Korean Gender Reader

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1) Double-standards when marketing sex-themed movies?

Anybody else looking forward to seeing the comedy Pretty Romance (쩨쩨한 로맨스) next month?

I think it looks like fun myself. And with a very egalitarian first couple of promotional posters, featuring both “sexperts” in their underwear, then I’d hesitate to begin describing the promoters as sexist bigots.

But still, the above is the second poster now to have actress Choi Kang-hee (최강희) wearing a much more risqué costume and/or showing much more skin than actor Lee Seon-gyun (이선견). And this imbalance is repeated across most of the adults-only section of the movie website too:

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Sure, it’s hardly the most egregious case out there, and javabeans does give kudos to the movie for at least “letting the girl be the aggressor”. But it does raise the interesting issue of how sex-themed movies (presumably) aimed at both sexes seem to be marketed as if they were just for a male gaze, and not just in Korea.

Recall some of the posters for Ogamdo (오감도; see #8 here) last year for instance, which led some female commenters over at DramaBeans to worry that watching it would simply be a waste of time for them:

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But regardless of if that did turn out to be the case or not (I haven’t seen it myself), can anyone think of any promotional material for similar sex-themed films that fetishized the male form just as much as the female one? Or is only the latter effectively the default and almost universal choice?

2) Filipino student kicked out of Korean university for being gay

Read the details at KoreaBeat. To be precise, he is being kicked out of his dormitory, which effectively means he is being kicked out of the university because his scholarship is contingent upon his residence there.

3) “Life is Beautiful” broke barriers for gays

The JoongAng Daily interviews veteran television writer Kim Soo-hyun (김수현), whose drama Life is Beautiful (인생은 아름다워) was the first to portray a gay couple on Korean prime-time television.

Also see #3 here for more information about depictions of homosexual relationships on Korean television in general (or rather the lack thereof), and #1 here for a recent controversy surrounding the shooting of the drama in a church.

4) Korean schools’ rules on dating and physical contact between students of the opposite sex

I kid you not: not only did 81% of middle and high-schools surveyed have them, but they’re both very detailed and regularly enforced, recently “a male and female student of a high school in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, [receiving] a penalty of three-day service in school for their standing within 50 centimeters of each other at a bus stop” for instance.

See The Hankyoreh for further details. Naturally, there’s no mention of any rules for dating and physical contact between students of the same sex.

5) What socializes and sustains deferential behavior in Koreans?

Neo-Confucian deference to males is at the core of Korea’s poor gender relations, and to outside observers it is often both frustrating and confounding how it persists despite its fundamental conflict with most other ideologies that Koreans espouse to, such as democracy, liberalism, and feminism.

As Gord Sellar discusses here though, recent studies show that part of the answer may be because what one is socialized to at an early age literally becomes hardwired into the brain.

Take this quick quote from Tufts Magazine’s article on the studies, with Gord Sellar’s emphases. And at the very least, I am now intrigued by the implications for understanding Korean advertising:

… what accounts for strong differences in preferences, leading to very different actions in the real world?

Part of the answer might lie in a similar set of studies done by Freeman. He measured the brainwaves of American and Japanese subjects who were shown silhouettes of bodies in postures categorized as “dominant” and “subordinate” (for example, one of someone standing tall with arms crossed and another of someone with head bowed and arms hanging). “It’s been known for a long time that Western cultures encourage dominance and Japanese cultures more subordination in line with collectivist thinking,” Freeman says. “I was looking to see if these East Asians and Westerners perceive dominant and subservient bodies in a different way.”

The results, published in the journal Neuroimage in April 2009, indicate that here, too, people often travel the same route yet end up at destinations miles apart. The silhouettes matching cultural preferences activated another distinct area of the brain in both groups: the limbic reward system. This is the system that releases dopamine into the bloodstream in response to pleasurable stimuli such as drugs, sex, or food. But it’s also engaged whenever the brain wants to tell the body to go after something in the outside world—to pick up a desired cup of coffee or grab a favorite magazine off the rack.

( Source: Pink Tentacle )

7) Top 60 popular Japanese words/phrases of 2010

This selection from Pink Tentacle may seem like a strange choice here at first. But like our discussion of 2009 Korean buzzwords demonstrates, many do ulitmately make it over to Korea.

Here’s my vote for the first of those 60 to do so:

28. Yama girl [yama gaaru – 山ガール]: Yama girl (“mountain girl”) refers to a new breed of fashion-conscious outdoor women who wear cute yet functional mountain skirts, colorful leggings and stylish boots while hiking, camping and communing with nature.

