To Understand Modern Korean Misogyny, Look to the Modern Girls of the 1930s

(Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 9)
1930s Korean New Girl Modern Girl Stereotypes Criticism(Source, edited: 살구나무 아랫집)

Wasting money on frivolous Western things, gaining financial independence, following their hearts instead of the wishes of their families, and not making enough babies.

All these criticisms of Korean “modern girls” in the 1930s sound eerily like those of “beanpaste girls” today. In so doing, they have much to teach us about the origins of modern Korean misogyny, and why their stories resonate so deeply with its victims over 80 years later.

Take 강심바 for instance, who begins describing the caricatures above as:

“Fucking asshole men’s traditional misogyny. A cartoon from The Chosun Ilbo in the 1930s…”

And then:

“Even back then, stereotypes like the ones in this cartoon were controversial. Wow, there were even labels like today’s “beanpaste girl.” It was prophetic.”

But what does it say exactly? Not recognizing some of the hanja characters, I consulted 예쁜 여자 만들기 (Making Pretty Women) by Lee Yeong-ah (2011). From left to right, the legs read:

Ahn Seok-yeong “If the Age of Woman Comes (2)”, The Chosun Ilbo, January 12, 1930.

1) Any guy is okay for me if he buys me a piano.

2) Any guy is okay for me if he builds me a house. Even a 70-year old.

3) I’m still single.

4) I want to marry a man who has been overseas to study.

5) I love chocolate. Only that one box.

6) I didn’t pay my rent. Please help me.

7) I am a virgin. [But] I like anyone who has lots of money.

8) I am hysterical. You have to understand this.

(p. 242)

Naturally, Lee finds the criticisms unfair, arguing that the cartoon says just as much about the cartoonist and the men who laugh at it as it does about the women so caricatured:

안석영의 이 만문만화는 “물질을 매개로 한 자유연애와 자유결혼의 속내를 ‘선전propaganda’이라는 상상의 장치를 통해 드러낸 작품이다. 만화 속 여성들은 자신의 몸을 내걸고 남성들에게 돈, 선물, 집, 사치품 등을 요구한다. 안석영은 이 만문만화에서 아마도 당시의 상품화한 연애와 결혼을 돈만 밝히는 허영심 강한 여성들의 책임으로 돌리고자 한 듯하다. 그러나 남성들은 어떤가? 위의 그림에서 여성은 다리만으로 표현되어 있다. 프레임 안은 남성들의 시선이 머문 지점이다. 즉 남성들은 여성들의 영혼이나 지성이 아니라 몸과 다리만을 보고 있었던 것이다. 그런 점에서 남성들 역시 왜곡된 연애나 결혼에서 ‘결백’을 주장하기 어려울 듯하다.

(p. 243)

In this cartoon, Ahn Seok-yeong uses an imaginary device called “propaganda” to criticize modern girls by showing their real, very materialistic feelings and motivations behind their embrace of free love and free marriage. The women in this cartoon are asking for money, gifts, presents, luxury items, and so on by using their bodies. It seems that Ahn criticizes the women for being greedy, blaming them for self-objectifying themselves for love and marriage. But what about the men? In the cartoon, the women are faceless. It only shows their legs, as the objects of the male gaze. In other words, men are only looking at women’s bodies, and are unconcerned with their personality and intelligence. In that regard, surely men are equally culpable for a distorted, perverted view of love and marriage?

Lee goes onto describe that, spearheaded by modern girls, the 1920s and 1930s were very much the period when Korea’s modern notions of free love, sexuality, and marriage were first formulated. (As well as the tendencies to judge women in terms of their appearance, and men in terms in their earning power.) Much closer to American flappers than their relatively conservative, usually less financially-independent Japanese counterparts, such notions were especially radical in Korea, where arranged marriages were the norm—and, alas, continued to be for many decades thereafter.

