Korean Gender Reader

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1) Subways and culture

Yesterday, Busan Mike saw an attempted groping incident on the subway for the first time, and in full sight of a half-full carriage at that. Fortunately, I’ve yet to ever see anything like that myself, but I imagine that just like in his case, I too would find it difficult to know what to do about it exactly. After all, it was only an attempt, and Mike and his wife weren’t sure that the man and woman weren’t a couple until the latter switched seats.

Have any readers also ever seen or experienced anything like that in Korea? What did you do?

Update: By the way, what is “groping” in Korean exactly? My wife says it is seong choo-haeng (성추행), and that certainly did produce a lot of articles on Korean search engines. But according to the dictionary, that term actually covers a multitude of sins, including “sexual molestation, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and rape” and so on. Any ideas, or is it just academic really?

Meanwhile, Gord Sellar ponders what to do about the vocal minority of elderly Koreans who shout and swear at pregnant women for sitting in “their” subway seats (see #5 here for the original story), in the Korean case a traditional Korean deference to old people buttressing the universal human impulse not to get involved.

2) Everything you wanted to know about room salons

Provided by a former addict in an interview by The Three Wise Monkeys. On the bright side, no condom means no sex in any “second rounds” that occurred later in a hotel, unlike for the vast majority of Korean women who seem to feel that they have a virginal reputation to maintain.

Meanwhile, see Korea Beat for more on the perspective of the room salon workers themselves.

3) Female economic activity lowest in 10 years

Unfortunately, these latest dismal figures are quite predictable: not for nothing have I repeatedly described the post-1997 period as a “lost decade” for Korean women (see here, here, and here), even before they were overwhelmingly targeted for layoffs in the recent financial crisis.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

4) Dressing up as a Korean woman

Last week, I learned that not only it is so important for Korean women not to show their bare faces in public that even their fiances may not have seen them without make-up, but also that, counter-intuitively, many married women will get up extra-early to ensure it stays that way; see #6 here, and it also has rather ominous implications for their sex lives. Now, HiExpat also has a list of what else they must do in the morning if they want to look hot, but far from being particularly Korean, is it really just a matter of degree rather than difference? And why do it in the first place? Pondering the latter question over at Sociological Images, one sociologist answers:

…I would argue that the reason women, on average, spend more time on their appearance is because (1) the bare minimum for looking presentable is different for women than for men and (2) the social costs for neglecting their appearance is greater for them than it is for men.  It is not biology, nor socialization, but the realities of social interaction that draw women out of bed earlier than men.  We learn that our appearance matters to others and that others — strangers a little bit, friends more so, and bosses and lovers especially — offer rewards and punishments related to how well we conform to their expectations.  So we make a measured choice.  We primp and preen not because it’s natural, or because we’re socialized robots, but because it’s worth it or, conversely, we don’t want to pay the cost accrued when we do not.

With apologies for quoting so much of that short post, but there is also much to be learned from the 91 comments!^^

5) Every band has a “cute” member

Having so many members in Korean bands these days does mean that few of them get to actually sing, but then that’s not really the idea anyway, and on the plus side the more members, the more chance fans have of identifying with one of them (see #5 here). Which by coincidence, I’ve just read is also the case for Japanese bands, and probably provided the model. As AKB48 members Rino Sashihara and Tomomi Nakatsuka explain in Japanese School Confidential:

“There aren’t just lots of girls in AKB48, there are lot’s of different types of girls,” Rino says. Tomomi, decked out in a tracksuit and sneakers, chimes in. “Yeah, there are cute girls, beautiful girls. Everybody is different. I think that’s really what makes the group unique.” Tomomi, for example, likes manga and video games, and Rino’s hobby is eating udon noodles. Scan the profiles of other AKB48 members and you’ll find girls into professional wrestling, horror movies, or anime. It’s an idol smorgasbord where fans can find at least one idol to his or her taste. The music might be what draws folks in as listeners, but it’s the girls who turn them into fans. (p. 34, emphasis in original)

And hence as allkpop explains:

cute members of female groups tend to generate widespread interest and bump up a group’s popularity singlehandedly. Every member has their own individual role in the group, and every group has a member in charge of being the ‘cute’ one. In Korea, fans call this certain member “Kui-yo-mi (귀요미),” meaning “the girl with the cute image (귀여운 이미지를 가진 이).”  This member is in charge of garnering fanboy love with her cute/lovable/girly charm, which will result in a bigger fanbase for the group.

6) Actor finds empathy in homosexual role

If I had been worried about my image I wouldn’t have taken this role. I hope that the lives of homosexuals will be acknowledged and be a little bit happier through this drama of ours

See The Korea Times for an interview of Song Chang-ui (송창의), currently playing one of the first ever homosexual roles in Korean television (see #8 here for some background).

7) Yes, unmarried Koreans sometimes have children too

With the news that YG Entertainment head Yang Hyun-seok (양현석) has just had a daughter with long-time (secret) partner Lee Eun-ju (이은주) of the ex-girl band Swi.T, I’ve decided that I’ll no longer report on the fact that Koreans are generally fine with couples of marriageable age having premarital sex, with the important proviso that the participants do actually have plans to get married. Hardly an enlightened modern attitude either, it’s actually been that way for centuries too: see #5 here for more information. (source, right)

8) Officials in Japanese community play Cupid online

As explained at The Boston Globe:

The coastal region of Fukui has Japan’s biggest share of dual-income households, the highest ratio of working women, and the lowest unemployment rate. What it does not have is enough babies.

This month, the provincial government is starting the Fukui Marriage-Hunting Cafe, a website for singles, to help stem the falling birthrate. Couples who agree to marry will get cash or gifts, said Akemi Iwakabe, deputy director of Fukui’s Children and Families division.

“Many of our single residents were telling us that they wanted to get married, but couldn’t because they weren’t meeting anyone,’’ she said.

Japan’s first online dating service organized by a prefectural government follows national measures to extend parental leave that have so far failed to convince women to have more children…

Hey, it certainly can’t harm, and is positively inspired compared to the Korean Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs (보건복지가족부), in charge of raising the country’s birthrate, insisting earlier this year that its employees go home at the shockingly early 7pm on the third Wednesday of each month, all the better to have sex with their partners and have more babies.

9) “One of the most radical feminist performers working today”

Popmatters has a long article on Korean-American performer Margaret Cho.

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10) André Kim and attitudes to LGBT in Korea

Michael Hurt ponders the recent passing of Korean fashion designer André Kim (앙드레 김) at Scribblings of the Metropolitician, in passing mentioning public attitudes to his homosexuality:

There is the constant denial of his gayness — which anyone who interacted with him closely knew to be a fact, and not a vicious slur or accusation, but a mere fact — which continues today. In the end, it is additionally a tragedy that someone who was obviously gay, or at least someone out-of-sync with a cultural of heavily enforced heteronormativity, was never able to “come out” lest he pay a heavy social price. He was never able to see a Korea that would accept him for whom he truly was, however he might have defined that identity-wise. Or perhaps he was quite lucky, in that he fit well inside the stereotype of the harmless gay male fashion designer, which allows everyone to kinda “know” but not have to talk about it in polite company.