Korean Gender Reader


1) “Skinny Baby Hot Hot?” Not Really

Sometimes, people think I’m just being paranoid when I see pop-culture deliberately encouraging body dsyphoria among younger and younger fans. And to be sure, usually I do have to dig pretty deep to find such underlying message(s), only to be left with the nagging doubt that I’m just simply projecting really.

Frankly, the whole thing can be quite a chore.

But then something like BEAST (비스트) and A Pink’s (에이핑크) Skinny Baby (스키니 베이비) comes along. As Angry K-pop Fan explains:

Just by looking at this song’s title alone…it should be enough to understand why some fans are quite upset with this new release…

… [let’s] focus on the most disturbing issue at hand: the implicit, or even subliminal message this sends to not only BEAST and A Pink fans, but the general consumer audience of Skoolooks, the brand that this video serves as a promotion for.

Asides being the name of the song, “Skinny Baby” is also the newest collection of school uniforms released by Skoolooks…

However blatant though, Korean school uniform manufacturers have long used young celebrities to encourage girls especially to obsess over their body shapes, so Skinny Baby is exceptional only in its format really. But having said that, fans of either group at least are much more likely to be influenced by something more akin to a music video than a traditional advertisement, as Kpop Reality Check helped me realize (emphases in original):

Skinny Baby…has lyrical content that reinforces messages about what body types are attractive and superior. It is not subtle but instead is very blunt with messages such as “Skinny Skinny Boy Boy, Skinny Skinny Girl Girl, Skinny Baby Hot Hot.”

Now this easily forms an in group consisting of people who ARE SKINNY. They are not only reinforced with this song that they’re hot but they feel as if they can identify and a sense of belonging. They watch the music video and see the girls from A Pink and the boys from BEAST who are all skinny and feel abit closer to the idols.

Now this forms a direct out group. The out group is basically everybody who isn’t skinny. Those who have different body types or who feel offended watching the video. Those who aren’t skinny are discriminated against and aren’t allowed in the in group. Everyone in the out group is made to feel insecure, anxious and lost.

This is where the body image and self esteem issues come in. Everyone in the out group continues to watch and absorb the MV as it becomes something they aspire to become. They’re being fed this message that they too can be cool and hot like A PINK and BEAST only if they’re skinny and… surprise surprise purchase Skool Looks clothing.

2) Michael Stipe Produces Gay Korean Film

Update – Electric Banana has just informed me that they made a mistake. Stipe is actually the co-executive producer of Fourplay: Tampa, not Dol.

From Pink News:

Former REM frontman Michael Stipe is the executive producer behind a new short film of a gay Korean man who yearns for a family, which the director used to come out to his own parents.

The short, entitled Dol, will be shown at the Sundance Film Festival this year, Indie music news site Electric Banana reports.

Writer and director Andrew Ahn says he used the film to come out to his own parents, who agreed to feature in it as actors without knowing their son was gay.

As it happens, Michael Stipe quite literally represents my closest brush with fame, as I managed to get only about 2 meters away from him at a concert in Auckland in 1995. And come to think of it, the next time I was so close to a celebrity was the (now deceased) Andre Kim in Insa-dong in Seoul roughly 10 years later. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I now find myself writing about sexuality and gender issues?^^

Seriously though, in further LGBT news Charles Montgomery of Korean Modern Literature in Translation continues his Q&A series with Gabriel Sylvian, the founder of The Korea Gay Literature Project, and Gil at Seoulbeats has a controversial post on Super Junior (슈퍼주니어) member Choi Siwon’s (최시원) homophobia.


3) Korea’s First Lady of Space

Imagine you are runner-up in a contest to be the first person in your country to go into space. A month before launch, the finalist is disqualified by the hosting Russian Federal Space Agency due to security breaches and all eyes fall on you. You carry not only the nation’s pride, but also the reported $25 million your government paid to get you there. Yi So-yeon (이소연) was that woman. Nearly four years later, she talks about her life on earth and in space.

