Korean Gender Reader

(Source)

If you’ll please indulge an old Korean Studies geek for a moment, Girlfriday’s review of Dancing Queen (댄싱퀸) at Dramabeans this week instantly reminded me of The Adventures of Mrs. Park (박봉곤 가출사건), from way back in 1996. After all, both are about wives who blatantly defy their husbands to follow their dreams of becoming singers, both are comedies, and – I’ll take a wild guess about Dancing Queen – both wives are ultimately successful.

One likely difference though, is that Mrs. Park runs away from her husband. And in fact, The Adventures of Mrs. Park was the first Korean movie to ever show a wife getting away with such insubordination.

That may sound difficult to believe today, but director Kim Tae-kyun (김태균) would later confess to Cine 21 magazine that he was extremely concerned at how audiences might react to such “an unexpected ending”. As even comedies back then would invariably close with continued happy marriages, while more realistic movies would show a miserable and destitute wife returning home with her tail between her legs.

In contrast, I doubt director Lee Seok-hoon (이석훈) has any such qualms in 2012. And it’s always quite sobering, realizing how much Korea has changed in the time I’ve been here.

So, while I doubt I’ll ever make the effort to track down and watch The Adventures of Miss Park for myself (all of the above is based on this book chapter), I will watch Dancing Queen. For not only is Hwang Jung-min (황정민) my favorite actor ever (see here for my review of A Good Lawyer’s Wife {바람난 가족; 2003}, the first movie I saw him in), but I’ve always had a soft spot for Uhm Jung-hwa (엄정화) too, as she was very much the queen of K-pop when I came to Korea back in 2000. Here’s my favorite song of hers from back then (just give me the word, and I’ll translate it in a flash!^^):

And after all that reminiscing(!), finally here are this week’s links, in no particular order:

What K-pop can teach us about the ROK military (Seoulbeats)

Foreigners organize flash mob against prostitution (The Marmot’s Hole)

‘Dream High 2′ cast express the need for laws protecting minors in the industry (Allkpop)

Sexual harassment widespread in workplaces (Hankyoreh)

Did the Piggy Dolls ruin their credibility? (Mixtapes and Liner Notes)

Essential information for understanding divorce in Japan: there is no such thing as joint custody of children (Economist)

How Korean fashion is seen from an international perspective; opposed to how Koreans think it’s seen (Noona Blog: Seoul)

K-pop’s first lesbian love story? (Seoulbeats)

Congratulations on the Dragon baby! (On Becoming a Good Korean {Feminist} Wife)

290,000won bags for elementary kids – competition at the extreme? (Hangukdrama and Korean; also see my post on how pink and princessey the schoolbag ads for girls are, but sporty and full of space-shuttles and racing-cars for boys)

[Debate] Leave ancestral rites where they belong- in the past (Hankyoreh)

[Debate] Cultural rites provide key to understanding ourselves (Hankyoreh)

• “Holiday stress for an average married Korean woman is as bad as the pain of losing a close friend” (Arirang)

Statistics on social trends in Korea – a great resource (Korean Journal of Sociology; scroll down to the “research guide”s)

Roundtable: our friend, MOGEF (Seoulbeats)

Harsher punishment urged for pedophiles (Korea Times)

Monfemme: gender, feminist, and medical anthropology in the steppes and deserts of Mongolia (Blog recommendation)

Korean Sociological Image #21: Calf Reduction Surgery

Korean Calf Reduction Surgery Advertisement Before AfterEstimated reading time: 4 minutes.

It’s one thing to be aware of the popularity of calf-reduction surgery on an abstract level, but quite another to see the results in the flesh.

Or rather, the reduction thereof. And, while I’m aghast at the notion of voluntarily having one’s nerves cut and muscle removed for any cosmetic surgery procedure, in this particular case the mind simply boggles at how anybody can consider the “after” picture as an improvement.

Unfortunately though, it is neither a mistake nor a satire, but is instead from a genuine advertisement in this month’s Busan edition of Cocofun (코코펀), a free local entertainment guide available in major cities. Here is the full version:

Korean Calf Reduction Surgery AdvertisementFor the record, I’m not labeling skinny calves as unattractive by definition, particularly if a woman—and it’s almost exclusively women who undergo calf-reduction surgery—has such legs naturally; as it happens, the difficulty of finding food I wasn’t allergic to when I was young meant that my own calves probably weren’t much bigger until my mid-teens. Buffing-up in my early-20s to compensate for my own body image issues then, naturally I also prefer healthy and active women over sedentary, thin ones today. But regardless of my background, I think I would always have struggled to understand how the muscle development naturally ensuing from an active lifestyle could ever be considered unattractive.

That isn’t the case in Korea and the rest of Northeast Asia however. For a good introduction as to why, I recommend this post at FeetManSeoul for starters, while some other sources, such as the following English guide to the procedure from this cosmetic surgery clinic in Seoul for instance, also mention the fact that “Asian women have shorter legs and thicker calves than Caucasian women.” But, lest one is tempted to read too much into that curious racial comparison though, by no means do all commentators on the subject indirectly refer to some alleged Caucasian ideal, and actually even this more direct description of the procedure from the same site fails to mention it.

Korean Calf Reduction Surgery (Source)

However, there may also generational differences to consider. Take 38 year-old singer and actor Uhm Jung-hwa below for instance, appearing in a press conference with 29 year-old actor Han Chae-young for their movie Are you living with the person you love? (지금 사랑하는 사람과 살고 있습니까?) in July 2007. Ironically, both are well-known for having received extensive cosmetic surgery, but as you can see, only Uhm Jung-hwa has retained her muscular legs. I find her much the more attractive for that reason, and—assuming that she had the procedure done herself—seriously wonder how much physical exertion Han Chae-young is capable of; did I mention that calf-reduction patients have to learn how to walk again?

Uhm Jung-Hwa Han Chae-young legs calvesBut while its voluntary nature may may mean that it’s too extreme of me to compare calf-reduction surgery akin to foot-binding at this point (although both do involve the physical disablement of women for the sake of a wholly artificial beauty ideal), I will go so far as to invoke Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (1792) here. For not only did she note that women being considered “too susceptible to sensibility and too fragile to be able to think clearly” was partially the consequence of not receiving the physical education that boys did (see here also), tellingly she also wrote that women are “taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison,” implying that if young women weren’t so encouraged to focus their attention on beauty and outward accomplishments, they could achieve just us much as men do.

Points to ponder in a country where health-food is promoted to elementary school girls on the basis of allegedly improving their face-shape and making their undeveloped breasts and buttocks bigger. And yet still people wonder why I’m so negative sometimes!

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here)

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