But Lee writes in Korean. For an excellent English source on that instead, see “Sensational Politics of Desire and Trivial Pursuits: Public Censure of New Women in Private Lives in early 1930s Korea“ by Park Bongsoo, who explains:

In the early 20th century, “love” and “love marriage” were new concepts in Korea. When arranged marriage—determined by one’s inherited class and financial status—was the only legitimate way to form a heterosexual union, women’s sexuality were confined in heterosexual relationships for procreation only, and love had no place in it. People of a lower class, who usually freely mingled with each other more than those in the upper class freely mingled with each other, no doubt fell in love and got married; however, middle and upper-class women had no right to assert their will in a matrimonial process. Therefore, the goal of new women’s contestation was not only to change the customary practice of marriage but also to bring a fundamental shift in people’s way of thinking about heterosexual unions. The women of the 1920s sought to overcome the prescriptive definition of women’s sexuality through writing publicly about their personal lives. Without a doubt, their demands were heavily criticized as immoral by elite male. Even today’s scholars criticize their demands as “too individualistic and extreme” and their approach to women’s liberation as “bourgeois feminism” that were said to turn blind eyes to class oppression operating within a gender structure.

(p. 2)

What fascinate though, are the uncanny parallels between the subsequent backlash and modern misogyny. For more on those specifically, see “How Women Are Represented within the Patriarchal Nationalism in (neo) Colonial Times” by Yewon Lee, who describes how critiques of modern girls first arose as a result of the increasing militarization of Korea’s Japanese colonizer:

Western thoughts such as the concept of natural rights of the individual and equality among man and woman were denied in the ’30s, and the so called “Old women” that stands in the opposite of the “New women” [신여성] that used to be criticized as old fashion, submissive, and dependent were reevaluated as those who retain the virtue of the past tradition. On the other hand, the “modern girls” who voiced their subjectivity on issues such as sexuality were blamed to be ‘selfish’ and ‘morally  corrupted.’ This is not irrelevant with the fact that the Japanese colony was conducting a war that goes beyond their capacity and needed all the resources it can pull, thus, needed the women to become the ‘strong  mothers’ to give birth and raise the ‘strong soldiers’ and be ideologically loyal enough to send their son’s willingly to war. This is the well known explanation of why the discourse of “New women” suddenly shifted to a conservative one in the 1930’s.

(pp. 9-10)

In particular, she argues that Korean men made them the scapegoats for forces over which neither sex had any control:

…not only did the discourse change due to the need of the Japanese colonialism but also it reflects the frustration of the colonized. Many of the Korean men were forced to join the army against their will. There was not much they can do when their mothers, sisters, wives, and lovers were harassed and mobilized as comfort women during the war. The sense of helplessness and powerless the colonized men had to put up with as the rule of the colonization harshens, made them in needs of a object, the women of the nation, to be kept under their control and for times to take out their anger. Thus, the women were safe from reproach as long as they were labeled as the ‘mother’ that gives birth and raise the child of the nation; however, once they insist on their rights as a woman they become an object of criticism. Thus discussions about women’s subjectivity on sexuality and gender equality almost disappear in the public scene by this time.

(pp. 10-11.)

And with that criticism, came a host of body and/or lifestyle labels and ideals for women to aspire to, and/or stereotypes to be criticized for. For an instance of the latter, take the “stick girl” at the top left of the left image below, so-called because her much older partner uses her body as a walking cane. Whether she’s with him for love or money, I imagine that the cartoonist’s real issue is less with the age disparity than with the woman’s brazen freedom and sexual agency. Because would he have criticized a similar marital union arranged between two families of the same class, with the woman getting pregnant shortly thereafter?

Korean and Japanese Modern Girls(Left: “The various types of ‘girls’ in the 1920s to 1930s”; scan, 예쁜 여자 만들기, p. 245. Right: Actor Hideko Takamine, Japanese White Powder Foundation advertisement, 1930s; via The Flapper Girl.)

Either way, the parallels continue, for this label-making has been a strong trend in the last decade too. Also, whereas those feelings of helplessness and powerless are now because of “Hell Joseon” rather than colonial rule, nevertheless they still get channeled by the media into anger against young women, supposedly for taking over “men’s jobs” while the men suffer their mandatory military service. Writing in 2007 though, well before some important developments in Korea’s demographics (an excess of teenage boys turning into men) and labor market (more young women doing irregular and part-time work), instead Yewon Lee stresses the strong anti-American components to the misogyny she witnessed. Her paper is worth reading for that alone, and I’d be very interested in hearing readers’ opinions on how important that component remains nearly ten years later.

So, I encourage readers to check out both papers (actually conference presentations), which deserve to be much better known. Unfortunately PDFS are no longer available online, so please contact me if you’d like me to email them.

