and how to behave in the “modern life,” further supplementing the new definitions and ideals of beauty and grace. The changes in clothing clearly helped shape the sexual meanings imbued in various body parts, providing further evidence that the eroticized body parts and ‘proper’ areas of skin exposure changes with culture and time.

Developments in visual technology and tourism added to the intensified sexuality of clothing. Magazines, movie posters, and postcards distributed consumable images of women in various styles of dress…The complete covering of the female breast in the colonial period gradually eroticized what had previously been merely regarded a body part. The tourist and travel literature usually contained images of kisaeng in P’yôngyang, but in the late colonial period, the women sea divers in Cheju Island became increasingly popular subjects for postcards and photographs, usually pictured with their breasts exposed.

The ‘traditional’ ch’ima chôgori, which may have been the only clothes a Korean woman owned, or consciously wore as a symbol of resistance to colonial rule or as a reflection of class and status, could be perceived merely as an exotic costume by the unknowing male gaze. The multivalency of each piece of clothing allowed the ‘traditional’ female dress to symbolize Korean identity, and at the same time distend the exotic allure of travel in Korea by promising different vistas and enticing females to the male (predominantly Japanese) tourist.”

(Sources: Sturmgeschutz, OhmyNews. Left image is actually of Busan divers.)

Many years ago, I read that older Korean men (and women?) fondly remember those photos of semi-nude Haenyeo (Jeju divers) from when they were children, taken before the divers began wearing wetsuits in the 1950s and 1960s. Unfortunately, I’ve long since lost the source, so it was good to find indirect confirmation in Hyung Gu Lynn’s article. Actual examples of those photographs however, remain surprisingly difficult to find online, the vast majority actually being of Ama divers in Japan. But they’re out there. The one on the left below for instance, is part of a romanticized series from the 1950s according to the source, although the costumes are authentic; that later one on the right, very likely taken for a Jeju postcard, is much more modest, but remains a good example of glamorization and sexualization.

(Sources: 유자향내를 따라서, hansoo7007)

Yisoon Kim provides a good summary of why a new trend of portraying “virtuous” women then arose, with depictions of breastfeeding in particular becoming the main subjects of paintings for the first time (p. 91):

“…[the 1930s were] the height of colonialism, when conservatism and progressiveness coexisted…Fine artists tended to depict the opposites [of the much-criticized Modern Girls], that is, virtuous women who demonstrated chastity and sexual restraint. Modernization was underway…but unfavorable economic conditions inside and outside the country made Koreans wary of change. [Under the conditions of the Great Depression and coming war], the colonized and impoverished Korean nation took comfort in the idea of women carrying out their motherly duties and grooming the next generation for a more prosperous future.”

In a previous chapter, “The Modern Girl as a Contested Symbol in Colonial Korea”, Yeon Shim Chung notes that other reasons for the adoption of the virtuous mother as a nationalist symbol include the facts that most of the new beauty products for the Modern Girls and New Women—as well as the original ideals themselves—came from Japan. Indeed (p. 82):

“Commerce and feminism intersected with colonialism in controversial ways. Korea’s access to Western goods was one vehicle for Japan to prove its utility as a civilizer and modernizer. As voracious consumers of these goods, Modern Girls inadvertently participated in Korea’s colonial subordination to Japan, which entailed [heavily] promoting [to both Koreans and to the West] progressive images of Japan while denigrating Korea as a remote, pre-industrial land…”

Which may have included bare-breasted women in hanbok, as the comment threads linked to earlier suggest, and why many Koreans’ understandable first reaction to seeing them is to dismiss them as Japanese propaganda.

• Most ordinary women entering the newly-created jobs open to them, of course, had no time for men’s criticisms of their newfound professional and sexual freedoms, or the shoehorning of their consumer purchases into narratives of nationalist betrayal. Indeed, as Young Na Kim describes in “Being Modern: Representing the ‘New Woman’ and ‘Modern Girl’ in Korean Art“, Western clothes became the norm by the 1930s (p. 222) “…not because they signified modernity, but because they were practical and comfortable.” Also, and in particular, further examples she gives caution against tendencies in previously mentioned sources that neatly categorize trends and depictions into the decadent 1920s vs. the virtuous 1930s (p. 238):

“One of the characteristics of the Modern Girl was her consciousness of her body. There were now attempts to freely express the physical strength or beauty of woman’s body. Nude paintings, which once were banned from being shown in public, now could be displayed at an exhibition with no restrictions, but they were still depicted in the setting of the artist’s studio. However, there is a photograph of famous dancer Choi Seong-hee [left, below] in 1931 which reveals that she exposed her body half naked in a public performance, as if to declare the freedom of the body. Kang Dae-sok’s photograph of a female nude [the first nude photograph in Korea; right, below] should be also noted in this context, in her stretched posture facing toward the sky as if to embrace the whole world, breaking away from the passive reclining or standing nude form.”

