Korean Gender Reader

Yoon Eun-hye Vivien's Summer Collection1. Korean Stars Exposing Themselves?

Or not as the case may be, for while Yoon Eun-hye’s (윤은혜) latest advertisements for lingerie company Vivian certainly made quite a splash in the Korean blogosphere last week, again the products she is supposedly advertising are conspicuous for their absence. And just like, say, restrictions that existed on showing couples in the same bed on television reveal a great deal about the (repressed) sexuality of Americans in the 1950s, that very few major Korean stars are prepared to wear lingerie in lingerie advertisements is noteworthy in a sociological sense.

True, perhaps my voyeuristic male gaze compels me to return to this subject more often than most, but lingerie advertisements are ubiquitous in Korea, and it’s a rare commute when I don’t have the slightly surreal experience of seeing advertisements featuring scantily clad Caucasians in one subway car, then seeing others with Koreans like this one of Eun-hye (source) in another when I transfer (sometimes, you can even see both in the same car). Seriously, it’s no exaggeration to say that Koreans’ convoluted and often contradictory notions of sexuality and race literally stare me in the face everyday, and in a form that means that I’m particularly likely to sit up and take notice.

As I’ve discussed previously, lingerie modeling’s associations with porn stars remains the most compelling explanation, especially as the same Korean stars that don’t deign to appear in lingerie advertisements have appeared in quite skimpy bikinis in films and on television. Indeed, how else but shame explains even unknown models at lingerie fashion shows feeling compelled to hide their faces (see #3 here)?

Yet via commenting on the contradictions between sexually explicit Western films recently allowed to be screened here, but a rather tame music video by a Korean singer being banned by broadcasters, Eric Strickland has recently reminded me of the false dichotomy many Koreans have between themselves and supposedly more provocatively-dressed and acting Caucasians, and hence that – herein lies his insight – in many ways standards and expectations for the latter have yet be transferred to the former. Moreover, it doesn’t logically follow from Korean models not appearing in lingerie advertisements that their replacements would overwhelmingly be Caucasians either.

Choi Shi-wonYes, the various institutions and individuals involved with censorship in Korea are hardly a monolithic bloc, and this points to the need for restraint *cough* when interpreting decisions like the above, or, indeed, individual advertisements or even collections of them like Eun-hye’s also.

Something to always bear in mind next time you hear that Korea is rapidly becoming a more (or less) liberal and democratic place over time – depending on the commentator’s perspective – not least from myself! And for me personally, it means that the jury’s still out on the clothed-Korean/unclothed-Caucasian phenomenon.

Meanwhile, other notable cases of stars strutting their stuff last week were Choi Shi-won (최시원) of Super Junior (슈퍼주니어) on the left (source), apparently “the first idol star” to appear on the cover of Men’s Health (Korea) magazine, and also Rain (비), who has recently signed a 2-year, 1.5 billion Korean Won modeling contract with cosmetic brand Nature Republic to be its exclusive model (see here and here).

2. Taiwan Sees Rise in Domestic Violence

For an excellent introduction to the subject, see here. And if you’re interested in that, then please also see here for a video introduction to domestic violence in Japan; here for the first post in my five-part series on domestic violence in Korea (which I hope to resume later this week); and finally here for information about a recent Korean movie exploring the subject.

3. Number of Newborns Falls for 13th Consecutive Month

I’ve written so much about this subject also, I’ll defer from commenting this time! Amongst all the otherwise depressing news in this Korea Times report though, was the fact that the:

…number of divorces totaled 10,600 in March, down 5.9 percent from a year ago, due mainly to a mandatory system under which couples are required to take a one- to three-month cooling off period. The scheme was introduced as part of government efforts to reduce divorces.

Call me old-fashioned, but I see that as a good thing. However:

The fragile economy also appears to have made disgruntled couples more reluctant to go their separate ways because of the costs associated with divorce.

Although I do think that the cooling-off period will still have a palpable effect in the long run. And, lest you think that it is too long, consider that in New Zealand it is 2 years!

4. Big Mama…Not So Big Anymore?

Big Mama Korean Group

Shame on me for not hearing about this group earlier! Apparently Big Mama (빅마마) are a very talented music group, but they haven’t gotten the attention they deserve in Korea because – as the name implies – they’re normal-sized neither thin nor young like the vast majority of popular female singers. Ironically Lee Young-hyun (이영현) though, third from the right above (source), was recently in the news for losing weight.

5. Historic LGBT Festivals to be Held Next Week

In the words of Korea Beat:

From June 5th through 7th in Busan will be held the “Stonewell Celebration” to protect the rights of sexual minorities.

Ahead of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riot, Korean gay rights organization Chingusai and others announced on the 26th that they will hold a Stonewall Celebration in Busan, Gwangju, and Daegu to call for protection of the rights of sexual minorities.

