Korean Gender Reader


1) Kiss of the Spider Woman (거미연인의 키스) comes to Korea

From HanCinema:

A Korean version of “Kiss of the Spider Woman“, a theatrical adaptation of Argentine playwright Manuel Puig’s novel, will take to the stage from Feb. 11 to April 24.

Set in a cell in Buenos Aires in 1976, the play revolves around two inmates _ the revolutionary Valentin and homosexual Molina. The play has sparked controversy over the relationship between the two main characters, but it has been widely produced in film and musical form. The musical version swept seven Tony Awards in 1992, receiving rave reviews both from critics and fans.

Lee Ji-na directs the Korean adaptation. She has built her reputation with the play “The Vagina Monologues” and musicals “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Gwanghwanmun Yeonga”. “I will create new characters suited to each actor”, said Lee.

2) Fatherhood in the ROK

Over at Busan Haps, writer and father Roy Early talks about the challenges of raising a kid abroad; which as I can personally attest to, are (usually) much greater than raising a child at home.

See also Oh, Baby! by Daegu Pocket’s Craig White.

3) How to deal with ajoshi, or middle-aged Korean men

Found via her recent column in the New York Times on the shortage of single men there, how can one not love Patricia Park’s observations about Korean life:

All day I patiently swallow the comments ajoshi make about my appearance, my bad Korean (even though, ironically, we can carry on whole conversations in the language and we understand each other 100%), how ethnic Koreans who move to America are “living the good life” (aka they sold out), or how I should be able to buy the more expensive item because I am “rich” because I am from America. The taxi ajoshi grumble about how you (as the customer) inefficiently stood on the wrong side of the street and so they are forced to do a U-turn. They get mad if you are going somewhere (still in central Seoul) that they don’t feel like going.

At night, all that piled up frustration gets released in the drunken cab ride back to my apt, and there have been moments where I have shouted back things like: “Eat well and live well!” (the K-equivalent to “F— you”), “I’m writing down your ID# to report you to the authorities!”, “Why else do you think Korean men have fallen in popularity?” and just, simply, “Why are you so mean?”

Needless to say, these tactics hardly work, and they only alienate you from the ajoshi. I learned this the hard way. I’m still learning; I’m still pissing off ajoshi who piss me off left and right. Because even though my father is an ajoshi, forty years of living in America has softened him up and he lets his children have opinions about things. But hopefully you can learn from my mistakes with the following tutorial.

For that tutorial, by no means only relevant for Korean-American women, see her blog New Yorker in Seoul here. Also, see here for why you might find landlords refusing to rent to you in areas with lots of coffeeshops and sooljeep (술집)!

4) Organization helps single moms

The Wall Street Journal interviews Dr. Richard Boas, who started and funds the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network.

Also, see #12 here for another interview just after he founded it in early 2009.

5) People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman by Richard Lloyd Parry

A review from the Economist:

EVERY foreign correspondent has stories that get under his or her skin—the ones for which the only hope of securing enough column-inches is to write a book. For Richard Lloyd Parry, who has spent 15 years in Tokyo for two British newspapers, the Independent and then the Times, it was one which linked his homeland with his adopted home: the death of Lucie Blackman, a 21-year-old Briton who was killed in Japan in 2000.

All of the review is interesting, but these last parts in particular caught my eye:

…shocking are the failings of the policing and judicial system. Mr Lloyd Parry partly blames the prejudices of the Japanese police about the foreign women who work in the [hostess] trade for their failure for so long to catch a serial rapist who used chloroform and knockout drugs to subdue his victims and filmed himself raping them…(source, above)

“People Who Eat Darkness” may fuel a Western prejudice that Mr Lloyd Parry himself tries to counter: that such crimes are peculiarly “Japanese”—perpetrated by desperate, repressed men infatuated with a myth about Caucasian sexual availability. Already, her case is often confused with the rape and murder of another British woman, Lindsay Hawker, in 2007. But in fact, violent crime is far rarer in Japan than elsewhere. The “Japaneseness” may lie in the illusion of safety which induced the two women to let their guard down. It is not Japan that is weird and terrifying, nor is it the Japanese alone who “eat darkness”; it is simply “people”.

Fortunately no comparable Korean cases quickly come to mind, but then there are definitely similar myths about Caucasian women here, and as I type I can vaguely recall something about the death of a female English teacher(?) in Itaewon at about the same time that also wasn’t investigated properly (but not to be confused with this case). Does anybody know more about that ?

6) Why the crackdown on “Kiss Rooms” (키스방)?

In a follow-up to the last article on them (see #5 here), Asian Correspondent explains why the owners of these brothels are only being prosecuted for their advertising, not for what goes on inside them.