(Sources: knnews, 술취한★북극성)

• Moving rapidly to the postwar era, two easy guides I recommend on the transition to the full adoption of Western-style clothing are: Sunae Park et. al., “The Process of Westernization: Adoption of Western-Style Dress by Korean Women, 1945-1962” in Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 3, 1993, which has more on the practical considerations behind the shift, and Karlyne A. Anspach and Yoon Hee Kwon, “Western Dress Styles Adopted by Korean Women” in Home Economics Research Journal, Vol. 4, No.4, June 1976.

Next, there is the oft-mentioned mini-skirt fever prompted by singer Yoon Bok-hee, hemlines reaching a peak of 30cm above the knee in 1968. But in my opinion, the liberalization of Korean clothing and attitudes then is exaggerated. While more revealing imagery from the period tends to stick out, it may not be representative, not unlike the aforementioned wide gap between the busty ideals promoted by the Korean media and ordinary Korean women’s attitudes today. Also, not only was Yoon branded a “public enemy” for her bravado, and had eggs thrown at her the very same day she revealed her mini-skirt, but this was hardly the swinging ’60s in Korea. In fact, the country was desperately poor at the time (less than 1 in 10 Koreans had washing machines, refrigerators, phones, or televisions), with most of the public unable to spend much on fashion, and possibly deeply resentful of those that could.

Fears of the ensuing social conflict are one big reason for the implementation of the highly authoritarian “Yushin System” of 1972-1981, which included forced haircuts for men, minimum skirt-lengths for women, and strict censorship of sexual media content.

(Sources: Joongang Ilbo, 나르샤)

This censorship would not just end in the early-1980s however, but in fact sexual content would ultimately be encouraged by the government, as part of its “3S” policy of “sex, screen, and sport” to distract people from politics. Accordingly, Madame Aema, “the most explicit of Korean movies ever made,” would hit the theaters in early-1982.

• In the late-1980s, the government began to lift restrictions on the use of foreign models in advertisements. First, they were allowed to appear in advertisements for foreign products, then in 1994, for domestic products also. Their use exploded after that, particularly after the liberalization of the magazine market in 1999.

This is relevant for understanding exposure taboos, because both Korean and overseas-sourced advertisements with foreign, overwhelmingly Caucasian, models tended to—and still tend to—portray them in more revealing clothing and/or sexually-themed advertisements than their Korean counterparts, perpetuating long-held stereotypes of Western lasciviousness and Korean modesty. In particular, various developments in the fashion industry meant that for roughly 10 years from 2000-2010, it was extremely rare to see a Korean lingerie model, until the entertainment industry began to see the attention-seeking possibilities and financial gains from having its girl-group members and female actors become endorsers.

That said, I remain unaware of any Korean female nipples that have ever graced any advertisements here.

(Sources: Metro, July 8 2010, p. 7., ckmania)

In the summer of 2002, record numbers of Korean women would take advantage of the soccer World Cup to go out and have a good time, and weren’t modest about what they would like to do with the soccer players; in the process, they directly challenged conservative standards of dress, as well as taboos against assertive representations of female sexuality in the media. Although both developments had in fact already begun in the mid to late-1990s, and were accelerated by the sexual politics of the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis, unfortunately the “movement” was then largely co-opted and channeled into narratives of support for the national soccer team by the media and government.

This set a modern precedent for the very literal use of women’s—and also men’s—bodies for Korean military, nationalist, economic, and soft power purposes, roles which would come to fit the K-pop industry like a glove.

Finally, in addition to the K-pop industry and government censorship regimes perpetuating the notion that breasts are bad, but women’s legs and men’s abs are good clean harmless fun, there is the dramatic rise of the cosmetic surgery industry over the last few decades to consider. Fueled, I’d go so far as to say primarily by, Korea being one of only two countries in the OECD where photographs are required on resumes, despite multiple attempts to stop the practice. And this is the same industry that, as previously noted, is heavily encouraging bustier body ideals.

