Korean Gender Reader

Korea 2009 Men's Health Cool Guy Contest

I didn’t catch his name sorry, but if you’d like to know more about the winner of the “4th Men’s Health Cool Guy Contest” above, then click on the picture or the Men’s Health Korea site itself for many more like it. In the meantime, with so many stories to report on this week I’ve decided to put them into loose categories to make it easier to find what you’re interested in:


1) Of course, the two biggest stories of the last week were: first, the foreign women on the Korean show “Global Beauties Chat” (미녀들의 수다), who chose to complain about both the foreign (Caucasian) men who supposedly come to Korea because they can’t get a job or girl back home and the Korean women that naively fall for them; and second, intern reporter Choi Hee-seon’s series of articles in The Chosun Ilbo saying much the same thing, as well as accusing said men of sexual crimes against students and Korean women. Needless to say, both provoked an instantaneous and vehement response in the Korean blogosphere (for starters see here, here, here on the former, and here and here on the latter), and with 165 comments at that first link alone I’m not going to enter into the fray at this late stage.

In passing though, let me mention that in response Chris in South Korea offers 8 reasons, and then 8 more reasons, why Korean women might prefer Western guys over Korean men. But while I haven’t read either post nor the comments in any great detail, and I’d be surprised if I didn’t think that there was something to all of them, let me offer a word of caution: when actual Korean women themselves aren’t providing most if not all of the input into such lists, they can very quickly and easily devolve into simple narcissism.

Not that Chris is guilty of this by any means, and in fact I write because I speak from experience, having waxed lyrical on similar points with a Korean female friend years ago only rightly to be told to STFU, and that most Korean women that liked Western guys did so simply because they tended to be taller. Just something to keep in mind.

Park Shi-yeon2) Imported vibrators to penetrate local market. No, I hadn’t been aware that they had been illegal either, and actually I’m not entirely certain that they were: the Supreme Court’s ruling may have been more against the arbitrariness of denying customs clearance for their import than anything else. Regardless, by no means does Korea have a monopoly on absurd and indefensible restrictions on the sale of sex toys.

(Above: Park Si-yeon {박시연} models for High Cut. For more information about the photoshoot, see here)

3) Consensual sex with 13 year-olds is legal. Yes, apparently so, given a recent acquittal of a Busan man for doing so with a runaway in his (unofficial) care and, as Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling notes in the most comprehensive look at the case, mirrors a similar decision 8 years earlier. For further discussion, see this article in the Korea Times by Michael Stevens, and this post at The Marmot’s Hole.

4) Infidelik at FeetManSeoul reports on the perils of not wearing a bra on the streets of Korea . If you’re interested in that, then you may also want to check out this post at Sociological Images about how, in contrast, visible nipples have became more accepted in Western countries since the 1990s.

5) Rules on abortion toughened. Somewhat surreal, given that there are already very few circumstances under which Korean women can legally have an abortion, and yet Korean has one of the largest abortion industries in the world. To put it mildly, the article is somewhat lacking by not providing that context (see here for that).

Worried Moment for Korean Couple

6) The Marmot’s Hole reports that the police would like to close down a Swinger’s Club in Seoul, but unfortunately there is currently no law allowing them to do so. Again, somewhat surreal, given that adultery is actually illegal in Korea, albeit usually with entirely arbitrary prosecutions.

Meanwhile, Brian in Jeollanam-do reports that Education Ministry officials formed the largest group of civil servants caught paying for sex.

7) Not that these are recent news items by any means, but while we’re on the topic you may be interested in the fact that Korea used to be a much more sexually freer place; indeed, as Frog in a Well points out, “just because a society has a reputation for sexual restraint doesn’t mean that it is and always was asexual.” Also, here and here are two excellent Andrei Lankov articles from The Korea Times about how military governments allowed much racier films in the late-1970s and early-1980s (in an opium for the masses sense) and the development of the prostitution industry in Korea before the Japanese colonial period respectively.

Censorship and Media

Ogamdo Posters

8) Dramabeans reports that the star-studded Ogamado (오감도) continues with its provocative promotional material (see #7 here also). For a review of the movie, (which is really 5 movies in 1) see here, and given some of their subject matter then as a commenter over at Dramabeans (#17) noted, it is strange that the posters are as per usual fetishizing the female form and not the men, which leads her(?) to worry that all the sex is only from the perspective of the men.