What are you waiting for? ;)

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic Series:

Update: A must read is “Sweet Dream” at Gusts of Popular Feeling, about the strong critique of modern girls in the form of—sigh—Korea’s oldest surviving movie.

Morning-after Pill Remains Prescription Only

In the continued financial stand-off between doctors and pharmacists, Korean women’s health and sexual freedom remain a low priority.
MV 010 - 2 - SBS Family's Honor (2008-2009) - This I Promise You(Source: withhyunbin; CC BY-NC 2.0)

Remember back in 2012, when the Korean FDA announced the monthly birth-control pill would become prescription only?

In isolation, there are many reasonable arguments for such a change. In the context of the criminalization of abortion though? Plus the slut-shaming that compels many women to rely on their male partners for contraception, combined with Korea’s woefully-inadequate sex education? Then that freedom of access was important.

What’s more, while the monthly pill was to become prescription only, the morning-after pill was to be made over the counter.

That made no sense, whatever one’s feelings about either pill. And indeed, there were no sudden new medical reasons provided to justify the changes. Instead, as I wrote this January:

…it was a transparent attempt to forge a compromise between the competing financial interests of the Korean Medical Association and the Korean Pharmaceutical Association. And a blunt demonstration that women’s health and sexual freedom were the least of the government’s concerns.

Fortunately though, it backed down in the face of outrage, and because the outgoing Lee Myung-bak Administration resolved it was not worth creating a political headache for Park Geun-hye’s presidential campaign. Also fortunately, Park Geun-hye hasn’t tried again since gaining power. A surprise, frankly, given her continuation of Lee Myung-bak’s equally bizarre and women-unfriendly policy of (re)criminalizing abortion in order to raise the birthrate. (And in practice, only serving to make abortion services much more expensive and difficult to find.)

Four years later, she still hasn’t. And it’s wonderful that the monthly pill remains over the counter.

Alas, that doesn’t mean the government hasn’t been busy. Earlier this week, it decided that the morning-after pill would remain prescription only. As the Korea Bizwire reports:

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety revealed that after a comprehensive review of contraceptives’ actual usage statistics, side effects, and general public awareness, it would continue to categorize emergency contraceptives as ethical drugs.

Ethical drugs, also referred to in Korea as ETC drugs, are defined as drugs that require a doctor’s prescription for usage, and the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety revealed that the decision to keep emergency contraceptives under the category of ETC drugs was due to serious concern over the possible abuse of these contraceptives by the public.

On the other hand, the ministry will maintain its categorization of regular contraceptive pills, which are to be taken prior to sexual intercourse, as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.

Recent trends show that the production and imports of emergency contraceptive pills are both increasing – growing from 2.8 billion won to 4.4 billion won in 2014 and then 4.2 billion won in 2015 – according to a study on contraceptives’ actual usage statistics, side effects, and general public awareness conducted between 2013 and 2015 by the Korea Institute of Drug Safety & Risk Management on 6,500 individuals of both genders between 15 and 59 years of age.

And yet, the study also found that only 44 percent of females in the study had accurate knowledge about emergency contraceptive pills, such as their side effects.

[Emergency contraceptive pills have] a high risk of side effects compared to regular OTC contraceptive pills in that the drastic hormonal change could be a considerable burden on the female body.

The Korea Herald adds that only “36 percent of female teenagers were accurately informed about the drug and its possible side effects” (as opposed to the 44% of women mentioned above). Unlike in 2012 though, now it appears that the Ministry has Korean women’s and teenagers’ health very much in mind.

I call bullshit.

This is dubious, retroactive justification of a decision made entirely on ideological grounds.

First, consider the track-record of the Park Geun-hye administration, which is unusually beholden to conservative vested interests. In the absence of (sufficient) political pressure from the Korean Pharmaceutical Association, and/or the ever-dwindling pool of young female voters, it would be extremely unlikely to ever make such a female-friendly, sexually-progressive move as increasing access to the morning-after pill.

Next, recall that under-18s aren’t actually allowed to access information about contraception on the internet, in which case that figure of 36 percent could even considered a positive. (Search on portal sites, and a social security number login will be required.)

(Update: It turns out, that login may only be required for information about condoms.)

