Korean Gender Reader

Photoshop Shoo

One of these pictures from Shoo’s (슈) recent photoshoot is not quite like the others: take a closer look, and if nothing sticks out then see these classics of the genre for hints, or #6 for the solution.

1) In that vein, for me last week really stood out for the number of excellent points raised about the subjects of women’s body images, censorship, and Korean sexuality by Korean bloggers. But first, I should of course mention that a South-African woman was raped in her home in Ulsan by a neighbor earlier in the month, and early indications were that the police were at best lukewarm in handling her case, which naturally provoked lively discussions in the Korean blogosphere about rape in Korea, women’s and foreigner’s safety, and the Korean police ‘s attitudes to both. Lest I appear indifferent by not discussing those subjects in more detail myself though, lengthy but often informative comments threads on these already exist at Korea Beat and The Marmot’s Hole if you’re interested. Moreover, it appears from this Facebook thread devoted to the issue that claims of police indifference were complete fabrications by The Chosun Ilbo, as were quotes from the victim, who hadn’t actually spoken to any news outlets.

2) First up then, in a post I’m embarrassed not to have written myself, VixenVarla of Seoulbeats asks if Korean society is really ready for “women” idols, and thinks not: noting the netizen furor over the above Abracadabra (아브라카다브라) music video by the Brown Eyed Girls (브라운아이드걸스), which features a sex scene (and rather more than the mere lesbian kissing scene I reported last week sorry), she argues that while provocative, both that and Chae-yeon’s (채연) new music video Shake (흔들려) were at least alternative representations of Korean women to the coy, innocent, and sexually inexperienced ones normally presented. But while teenage groups’ blatantly sexual dance moves are usually instantly praised as being “hip”, “sexy”, and “cool,” Abracadabra will probably have to be heavily edited for television (despite protestations that it won’t be), as indeed much tamer Shake was recently (see #1 here).  She concludes:

….when Korean “women” choose to project a more sexualized side of themselves they are looked down upon by censors and neitizens. Is Korea so afraid to show adult women in control of their own sexuality that they would prefer to cast scantily clad little girls in heavy makeup, to play “grown up” in their place?

See here for the full post. But please note that by reiterating it’s main points I (and I’m sure VixenVarla would concur) am not attacking expressions of teenage sexuality per se: rather, I’m just saying that they don’t deserve the kid gloves with which they are treated with by the Korean media (see here for my most recent post on this issue). Possibly Abracadabra was a bad choice with which to make that particular point though, as it’s easily the most sexually-explicit mainstream Korean music video I’ve seen in the whole 9 years I’ve lived here:

Abracadabra Brown Eyed Girls( Source )

Of course, 9 times out of 10 such a video would be used to disguise the poor quality of the music itself, but this song is actually good, and – I confess – I heard it on the radio and thought it was (forgive the temporary lapse in sophistication) cool well before I saw the video above. Meanwhile, here is a live performance if you’re curious as to how all that translates to the stage (see PopSeoul! for the details):

3) In case you’re confused by the Korean media praising moves by, say, The Wondergirls (원더걸스) or Girls’ Generation (소녀시대) as “sexy” while criticizing, say, Chae-yeon’s dancing as too sexual though, Brian in Jeollanam-do has an excellent post on how Korean uses of the word have become almost entirely divorced from its English meaning.

4) In related news, while discussing a promotion in Seoul involving women dressed as Paris Hilton to celebrate the Korean airing of MTV reality show “Paris Hilton’s My New Best Friends Forever,” Brian also makes the point that:

…while Korean celebrities are held to pretty high moral standards, you have a woman like Paris Hilton regularly on TV and endorsing Fila Korea.

Like he thought, he’s not the first or the last person to mention that (see #18 here), and after reading this post on her by Michael Hurt at Scribblings of the Metropolitician I would also no longer, well, slag off Paris Hilton as readily as most people are inclined to either.  But still, the point stands regardless of the celebrity involved, and is worth remembering.

5) Also making big news were some Southeast-Asian men being arrested for taking pictures of women at Haeundae Beach in Busan, whereas – as numerous bloggers have pointed out, Korean newspaper photographers regularly (and excessively) do so, and particularly of Caucasian women also. See Brian’s post (yes, again – a productive week for him it seems!) and Korean Media Watch for more.

Choi Ji-woo Vidi Vici6) No, that’s not an alien on the right, but Choi Ji-woo (최지우) promoting cosmetics brand Vidi Vici. Speaking of which, if you haven’t figured out what was wrong with the opening image of Shoo, see AllKpop here for the solution.

