Why Does Korea Have so Many of Those Damn Smutty Ads?

Government inaction on Korea’s ubiquitous, sexually-explicit internet advertising undermines claims that its citizens need protecting from pornography, and has helped shape the Korean #Metoo movement.

Estimated reading time: 17 minutes. Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels. One NSFW image later.

When even the ad industry itself is calling for greater government regulation of sexual imagery in ads, you know Korea’s got a problem.

The main issue is that there’s just no escaping them. In the most recent survey of 155 major web portals, social media services, and online news sites conducted by the Korea Internet Advertising Foundation (KIAF) in 2016, 94.5 percent of the middle and high school students surveyed were found to have been exposed to sexualized ads. Frustratingly, the 69-page report (PDF, Korean) doesn’t also mention what proportion those ads were of the total ads examined. But, maybe the authors simply felt that was unnecessary, as everyone already knows that their numbers are just insane:

See the thread for many more examples. Or like Raphael says, almost any Korean news website. Even alongside the cutesy, assumed safe webtoons my preteen daughters read too, I recently learned, sometimes there’s invitations to meet horny divorcees in our area.

But Korea’s smutty ads problem goes much deeper than just their scale, or their astonishing inappropriateness. For the KIAF surveyors also found that one in four of the offending ads promoted sex work, and/or even showed sex acts. Which is heinous not because either are unethical, but because such ads exist so openly in a society where sex work and pornography are both illegal, and which would never see the light of day if they were placed in traditional media.

Which begs the question: just how did Korea’s internet ad problem get so bad?

In the first instance, it’s simply down to advertisers’ algorithms, combined with the inattention and unconcern of site owners. This was ironically and hilariously revealed by the reporting of a similar survey by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) in June 2012, when many news sites displaying precisely the kinds of ads the Ministry was railing against alongside the articles about the survey. Even more spectacularly, a few weeks previously many news site editors curiously chose to pixelate the bikini tops and bras of women who had written political messages across their breasts (as in only their clothing, not the messages or exposed skin), while those in the accompanying ads were left untouched:Fast forward to April 2018, when representatives from major Korean shopping portal sites were queried by The PR News reporter An Seon-hye as to why their Facebook ads for products such as headphones and men’s shoes tended to show women with exposed cleavage and/or in their underwear first. They simply blamed the algorithms, implying that somehow those absolved their companies of any responsibility:

페이스북에서 남성 이용자들에게 노출된 쿠팡 광고 이미지 “Coupang advertisement aimed at male users of Facebook.” Image source: The PR News.
티몬(왼쪽) 및 gs샵이 sns에서 남성들에게 집행한 광고 이미지. “Images of Timon(L) and GS Shop advertisements aimed at men.” The woman on the right is Ai Shinozaki, a Japanese gravure model. Image source: The PR News.

…하지만 해당 업체들은 결코 고의성이 없다는 점을 강조했다. 티몬 관계자는 “저희 같은 경우 19금 용품 광고는 아예 노출이 안 되도록 막는 등 선정성 측면에서 신경을 쓰고 있다”며 “자동 로직으로 광고 집행이 이뤄지기에 임의로 자극적 이미지를 사용한 게 아니다”고 해명했다.

“…However, industry representatives stressed that, in the end, there is never any deliberate intention to use sexualized imagery. A representative from Timon said, ‘In our case, from the outset we do work to ensure that no adults-only products are selected to be advertised [on Facebook],’ and that ‘the provocative images that do appear are not random, but are chosen automatically by the algorithm.'”

기본적으로 특정 시간대에 특정 연령 타깃군이 어떤 상품을 많이 봤다는 데이터가 쌓이면 이를 해당 타깃에게 동일하게 추천하는 방식으로 로직이 짜여 있다는 설명이다. 이번 노출도 이같은 설정 때문에 벌어진 현상일 수는 있지만, 의도한 건 아니라는 설명이다.

“Basically, when collected data on a site suggests that a certain time is the most heavily frequented by a targeted demographic, the algorithm automatically recommends products that demographic is likely to be interested in. The same logic applies to the revealing images accompanying them, but has never been the deliberate intention [of our company.]”

쿠팡 관계자 역시 “쿠팡이 고의적으로 선정적인 광고를 남성에게 보이도록 조작하지는 않았다”며 “활용되는 이미지 역시 판매자가 올린 것을 활용한 것”이라고 밝혔다.

