Korean Gender Reader


1) The difference between “sexuality” and “sexualization”

Angry K-pop Fan and I both love a recent post at Sociological Images for so succinctly explaining that:

I’m no prude.  I think that children are – and have a right to be – sexual beings.  However, there is a difference between sexuality (feeling sexual) and sexualization (being seen as sexy). I (and many other like-minded feminists) believe that girls should be sexual; but, sexualization (and its concomitant focus on appearance instead of desire) is bad because it denies girls’ sexual subjectivity in favor of sexual objectification.

2) International AIDS conference in Busan this weekend

See Busan Haps or the conference website for more details. Unfortunately though, it’s not really aimed at the public (it’s much too late to register, and was prohibitively expensive anyway).

Meanwhile, to any foreign readers that may be under the understandable but false impression that the Korean public doesn’t believe that AIDS exists here, let me point you to this eye-opening experience I had about that back in 2005 (scroll down to just before the “Lesbos” picture).

3) More babies!

– Congratulations to Roboseyo and Wifeoseyo, who are having a Miniseyo in October.

– Congratulations again to Shotgun Korea, who had Desmond William Wolfie Kim on August 18.

– And finally belated congratulations to Going Places, having a baby in November.

Dragon Korea, having a boy next March February (see last week’s post), ponders how to give a kid solid White-Western and Korean identities. And her husband designer diaper bags!

– Over at Busan Haps, Roy Early ponders how to keep strangers from constantly touching his children. I can’t say that I’ve had that problem myself, but we are both tired of our children constantly being given candy, which non-parents may be amazed to learn just how many Koreans seem to always have on their person.

(Source. It is just me, or does A-ran’s {아란} face on the far left seem very badly photoshopped?)

4) Please objectify us! Pleeease……

Hey, I’ve always maintained that it’s largely the current glut of girl-groups that is driving their increasing sexualization. So, to play Devil’s Advocate, Swing Girls (스윙걸즈) differentiating themselves on the basis of all members having D-cup breasts(!) are really just being explicit about something that other girl-groups have already been doing for years.

And boy-bands too of course. Two weeks ago for instance, Lee Joon (이준) of MBLAQ (엠블랙) helpfully reminded us of what’s really needed for a guy to succeed in K-pop these days:


Update: Angry K-pop Fan provides a more comprehensive analysis of the Swing Girl’s branding plans here.

5) Does Jung Ryo-won (정려원) have anorexia, or are netizens overreacting?

I’d be one of those netizens I guess, mentioning those anorexia speculations back in March and May 2009 (see #3 here), and adding that I wasn’t personally convinced by her explanation that she lost the weight for a movie role. While I do sympathize with her frustration with netizens though, I’m afraid that 2 years later I’m similarly unconvinced by her new explanation that she’s one of those voracious eaters that never seems to put on weight, especially as I used to be one myself (albeit 20 years ago!).

6) Singles eclipse nuclear families in Seoul

It’s a slightly inaccurate headline – two parents and any number of children constitutes a nuclear family, not just two – but it’s certainly true that more and more people are living alone: 24.4% in Seoul according to the JoongAng Daily, and 23.9% nationally according to Real Time Korea. These are only slightly below rates for Western developed countries, as this graph from 2006 indicates (I have more detailed statistics in my bookcase, but most are over a decade old sorry!).

See here for more background, and here for more on the industries that were already springing up to cater to the increasing numbers of singles way back in 2009. (The latter also happened to have that handy graph on the right)

7) Korean students with make-up

Under fear of being sued by parents, at least one teacher is no longer enforcing school rules that require them to wash it off (via: Yahae!)

For some context, see here.

8) Taiwanese woman sexually assaulted in Hahoe Folk Village

See the details at Asian Correspondent here. Also in Taiwan-related news, Gender Across Borders reports that a mass same-sex wedding is planned there later this month.


9) Korea not ready for a group like Chocolat (쇼콜라)?

An interesting angle on them from Gord Sellar:

…Whereas the media hypersexualization of children is pretty much accepted — if not admitted — in Korean society, and the media hypersexualization of white women is all but de rigeur now, I think the idea that the media sexualization of biracially white/Korean children might not turn out to be as profitable an enterprise in Korea.