9) The Korea Communications Standards Council announced on Monday they will commence deliberations on the fate of Naked News Korea,” which started its racy services late last month both online and mobile. As Brian notes, there far more explicit and sexually suggestive programs are readily available 24/7 on Korean cable television, so this scrutiny is rather strange. Is it because its whole raison d’être and discussions of sexuality are just too blatant for censors’ tastes? To wit:

According to the communications watchdog, the contents of the site have been closely monitored since it began and an episode in which its presenters discussed female orgasms was deemed vulgar and inappropriately suggestive.

In all seriousness, I’d be interested in seeing that. I have the strong suspicion that the notion of women sitting around talking in a no-BS Sex and the City style was a bit too much for Korean censors, and hence any discussion of female orgasms by them would have been deemed vulgar and suggestive regardless.

10) Another commercial featuring kissing…well, actually there’s so many these days that I’m losing track (see here for another recent one). Here is the latest one (via PopSeoul!), featuring AJ and Min Hyo-rin (민효린) and with the tagline “Cool (refreshing) for 20 year-olds” (“스무살을 상큼하게”, at 0:17):

11) As predicted (see #1 here), rapper E.via’s (이비아) latest song, featuring a lot of innuendo and heavy breathing, was indeed deemed inappropriate for Korean TV. For further details, see Extra! Korea here.

12) More on Choi Jin-sil (최진실), who was notoriously sued by a company she had a modeling contract with for ruining their reputation by making her husband’s beating of her public (see here and here, the latter of which has puts the case into the context of domestic violence in Korea). For two opinion pieces in The Korea Times, see here and here.

13) As a result of the case of actress Jang Ja-yeon (장자연), who killed herself in March due to being forced to provide sexual services to various high-ups in the entertainment industry in order to advance her career, Korea is to enhance the right of entertainers (see here also). Meanwhile, the police have determined that she was indeed forced to have sex, and a survey shows that 19% of female entertainers are, although Extra! Korea rightfully disputes the figures.

14) Apparently, Abusive Words Over The Phone Are Punishable. Meanwhile, and more understandably, a cartoonist was summoned by the police after drawing a cartoon insulting the president. As a commenter here notes, regardless of the freedom of speech issues involved, the police in any country are obliged to investigate cases as blatant as this one.

Politics and Economics


15) Korea has the biggest wage gap between men and women in the OECD. See the Korea Times and the JoongAng Daily for more, and see Brian in Jeollanam-do for more information about conditions in Jeollanam-do specifically, which has the biggest gap (image source: J. David Allen).

Economic Participation Rate Among Korean FemalesIn addition, Lee Hyo-sik of the Korea Times reported that male temporary workers are more likely to lose their jobs than women because of the industries they tend to be in, but on the other hand reported a few days later that women are still more likely to lose their jobs overall because they form a disproportionate number of temporary workers. The graph on the right comes from the latter report, and while useful, would have been more so had it been placed into context, which is that Korea has one of the lowest rates of female participation in the labor force in the OECD. For much more on that, see here (source, right).

Not unrelated, the Chosun Ilbo reported that “Korean Women’s Status is Still Low Among OECD Nations”.

16) Korea is to become most aged society in OECD by 2050. Also:The Hankyoreh has an editorial on how its record-breaking low birth rate – “unparalleled to anywhere else in the world” – requires employment policy revisions; there is a list of related recent articles at the Hub of Sparkle! here; and Japanian writes on the implications of the aging and shrinking Japanese population, with obvious parallels in Korea (via Global Voices).

17) 90% of Teachers Back a Quota for Male Teachers

18) Brand Confucian reports that KT recently promoted 3 women to top-tier executive positions.

19) However miserly it sounds, something that may have a lasting impact on the rate of young Koreans living independently before marriage is the raising of the minimum wage to 4,110 won per hour. See Judy Han at Otherwise for the details.

On the other hand, Korean graduates are now forced to flip burgers, and not unrelated is the fact that Koreans as a whole are increasingly willing to overcome their Confucian disdain for manual labour. They are also increasingly unhappy in general, as are Korean teenagers and children.

20) ROK Drop discusses whether the Korean Army should also conscript women, or do away with conscription altogether. Given conscription’s role in a pervasive militarization of Korean society, as I discuss in this series of posts beginning here, then I’m much more in favor of the latter.

Events, Movies, and Fashion

Miss Korea 2009

21) FeetManSeoul’s cover model Lee Seul-gi (이슬기) becomes Miss Korea 2009. I’m a little confused though, because the Korea Times reported that a different woman won.