7) Korean lesbian film Ashamed (창피해) plays at Berlin International Festival

While the film “pushes the envelope for same-sex eroticism, a narrative first in South Korean cinema” according to Variety, surprisingly I can find little information about it in English other than this synopsis at Dramabeans, and this (albeit interesting) comment at Asian Media Wiki. Can anybody add anything?

8) Most divorcees dodge child support payments

Some basic, albeit shocking figures from the Chosun Ilbo:

Some 64 percent of divorcees ordered by a court to pay child support fail to do so, government statistics show. And of them, 70.4 percent fall behind out of spite rather than because they do not have the money…

…countries like Sweden and Germany try to avoid such problems by making the government pay first and then collect the money from the divorced parent.

Does anyone know how these compare internationally?

(“Some forms of prostitution – in particular [these] ‘pan pan’ teenage amateurs – were the direct result of the presence of GIs as sources of income and images of liberation.” Source)

9) Feminism and the Cold War in the U.S. Occupation of Japan, 1945 – 1952

An essential article for anyone looking at the origins of the current “Yellow Fever”  stereotype, and which I’m sure has many parallels to the Korean experience after the Korean War:

It was within this context of the American project to civilize and democratize a racially inferior other that Japanese women as gendered subjects emerged as centrally important figures. Seen by the occupation authorities as victims for centuries of “Oriental male chauvinism,” Japanese women embodied feudal tradition, backwardness, and lack of civilization. As helpless women of color, they became ideal candidates for American salvation and emancipation. The occupier’s zeal for liberation of Japanese women from indigenous male domination was all-consuming and multifaceted. MacArthur granted suffrage to Japanese women and praised their “progress” under U.S. tutelage as setting an example for the world. Other male occupiers “emancipated” Japanese women by initiating various constitutional and legal changes and policies. Following a familiar colonial trope of heterosexual rescue and romance, some American men expressed their desire to save Japanese women in more personal ways: Earnest Hoberecht, a correspondent for United Press International, advocated kissing as a path to liberation’ Raymond Higgins, the military governor stationed in Hiroshima, married his Japanese maid to “save” her from the aftermath of the atomic bomb and her abusive husband.

Read more at Japan Focus.

10) A Shanghai Scrap Valentine’s Day Exclusive Interview: East-West Relations(hip) Blogging with Shanghai Shiok!

In Shanghai Scrap’s own words:

Well. It has long been my observation that some of the best and most trenchant observations on East-West relations come from those who have – or have had – East-West relations. Which is to say: you might just have a keener appreciation for the different ways in which China and, say, the United States resolve differences if you’re an American who’s had to resolve who gets to do the dishes with your Chinese partner. Obviously, there’s limits to this kind of wisdom, but you sort of get my point. The regrettable thing, though, is that this kind of thinking is seriously devalued, if not outright ignored, by most so-called “serious” thinkers about China and the West (many of whom are in such relationships).

So today, Valentine’s Day, Shanghai Scrap is going to strike a blow in favor of changing that. Enter Christine H. Tan [above], author of the relatively new but already much celebrated Shanghai Shiok! blog to discuss East-West relation(ship) blogs…

Meanwhile, I know of and have linked to many Korean-Western relationship blogs here, but I confess I’ve lost track since writing this magazine article on the subject last year. Does anybody know of a convenient list of them somewhere?


Korean Gender Reader

(Source: unknown)

1) Street harassment and respect in Korea

After a terrible Korean New Year’s, It’s Daejeon, darling! wrote the following:

I am tired of feeling so fucking vulnerable in Korea. I am tired of inappropriate bosses and groups of drunk guys who yell awful things in the street. I am tired of guys who think No means Maybe! or Just keep trying! I’m tired of fighting with men about wearing condoms. I’m tired of the fucking cat-and-mouse game where even if they do wear one, you have the exhausting task of making sure they keep it on. I’m tired of men who don’t respect my personal space and try shit with me that they would never attempt with a Korean women. I’m tired of taxi drivers who hit on me and give me their business card, men who leer and intimidate me. I’m tired of feeling like there’s a significant group of people out there who don’t view me as an equal, and it’s because I’m foreign. I’m tired of people expecting that I should be fucking pleased by the “attention”. I’m tired of the people who pass this shit off as a “cultural difference”. I am tired of feeling so fucking vulnerable in Korea.

See here for a follow-up on the condoms issue, and here for more on groping and street harassment in Korea.

Update: a recent survey of 1500 men and women by the Korea Transport Institute and the Korean Women’s Development Institute found that “about 26 percent of the women said they experienced sexual harassment on buses and 21 percent on the subway, compared to 2.3 percent and 2.4 percent of men respectively”.