The band seems to be getting a pretty negative reception online, and it’s not hard to see why: the particular anxieties regarding race in Korea that the group’s promoters are trying to exploit — ambiguities of race, and the permissible exoticism of the non-Korean female — take on a life of their own when there is not a Korean male in the picture to “own” her (and, likewise, to “pwn” her)…

See here for the full post, and here (and possibly here) for my own on the issues Gord alludes to with that last sentence. Also, Angry K-pop Fan makes some interesting comparisons between Chocolat and pan-Asian band Blush.

10) 16 year-old Suzy (수지) of Miss A (미쓰에이) endorses French Lolita Lempicka perfume


A friend of mine, a close watcher of K-pop, believes that manager JYP has tended to make Suzy wear more conservative costumes and do slightly less risque dances than her adult co-members of Miss A, nor made her the focus of the group, all quite unlike what he did for So-hee of the Wondergirls when she was a minor (a practice replicated by other entertainment companies, such as: SM Entertainment with Sulli of f(x); Cube Entertainment with HyunA of 4Minute; and indeed Paramount Music of {at least} Tia of Chocolat in #8 above). With this loaded endorsement however, that may all be about to change, as indeed a similar one (“Lolita Sexy”) early last year arguably symbolized a great deal about his past and future marketing of the Wondergirls.


Korean Gender Reader

White Kim Hye-su Missha1. Number of Women Suffering Osteoporotic Fracture Increasing

So short that I may as well give the entire article:

Around 200 out of 100,000 Korean women are suffering from osteoporotic fracture, more than a four-fold increase over the past decade. The estimated annual socio-economic losses from such fractures are around W1.05 trillion (US$1=W1,275).

According to a 2007 survey by the U.S. National Institute of Health, the number of female osteoporotic fracture patients was seven times more than that of breast cancer patients, 2.5 times more than stroke patients, and 1.4 times more than heart attack patients.

Moon Sung-hwan, an orthopedist at Severance Hospital, said, “According to the World Health Organization, one in four women suffers a fracture in her lifetime. The rate increases to over 33 percent among those in their 60s or 70s, and 50 percent among those aged 80 or over.” Hip-joint fractures are particularly dangerous, since approximately 30 percent of patients die within two years.

I accept that a host of factors may be responsible for the dramatic increase, but as I make clear here, here, and here, Korean women go to great lengths to avoid the sun for the sake of light skins (to the extent that they now have among the lowest Vitamin D levels in the world). Moreover, as Korean women’s disposable incomes have gone up over the last few decades then so too has the range of whitening creams, lotions, and pills and so forth available to them, one of the most recent of which is that in this recent advertisement with Kim Hye-su (김혜수) for Korean cosmetics company Missha (미샤) above (source). It is not illogical to suppose that with greater spending on such items comes even greater care and attention to avoiding the sun, hence a drop in Vitamin D levels, and in turn a greater risk of osteoporotic fracture.

Naturally, that would be more young women than the middle-aged and older women most at risk, so there is an unresolved issue of timing with the recent increase. Alternative explanations?

2. South Korea Ranks Low In Terms Of Its Mothers’ Quality Of Life

For the details, see here. Again, just like with the UNDP’s 2008  “Human Development Index” and “Gender Empowerment Index” that I discussed here, whereas most countries’ economic indicators are also pretty good guides to the quality of life there, when it comes to Korea anything to do with women’s quality of life trails those economic indicators quite significantly. In this case for instance, its GDP was 15th largest in the world in 2008, but somehow it was only the 50th best place to be a mother (out of 158 countries surveyed).

I haven’t looked at the breakdown of the figures, but I would be very surprised if Korean maternal and infant death rates weren’t indeed the 15th lowest in the world or even lower, but that Korea lost a great deal of marks on its inability and/or unwillingness to reintegrate mothers into the workplace. For stark illustrations of just how bad Korea is in that regard, see here.

3. Jeong Ryeo-won’s Anorexia Problems?

Skinny Jeong Ryeo-won in April 2009(Source: zziixx)

In this interview, Jeong Ryeo-won (정려원) claims that she only lost the weight for a recent movie role, and never went below 40kg, but personally I think that the jury is still out on both. Regardless, in a sense it’s surprising that she’s been getting the attention that she has for it, considering that Biotherm presumably thinks that that caricature of an actual women above would not repel Korean women but be instead what they aspire to look like themselves. And if you think that that’s bad, wait till you see how she looked last July, when clothing retailer Giordano thought that pictures of her that scared my two year-old daughter would somehow have women rushing to their stores…

4. “If I Can Grope You, You Pass”

There’s been a great deal more discussion of the case of the student teachers sexually harassed by four teachers at their assigned public school earlier in the month (see #4 here), but probably the best is that at Brian in Jeollanam-do here, who also talks about the pervasiveness of this sort of thing at mandatory drinking parties at Korean workplaces. Here and here are two follow-ups also.