Finally, and in particular, the Korean Medical Association has a long history of scaremongering about the pill, which likely plays a big role in why only 2.5% of Korean women actually use it. This makes me very, very wary of the Korean government’s claims about the dangers.

Sure enough, just this week Fusion offered a damming rebuttal of those, via an article on why US universities don’t offer the morning-after pill to students:

…Medication abortion is really, really safe. Since 2000, more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. have used it to terminate early pregnancies. While the pill can cause side effects such as nausea, fever, and cramping, it has an adverse effect rate of only 0.2 percent. That’s way less than adverse effect rate for the asthma inhaler Advair (27 percent), the antidepressant Wellbutrin (22.3 percent), the anti-anxiety drug Xanax (13.9 percent), and the cholesterol medication Lipitor (12.9 percent).

And just two months ago, the FDA revised its label of the abortion pill mifepristone to match the evidence-based protocols already being utilized by physicians nationwide—a protocol that allows for the drug to be given up to seventy days into a pregnancy, instead of forty-nine days and states that a smaller dose can be given to efficiently terminate a pregnancy.

But I’m clearly biased in favor of over the counter access, for just about every non-invasive/non-surgical contraception really, so please let me know what you think. Also, let me pass on the following video report for Korean speakers, although it doesn’t add much to the English articles already linked sorry (unless readers spot something I missed?):

Update:

Claire Lee at the Korea Herald has just penned a must-read on the angry response of Korean women and Korean women’s-rights groups, and the utter uselessness of visiting doctors for the morning-after pill. Not least, because of the frequent slut-shaming involved.

Related Posts:

“Women Are Voting With Their Vaginas”

A Tale of Legendary Libido (Source: HanCinema)

Just a quick quote of mine from Fabian Kretschmer’s article for the German Taz newspaper, about Seoul’s very cool, very inclusive, very female-friendly sex-toy shop Pleasure Lab.

Alas, I wasn’t actually referring to what I hope is (or will be) Pleasure Lab’s great popularity with Seoulites though. Rather, to successive Korea governments’ utter failure at raising the birthrate, primarily due to their ideological inability to regard educated, working women as a) people, and b) men’s equals. But, if you’d rather not be reminded that sex often leads to babies though, and would really, really like to visit Pleasure Lab for yourself, then head over to Taz to read more about it in German, and/or Maxine Builder’s article in English at The Establishment. Please let everyone know in the comments what it’s like too (of course, anonymously if you prefer).

What are you waiting for? There’s still many cold winter nights to go before spring, especially in Seoul! ;)

Update: Just for shits and giggles:

(Still) Empowering Korean Women: Over-the-counter contraceptive pills

Increased access to the pill in the US provides a reminder of how good it’s always been in South Korea.
Korea Contraceptive Pill Commercial(Source: YouTube)

Have you heard? Women in Oregon can get hormonal contraceptives directly from pharmacies now, without having to go to a doctor for a prescription first. And in California, they’ll be able to do so from March, whatever their age.

Which is great news. But with health and reproductive rights being such a quagmire in the US, it will be a long time before that’s the case in the other 48 states. Indeed, some supporters think the new legislation will even slow down that extension of access, due to the lengthy FDA approval process required for converting prescription contraceptives to over-the-counter products.

Whatever happens, I was struck by the stark contrast to Korea, where the monthly contraceptive pill has been available over-the-counter for 48 years. As Jordan McCutcheon explains, in her recent article “12 ways Korea ruined me for the US” for Matador Network (my emphasis):

Before I left to go abroad, I was told my insurance wouldn’t cover a year’s worth of birth control at one time (shocker). In Korea, birth control is over the counter, and it’s cheap. I asked for the active ingredient in the medicine I took at home, and the pharmacist found a similar brand. So, for ₩8,000 ($7) I can buy as much as I want whenever I want because I’m a woman who knows what’s good for my body, and what it doesn’t need is another US male politician regulating my right to not reproduce.

That said, only 2.5 percent of Korean women actually use the pill. Probably, due to a combination of aggressive sterilization programs in the 1970s and ’80s, a knock-on tendency to leave contraception in men’s hands, and because of scaremongering by the Korean Medical Association.

Also, there were alarm bells in mid-2012, when the KFDA announced bizarre plans to make monthly pills require a prescription, but morning-after pills over-the-counter. (Basically, the opposite of the existing situation.) But there was no medical justification provided. Instead, it was a transparent attempt to forge a compromise between the competing financial interests of the Korean Medical Association and the Korean Pharmaceutical Association. And a blunt demonstration that women’s health and sexual freedom were the least of the government’s concerns.