7) Also on the photography front, many Korean newspapers (and particularly the ones that denounce Western men as sexual predators and deviants: see #1 here) are increasingly posting “upskirt” pictures of celebrities and members of the public on their websites. Apologies for not providing links (even I have my limits), but I mention this because PopSeoul! has raised the point of PR managers and so on increasingly providing only high stools for stars to sit on at press conferences, which there can only be one reason for given that it is now de rigueur for female stars to wear something short and skimpy to them.

8) Spare a thought for North Korean women: among numerous other frustrations of daily life there, they also have to contend with being forced by government to wear skirts at some times of the year, and traditional clothing at others.

9) A while ago I mentioned a post at Sociological Images about the Tokyo City Government’s appointment of three young women as “cute ambassadors” for the city, the better to promote Japanese kawaii (cute) culture and project Japan’s “soft power” abroad. Now Ampontan – my personal choice for the best blog on Japanese society, politics, and culture – has a great meta post on what issues the policy raises, noting, for example:

I’d rather the Japanese had chosen other parts of their culture to present to the rest of the world—festivals, for example—but might there be a bigger picture that we’re missing?

Plug the word kawaii in English into Google and you’ll get 7,590,000 hits. Do the same with cosplay and you’ll get 24,200,000. Yes, I was astonished too. When the words kawaii and cosplay are so commonly known and accepted around the world, I think it’s safe to say we’re dealing with a phenomenon that transcends Japan.

Read the rest here, and you may also be interested in the Korean government’s recent efforts to promote itself overseas, albeit sans Hello Kitty and Gothic Lolita costumes.

10) I’m still generally against cosmetic surgery, but largely through reader’s comments I’m much more sympathetic of it and understanding of people’s reasons for having operations (especially in an appearance-obsessed society as Korea) than I was before I started the blog. In that vein, see AllKpop here for winner of the title of “prettiest celebrity after female surgery,” with the important point that contestants were only those that openly admitted their surgery.

Meanwhile, the Korea Times reports that young Korean men are apparently becoming keener on having cosmetic surgery (see #7 here also).

11) Given the amount of photoshopping that was necessary for him to do so, I possibly was a little harsh in my opinion on Park Ji-sung’s (박지성) appearance in this post on his modelling for Gillette Korea. But I have to say, he looks quite dapper in his latest photoshoot for Gentlemen’s Quarterly (via KP Culture):

Park Ji-sung Gentlemen's Quarterly( Source )

12) While apparently sexual relations with 13 year-olds are okay (see #3 here), Extra Korea! notes that from next year, solitciting teenagers for sex will be punishable, even if no sexual act takes place. Hey, at least it’s consistent with laws for adults…

13) Widely reported in the Korean media, Koreans as a whole are becoming more overweight. Considering that Korean women were among the lest obese women in the OECD (let alone the world) as recently as 2005 though, then the new data needs to be taken with a grain of salt (no pun intended).

Update: Extra Korea has some additional links on the latter.

Ironically, this news comes as North Korea opens its first fast-food restaurant.

Asian Man Redefined 2010 Calander14) With apologies for this being the largest picture I could find, Andrew Lim recommends you buy the (self-explanatory) “Asian Men Redefined 2010 Calendar,” the proceeds of which will go to charity. For the details, see Ningin here.

15) Singer Ivy (아이비) is trying to make a comeback after being forced to put her career on her hold by a sex-tape scandal…which didn’t actually exist. If the latter is news to you, then see DramaBeans for the background.

16) Somewhat predictable, but still sad, the economic recession is resulting in many fathers running away from their families in shame at not being able to get a job and/or support them, and also the number of 2-child families is decreasing as women’s wages decline. Hat tip to Alex for the latter, who makes the following perceptive points about the article:

I’m wondering if they’re insinuating the wage of female workers should decrease to save the national birthrate…

“Working mothers who prefer to offer quality education or living environment rather than having more children has also contributed to the declining number of second children.

The report said the increase in the women’s wages has negative impact the births of a second child but the increase in paychecks from husbands increases the chances of having more than one child. ”

That’s quite the justification for the disparity in salaries.

Meanwhile, see here for Tom Coyner’s article on the effects of the recession on young people, to which he adds in his email on it in his “Korean Economic Reader” mailing list that:

To be candid, one of the ulterior motives to write this column was to plug my firm’s “Rising Star Coaching” program that helps organizations lacking the budgets to go out and hire specialists while needing to recycle bright, younger employees to assume new roles as their employers adjust to new challenges.