Meanwhile, the medical confinement of sexual predators has begun. According to Korea Beat, it’s a rare positive step, with rehabilitation as the goal.

Cruel Temptations Korean Drama5. Swearing Increases on Korean Television

A strange inclusion perhaps, but while there are naturally awkward aspects to all societies that its members are aware of but refuse to acknowledge and/or discuss (particularly sexual ones), in this part of world cultural norms of deference to authority, saving face, and not wanting to stand out in the crowd and so on probably mean that pressing social issues tend to get avoided for longer than in most.

So far, so cliched. Sure. But in a general sense, it’s a step in the right direction when popular culture reflects how people actually think, speak, and behave rather than cultural producers’ notions of how they should do so, and can create a feedback loop leading to more of the same

More concretely though, a spate of Korean women swearing on television, which appears to be occurring in the currently playing popular drama Cruel Temptations on the right in particular (source), may well challenge the sexist dubbing of foreign films and dramas, reported on by Robert Koehler in 2006:

A women’s group has issued a report on the “sexist” dubbing of foreign films and dramas, reports women’s newspaper Ilda The group took a look at some 27 English-language dramas shown on terrestrial broadcasting in September and October.  It found that most of them employed sexist sexist practices when dubbed into Korean.  Namely, male characters spoke in banmal, or “low language,” while female characters used jondaenmal, or “high/respectful” language, even though the original English dialogue made no such distinctions.

I don’t watch enough Korean television to know how prevalent this practice still is (can any readers fill me in?), but if it does still occur then it can only look more ridiculous in light of these new developments.

And I say “ridiculous” because a) it is, and b) I’m not so sure that any Korean couples even speak like that anymore, but then if any of my own limited circle of Korean friends used such a sexist division of language with their spouses and partners then we probably wouldn’t be friends in the first place! Can anyone without kids who gets to leave the house more than do I confirm that that is indeed out of date now (or not)?

6. Love and Marriage

Worried Moment for Korean Couple(Source: Unknown)

First up, the Korea Times reports that there’s a recent trend for employers to set up events for their single employees to meet:

Here’s what they do ― First, companies offer their single staff to register for a large dating event offsite at a hotel or theme mark. Matchmaking companies then kick in with games and events to help the crowd get to know each other better. At the end of the session, participants pick ― through a secret ballot ― who they want to be with.

Duo says about 50 people are accepted for one session and 30 percent of them go home as a couple. Some companies host the event as much as four times a year.

Considering Koreans are physically at work for some of the longest hours in the world, albeit not actually working for much of them (see here), then these events certainly make sense, although I doubt that they’re so efficient and no-nonsense that 30 percent of participants “go home as a couple”(!). Which makes me wonder whether: the long hours and culture of the salaryman system is primarily responsible for the idea (or rather, the vestiges of it), and if so if it is mirrored in Japan especially; or the fact that most Koreans were raised in single-sex middle and high-schools until recently, and thus much prefer arranged, usually group meetings rather than being so bold as to ask the opposite sex for a date directly; or, most likely, a combination of the two?

Regardless, Korean companies clearly seem unlikely to go down the Western path of banning the practice anytime soon, but on a more grass-roots level Koreans I have spoken to about this personally have invariably been surprised to hear about what occurs – or rather, what doesn’t occur – in Western workplaces, and have taken a surprising amount of time to get their heads around notions such as “Don’t screw the crew.” But naturally my friends and students don’t speak for all Koreans, so I’d be interested in hearing what others have (had) to say.

Before I forget, Michael Hurt has written an excellent guide for (primarily) men on the positives and pitfalls of dating Korean women because of having such different backgrounds, including the effects of that single-sex schooling as mentioned. But don’t get the wrong impression: this is not a “How to screw Korean women”  kind of Korean guide, but rather something I could very much relate to after being in a relationship with a Korean woman for the last 9 years, and that I wish had been available much earlier!