Exhausted after reading that? You’re not the only one(!). Yet that potted history of the taboo is still just the bare-bones, and needs considerable fleshing-out. Not least, from all the Korean-language sources I’ve also discovered and barely scratched the surface of, as well as the voices of Korean women and men themselves. I also acknowledge the almost complete lack of mention of men, and eagerly await your suggestions for further scholarly sources on Korean men’s nipples in particular ;)

Despite all the generalizations and gaps however, a clear theme of fluidity and rapid change in Korea’s exposure taboos emerges from all the above, and there’s no reason to suppose those won’t continue. Indeed, to those that feel that women walking around with exposed breasts is too much of an extreme to ever return to, it was once considered just as outlandish for men to expose their chests too, as pointed out by activists in the Free the Nipple campaign:

(Via: Astronomy in Reverse)

Moreover, to those that feel that such a campaign has chances for success in Western countries, but that a Korean equivalent will inevitably lag far behind, I’d point out how recent the call for change is in Western countries too.* And nobody who was in a crowd of Red Devils in Korea in 2002—or, indeed, in a candlelight democracy vigil in 2017—can fail to appreciate what ordinary Koreans are capable of when decide they can no longer tolerate other people’s bullshit.

Kudos then, to the activists from Womenlink earlier this month. You can read more about their event (and see many more comments) in two posts on Womenlink’s Facebook Page, or on their homepage, and here’s my translations of their posters and placards to round off this post:

*As friends have rightly pointed out, the puritan standards of the US referenced in those links do not represent those of all Western countries. In particular, nude beaches have been popular in much of continental Europe for decades, and standards for the workplace and presenters on television are much more relaxed. Also, nudity is common on French daytime and primetime TV. 

(Source: @womenlink)

(Speech Bubbles): Your nipples are showing! / Arrgh! (Women’s) Nipples! / Your nipples are too dark!

(Source, this image and following 3: @womenlink)

Those aren’t eyes there.

(lit.) Nipples have a wide language.

(Source, this image and following two: @womenlink)

We wear padding (which isn’t ventilated) to hide our nipples, we wear bras to hide our breasts, to hide our bras we wear vests, and to hide our vests we wear t-shirts…this prickly heat is so frustrating! We can’t live like this! Free the Nipple!

Q) If you have a lot of sexual experience, do your nipples get darker? A) No way!

Free the nipple / Why is looking at only women’s nipples restricted to over-18s?!?! Let’s stop the sexual objectification of women now!!

Update: Korea Observer reported on a very similar event in 2014, although I’m unsure if it was connected with Womenlink in any way. Here’s a video from that:

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic series:

Open Thread: What Got YOU Interested in Gender and Sexuality?

(Source: YouTube)

I’ll start.

Do you remember the rave scene from The Matrix Reloaded? What did you think of it?

Most people I ask express their disdain. To them, it represents everything that went wrong with the sequels.

I hear them about the sequels I tell them. In general. But this particular scene? They don’t have to like it, and there’s much to complain about the execution. Yet for all its flaws, it is integral to the story, as “Signal Chaser 76” makes clear at arts technica:

The scene represents humanity, a beleaguered and nearly extinct humanity. It’s humanity at its most reckless and youthful stage, humans engaged in wild, primitive, and raw sexual dancing, humans dirty with mud from the caves gyrating to primitive but hypnotic beats, vulnerable to the ambiance of the party and their situation under ground.

It’s humans inspired by a great speech to celebrate what makes humans human. This may be the last time they can dance like this, this may be the last time they can celebrate what makes them so peculiar and odd in a world of robots and virtual reality…

…It is offset by the relentless precision of the machines, their singular drive to destroy Zion, their unemotional quest to destroy any semblance of humanity in the heretofore tolerated Zion. Cold, steal, mechanical- the machines are precisely the opposite of the dancing humans in Zion.

I can’t pretend to have been aware of all that back in the theater in 2003. But I did get an inkling. Because, sitting in my favorite spot in the front row, the sudden eruption of gargantuan raw flesh in my face, with all the glistening breasts, the nipples, the muscles, the biceps, the grinding in rhythm to deep, pounding, hypnotic beats…made me realize right then and there just how fundamental sexuality was to being human, and how anybody that pretended otherwise was just fucked up.