See the original post for more details. Unfortunately, browsing through the links in that post there appears to be little to no information available in English, and if you’re confident enough with your Korean ability to attend regardless…then you won’t need my Korean wife me to translate anything for you before you do!  But for any non-Korean speakers still interested in the subject of LGBT rights in Korea, then I recommend the Autumn 2005 Korea Journal article “Intersectionality Revealed: Sexual Politics in Post-IMF Korea” by Cho Ju-hyun as the most recent and comprehensive guide, available here. Among other things, it mentions that unfortunately lesbian activists have been restricted from membership from mainstream umbrella Korean Women’s organizations, thereby having to form their own from scratch.

In passing, here is information about two short Korean films that screened at the recent San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.

Update: here and here are two more recent blog posts that are also good introductions to LGBT life in Korea.

Update 2: Lost among all the attention being given to the former president Roh Moo-hyun’s (노무현) suicide last week (belying a huge social problem in Korea), well-known transgender star Harisu (하리수) has set up a transgender performance cum support group.

Update 3: It’s two years old, and a translation of an article two years older still, but otherwise Korea Beat has an excellent (and surprisingly long) post about teen homosexuality in Korea here.

Jo Shin-ae Pre Wedding Pictures6. On Being A Princess in Korea

I was tempted to include this image (source) of Jo Shin-ae (조신애) in my “Korean Sociological Images” series, but then it really illustrates a cultural feature of Korea rather than a sociological phenomenon really, and that is the almost universal practice for engaged couples to hire photographers to take pictures of them in various outfits and locations before their wedding, then to prominently display those pictures at the event itself. And while I chose not to get them for my own wedding as I’ll explain, that is not the same as saying that they can’t be quite nice and/or classy, and I don’t think it’s patronizing or in any way a criticism to say that women probably enjoy having them taken more than men because of the fantasy/dress-up element to it either.

Personally though, after wandering through parks full of couples romantically looking into each other’s eyes at sunset…accompanied by a team of two photographers and four assistants, and perhaps 10m away from two other couples and their own photographers on either side of them (and so on, completely surrounding lakes and riversides!), or alternatively seeing couples taking pictures like these at Gwanganlli Beach in Busan (scroll down)…with my big, smelly, sweaty, and unshaven self quite possibly jogging less than 6m away from them at the time, then I found the whole concept too expensive superficial and cheesy to consider taking them for my own wedding.

Having said that, having spent most of my adult life in Korea then it’s Korean weddings that I’m most familiar with, and in fact I never actually attended any in New Zealand before I left when I was 24. Am I correct in assuming though, that most Western countries still lack this pre-wedding custom?

As for Shin-ae, she got married on Thursday (see here also), as did actors Seol Gyeong-gu (설경구) and Song Yoon-ah (송윤아) (see here for pictures).

Update: If anyone’s into that sort of thing – and judging by number of clicks on the links above, then a surprising number of you are – then here is some extra information about Shin-ae’s wedding dress!

7. Old, Heavily Censored Korean Movies…Censored Even More by EBS!

korean censorshipThis certainly puts what I wrote in #1 into some perspective, and deserves to be much better known. From Seen in Jeonju:

For many years I have enjoyed the late night Korean classic series that airs over the Educational Broadcasting Service on Sunday night. Through that I have gotten to see many old movies from the 50s, 60s, and 70s and for that I am forever grateful.  However, I now have a question for whomever is in charge of the show–please don’t think me disrespectful but I have to ask.  What the hell have you been doing?  For the last four weeks, whenever I watch the movies selected, I wind up turning it off in disgust. Why?  Because some idiot has decided to censor the films that are being shown!  Movies from the 60s and 70s were subject to enormous amounts of government interference and censorship.  Now some moralist over at EBS has decided to restrict these films even more! There was so much government control in the earlier decades that I didn’t  think there was anything left to censor.  Apparently I was wrong…

Read the rest here. While the re-censoring is restricted to blurring out knives and cigarettes (yes really, and all in movies playing late at night), there is perhaps no greater indictment of the Lee Myung-bak Administration’s moves to restrict media freedom than feeling the need to examine movies already censored by military dictatorships, let alone finding their efforts inadequate! The arbitrary nature and ineffectiveness of it are also annoying, and ultimately very worrying.

In related news, albeit slightly old, this post on a German English-language site about Asian movies discusses the differences between the international trailer and the tamer Korean trailer for the movie Thirst (박쥐).

censored Korean trailer for Thirst

8. “Working Wives and Incompetent Husbands” in North Korea

Part 4 of a series on “the ideal model of North Korean Housewife.” The site is a little difficult to navigate, so if you want to read more then Part 1, 2, and 3 are available here, here and here also.

9. International Marriage: Links

For a thorough introduction, see posts by Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling here and here (for starters, and this is also interesting). Meanwhile:

10. Gender Equality Minister Byun Do-yoon

In a short and very readable interview for The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, with many interesting tidbits about the history of the ministry (여성부) and Korean feminism as a whole.

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