Read the rest of the interview at Busan Haps. I also highly recommend these video interviews of her by Michael Hurt (a friend of hers) at Scribblings of the Metropolitician, and especially these posts on the surprisingly negative way the Korean media handled what should have been one of Korea’s greatest achievements, which he makes a strong case for being entirely due to her sex.


4) Korea’s Nationalistic Adoption Quota Hurting Children

As reported by Sean Hayes on the Korean Law Blog last November:

Korea has one of the highest populations of orphans in the OECD because of an unwillingness, in large numbers, of the local Korean population to adopt non-blood related children and a new policy that limits the number of overseas adoptions. The majority of local adoptions are the adoption of the children of family members.

The good news is the government may be changing its policy because of its plan to join the Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention) and realization that its present policy is harming the psychological health of children.

In 2005 over 2100 overseas adoptions were granted in Korea, while in 2010 a little over 1000 adoptions were granted. The reason for the decrease was the decrease in the overseas adoption quota in favor of a policy of supporting domestic adoptions. The policy failed to the detriment of needy children.

And now photographer Romin Lee has written a moving photo-essay at Groove Korea on the very real effects of that on Korean children and the overseas couples that want to adopt them, a story which you can continue to follow at Our Happily Ever Afters.

Meanwhile, Hello Korea!, my favorite blog on Korean overseas adoptee-related issues, passes on the following video by Korean Unwed Mothers & Families Association worker Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, with “powerful images and rational arguments by an adoptee/scholar/poet on re-humanizing the women who gave birth to us [adoptees]”:

See also this Groove Korea article on those regular adoption scapegoats, single moms, whom the Ministry of Health and Welfare described as “ignorant whores” until as recently as May 2010. Also note that the photo above is from Korea’s nearly decade-long “Letters From Angels” (천사들의 편지) campaign to encourage domestic adoption (but which of course is not bad in itself).

5) Quick Links

– Anti-sex buying campaign causes stir

From the Korea Times:

“You will get 410,000 won if you promise not to buy sex during year-end drinking sessions.”

This is a campaign a male rights group is promoting in a bid to criticize the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family’s anti-prostitution policies.

But the campaign is causing a stir, as the prize money is fake and the ministry’s policies which the group stated have been non-existent.

To play Devil’s advocate however, the Ministry has indeed had similar campaigns in the past, as the article points out.


– “Women Only” in Korean Swimming Pools

At NateOn’s local pool, frequently only women are allowed. Against which he argues:

In Egypt, I got the separate gender stuff a little bit.  The religion in many contexts called for it, and the men there are idiots.  It’s the Middle East, and gender and sexual  issues are rampant.  But this is Korea.  It’s the 21st century.  Why do we need two hours of open swim that are women only?  And why is that in the middle of the day?  Oh, yeah, because women aren’t supposed to work.  And are home at the day.

In an update, he clarifies that his problem is not with women’s only swimming in itself, but that 2 hours of women only for every 3 hours of mixed sessions seems a little excessive. And why aren’t there any men-only ones?

– Saturday Night Live Korea does Blackface

Not strictly-related to gender issues sorry, but for those that are unaware, the December 31 show had a skit with Blackface, which has generated a lot of negative publicity overseas (at least on Korean fan sites and so on):

It’s also a real pity, especially after the first show seemed so progressive. But Angry K-pop Fan at least thinks some of the accusations are unwarranted.

Meanwhile, see My First Love Story for a list of recent problematic and/or offensive Korean music videos, which includes those that have used Blackface.