7) The dashed dreams of a Gyopo woman

An interesting, if somewhat bitter-sounding take on dating in Korea from the perspective of a Gyopo woman. Anybody have an opinion on how representative her experiences are?

8) Divine proportions in male nipple re-positioning

Not strictly related to Korea sorry, but from what I can gather from the article at io9 says, this is a very underdeveloped field that is only set to grow as societies become more obese. And given existing Korean expertise in cosmetic surgery and its ambitions for medical tourism, then it wouldn’t surprise me if this was a procedure regularly offered in Korea within the next 5 years.

9) Jessica of Girls’ Generation most popular celebrity among Korean lesbians

That’s according to an article in Come Together, a magazine published by Yonsei University’s LGBT club which claims to be “Korea’s first campus association for gay college students.”

Yes, I think it’s an interesting name for a magazine too.

10) Midnight Sun (미드나잇 선) music video by F.CUZ (포커즈) released

But more notable for the way it was promoted, which was by the now standard practice of pre-releasing an overtly sexual teaser of it with the aim of gaining publicity for it by getting it banned and/or generating controversy:

I am unsure if it was actually banned sorry – I’ve been a little distracted the last few weeks – but the finished product is definitively much tamer:

Like Johnelle at SeoulBeats notes of it though, “it’s funny how in almost every Korean (and Japanese) MV that has a sexy concept they have only (or mostly) foreign girls/models tramping it up”. Do you think that’s true, or is it an exaggeration? I can say that it’s definitely the case for advertisements and the print media, but unfortunately I find it difficult to keep up with most K-pop these days.

Update: Gord Sellar saw Pretty Romance, and wishes he’d walked out after 20 minutes!

p.s. Good to be blogging again!^^


Korean Gender Reader

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After a long hiatus, I’ve finally found a way to continue this series despite my much greater workload (and other commitments) this semester: simply bookmarking stories as soon as they arise, then passing them on the moment I have 10 of them. And in particular, by making sure to dispense with the usual lengthy analysis.

Alas, 1500 words later, I’m still trying to figure out what happened to that last exactly. But in the meantime, here are the stories in the order that I came across them at least, albeit with one exception for the most eye-catching one…

1) Like GirlFriday of Dramabeans said of the above poster for Pretty Romance (쩨쩨한 로맨스), what’s wrong with equal implied-nakedness?

2) South Korean military developing separate uniforms for female soldiers

Was anybody else surprised to learn that there weren’t already female uniforms in use? In 2010?

In the Defense Ministry’s defense though (no pun intended), there are actually only 6000 female soldiers out of a total of 655,000 in the armed forces, so the delay is somewhat understandable.

Which begs the question of why female soldiers in the US have also had to wait then, considering there’s over 160,000 of them!

3) 33 year-old female teacher has sexual relationship with 15 year-old student

See the Korea Times for the basic details, and Gusts of Popular Feeling, Brian in Jeollanam-do, and The Marmot’s Hole for a great deal of analysis and discussion (even the parody site The Dokdo Times has some good points).

In particular, note that while the teacher was fired from her job, she will not actually be charged with anything, as this case has – once and for all – conclusively demonstrated that the age of consent in South Korea is 13, one of the lowest in the world. And if this case has a silver lining, it is that it will at least lead to greater awareness and discussion of that, particularly in the context of a great deal of concern already having been raised about the alleged prostitution of and overly sexual performances of underage entertainers.

Unfortunately however, currently Korea is also in the grip of what is effectively an internet witch-hunt against her, which – however deserved one may feel it is – is not without its problematic elements.

4) Korea’s birthrate is the 3rd lowest in the world

That’s according to the U.N. Population Fund’s State of World Population Report for 2010, although rather confusedly it also says that South Korea’s population is 48.5 million, whereas it has just been widely reported in the Korean press that Korea’s population has in fact reached 50 million.

Update: There are many reasons why Korea’s birthrate is so low of course, but if Mike in Busan’s recent experiences are anything to go by, then the effect of the appalling service provided by some maternity hospitals may also play a large role in that.

For the record, those hospitals my 2 daughters were born at were both fine, although I was rather surprised that the one my first daughter was born at – also a maternity hospital – didn’t have incubators with their own oxygen supply, which meant my 2nd (very premature) daughter had to be born at a general hospital instead. It was not a fun ride in the ambulance going between them at 3am while carrying a sleepy 2 year-old, let alone for my wife.