Should the reader know of anyone who lacks internal mentors for developing a specific skill set in a younger manager or employee, please let me know.  We can provide senior Korean executives who have been trained in coaching skills to mentor junior employees on a short-term contractual basis.

And in some rare positive news, Korea Beat reports that women are advancing in the government and legal professions.

17) Finally, in news that I should have placed much earlier in the post sorry, Brian notes that a pregnant 18-year old Cambodian woman was given a 4-year sentence for killing her abusive husband, and also that 2 sisters-in-law and a stepdaughter of a Vietnamese immigrant wife were fined for beating her after she allegedly failed to tend to her mother-in-law’s needs. That second link is just factual really, but in the first has many interesting points about Southeast immigration to Korean and the international marriage trade.

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Korean Gender Reader

Chae-Yeon in her underwear cropped1. Chae-yeon’s Music Video Banned by Korean Broadcasters

Personally, I think that the K-pop blogs (see here and here) have been too harsh in their criticisms of Chae-yeon’s (채연) new music video Shake (흔들려) as being more skanky than sexy, and while it’s certainly true that at the ripe old age of 31 she’s much older than most Korean pop stars, any c0mments to the effect that the video is a sign of desperation on her part are rendered false by her being no stranger to sexy outfits and provocative dances and music videos since…well, pretty much since she first rose to fame in late 2003.

Now, I’m not so naive as to think that her management company, now humbled into editing the video to make it suitable for television, didn’t deliberately seek this ban for promotional purposes, nor do I so dogmatically associate sexual liberation and it’s expression in the media with democratization that I see Chae-yeon as a feminist pioneer merely for showing us some cleavage either. But if you actually see the video, then like I imagine what most Koreans are doing you will probably ask yourself what all the fuss is about. And coming on top of the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs recent banning of music group TVXQ’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin from TV and radio on the one hand (see #2 here), but also the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in favor of the import and distribution of the very sexually explicit U.S. film Shortbus on the other (see #1 here), then it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suppose that this latest banning just adds to Koreans’ increasing frustrations with a completely arbitrary, often contradictory, and almost always completely ineffective system for determining what is and isn’t “suitable” for them to watch.

2. The Changing Role of Women in Korea’s Past

Andrei Lankov writes an amusing column here about stereotypes of widows and the prohibitions against their remarriage in Korean history, and how these proved unsustainable in the 1950s in the face of their huge numbers and inability to make a living. After all, considering that they were well-known to have voracious sexual desires, all the better for them to remarry and have a man to provide for them rather than satisfy themselves with married men (but remain destitute).

Meanwhile, here Don Southerton discusses how paintings of the late-18th and early-19th Century reflected changes in women’s roles in the late Joseon dynasty (대조선국).

3. Female Climber Conquers Top 11 Himalayan Peaks

South Korean Oh Eun-sun, 43, became Korea’s first and the world’s third female mountaineer to conquer the 11 highest Himalayan peaks, her agency said Friday.

On top of that…*cough*…she aims to be the first women in the world to climb the 14 highest, and will on her way to Pakistan to do just that as soon as July!

4. “Making Pregnancy Unglamorous”

jung hye-young uncomfortable pregnancy D-line(Source: Cloudnain)

Skinny Bitch Bun in the OvenAs a father of two, then I don’t know how anyone could ever describe pregnancy as “glamorous,” although if one doesn’t have any direct experience of it then I suppose that Byun Jung-soo (변정수) and Son Tae-young (손태영) did manage to pull that image off, or at least within the confines of a photo studio and then with later retouching by Photoshop that is (see here and #11 here respectively).

Unfortunately, the same can’t really be said of Jung Hye-young (정혜영) in photos of her pregnant figure in Elle magazine here, here, and here, and which with her squashed belly in some and high heels in all of them, beg the question of what Elle’s purpose in taking them was exactly. To highlight how uncomfortable pregnancy actually is in reality? :D

Update, right: A book that all these recent celebrity pregnancies reminded of (see here for the details).

5. Koreans’ Bodies Are Changing

Obviously Koreans are getting much taller as a result of their better diets, and these days it’s not at all unusual to see children literally a foot (30.48cm) or more taller than their parents because those have improved so rapidly. Personally, whenever I see such a stark contrast I’m always reminded of sociologist So-Hee Lee’s point that ” Generation is an important attribute of identity in Korea, like race in the United States” (p. 146 of this book), and something always good to bear in mind when thinking about Korean society, although it was intended as more of a comment on how that was changing so quickly rather than on Koreans’ actual bodies themselves!