“A representative from Coupang also claimed that their company ‘did not deliberately manipulate ads to target men with sexualized imagery,’ explaining that ‘the images of products [available from our site] are simply taken from available sellers.’ (end)

By all means, gratuitous T&A does sometimes work, especially when those objects belong to popular K-pop girl-group members. Yet it infuriates me when some, more radical feminists—especially anti-pornography activists—start from the position that such narrow portrayals of women are an accurate reflection of most—or even a significant minority of—cishet men’s tastes; examples like these demonstrate just how disingenuous and utterly unfair that assumption is. It’s also very patronizing for companies to advertise this way, says Sejong University Professor Kim Ji-heon elsewhere in the above article, and has the potential to put men off offending brands. Accordingly, evidence of sexualization’s effectiveness on Korean consumers is mixed, one 2017 study by Yonsei University researchers (PDF, Korean) for example, discovering that young Korean men actually preferred cute to sexy female models in game advertisements (which may be problematic for other reasons, but that’s a story for another post). Also, lest we forget, not all consumers are young men, with another study from 2012 (PDF, Korean) by Sungkyunkwan University researchers demonstrating that despite soju companies specifically targeting female consumers at the time, somehow women just weren’t responding to the ensuing “sexy” advertisements.

I can’t imagine why:

Screenshots from this summer 2009 commercial for ‘Cool Soju 168’; the logic was that “168” referred to a low 16.8% alcohol content, which supposedly helped women maintain their figure vis-a-vis stronger brands. One NSFW image follows shortly.

Nevertheless, Coupang’s algorithms at least, have hardly been tweaked since The PR News report came out, as any male Facebook user in Korea can confirm. Take this advertisement I was blessed with on the subway a few weeks ago for instance:

Facebook has given me 24 hour bans for far less.

Of course, in reality, no algorithms are value-neutral, so can’t be used as an excuse. Yet, to reluctantly play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, perhaps one reason Korea’s algorithms have the settings they do is that advertisers generally lean more heavily on sex-sells tropes during recessions, and one indication of how bad Korea’s is at the moment would be its highest youth unemployment rate in two decades. Another explanation of why they tend to be sooo eye-catching is that Hangul, the writing system, lacks capitals. This, which has factored into Korean webdesign from the get-go, is why Korean websites tend to be so GIF-heavy and cluttered to Western eyes, but is familiar to and preferred by Koreans. (Japanese websites are very similar, due to similar issues with kanji and kana.) Ingrained media culture and consumer habits go some way toward explaining why Japanese and Korean advertisers over-rely on celebrities to get your attention too.

But all of these contributing factors are decades old. I first noted the alleged link to the economy ten years ago, and the numbers of smutty ads have only increased since. Korean websites have overwhelmed me with GIFs since I first started having to navigate them in internet cafes here nineteen years ago. And the over-reliance on celebrities dates back to the early-1980s, when fifteen seconds became the standard length for TV commercials.

If so many features of Korean advertising are products of ingrained culture and long-term habit then, surely this over-reliance on sexualization could be as well? So too, that it just so happens to be a very stereotypically male-gazey version of it at that?

Noteworthy in this regard is men’s domination of multiple sectors of the Korean media:

However, the Korean advertising industry is absent from that Twitter thread, and I’m personally unaware of its male-female make-up as I type this (sorry). So, let me defer to someone with inside experience: Seoul National University Associate Professor Olga Fedorenko, who conducted fieldwork in winter 2009-2010 at the agency responsible for the delightful Cool Soju 168 commercial from summer 2009 above. And in fact, in that agency at least, women made up roughly half of the employees. But it was indeed male-dominated, as no women there were above level five of the eight ranks within its internal hierarchy, “with truly managerial responsibilities [only] beginning at level six.” Also, the ensuing work-culture there could certainly be described as male-dominated too:

To assert that “sex sells”—the axiom that no one doubts in advertising and perhaps few do in society at large—was the usual way to deflect my criticisms of sexualized portrayals of women in much of Korean advertising, and women repeated that adage as eagerly as men.

Still, despite their professional embrace of the “sex code,” women showed a certain distance towards its centrality to advertising. They occasionally mocked male managers who favored sex-appeal strategies by default, “just because they like to look at pretty women,” as Chin’a put it, as she vented about wasting an afternoon the day before because her team’s Creative Director asked her to accompany him to help pick a female model for a commercial. “He said he wanted a woman’s opinion but in reality he just picked the model who he personally liked and who was flirty with him,” she said rolling her eyes in front of me and four other women as we were having lunch. Chin’a thought that the selected model was not the best choice, but the Creative Director never asked Chin’a’s opinion and even went as far as to re-schedule the shoot around the model, without consulting the convenience of other team members. Chin’a wished she had spent that afternoon working on their team’s other accounts.

Technically however, Fedorenko does not state if the same agency was responsible for the Cool soju commercial I criticized; I should have only said it “probably” was, because it was responsible for a new campaign for same product during Fedorenko’s time there a few months later. Ironically, a largely women-created and targeted, sexually-progressive, feminist, and therefore controversial one:

Which would seem to contradict the points made about work culture above. So too, that they’re from a snapshot of just one agency, and a decade old.