Fortunately though, it backed down in the face of outrage, and because the outgoing Lee Myung-bak Administration resolved it was not worth creating a political headache for Park Geun-hye’s presidential campaign. Also fortunately, Park Geun-hye hasn’t tried again since gaining power. A surprise, frankly, given her continuation of Lee Myung-bak’s equally bizarre and women-unfriendly policy of (re)criminalizing abortion in order to raise the birthrate. (And in practice, only serving to make abortion services much more expensive and difficult to find.)

In the meantime then, Korea remains one of the few developed countries where the monthly pill is over-the-counter. Which makes we wonder: in terms of attitudes towards and use of the pill, in what other ways does Korea stand out?

With that in mind, I was struck by the emphasis on appearance in the following recent commercial.

The voiceover says “My body? ‘A.’ My personality? ‘A.’ My style? ‘A.’ [The reason for?] my success? Alesse contraceptive pills,” followed by the text also mentioning it’s a good treatment for acne.

Should women with “normal” bodies try something else then? What about those with only so-so fashion sense?

That can’t compare with the Koreanness of this next one though, with its mention of “bagel girls” and use of aegyo:

So much so, it may actually be a satire: its title is “Pill Ads These Days,” and I can’t find any mention of the company. Either way, it stresses that even women who look great in a white one-piece, women on a diet, women with great bodies, and women who do aegyo with their boyfriends…all get mood swings and PMT. And all of which can be solved by rearranging their cycles with the pill.

Which I’m sure is indeed empowering. Yet, watching these, you could be forgiven for forgetting that the pill is sometimes used to prevent pregnancy too.

Or is that just me? Please let me know your own thoughts in the comments, about these commercials, how they compare to pill commercials overseas, and/or about contraceptives in Korea in general. And if I’ve been reading too much into these two examples too—no matter how much fun I’ve had doing so! ;)

Just in case though, I’m happy to point out that Mercilon’s commercials at least, do seem to acknowledge that they can be used for that thing called sex too (which is also fun):

Update 1: Satire or not, the second commercial is very similar to this genuine one for Myvlar:

Update 2: According to Stuff, there’s a strong possibility the pill is going to be made (more) over-the-counter in New Zealand also. Most commenters are supportive of the move, and question just how useful and necessary visits to GPs are. For instance, according to “BenzyY”:

In my experience, doctors tend not to provide any real advice or counselling about the use of the pill anyway. When you first start taking it they tell you to read the information leaflet. That is all. And once you’re on it, all they do is harass you about your weight and medical history, and when asked about spotting, imply that boyfriends/partners/husbands have been cheating and have given you an STI.

Bring on pharmacy visits.

Meanwhile, the author of Vintage Ads was stuck at “how condom ads [in Western countries] have changed from ‘prevent pregnancy’ to ‘prevent disease’ over the years.” I wonder then, if these Korean pill ads are so coy about their pregnancy prevention because of Korean sensibilities, or whether they’re more a reflection of recent, international trends in contraceptive advertising?

Related Posts:

Calling all Korean-Western Couples!

A Mixed Relationship(Source, edited: ufunk)

I’ve been asked to pass on the following by Dr. Daniel Nehring, a British sociology lecturer:

My project looks at the experiences of Korean-Western couples currently living in Korea, of any sexual orientation. It involves conversational interviews of approximately one hour, covering various aspects of everyday life in a transnational relationship; I interview the Western participants in English, while my Korean (female) colleague interviews the Korean participants in Korean. I work according to the code of ethical conduct of the British Sociological Association, so participation is confidential and anonymous, which includes not divulging one partner’s responses to the other(!). I am looking for participants aged 25 to 45 who are settled in Korea and currently live in a long-term transnational relationships. I could meet participants in a place of their choice; alternatively, the interview(s) could take place on Skype. I would be happy to answer any further questions about my research; my e-mail address is d.nehring@worc.ac.uk.

I’d add that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Daniel several times, and that he has conducted similar projects in Mexico and China; see here for one of his journal articles on the latter, which is still ongoing, while the Mexican interviews ultimately became part of a book.