22) Chris in South Korea (naturally) visited and took many pictures of the Wild Women’s Performing Arts Festival that I mentioned last month (see #17 here).

23) Unflattering pictures of members of girl group 2NE1 (투 애니원) without make-up were publicly released, and YG Entertainment is to take strong action against whomever responsible.

24) Rebecca Voight at The New York Times loses her head and claims that Korean menswear is innovative. Meanwhile,  Five by Fifty says that pink is both Japanese women’s most and second least-preferred color on Japanese men.

25) (Male) actor Yoo Ji-tae (유지태) is to receive Seoul Women’s Prize.

26) Apparently, Kim Yu-na (김연아) is a champion skater primarily because of her small face. For the details, see here, and see here and here for where such a crazed logic stems from.


27) Keeping Korea Beautiful: read here for an interview with Klaus Fassbender, president and executive director of L’Oreal Korea.

When will the netizens ever be happy.....
When will the netizens ever be happy.....

28) Hopefully not because of netizen’s complaints (see #1 here) and not via starving herself, Kim Yu-bin (김유빈) of the Wondergirls (원더걸스) has lost a lot of weight.

29) Breathless (똥파리 or “shit fly” in typically earthy Korean), a Korean movie about domestic violence that I wrote a little about here, has won its 13th award, this time at the New York Asian Film Festival.


30) Finally, in news outside of Korea, Matt at On My Way to Korea has a post on the way women are presented in North Korean propaganda posters; EqualWrites explains why being catcalled in Vietnam is not flattering; Shanghaiist writes about “homowives”, or heterosexual women married to gay Chinese men (hat tip to Left Flank); and finally, the Economist has an article about Gay rights in China and last month’s Shanghai Pride Week.


Korean Sociological Image #7: The Best Gillette Could Get?

Park Ji-sung Gillette Advertisement Photoshop( Source )

On the face of it, Park Ji-sung (박지성) is a very logical choice to endorse any given Korean company’s products or services. After all, he is easily Korea’s most popular male sports star at the moment, he (naturally) has a good body, and he is so successful that he has even published an autobiography already. Accordingly he has dozens of advertising deals to his name, and – to place his popularity into context – via his numerous Korean fans’ choices of credit cards he has more than financially compensated Manchester United for the loss of David Beckham for instance. Presumably then, Gillette Korea thought it was on to a good thing when it belatedly decided to join his bandwagon.

Nevertheless, while it’s not like I can claim to being all that photogenic myself, Park Ji-sung is actually a *cough* less than inspired choice, and at the very least advertisements like the above probably stretch consumers’ senses of disbelief just a little too far, if they don’t put off Korean men from using Gillette products altogether! If you haven’t already figured out why, then photos like this, this, this and this may help, and as Roboseyo points out, it’s not just because of her own sudden popularity that Korean companies started signing deals en masse with ice-skater Kim Yu-na (김연아) last year.

Update: Which brings up the side issue that Korean celebrities are notorious for being unconcerned about diluting their own personal brands, but so far this doesn’t appear to have been the case with either Park Ji-sung or Kim Yu-na.

Korean Zespri Kiwifruit AdvertisementOf course, photoshopping is by no means a recent phenomenon or unique to Korean advertisers, although it’s also true that extreme examples like Amore Pacific’s recent attempt to get women to aspire to a – by definition impossible – photoshopped “X-line” body ideal may well be very hard to find in other countries. With that in mind, I’m always interested in the extent to which Koreans are aware* of the level of photoshopping that occurs in advertisements and their opinions of it, but as I and many commenters have already talked about photoshopping on numerous occasions on the blog already (here’s a very small sample!), then rather than merely rehashing old points here, instead let me ask you how well you think Gillette’s ads will do, what your Korean friends, lovers and/or colleagues think of it, and what they think of photoshopping in general? Commenter Seamus Walsh’s female friends for instance, told him a little while ago that:

…they all were aware of the altering of photos that goes on…but that it is generally ignored because they know the models are attractive anyway, and that they look good after photoshopping, so that’s all that matters. Basically, despite knowing an image isn’t a true representation, they would rather have the altered image. I just wonder if this means that their ideals of beauty are based on the reality or the unnatural and unattainable?

Me too. But how representative are those opinions of average Koreans’ in turn? Please let me know!

* Not to imply that your average Korean consumer is any less intelligent than your average Western one with that statement, but having said that, on the other hand I’m not going to lie and pretend that somehow the Korean education system encourages the same level of critical thinking either.

(For all posts in the “Korean Sociological Image” series, see here)


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)