However, it’s also telling that there’s been almost nothing quite like that campaign in Korean advertising since, by any agency. Despite my fetish for Korean ads showing actual grown women with sexual desire and experience, I’m only aware of less than a handful produced in the last decade. Meanwhile, compared to men, women are almost 60 times more likely to be wearing revealing clothing in Korean TV commercials, a figure that is over twice as high and nearly ten times as high as their Japanese and Hong Kong counterparts respectively.

And yet, despite everything, I’m reluctant to attribute all that simply to the likely dominance of men in the industry.

Yes, we can all bet good money that the coders behind offensive internet algorithms are indeed sexist pricks. Or their bosses. Or at best, that they’re unoriginal and conservative.

But to claim that Korean ads are the way they are because men dominate the industry, is to make the assumption that most of the men within are also sexist pricks.

Hey, I’m not dismissing the possibility. In fact, I’d bet good money on that too. Given what we know about Korean ads, and that Korea has the biggest gender gap in the OECD, and comes 121st out of 193 countries in the ratio of female legislators to males, then there’s absolutely no reason to suppose that Korea’s toxic, patriarchal work culture hasn’t also infected the Korean ad industry.

But where does that accusation get us? If we want to persuade industry insiders to embrace change, what good would simply calling them sexist pricks actually achieve?

And cishet men’s sexuality, I can’t stress often enough, is so much richer and broader than its blokey, infantile stereotypes suggest. There are men of other sexualities in the ad industry too, not to mention (probably) equal numbers of women. I refuse to believe that all the admen, by definition among the most creative and artistic men in Korean society, all chose their careers based on no more than a shared dream of putting more boobs on phone screens, and that every man and woman who doesn’t share that grand vision is simply forced to acquiesce.

The issues raised in this post may even be well-recognized problems within the industry already too, but are intractable due to the influence of Korea’s patriarchal work culture as alluded to earlier, one big influence being the rigid hierarchy and visions of women and male-female relations learned before entering the industry from that vast socialization experience known as universal male conscription.

Or not: my apologies again, for lacking the money and time to translate dense Korean advertising tomes to find out. But either way, suggesting practical, actionable steps that the industry may already be receptive to does sound much more helpful than simply rolling our eyes at THE MENZ.

I think this is where we came in.

Recall that we started with the industry itself calling for more regulation. Specifically, the KIAF, responsible for the 2016 survey:

“Although there are guidelines for the level of sexuality permitted in online advertising, they lack effectiveness since they tend to be too generic and ambiguous,” said the KIAF official. “Regulations that manage such advertisements are scattered across government departments, and they need to be revamped.

A state of affairs which sounds suspiciously similar to the messy censorship of K-pop in the early-2010s:

The recent guidelines by the Fair Trade Commission are demonstrably inadequate, and laws are required instead. But considering that any limits on such a vague concept as sexualization are by definition arbitrary, then it is crucial that 1) the ensuing legislation process is transparent; 2) that implementation of the laws is consistent; and 3) that only one, preferably independent, organization has the power of censorship. Currently, that last is divided between a plethora of competing media and government organizations, and the ensuing unpredictable and often bizarre decisions ― including banning a music video for the singers driving without wearing seat belts, or allowing exposed navels on men but not on women ― have thoroughly undermined the credibility of attempts to curb the sexualization of teens in K-pop. A fresh start is urgently needed.

“Restrictions Imposed on 18+ Controversial ‘Wide Leg Spread Dance’”, April 2011. Source.

This segue into K-pop is no mere confirmation bias from a trusted source: for the body with the most responsibility for censoring K-pop then was MOGEF, which it did with a relish. As Lee Yoo-eun at Global Voices explained in 2014 (links added by me):

The censors of the ministry are notorious for accusing several thousand songs of being “hazardous” whenever they notice references to liquor, cigarettes or sex in the lyrics. Once a song is labeled as “inappropriate for youth under the age 19″ it can only be broadcast after 10:00 PM, and children are forbidden from buying it as well as from listening on the internet. Many young people get around this by using the IDs of their parents to login to Korean portal websites or watch on YouTube.

Music industry people…say it is troubling that the censorship is applied only to some randomly selected albums after they have hit the market, and not universally to every album. Many people see this as part of a new reality where the South Korean government is tightening control over citizens and free speech.