Korean Sociological Image #91: Shameless Hussy Corrupts Korean Youth

With the decriminalization of adultery in February, Koreans seem more open about sex than ever before. But advertisers are slow to challenge traditional gender roles.

Motel, Park Ki-ryang, Yoo Byung-jaeThat Korean youth would include my two daughters, just off-camera in these pictures I took at a local bus stop. And the shameless hussy would be cheerleader Park Ki-ryang (a.k.a. “The Baseball Goddess”), intent on hooking-up with SNL writer and comedian Yoo Byung-jae in their ads for 여기어때 (Yogi-oddae, “How about here”), a motel-finding app. For someone whose first Korean girlfriend had a 10pm curfew, and who arrived in Korea the same year singer Baek Ji-young was disgraced for unknowingly being taped while having sex, it was remarkable to see something so brazen.

Ironically though, they were gone from Busan bus stops the next day; I wondered if they had indeed been too much for the Korean public. But I couldn’t find any news about any complaints or controversy, and found another ad in my local university district the day after that:

Motel, Park Ki-ryang, Yoo Byung-jae University DistrictPerhaps the disappearance was simply because the May campaign was wrapping up. Also, its cable commercials, released in June, remained available on YouTube and Yogi-oddae’s Facebook page. As The Joongang Ilbo explained:

19일 관련업계에 따르면 인터넷서비스업체 위드웹이 운영하는 여기어때가 방송작가 겸 방송인으로 활동 중인 유병재를 앞세운 광고를 ‘tvN’ 등 케이블 채널을 통해 이날부터 방송하기 시작했다. 유병재는 최근 대형 연예기획사인 YG엔터테인먼트와 전속계약을 체결하며 주목받고 있다.

유병재의 광고 파트너로는 ‘야구여신’으로 불리는 롯데자이언츠 인기 치어리더 박기량이 낙점됐다. 유병재와 박기량이 등장하는 광고는 ‘불타는 청춘을 위하여’라는 주제로 숙박업종에 걸맞게 ’19금’ 위주로 내용이 구성된다. 관련 광고방송은 이날부터 유튜브 등 동영상사이트를 통해 검색이 가능하다.

위드웹 관계자는 “지난 4월 개그맨 유상무가 등장하는 첫번째 광고를 내보낸데 이어 이번이 방송광고 2탄”이라며 “광고는 숙박앱을 주로 이용하는 20대와 30대 젊은층의 공감대를 이끌어내고 웃음을 제공하는 내용으로 구성됐다”고 말했다.

According to an industry spokesperson, Yogi-oddae, run by the internet service company Withweb, started airing the commercials with Yoo Byung-jae…on cable TV channels such as tvN from the 19th of June. [He] is getting a lot of attention recently, due to signing with YG Entertainment. [The same entertainment company that has signed the likes of 2NE1 and Big Bang—James].

His partner in the commercials is Park Ki-ryang…the theme is “For The Burning Youth,” and, appropriately for the motel industry, have adult content. They can also be found on YouTube.

A spokesperson from Weedweb explained that, “This is the second series of commercials for this accommodation app; the first series with gagman Yoo Sang-moo aired in April. They are designed to get the attention of 20 and 30-somethings, and make them laugh.”

Motel, Park Ki-ryang, Yoo Byung-jae University District Bus Stop(A few hours before finishing this post, all of the bus stop ads were back up. Clearly, someone at Yogi-oddae is just winding me up.)

Based on the bus stop ads, I looked forward to a cheeky take on Korean sexual double-standards, akin to Korea’s first (and I still think only) example of femvertising from 2009. Instead, Park Ki-ryang is much more indirect than those suggested, and grossly overdoes the childishness and the aegyo:

(For non-Korean speakers: in the first, she needs somewhere to wash up; then, she had a nightmare about ghosts, and doesn’t want to be alone; they’re watching (presumably) a sex scene in the movie, and she asks “Is that possible?”; she says it’s late and the taxi is on a more expensive rate, which means the ride would cost 50,000 won, comparable to a night at a cheap to mid-range motel; and finally, her favorite male perfume is his own smell. For Korean speakers, here’s both discussing the making of the commercials.)