Korean Gender Reader

Cute Gu Hae-seon and Jo In-seong

1. Chinese Women Becoming More Expensive…

Back in April, I wrote this post on recent research that had finally provided hard data on the extent of the skewed sex-ratio in China, which showed that in 2005 there were 32 million more Chinese boys under the age of 20 than girls. And like virtually every commentator who has ever imagined a world with a scarcity of women – Robert A. Heinlein comes to mind – I had assumed that it would mean that women would be able to command a suitably high marriage price, to contract for favorable marriage conditions, and/or that it would usher in a veritable watershed in men’s behavior towards women. In reaction to this report on the somewhat predictable phenomenon of scams targeting particularly rural bachelors’ families saving more money for brides though, Kenneth Anderson at the (rather hard to categorize) Volokh Conspiracy blog has drawn on his Mormon upbringing to provide a unique perspective on what is occurring to the status of Chinese women. An excerpt:

Exposure to the wider world…has left me persuaded that abstract libertarianism must sometimes give way to the realities of cultures and actual conditions. My view today is that – drawing on conversations with Nicholas Eberstadt in which he noted that he, too, had read Heinlein – it was far more historically common, and almost certainly the more common direction of things today, that in a world with scarcity of women – especially in a world of scarcity of females and yet a cultural preference for male births – the result would be increased treatment of women as property. More valuable property, yes, but increasingly as property precisely as the perception of its value increased.

Chinese One Child Policy Poster 1986 Zhou Yuwei

The authors of Bare Branches have noted that a surplus of males unable to find mates is the social equivalent of plural marriage in which a single male has exclusive reproductive access to multiple wives. The effect is to create, as in China, India, and other places with similar cultural patterns combined with modern technology, the imbalance in the sexes. Again, my moderate libertarianism gives way to social realities – no doubt informed by my Mormon upbringing, which left me on the one hand the least offended person in the world by the idea of polygamy, but on the other hand a very detailed understanding of what it means in practice, for women but also for surplus men and boys. Indeed, there is a very good and persuasive paper by Thom Brooks arguing – contra Martha Nussbaum and others – that a society of multiple wives and a single husband is inherently and necessarily an inegalitarian one.

Among many other things, see the (much longer) original post for a link to that paper by Brooks (emphases in original).

2. AIDS Cases in Korea

Korean AIDS HIV Poster

Adding to those I mentioned in February (see #10 here), for some recent statistics and links to further analysis see Brian in Jeollanam-do here, who also briefly discusses the contradictions between advertising free AIDS tests to foreigners when a positive result can mean instant deportation.

Like I’ve already discussed here, but worth mentioning again because it’s so important, it was through listening to a Korean radio report back in 2005 that I realized that the vast majority of Koreans no longer think that they’re are no homosexual people in Korea, nor – considering that 99% of Korean cases were infected through sexual intercourse – that AIDS is a “gay disease.” I don’t mean to sound patronizing, but if that comes as a surprise, then don’t worry – it was to me too – and if you think about it you’ll probably realize that you never actually heard a Korean person say them; rather, you heard them from other, non-Korean speaking expats and/ or English-language books or magazines about Korea, the latter of which tend to get outdated very quickly in such a rapidly changing society as Korea.

And then you’ll realize that the same goes for a lot of things about Korea…it’s quite a sobering experience, or at least it was for me. Apologies if I’m projecting a little here though!

(In my brief survey of Korean AIDS/HIV awareness posters while finding the above image by the way, all of those I saw were tasteful and/or a little abstract like the above. Personally though, like experience with those for smoking suggests, I think the more graphic and explicit the better, either by showing terminally-ill patients, or by making strong negative associations with the act of having sex without a condom itself {see here, here, here, here, and here}. From *cough* experience, anything else is just too abstract to remember and/or care about in the heat of the moment)

OUT205283383. Korea’s Most Beautiful Men and Women

With a nod to the sorts of things most people actually read on my blog, here is a rare list provided by photographers at Movieweek rather than by netizens.

4. Number of “Harmful” Korean Web Sites Decreases for the First Time

The title of this Korea Times report is self-explanatory, but if you didn’t know it, much more interesting is Korea’s dubious high-ranking in this league:

There are about 3.45 million sites worldwide that contain sex, violence, gambling and other offensive material, 230,000 more than at the end of last year, with 1,500 to 2,000 new sites generated every day, KT said.

English sites accounted for about 1.99 million of the disturbing online destinations, or 57.6 percent, followed by the 490,000 Chinese sites, which accounted for 14.3 percent.