And this zealousness was in stark contrast to the complete inaction by MOGEF over smutty advertisements, despite raising the alarm in 2012 about their surging numbers as discussed. Indeed, it wanted the industry to do its own work for it instead:

여성가족부는 작년과 비교해 유해 광고는 늘었지만 법 위반 언론사들이 대폭 감소한 것을 감안해, 언론사에는 우선 자율 규제를 촉구하겠다는 입장이다. 청소년매체환경과 관계자는 “작년에 34개 언론사가 법을 위반했는데 올해에는 다 시정됐다”며 “언론사들을 직접 규제하기 보다는 인터넷신문협회 등에 자율규제기구인 인터넷신문광고심의위원회의 설치를 촉구하겠다”고 밝혔다.

“Although MOGEF points out that the numbers of harmful advertisements have increased since last year, the fact that there are actually less media companies breaking the law also needs to be taken into consideration, so first MOGEF is going ask media companies to regulate themselves. The official in the Division of Youth Media Environment continued: ‘The 34 media companies that broke the the Information and Communications Network Law last year have all since rectified their mistakes,’ and so ‘a self-regulatory system is preferable to direct regulation, and we demand that the Korean Internet Newspaper Association and so on establish an internet newspaper advertisement consideration committee.'” (end)

Further inaction still is evident from how, in the 2010-2016 period, MOGEF’s Korean Institute for Gender Equality Promotion and Education (KIGEPE) was given the task of monitoring mass media for cases of sexual discrimination, sexual prejudice, and sexual insults, but was given extremely limited resources to do so, and didn’t even cover the internet; ultimately only four cases were ever acted upon in those entire seven years. A subsequent study in 2016 found an undisclosed number of issues, of which the KIGEPE said “the results from their monitoring [had] resulted in 19 cases of corrective action [as of March 2017], insisting more education and appropriate measures need to be provided for TV show makers to achieve gender equality in the TV industry.” (More recently, this January the Korea Communications Standards Commission {KOSC} noted problems remained in variety shows specifically, without suggesting any measures to combat them.)

Yet that’s just MOGEF, which—without absolving it for its inaction—admittedly had very low resources and was in a precarious political position under previous conservative governments. If we look at the Korean media and its various overseers as a whole however, inaction over misogyny and problematic content is endemic, Korean dramas in particular being notorious for depicting dating violence as romance, but which the KOSC has washed their hands of. And don’t get me started on the media’s constant framing of the sexualization of minors in K-pop as good, clean, harmless family fun.

Source: Netizenbuzz.

In that wider context, inaction on smutty ads emerges as less the exception than the rule in the Korean media, and underpins a pervasive culture of indifference and desensitization towards degrading images and videos of (overwhemingly) women. That culture is evident in the decade-long foot-dragging in the shutting-down of Soranet, a hugely popular pornography site notorious for the sharing of hidden camera videos, as well as in the Korean #MeToo movement’s unique emphasis on punishing the purveyors of such videos, a central component in the current Burning Sun scandal. I can’t help but ultimately see links to the culture of indifference and desensitization towards sexual abuse by teachers in Korean schools too, with over 40 percent of perpetrators in the January 2013 to September 2018 period still teaching, and again only, finally, being aggressively challenged due to the Korean #MeToo movement.

Nextshark: “The School of Performing Arts Seoul, the alma mater of numerous well-known K-drama and K-pop stars, is facing co‌ntrov‌ers‌y after its former students a‌‌c‌‌cu‌‌s‌e‌‌‌d the school of c‌o‌rrup‌tio‌n and se‌x‌u‌al ‌ex‌‌pl‌oita‌‌tion of minors [through a music video].”

But perhaps it’s a too much of leap from boobs on my smartphone to tolerating “asking students for ‘sexiness’ and ‘inappropriate touches’ during school performances”?

Or not. Either way, if the government started to enforce the same standards for internet ads as it does for all other forms of pop culture, that would surely be the perfect way to find out.

Related Posts:

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

Korean Gender Reader

(Source)

소녀시대야! 900칼로리만 먹고, 이것 할 수있겠니? ㅋㅋㅋ

1) Miss A members scoff at other girl-groups’ starvation diets, and reveal that they eat healthily and normally.

For why this is such wonderful news, see here. I hereby appoint them as honorary ambassadors for this blog!

2) Three reports of sex crimes at Korean schools.

3) Can a Feminist diet?

4) More Korean married couples living with the wife’s parents

5) Korean women: please, for goodness’ sake, develop a personality! And men: get more comfortable with yourselves!

Complete generalizations of course, as the author happily admits, but still: I really appreciated this post in a “from the mouths of babes newbies” sense (no offense).

How accurate do you think her descriptions of Korean dating couples are?

6) Piggy Dolls “piggy” no more?

Turns out, their weight loss was for a diet advertisement (see #10 here for some background).

7) Same sex couple-tees?