Also, Koreans are continuing to get married at later and later ages, compounded by the recent financial crisis:

The latest statistics compound the frustrations felt by baby boomer parents. Last year, the average marrying age was 31.4 for men and 28.3 for women. More and more Koreans are choosing to marry later in life. In 1981, Korean men got married at an average age of 26.4 and women when they were 23.2. This means in 27 years, the average marrying age has been pushed back five years. Three out of 10 Koreans between the ages of 25 and 34, which are considered prime marrying years, are single.

In addition, the crisis is also having an effect on the kind of ceremonies couples that actually do get married actually have, practicalities and strained finances forcing a rethink in the previous norm of the groom’s family paying for the couple’s apartment, and the bride’s for the contents.

A more equitable, more Feminist arrangement because it’s the cheapest? God moves in mysterious ways!

And finally, here is a story about a matchmaker that is setting up North Korean defectors with eligible South Korean men.

7. Quick Links

A follow-up on the Joo Ji-hoon drug scandal, which I discussed last week.

KoreaBeat briefly discusses a TV program about a 23 year-old that leads a double life as a university student and a prostitute, and also about the military opening up to girlfriends, sisters and mothers by encouraging conscripts to blog about their experiences. Considering the huge socialization effect of military conscription on Korean men, then this may ultimately prove much more significant than it probably first appears.

– And last but not least, more information on the cost of studying in Korea at Extra! Korea here, and part and parcel of the primarily financial and not cultural reasons that Koreans adults live with their parents until marriage.

Korean Gender Reader

anorexic-jeong-ryeo-won-정려원-giordano-advertisement-지오다노-광고(Source: zziixx)

Old news in the K-pop blogosphere admittedly, but these advertisements of Jeong Ryeo-won’s do give me concerns about her health, although fortunately she’s gained a little weight since they were shot back in July.

Update: As this post at Allkpop makes clear, actually she lost the weight for a movie role. But, given that extreme weight loss, the question remains of if she was an appropriate choice of model.

On to this week’s stories:

1. The Politicization of Skin-Whitening Products

With thanks to reader Anne for passing it on, I’d agree that this is “an insightful recent look at beauty standards in N. America and Korea from the perspective of a Korean American woman,” and for anyone interested in my own take on the subjects raised there by Min Jin Lee, author of “Free Food for Millionaires”, please see here, here and here also.

2. How to Read Your Date’s Personality in 10 Minutes

A Korean blogger’s humorous guide for women here.

3. Couple Steal to Pay for Abortion

Do they cost that much money? Still, one can sympathize with the impoverished couple to a certain extent, and I wonder what punishment they’ll receive? Not that I’m advocating at all that they should get a mere slap on the wrist for holding four bar-owners up at knife point, but they do still present a bit of a dilemma, as obviously they can’t pay a fine, and jail time would mean that their five year-old daughter is sent into (woefully inadequate and under-resourced) state care.

By coincidence though, Wednesday’s English Chosun had a report saying that from September, destitute offenders would be allowed to do community service in lieu of paying fines. Currently, 32,000 people are in jail because they can’t afford to, although 94% of all fines are for less than 3 million won.

4. Government Buildings to Have ‘Refresh Zones’

Fiddling while Rome burns. As Brian rightly points out, a far more effective way to look after employees’ health would be to get rid of the mindset that hard workers don’t go home before the boss does, which means that while Koreans technically have among the longest working hours in the world, much of them are already spent napping and/or playing Minesweeper on their computers.

See here for my own take on the natural effects that has on Korean family life and the low birthrate.

5. Uzbekistani Woman Forced into Sex Slavery in Seoul

uzbekistani-women-forced-into-prostitutionI already mentioned some articles on this in story #22 last week, but if you’re further interested then here’s a translation of another Korean article on the same subject by Korea Beat, and it is always good to get as many different perspectives as possible (source, right: the Hankyoreh).

6. ‘Upskirting’ Gains Attention

Not that one article marks a trend, but this translation of this article from the Guardian on upskirting worldwide did briefly feature prominently on Yahoo Korea’s “front page” this week. And as this and this report make clear, it’s actually still quite a legal grey area in Korea.