Korean sites, which accounted for 11 percent, came in third, relieved of its second-place position of last year, followed by the 360,000 German sites and the 80,000 Japanese sites.

More than 98 percent of those identified contained sexually explicit content, KT officials said, while gambling sites accounted for 1.62 percent and violent and “grotesque” sites combined for 0.05 percent.

“Although the decrease in the total number of sites is encouraging, this doesn’t exactly mean that the users of these sites have declined by the same rate as well,” said a KT spokesman.

I’m not surprised by the ranking of English and Chinese sites (although I’m sure it means English-language sites), but (98 percent of) 11 per cent of all pornography sites in the world are Korean? You don’t need to have spent a long time in Korea to realize that it’s by no means the conservative society it’s portrayed as in the foreign media, but still…

5. First Korean Astronaut Speaks on Women in Korean Society

Like Korea Beat says, unfortunately it was a very brief interview, but this does give a flavor of what she said. If you’ve never heard of Yi So-yeon (이소연) before though, first read Scribblings of the Metropolitician here and here on the incredible amount of criticism and negativity with which she and her achievement were received because of her replacing the original, male candidate.

6. How to Get Koreans More Interested in Foreign Culture

the reader nudity

It’s a little old, but if you’ve been following these Korean Gender Reader posts for a little while then you’ll know that I’m very interested in censorship issues in Korea, and the mechanisms by which the Korean media is slowly but surely being liberalized. One way, according to Korea Pop Wars, is a prime example of desperation being the mother of invention, as – outside of film festivals – there is unfortunately almost no market for non-mainstream foreign films in Korea, regardless of how popular they have been overseas or how many awards they have received. Consequently, local film promotion companies are focusing on any instances of nudity in them…and with immediate and enthusiastic responses!

7. Korean Women’s Skin Whitening

Lest you feel I’ve already mentioned this subject often enough, this Malaysian(!) reporter was also amazed at the extreme lengths Korean women will go to to have light skin.

8. The Korean Female Cutsie Act

Typical Korean Cutsie Act

Like Tony Hellman says:

I’ve noticed for some time that some Korean women have a tendency to talk in a high voice and have a kind of coquettish, childlike way about them. Often enough for me to to recognize a pattern. So I talked to a couple people and got some perspectives. I have a good friend who is a Korean-American woman, who explained it thusly…

See here for that explanation, and Gord Sellar’s posts here and here remain very good for putting it into a wider context.

9. Update on Domestic Violence in Taiwan

One of the longest recent news reports I’ve ever seen on the subject is available at The China Post here.  See #2 here for more links on Taiwan and Japan and Korea also.

10. Effects of the New Lay Judge (Jury) System on Sex-Crime Victims in Japan

With relevance to Korea, that is also experimenting with using juries in trials. See In Absentia here for more (via Global Voices).

11. Global Links…

Faith Hill Photoshopped Cover

As this has already been probably the least Korea-specific “Korean” Feminist Reader post that I’ve ever written, then I may as well pass on some recent stories that are only indirectly related to Korea, but which I’d be surprised if readers that have gotten this far wouldn’t still find interesting:

– Re: the above image(s), this New York Times article discusses the increasing backlash against the excessive levels of photoshopping done on especially women’s bodies in the media. And see here for an hilarious annotated guide to the changes above.

– With parallels to attempts to create a market from scratch for deodorant and men’s cosmetics in Korea, this post from Sociological Images discusses Philips attempt to create a trend for the other 50 per cent of the market to trim their pubic hair.

– And finally, with obvious relevance to Japanese and Korean social norms of virtually sexless marriages after having children (this is not an exaggeration), this report from the New York Times (again) demonstrates that married couples that have sex frequently are more likely to report being happy in their marriages and less likely to divorce. Who’d have thought it?

Related is this not entirely whimsical article from Esquire on determining whether you love your spouse or not.

( Image Sources: first, second, third-unknown, fourth, fifth, sixth, final )