That said, my wife, very much in the target demographic, actually found them quite funny. I warmed to them too, the more I watched, as every guy can relate to that feeling of sudden realization that he’s getting some that evening. But therein lies the problem: not only do the commercials celebrate traditional dating roles, but they’re all done entirely from Yoo Byung-jae’s perspective.

This emphasis on male consumers was indirectly confirmed by Etoday:

지난 19일 공개한 TV CF 5편의 에피소드 중 ‘응원 편’과 ‘꿍꼬또 편’이 박기량의 섹시함을 익살스럽게 표현해냈다는 평가다. 20~30대 남성팬들에게 큰 호응을 얻고 있으며 CF 영상은 여기어때 유튜브 채널을 통해 빠르게 확산되고 있다.

People say that out of the 5 commercials released on the 19th, Park Ki-ryang’s sexiness is humorously expressed and well shown in the cheerleader and ghost dream versions especially. This has had a big effect on male 20 and 30-something fans in particular, who have been rapidly spreading the commercials via YouTube.

Yogi-oddae is in stiff competition with Ya-nolja, a similar, much older company that has also recently launched its own app, and its previous advertisements were much tamer. So, however much I want to read into the campaign, it’s difficult not to conclude that Yogi-oddae was just exploiting the hype surrounding the decriminalization of adultery in February. Nothing wrong with jumping on that bandwagon of course, but it does frustrate with not delivering on its promise of a shameless hussy. (Not unlike Ashely Madison, which turns out to be a rather unreliable source for would-be Korean adulterers.)

I do concede that they’re just commercials though, and that I’ve got nothing but praise for the advertisements. It’s just that it would be nice to see a Korean advertiser place challenging gender stereotypes at the core of a campaign again. Not in a haphazard, conflicting fashion like in this one, or, like Durex Korea, by occasionally copying positive foreign examples, but quickly returning to its normal, very laddish themes thereafter. I’m also confused by the bizarre lack of attention to female consumers in the commercials, which seems to be an increasingly common trend.

The Reader The Lens The Baggage(Source, edited: Laurence Musgrove @The Illustrated Professor; used with permission.)

But my biases are clear, and perhaps I’ve misjudged how positively Korean women would respond to it. What do you think of them? Or this example by American cosmetics manufacturer Benefit?

As pointed out by Lizzie at Beyond Hallyu (see also: Branding in Asia), it’s much more daring, yet again it ultimately falls short (my emphases):  

This change in attitudes can be seen no more clearly than in this advert. A few years ago even the hint at the idea of a woman having the agency to initiate a sexual encounter with a stranger would have been scandalous. But this is not just a woman, it’s a married woman and it’s not just a hint, it’s a full-on kiss scene which takes up a third of the commercial’s one minute long run.

SNSD on Dating, January 2013Clearly the ad is an example of a massive shift in attitudes surrounding women’s relationship with sexuality that has occurred in recent years in Korea. We’ve seen that lately on shows like Witch Hunt where even female idols have been hinting at the fact they may actually have a sex life.

(James: That’s Girls’ Generation on the right, shortly before some of their members—and seemingly every other K-pop idol—either started publicly dating, or admitted that they’d been doing it all along. Source: unknown.)

But even so, condoning adultery is still a bit of an iffy move on Benefit’s part and I’m not entirely sure how this is supposed to entice female viewers. Perhaps this is supposed to make women feel empowered to make their own sexual decisions but I can’t help but feel it serves mostly just to reinforce the idea that women are liars.

Alternatively, it could be Benefit trying to show how in touch they are with the social issues in South Korea. Or maybe it’s just intended as a clever gimmick to show how long-lasting and non-smudging the tint is.

Intentions good or otherwise, the cynic in me sees this as nothing more than a half-hearted attempt at female ‘sexual empowerment’ in order to sell more lipstick.

I agree about the K-pop stars dating of course, best symbolized to me by Suzy, “The Nation’s First Love,” being caught going to hotels with Lee Min-ho after less than a month of dating, and it’s true that celebrities have a disproportionate role in sparking—or legitimating—new social trends in Korea. But, for us mere mortals, has there been “a massive shift in attitudes surrounding women’s relationship with sexuality” though? (My emphasis.) I’m not so sure, and would cite such things as: the female celebrities receiving the brunt of fans’ anger for all those dating ‘scandals’; the government restricting access to the pill for the sake of shoring up doctors’ incomes; the ongoing (re)criminalization of abortion, in order to increase the birth rate (but effectively only making it more inaccessible and expensive for the poor); and Korea’s curious lack of politicians willing to stick their neck out for those and other progressive issues, epitomized by Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon backtracking on his support for LGBT rights.