7. Vice-Principal Who Ignored Sex Scandal Gets Chance at Promotion

As reported by Korea Beat, “controversy is brewing as a vice-principal in Yeosu, who may or may not have looked the other way as his principal was molesting little kids, is getting one final chance for a promotion.”

8. Resource on Sexual and/or Physical Abuse of Korean Children

Found via his recent post on The Hub of Sparkle here, blogger Roboseyo has been gathering links at news reports on these subjects since November last year, and I dare say I’ll be referring to it a lot from now on!

9. International Marriage in Korea Doubled in Last Six Years

That’s according to a broad statistical report just released by the Korean government, the outline of which are translated by Korea Beat here. Personally though, I find the myriad of other statistics more interesting, such as the fact that traffic fatalities have halved since 1990 for instance, and the ratio of boys to girls among newborns is well within natural ranges, although Korean’s supposed preference for sons is still invariably what tends to be reported by the foreign media.

Meanwhile, the English Chosun at least is convinced that Korea must embrace immigration and ethnic diversity simply for the sake of its long-term economic survival. Definitely laudable thoughts, but while progress is definitely slow, one suspects that most Koreans will find (albeit very very belatedly) that making it easier for Korean mothers to work will be a far more palatable option for them.

10. Gay Politics in Taiwan and Japan

An interesting comparison here, and given Japanese people’s reputation for their….well, let’s say “rather liberal” notions of sexuality, then I was quite surprised to learn that the Taiwanese are actually much more open and progressive when it comes to homosexuality (found via Global Voices).

11. Happy Ending to Adoption Story

While fellow blogger Javabeans is rightfully skeptical of the real benefits celebrity involvement provides to charity promotion and public campaigns of any stripe, she(?) was happy to report that it did have a big impact on this child’s life.

12. Controversy Over Design of New 50,000 won Bill Settled

Details here. For a much more interesting and in-depth look at the issues raised by that controversy though, see the discussion between Gomushin Girl and Bebel in the comments section to last week’s post, starting here.

13. “Boys Over Flowers” Actor Jang Ja-yeon Commits Suicide

jang-ja-yeon-commits-suicideFor the original Korea Times report see here, and the instant I heard of her death I thought of this excellent post by Micheal Hurt on suicide in Korea to place her death into some context, a sentiment echoed by Matt at The Hub of Sparkle here, and who also provides a list of the large number of Korean celebrities to have killed themselves in recent years.

For K-pop blogs’ takes on events and more information about her all-too-brief career also, see here, here and here (source, right).

14. Brothel Owners Pay Average of Nearly 3 Million won a Year in Bribes to Police

And naturally enough, to specifically those police officers in charge of cracking down on them too (prostitution is illegal in Korea, but widespread: for a primer and many links, see #3 here). See here for details of those and for the average sums of bribes paid to the police to overlook other crimes too, and while we’re on the subject of prostitution here is a report of a Korean man pimping foreign prostitutes from the fifth floor of a tourist hotel in Seoul too. Unfortunately though the report is unclear on whether the prostitutes, who are about to be deported, came to Korea with the intention of working in the sex industry or whether they were tricked and/or forced into it upon arrival (like #5 above).

15. Lawmakers Want Tougher Laws on Child Sex Crime

While little good if a lack of state care means that abusers are often the only ones able to provide for their victims, and which in practice means that often they’re not even prosecuted at all (see #3 above), at least these measures are a step in right direction.

16. Women First to be Laid-Off During Recession

Sigh. Again, it doesn’t exactly give me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside to be proved right (see #1 here, and #2 here), but the most recent statistics on phenomenon can be read at the English Chousn here.

Meanwhile, amongst Korean men that are laid-off, as many as 20 percent are opting not to tell their families. One suspects though, that surely they’ll still find out eventually?

17. Unmarried Women Refused Smear Test

Yes, really, and despite the fact that it is all sexually-active women that are most at risk and hence most in need of a regular test. For the lively discussion on that, see the thread at Dave’s ESL Cafe here, and personally I see this as further vindication of my view that the contraceptive pill should remain an over-the-counter option in Korea, rather than requiring a prescription from an almost invariably patronizing and moralistic Korean medical establishment, almost Victorian in its inability to acknowledge that Korean women are having sex before marriage.

18. Women’s Rights in Taiwan

On International Women’s Day, Letters from Taiwan notes the gap between government rhetoric and actual practice on women’s rights (found via Global Voices)