We’ve all seen couple-tees of course, perhaps even worn them. But clothes designed to be worn by you and your friend?

(Source)

8) Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs urges teenagers not to use binge drinking as a study method.

After all, Korean teenagers are notorious for their alcohol problems, yes? Or was this supposed fad, of drinking baek-il ju (백일주) from 100 days (baek-il) before the university entrance exams, actually only highlighted by the Ministry in order to raise its profile and help justify its continued existence?

Not that I think the Ministry should be abolished by any means (despite its anti-abortion stance). But then it is notorious for some simply bizarre initiatives, and especially arbitrary, completely ineffective censorship in the name of protecting Korean youth. Neither of which I can see anything but corporatist reasons for.

9) Public protest scuppers plans for nudist forest.

Naturally however, the Korean media is still widely describing it as a nudist forest anyway.

Compare this similarly cancelled planned nudist beach on Jeju Island two years ago, which had been intended only to be open to non-Koreans.

10) New girl-group Chocolat set to debut on August 17. Has 3 bi-racial members (and 2 Koreans).

For which it’s been receiving a lot of attention, although it’s not the first to have bi-racial members (all 3 have American fathers and Korean mothers btw). Probably even more noteworthy and ominous though, is the fact that 2 members of the group are only 14 (the others are 17, 18, and {I think} 19).

See the following video for them introducing themselves. Note that the title says “Korean”, but it’s actually all in English:

Update: Ashley at SeoulBeats discusses them more here.

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Countering Sexual Violence in Korea (Updated)

Once again, Korea has gotten the lowest score of all high-income countries in a recent survey of gender-equality worldwide. And, at 104th out of 131 countries surveyed, it was bested by numerous much poorer countries at that.

Given that record, then it’s very easy to focus on Korea’s shortcomings when talking about gender issues. But that can mean that we can easily miss the positive developments that are occurring though, and sometimes right in front of our very noses.

Take what this humble-looking subway ad for instance, and what it ultimately represents. First, a translation:

부산 해바라기 여성 • 아동센터

Busan Sunflower Women & Children’s Center

여성 성폭력 피해자와 가정폭력 피해자, 학교폭력 피해자들을 돕고 있는 부산 원스톱 지원센터와 아동과 지적장애인 성폭력 피해자 전담센터인 부산 해바라기 아동센터가 2010년 1월 1일부터 부산 해바라기 여성 • 아동센터로 통합되었습니다.

From January 1, the Busan One-Stop Support Center, which helps female victims of sexual abuse, victims of family abuse, and victims of physical abuse at schools, and the Busan Sunflower Children’s Center, which helps children and mentally handicapped victims of sexual abuse, have joined together and become the Busan Sunflower Women & Children’s Center.

(Source)

여성부, 부산광역시, 부산지방경찰청에서 지원하고 동아대학교병원에서 수탁운영하는 여성 • 아동 폭력피해자 전담센터입니다.

With support from the Ministry of Gender Equality, the Busan Metropolitan City Council, and the Busan Metropolitan Police Agency, Dong-a University Hospital has been given the responsibility of operating the center, which provides consultations for female and child victims of abuse.

가족폭력, 성매매, 학교폭력, 성폭력 피해를 입은 여성과 아동을 보호하고 지원하고 치료합니다.

Women and children who are the victims of family violence, sex trafficking, school violence, and sexual abuse can receive protection and treatment at the center.

의사, 간호사, 임상심리사, 심리치료사, 성폭력 • 가정폭력 전문상담원, 여성 경찰관 등 각 분야 전문가들이 상주하고 있어 위기상황에서 가장 전문적이고 질 높은 상담, 의료, 심리치료, 수사, 법률 서비스를 무상으로 제공합니다.

Experts in many fields such as doctors, nurses, clinical psychologists, psychological therapists, family and sexual violence consultants, and female police officers and so on will be permanently stationed at the center, and when you are in a crisis you can receive the best professional and highest quality consultations, medical treatment, psychological counseling, legal advice, and assistance with launching criminal investigations. All these services are provided free of charge. (end)

(Source)

In my experience, usually the amalgamation of two government institutions in any country is in response to cost-cutting. Fortunately however, there’s a great deal of indirect evidence to suggest that that isn’t the case here.

First, note that the ad is actually quite dated, mentioning that the amalgamation was effective from January the 1st for instance (although the center didn’t officially open until February the 9th), and in particular that the Ministry of Gender Equality has a supporting role in it, whereas the Ministry actually reconverted back to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs (여성가족부/MOGEF) back in March. Presumably then, the ad has already been posted on Busan subway trains once before, probably late last year or early this one.

Why suddenly post the same ones again in late September then? What has changed to prompt that?

As Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling has well-documented, what has changed is the public perception that there has been a sudden and dramatic increase in the numbers of sex crimes against children, whereas in fact they have remained steady (but appallingly high) for years:

There is not a “recent series” of such sexual crimes – this is always happening. It’s just that the media has decided – as it does whenever a particular case angers people – to highlight these cases, which would usually either not be covered or covered by perhaps only one or two media outlets, and which are now linked together in articles in order to point to a great problem that exists. To be sure, there have been several laws passed since the murder of Lee Yu-ri in March (and the Yeongdeungpo case in June), and it’s great that the issue has finally gotten enough attention to get things moving (see here for a brief history of the slow pace of change since 2006). I’m not entirely sure that the solutions being offered are always the best ideas, however, and public fury (and worry) whipped up by this media coverage may be putting pressure on politicians to act first and think later.

And see past Korean Gender Reader posts for more details of those and other sexual crimes. By coincidence, one of the most notorious of those – the murder of Lee Yu-ri – also occurred in Busan, and several of my coworkers here have reported seeing rooms like that on the right pop up in Busan public schools they teach at in the months since, although unfortunately they have no information on the quality of their staffing or how often they are utilized. Have any readers also noticed them, in Busan or elsewhere?

(Note that the English translation on it may be a little misleading though: a better one would be “Consultation Room [for] Mental Anguish [caused by] Sexual Harassment or Sexual Violence”)

Regardless, the point is that given the current climate then it would be wise for the government to highlight all it is doing to prevent sexual violence, let alone to continue or even increase funding to women and children’s centers. And however cynical and reactionary the motives, this is to be applauded.

Granted, the amalgamation was decided and instituted well before the public outcry over the supposed recent spate of sexual crimes against children. But that doesn’t necessarily imply it was the result of a reduction of funding: although it may receive little if any funding from MOGEF for instance, I find it significant that the Ministry’s assumption of old responsibilities came with a big increase in staff and 4 times larger budget (albeit from a base of 0.03% of the government total), so when the plans for the change were announced late last year there was already a political climate conducive to more funding for feminist causes.  Signs of a change of heart from President Lee Myung-bak also perhaps, who originally promised to abolish it before his election, only to back down and merely considerably downsize it in response to protests afterwards?

Alas, quite the opposite: in fact, he is using MOGEF to raise the dire birth rate by – wait for it – criminalizing abortion, as I explain in detail here. But to play devils’ advocate however, perhaps this blinds us to some of the positives that it has achieved?

One is its survey of teenage entertainers in August, which – among other things – revealed that many were pressured by their managers to wear revealing costumes, and which ultimately resulted in the National Assembly’s setting up of a committee (albeit under a different ministry) to further investigate MOGEF’s findings. And which after hearing evidence from entertainment company CEOs has just laid down new regulations for the treatment of minors in the entertainment industry (see here and here also for more background).

And finally, take the recent video produced by MOGEF below, which encourages people to pay more attention to the needs of immigrant women. Granted, it’s just a video, and again it may be just be in response to the recent murder of a Vietnamese bride by her husband after only 8 days in the country (see #13 here), but then it’s not like such efforts started only recently. One thing that instantly comes to mind for instance, is the above survey that was sent to all foreign spouses in Korea in August last year (see #3 here), in an attempt to better find out their specific needs.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Any other positives readers can think of, however minor, then please pass them on!^^

Update: As per request, here is what the voiceover in the video is saying (and I’ve put the additional text in brackets as it came up):

이주여성들을 힘들게 하는건 (부부갈등 상담 8, 452건)

The things that make it difficult for migrant women… (8, 452 consultations for married couples having difficulties)

어려운 한국어와 (가정폭력 상담 4205 건 [2009년 이주여성 긴급지원센터 상담통계)

…are difficult Korean… (4205 consultations over family violence/abuse [2009 Statistics from Migrant Urgent Help & Consultation Centers])

낯선 환경, 다른 문화

…the strange environment, the different culture…

그리고 우리의 무관심입니다. (국제결혼 이주여성 16만여명)

…and our indifference. (lit. international marriage migrant women 160,000 women [James: just in 2009?])

이주여성들에게 작은 관심은 큰 힘이 됩니다.

Just a little help and support helps migrant women a great deal (same in the text)

이주여성들의 힘이 되어주세요.

Please be strong and supportive to them.

이캠폐인은 여성가족부와 복권위원회가 함께 합니다. (이주여성긴급지원센터, 1577-1336)

This campaign is brought to you by MOGEF and The Lottery Commission. (Migrant Women’s Urgent Help & Consultation Centers: 1577-1366)

And by coincidence, something else positive that MOGEF has some role in: a seminar about women’s career development at my university tomorrow (stalkers, take note of which one). Things like this seem to go on there at least once a month or so.