Which, by coincidence, was also mentioned by journalist and author Daniel Tudor, in an interview for The Hankyoreh that appeared as I was finalizing this week-long post:

The New Politics Alliance for Democracy is basically just the shadow of the Saenuri Party. [In most democracies] if you’re progressive, you care about social minorities, weak people, poor people in society. You care about women’s equality, maybe gay rights, you care about things like that. But I don’t see much of that [in Korea]. These two parties are dominating the Korean political scene.

What do you think? How would you assess shifts in attitudes surrounding women’s relationship with sexuality? What criteria should we use? Please let me know, so that I can finally begin working on my follow-up to Korean Sociological Image #89: On Getting Knocked up in South Korea(!) :D

Addendum: Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed the name Yoo Sang-moo being mentioned as launching Yogi-oddae’s campaign back in April, not Park Ki-ryang and Yoo Byung-jae. For the sake of completeness, he was indeed hired, along with freelance model Bae Da-bin (a.k.a. Lisa Bae), and their own versions of the commercials were talked about in the media in the same heady terms as those by their replacements a month later, with no indication that their endorsements would only be temporary. I suspect they were just quickly and quietly let go then, because:

  • a) Yang Sang-moo looked just a little too goofy in his commercials;
  • b) At nearly 35, he was towards the upper limits of the target market, and had too much of an age gap with 21 year-old Bae Da-bin (whereas Park Ki-ryang and Yoo Byung-jae are 23 and 28 respectively);
  • And finally c), because the popularity of Yoo Byung-jae and especially Park Ki-ryang was just too great to pass up.

Which again points to the campaign being very haphazard, rather than a concerted attempt to smash the patriarchy :(

Addendum 2: Just for readers’ interest, here’s two fun videos about using the Ya-nolja app, found in passing while researching this post. Have any readers also used it, or Yogi-oddae?

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

Korean Sociological Image #90: Watch Out For Those Italian Men…

Two back-to-back YouTube commercials for SK Telecom’s “T Roaming” Service, which have a blatant double standard:

In the first, actor Son Ho-jun freaks out when his girlfriend tells him she’s going on an overseas trip with her old college friends. First, he asks if any men are coming with her, but relaxes when she reminds him that she went to a women’s college. Only to freak out again when he learns she’s going to Italy:

T Roaming Italian MenWhatever your gender or sexuality, if your partner can’t trust you not to bang your friends or the natives when you’re more than a few days away from each other, then in my book that’s your excuse to move on and do precisely that.

But I’ll grant that it’s just a commercial, and that Son Ho-jun’s reactions are exaggerated for comedic effect. Also, provided you’re not too clingy, there’s nothing wrong at all with staying in touch while your partner’s away.

The double-standard lies in the huge contrast with the second commercial, which shows what Ho-jun needs the roaming service for when he’s overseas: access to a translation app, without which he doesn’t realize the local women are throwing themselves at him.

T Roaming French WomanOr, once he does realize that “With T Roaming, [he] can translate, take pictures, and do anything [he likes]”, that he can set up his own harem:

Foreign Women T RoamingAgain, it’s innocuous in itself, and I’m all for taking advantage of technology to make sure people don’t miss out on any potential liaisons. Given the selling point of the first commercial though, it’s a bizarre choice of follow-up.

Instead, I would have plumped for a more provocative, much more memorable version with his girlfriend and foreign men, showing Ho-jun exactly what she thinks of insecure boyfriends who want to keep electronic tabs on her.

Or, if that was indeed deemed too provocative, then simply two more commercials with the sexes reversed. As the only extra costs would have been the additional male actors and the extra shooting time, then you really have to wonder why not.

Because without those versions, these ones not only seem entirely aimed at men, but it’s very difficult not to contrast his Korean girlfriend’s childishness in the first—and lack of an angry response to his question about her male friends—with the boldness and confidence of the foreign women in the second. It’s also difficult not to place the commercials in the Korean media’s long history of depicting foreign women as sexual conquests, but foreign men as something to defend Korean women against. (Although this has been improving in recent years.)

What do you think?

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