Yeah, those really were my exact words to myself in the movie theater. You can see why they provided such a big step on the path that led to this blog.

I mention them fourteen years later, because I was actually writing a post about two feminist artists, and wanted to explain why I’m so drawn to those brave enough to call out all the bullshit surrounding sexuality. Much better though, to actually focus on the artists themselves in the introduction to that post, and to use this one as an opportunity to get a conversation with you going instead.

Your turn now! :D

한국인이세요? 한국인이랑 데이트 해봤어요? 이 연구가를 도와주세요!

Source: Pakutaso

Grand Narrative 독자분들께,

안녕하세요! 제 이름은 Edward Glayzer입니다. 저는 미시간주립대학교 인류학과의 박사과정생이고, Grand Narrative의 오래된 독자이기도 합니다. James Turnbull씨는 제가 서울에 와서 한국의 성불평등에 대한 학위논문 연구를 시작할 때부터 많은 도움을 주셨고, 또한 이렇게 연구대상자 모집을 공고할 수 있게 해주셨기에 감사하다는 말씀 전하고 싶습니다.

제 연구는 한국 사회의 성불평등에 관한 광범위한 주제들을 더 잘 이해하기 위한 것이며, 이를 위해 한국인들의 데이트와 결혼 의식에서 일어나는 물질적 교환을 살펴봅니다. 제 연구는 또한 남성과 여성의 소득 불평등이 어떻게 상품 소비를 통한 친밀함의 표현에 영향을 미치는지를 다룹니다. 이 연구의 유일한 참여조건은 “다른 한국인과 데이트를 해본 대한민국 국적의 성인”입니다.

독자 여러분의 의향이나 내주실 수 있는 시간에 따라 두 가지 참여방법이 있습니다. 이 중 하나 혹은 둘 다 자원해주신다면 매우 감사할 것입니다.

하나는 보통 10-15분이 걸리는 간단한 온라인 설문을 해주시는 것입니다. 서베이의 링크는 다음과 같습니다: https://msu.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_57kvB7gFyJihklD

다른 하나는 1:1 대면 인터뷰이며, 보통 한 시간에서 한 시간 반 정도 걸립니다. 저는 현재 약혼녀와 서울 강남구에서 거주 중이지만, 독자 분을 만나기 위해서 기꺼이 다른 곳도 방문할 의사가 있습니다! 시간 내주시기 어렵다면 스카이프 인터뷰 역시 가능합니다.

혹시 제 연구에 대해 질문이 있으시거나 인터뷰 일정을 잡고 싶으시다면, eglayzer@gmail.com로 메일 주시기 바랍니다. 카카오톡도 가능하며, 아이디는 eglayzer입니다.

Hello Grand Narrative Readers,

My name is Edward Glayzer. I am Doctoral Candidate from the department of Anthropology at Michigan State University and a longtime reader of The Grand Narrative. Since moving to Seoul to begin my dissertation research on Korean gender inequality, James Turnbull has been extremely helpful and kind enough to post this call for research subjects.

My research looks at gift-giving practices that take place during dating and marriage rituals among native South Koreans as a way of better understanding larger issues on gender inequality in South Korean society. My research will also address how the unequal access to income between men and women affects the expression of intimacy through the consumption of commodities. The only requirement for participation in this study is to be an adult of Korean nationality and have spent time dating other Koreans. (To clarify, any sexuality is welcome—James)

There are two possible levels of involvement that you may have depending on your availability and inclination. Volunteering for either one, or both, is extremely helpful to me and I would be in your debt.

The first is to fill out a brief online survey that usually takes between 10 and 15 minutes to complete. This survey can be accessed here: https://msu.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_57kvB7gFyJihklD

The second involves a one-on-one interview that usually takes 1 hour to a 1 ½ hours. I am currently living with my fiancé in Gangnam, Seoul, but am more than willing to travel throughout Korea in order to meet with you! If your time is very limited, a Skype interview would also be possible.

If you have any questions about my research or if you would like to schedule an interview, please email me at eglayzer@gmail.com. You can also find me on Kakao by searching for eglayzer.

Thank you for your help,

Edward Glayzer M.A., Doctoral Candidate, Michigan State University, Department of Anthropology.