Maybe this has something to do with that, which I only just noticed today:

Please let me know if anyone would like a translation of the first poster. Meanwhile, do any other Korea-based readers have anything similar at their own universities?

Korean Gender Reader

(Source: Lesion)

1) 60% of underage female entertainers pressured to expose as much skin as possible

Lest that sound like an exaggeration in light of other news articles that state that only 10% are, let me refer you to the relevant section in the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family’s (MOGEF) own report on its survey of 103 teenage entertainers and aspirants (53 males, 50 females), which specifically says:

19세 미만의 청소년 연예인(88명) 응답을 분석한 결과, 연예 활동 시 10.2%가 신체 부위(다리, 가슴, 엉덩이 등) 노출을 경험하였으며, 여성 청소년 연예인의 경우 60%가 강요에 의한 노출이라고 응답하였다.

Or that of the 88 male and female teenage entertainers interviewed (not aspirants), 10.2% said they had the experience of exposing parts of their bodies (legs, breasts, buttocks, and so on) while performing, whereas 60% of the female ones had been pressured to.

Which remains confusing, but I think it’s safe to assume that the 10.2% of cases of exposure by males and females referred to were accidental (albeit because of their clothing?), and that the 60% of females that were coerced to wear skimpy clothing were in little position to refuse. Whatever the true figures however, they belie recent claims that such fashions are somehow intrinsically empowering in a sexual and/or feminist sense, or that it’s the girls themselves that want to wear them (and recall that Girls’ Generation above, for one, was specifically created to appeal to 30 and 40-something men).

Meanwhile, they’re also pressured to go on diets and get cosmetic surgery and so on, and teenagers of both sexes miss out on schooling and work excessively long hours because, bizarrely, entertainers aren’t covered by child labor laws. See the above links and also Extra! Korea and JoongAng Daily for a summary of all the issues raised by the survey, and kudos to MOGEF for finally doing something within its limited budget (0.12% of the government total) that may nevertheless ultimately have a genuine impact on young women’s lives (unlike here, here, here, and here).

2) Subway groping on the rise

In Seoul at least. By coincidence, Busan Mike saw an incident in Busan last week too, although of course that doesn’t necessarily imply that it’s rising in Busan also.

3) THAT video

Yes, Mamma Mia by Narsha (나르샤) of the Brown Eyed Girls (브라운 아이드 걸스), which a dozen readers passed on to me because it’s so rare to see Korean female/Western male pairings in the Korea media. I can’t really add anything that Mellowyel hasn’t already covered in her own excellent analysis of it though (see here also), but you may be interested in this 2002 S.E.S video that it instantly reminded me of, as the contrast in the treatment of the Western men in it couldn’t be greater:

Despite how it may appear though, Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling argues that in fact they’re a substitute for Korean men, who wouldn’t have accepted being portrayed so negatively. Why not? See this *cough* 4500 word post of mine on that here, in which I place it into the context of Korean social and sexual norms in the late-1990s and early-2000s.

4) Number of female victims of sexual abuse is 8 times greater than actually reported

Unfortunately no details are given about its methodology, but according to a recent study by Korean Institute of Criminology, about 470 out of every 100,000 women were sexually abused in 2008, which is eight times more than the official figure of 58. Of those, 36 out of 100,000 were raped, 9.5 times the official number.

Like the reader who sent those on to me pointed out, of course it’s not news that most cases go unreported, but it is nice to see this fact getting some attention from the national news agency.

Update: Korea Beat has a little more information on it here, noting that “it has been the general understanding that many more sexual assaults occur than are reported, but this study is the first to produce relatively concrete figures” (my emphasis).

5) Korean Demographic Reader

As always, rather depressing news:

More interesting are two stories about Japan, with very similar problems (and for similar reasons). First, an article entitled “Families dictate Japan’s economic fate” from The Japan Times, which describes how one scholar:

…uses the cases of families collecting dead members’ pensions and the rise of “parasite singles” to point out how a rich, vital economy can sink so far it has no realistic chance of climbing back up. Low birthrate is a problem, but mainly as a consequence of Japan’s “failure to create jobs.” The Japanese media has not ignored this connection, but in general they still blame population contraction on social changes rather than economic ones, as if the two were somehow distinct. Men have become less aggressive, women too choosy; so they don’t marry and procreate.