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5) Menses celebration day established

Granted, this news sounds a little strange at first, and the young girls themselves look somewhat less than thrilled about it. But I think this idea deserves some definite respect:

Young girls who started menstruation early cut a big rice cake with representatives of medical doctor’s organizations at a convention to announce foundation of “Menses Day” (초경의 날) by the Korean Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (KAOG; 대한산부인과의사회) at the Lotte Hotel in Seoul, Oct. 20.

KAOG said that it adopted Oct. 20 as Menses Day to promote the importance of menstruation as a natural part of development, and to improve social awareness.

Alas, perhaps it is unfortunate that this being promoted by KAOG and not by, say, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs (여성가족부/MOGEF), which might have indicated that the government is also more sympathetic to addressing the urgent need for sex education here. But of course I have nothing against KAOG itself(!), and I’m happy to report that it is pro-choice too, and not to be confused with the Korean Gynecological Physicians’ Association (GYNOB; 진오비) that supports the Lee Myung-bak Administration’s criminalizing of abortion.

As for Menses Day itself, if it takes off then it may have very positive effects in the long term. For even in the UK, teenagers generally feel that masturbation is natural for boys, but shameful, wrong, and dirty for girls, and my own experience suggests that, if anything, those perceptions are much stronger in Korea. Teach girls that their bodies are in fact something to be celebrated rather than be embarrassed of though, then they’re much more likely to have satisfying sex lives in the future (unlike all too many married Korean women, who effectively have no sex lives).

6) Challenging stereotypes of oversexed foreign women

Charged with negatively impacting Koreans’ perceptions of all foreign women because of their promiscuity, Korean “dating bloggers” and many others have (rightly) responded angrily to accusations. But spread over many posts, blogs, and hundreds of comments though, the ensuing discussion is a little difficult to follow, so I highly recommend reading I’m no Picassos post for an excellent summary of the issues raised, and her own rebuttal.

For further context, see my Korean Sociological Image #18: Sexualizing Caucasian Women also.

( Source: Baby Black )

7) It pays to hire women in countries that won’t

As I have long noted, it is simply crazy to educate women to such world-high standards, only then to fire them and/or make it virtually impossible to work after either turning 30, getting married, or (especially) having children. And indeed, Korea remains the only country in the OECD where the more highly educated a woman is, actually the less likely she is to be employed.

If Korean companies won’t hire them however, then eventually more and more foreign companies will, as recently noted by the Harvard Business School and The Economist.

Update: The Idiot’s Collective also has a post about this.

8) No, morons, a love hotel is not a brothel

A self-explanatory post from Brian in Jeollanam-do, on articles in foreign newspapers over the accommodation provided for the first Korean Grand Prix. Like he says:

Because of my affinity for love motels, I’m sensitive to what’s unsurprisingly a lazy post that gets it wrong—and looks quick to jump on the “news of the weird” theme that runs through so much international news out of Asia in western sources—starting with the photograph that accompanied it.

See his “Motels and Hotels” category for more practical information about them. And for those more interested in the historical and sociological aspects of them, see my A Penetrating New Look at Japanese and Korean Love Hotels for a book on the history of their development.

9) Pink glove charity event in Seoul

Apologies to 10 Magazine for only noticing their post about it 40 minutes before the actual event on Saturday. And I was quite surprised too, as The Korea Times at least argues that Koreans are generally aloof to the Pink Ribbon campaign as a whole.

Did anyone attend? If so, please let me know how it went!

10) Female protester makes big change in the conservative education sector

As I reported in August (see #8 here):

…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…

Regardless of the exam, the various ministries involved in its administration are legally required to inform the public well in advance of the number of jobs that will ultimately be available for successful applicants. But with one exception: the Teacher Certification Examination (TCE). So, not only was it devastating news for those taking the integrated social studies and the integrated science version yesterday to discover that there were actually no jobs available, thereby rendering years of study (for most of them) essentially meaningless, but only being told 4 weeks ago greatly compounded that blow.

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Not content to meekly write-off the last 4 years of her life because of bureaucratic indifference however, 28 year-old applicant Cha Young-ran decided to do something about it. As reported in Global Voices, she single-handedly protested in front of the Ministry of Education building, and within 30 minutes was whisked inside to discuss her problem with officials, who brought the TCE  in line with all other examination bodies that are legally required to give 6 months notice a few days later. As Global Voices says:

Cha’s request for change was a demand that anyone with a social conscience could have made. However, Cha was the one who actually took action and with a zest of fresh ideas, a rare change was made in one of the most rigidly bureaucratic areas of Korean life.

Here’s hoping she will be the inspiration for similar challenges to Korea’s “Just Bear It” mentality in the future.