But the shape of their faces changing also? Apparently so, according to this article, but it seems counter-intuitive, and without further access to the original data and descriptions of the methodology of the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards behind the research, then the first thing that comes to mind is the possibility – but I stress, only possibility – that researchers may be projecting today’s desired face shapes and/or changes onto the data.

Just something to bear in mind: it would be good to have more information. In the meantime, for more discussion of that and other related issues, see here and here, and let me highlight Sonagi’s point that “Nutrition can explain changes in bone and facial structure” especially.

6. The Five Prettiest Male Entertainers

A description to be taken literally!  See the results of a netizen poll here.

7. Traditional Feminism

“Traditional” in the sense that some people are actually doing something about women’s inequality here rather than *cough* merely writing about on the internet. First, see here for more information about a group of Korean women that “envision a global network of local feminist activists that they are calling the Glocal Activist Network (글로컬액티비즘), and are traveling the world to recruit organizations and individuals to join up,” then here for a little about members of the Korean Women’s Trade Union who are campaigning for a 1000 won increase in the minimum wage (I believe it’s at about 3500 won at the moment, or US$2.80), and finally here on the rising inequality in Korea behind the latter, which has disproportionately affected women (see #2 here).

8. Love, Marriage, Babies…and Taxes

As I discuss here, with Korean women still being “encouraged to resign” once their bosses discover that they’re pregnant, then I’ve often made the point that minimal tax incentives and/or one-off cash payments for recent parents are unlikely to encourage many women to have more children, and indeed – lo and behold – Korea has had the lowest birthrate in the world for the second-year running.

Moreover, it turns out that while “conventional wisdom holds that married couples with children pay less income tax than singles, with multiple-member households enjoying greater tax deductions,” in fact “the nation’s tax system still favors single-member households over married couples,” according to this report.

On top of that, Korea already has the third most dangerous roads for children in the OECD (and is the sixth most dangerous to drive in overall), and Korean children and teenagers are the unhappiest in the OECD also.  Which begs the question of why I chose to raise two here myself…

9. Seoul Going Woman Friendly

I’ve already mentioned the increases in the numbers of women’s toilets, and a more comprehensive list of the changes being made is available here. Many are logical and positive steps, but most attention has (naturally) been given to the “women-only parking spaces, ” conceived under the explicit assumption that “women are worse drivers” (see here and here). That is sexist and just plain wrong, like I noted in #3 here, but the following extra information in that first link above draw my attention to yet another, overlooked sexist element:

…Seongdong and Dongdaemun in Seoul offer women-only parking spaces designed to help female drivers. The parking spaces are a bit larger than ordinary, giving consideration to children and baby carriages, and are also arranged in bright and open places.

On the one hand, it’s good that they’re in bright and open places, and women may well enjoy the greater room for children and baby carriages also. But then, as this image from Thailand reminded me, it also reinforces the notion that childcare is only women’s work.

10. Kim Yu-na: Most Overexposed Performer in Korean Commercials

I’ve nothing against ice-skater Kim Yu-na, and in fact quite like the new sultry and sweaty side of her presented in the image on the left (source, and see here also), quite a contrast to the childish image of her that is usually presented in the media (and of Korean female celebrities in general). But the idea of drinking milk while exercising is so incongruous that I soon wake up from any fantasies Maeil presumably wanted me to have, although it has to be said that that probably wouldn’t put most Koreans off, whom will in my experience drink it at some distinctly odd times and occasions (such as with spicy kimchee-stew (김치찌개), and after a hard day’s hiking!).

More to the point, Yu-na appeared in more commercials than any other Korean celebrity in the May 2008-May 2009 period, and yet is merely the latest – and certainly won’t be the last – in a string of Korean personalities to suddenly become famous overseas and thereby immediately overexposed in the Korean media. For more on that, and on Koreans’ collective passionate embrace of a sport once a Korean person – any Korean person – becomes internationally successful in it, and their just as abrupt abandonment of all interest in it after their fame dies down, see here, here, here and here.

(By the way, “Kim Yu-na” is a very bad Anglicization of  “김연아”: the official one of “Kim Yeon-ah”, with the “eo” sounding like the “o” in hot, would be much better)