Many Japanese still believe that the country’s economic and social problems can be solved by regaining so-called traditional values related to family and community…

And as it demonstrates, that is patently not the case. But as for more detail as to why, see the recently published Contemporary Japan: History, Politics and Social Change Since the 1980s by Jeff Kingston, reviewed here by the Economist:

THE modern image of Japan is built on shaky foundations. In the 1980s nearly all Japanese considered themselves middle class. Other abiding beliefs include companies looking after workers through lifetime employment and the yakuza, Japan’s mafia, being guardians of the lost samurai spirit. There is some truth in all this but, as with other national myths, their real importance is in what they reveal about those who hold them dear.

If the Japanese nurse old-fashioned conceptions about their national identity, so do foreigners. Throughout the 1980s Americans gobbled up books that painted a Japan that was poised to surpass the United States by dint of a superior education system, low crime rate, good labor relations, bureaucratic acumen, familial ties and (let it not be forgotten) racial purity. Most foreigners still see Japan in the rear-view mirror, as an egalitarian, socially cohesive society.

“Contemporary Japan” by Jeff Kingston, the director of Asian studies at Temple University in Japan, does sterling service in stripping away or qualifying many of these misconceptions…

(Source: A Muchness of Me)

6) We married Koreans

Unfortunately for us, Diana of Going Places is now back in the US, but she’s still taken the time to write a review of We Married Koreans (2009), “a collection of 12 true stories of interracial, intercultural marriages between American women and Korean men in the 1960s”. A quick excerpt:

…It tells a fascinating history, both personal and cultural, of Korea as it struggled towards democracy (one woman’s husband was imprisoned for anti-government demonstrations in Korea) and America as it struggled towards racial equality (many of the women speak frankly about some of the racial epithets hurled at their children). The couples mostly met, married, and lived in America, but most lived for at least a short time in Korea and one missionary couple spent most of their marriage in the Korean expat community in Brazil. I feel like I just sat down and read 12 very good personal blogs about Korea.

Read the rest here. By coincidence, the World Federation of Korean Intermarried Women’s Association’s 6th annual conference, whose members are Korean women married to foreign men, was just held in Seattle, the first to be held outside of Korea.

7) Korea’s national motto is  “Just Bear It”?

Gord Sellar makes quite a convincing case:

Pretty much every time someone I know is doing something against his or her better judgment, something he or she clearly ought not to be doing — working a job he or she absolutely hates, coddling an abusive or infantile parent, turning down a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, or studying a subject for which he or she feels no interest — you can usually find a number of people have told the person that it’s important to “just bear it” — ie. bear with it, put up with your dissatisfaction, ignore your instincts, and do the thing you know you shouldn’t.

While I’m sure long-timers especially need little convincing, let me buttress that with the following from the Samsung Economic Research Institute in 2008 (my emphasis):

…In sum, Koreans still regard their jobs principally as a means of livelihood. This mirrors the reality here in Korea where work does little to enrich the life of the people.

Many workers still take it for granted that they have to tolerate anything in return for getting paid. This kind of job atmosphere produces a negative influence on both companies and employees alike. With this in mind, businesses need to make more efforts to develop new programs, aimed at bringing a higher sense of value of work and satisfaction to their employees.

And I can vouch that even my wife finds it surprisingly difficult to conceive of how one’s job can ever be anything but sheer drudgery, let alone something one can enjoy and/or find it fulfilling.

Focusing on the gender dimension here though, Gord was prompted towards the above by a recent encounter in a hospital with a family with an abusive husband and father, and while I concur with his assessment that the wife was at least partially responsible for her situation, his story does provide a very human face to the extreme financial difficulties middle-aged women, most of whom are housewives, have in leaving loveless and/or abusive marriages (although it’s amazing that the divorce rate is so high nevertheless).

(Source: entomol10)

8) Civil service exams to be abolished

While that may sound trivial to Western readers, in Korea it is anything but, as over 200,000 young Koreans are studying for them at any one time.

Why so many? Because the civil service remains one of the few institutions after the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 which still provides  “jobs for life”, unlike the rest of the Korean economy which now has the highest number of irregular workers in the OECD. Consequently, the various exams are extremely competitive, and indeed one of my own sisters-in-law spent over 4 years studying for hers before finally qualifying…for a series of grueling interviews, which many applicants still fail (including a friend of mine), but fortunately she made it through those as well.

Why this is a gender issue is because despite the difficulties, at least it is entirely meritocratic, and as such it has a disproportionate number of female applicants. Compare the private sector in contrast, where Gord Sellar’s partner was recently required to provide answers like the following in her application for a job at a major Korean company for instance:

  • list your brothers and sisters, and their places of employment
  • how old are your siblings?
  • what is your father’s job?
  • is your mother a housewife?
  • what is your height?
  • what is your weight?
  • what is your religion?
  • are you the descendant of a war veteran?

And don’t forget that a photo is also required, which as you can see above, has led to a flourishing photoshopping industry catering to job applicants.