2) Hot sweaty Korean women

In his review of E. Taylor Atkins’ Primitive Selves: Koreana in the Japanese Colonial Gaze, 1910-1945 for the Japan Times, Gord Sellar noted that:

One of the things that grabbed me, while reading this book, was how much of the stuff Westerners in Korea complain about, that Japanese were complaining about back in the colonial era.

An example of this is clothing. Japanese anthropologists especially liked to complain about Koreans’ clothing, which if you will think back to the early 20th century was quite different from what most people wear today–it was mostly white ramie fiber clothing. Because it was all-white, it tended to get dirty quite easily, and as a result, according to those Japanese anthropologists…Koreans, especially women, tended to avoid any kind of exercise or physical activity as it presented the risk of dirtying their white clothing

And which reminded him of comments made by many expats including myself, that Korean women don’t tend to exercise very hard in gyms here. Granted, a lot can change in 100 years of course, but still: modern Korean attitudes to exercise may have deeper roots than we think (Source above: Gord Sellar).

3) Japan custody heartache for foreign fathers

From the BBC :

In Japan, the courts normally give custody to one parent after a marriage breakdown and it is up to that parent if they let the other parent have any access.

Many separating couples come to amicable agreements, but it is not unusual for one parent to be cut out of their children’s lives forever.

And the article gives the example of one foreign father who, as things stand, will effectively never see his children again, and the numbers of similar cases are growing with the rising number of marriages to foreigners.

But without any other evidence though, then observers should resist the temptation to assume that custody rulings are automatically made in favor of the Japanese parent. And although there is definite pressure for change, note that the system does have some logic, being based on “the expectation that families should largely work things out for themselves”, rather than “the state enforcing agreements on access and child-support payments” (source, right: BBC).

Does anybody have more information on how foreign parents usually fare, and/or know what the Korean system is like? And speaking of the latter, now 1 in 10 Korean marriages are with foreigners.

4) Cambodian wife cuts off husband’s member in Sunchang, Jeollabuk-do.

Yes, I think this will be the most clicked link this week too.


5) “Kiss Rooms” raided because of their…advertising

As reported by Asian Correspondant:

Police have begun a harsh crackdown on “kiss rooms” and other varieties of prostitution that until now existed under legal loopholes.

The Ilsan Police Station in Gyeonggi-do announced on January 20 that it conducted a two-day crackdown on the 17th and 18th against kiss rooms and internet prostitution in Ilsan New City, and arrested without detention 32 people, including 38-year old “B”, the owner of a kiss room, on charges of [their advertising] violating the law on the protection of teenagers (청소년보호법).

As hinted at there, this seems to be very arbitrary use of the law, as it’s difficult to so much as step out of one’s apartment in Korea without coming across numerous advertisements for brothels. Or, indeed, peacefully sitting by the river in beautiful Jinju in September 2003, enjoying your last morning there before moving to Busan later that afternoon…only to be suddenly presented with this business card by a passing local:

6) South Korea: online haven for gays

When Suh Eun-pil was being harassed at school last year because of rumors he was gay, the internet was one of the few places he felt safe. One website in particular, called Rateen, provided a haven from critical eyes and verbal abuse.

Suh began visiting Rateen regularly, and six months later his life had completely changed — for the better.

On a recent Friday afternoon, Suh, 18, was surrounded by friends, everyone chatting and laughing. The small group of friends — all whom met through Rateen — was planning a social event for gay and lesbian teens, with games, prizes and special speakers…

Read the rest at globalpost.

7) Seo-hyeon (서현) of Girls’ Generation (소녀시대) revealed to be 9kg underweight

But this is no great surprise given the group’s 1500 calories a day dietary regime of course, and belies claims by their gym instructor that “otherwise they love snacks and eat well.”

Later, netizens worked out her exact weight to be 51kg (source, right).

8) The perils of trusting oppa

A hotshot young app developer, a great idea, and technology that lets you know where your loved ones are. What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, as it turns out.

9) Korean dermatologists assume that unmarried women don’t have sex

More insights gained the hard way by It’s Daejeon, darling!:

The doctor…put me on Accutane. Hella cheaper than the states but the health oversight is SHITTY. Accutane carries a lot of serious health risks and I researched quite a bit on my own because the derm didn’t tell me dick about it. All he asked was, “Are you married?” No. “Then no problem. You can take this.” I’m guessing that question was to assess if there was any reason to warn me about the dangers of getting pregnant while on the drug. The US has the iPledge program, Korea has the ‘Let’s believe that unmarried women are practicing abstinence, so there’s no reason to discuss this and that’s that thankyouverymuch’ program.

For the record, she does mention that this may just be her dermatologist, but she’d probably agree – and have the experiences to back-up – that such attitudes exist throughout the Korean medical establishment. But note that this frequently doesn’t apply to foreign women though, whom hospital staff often assume that their visit is simply because they want the morning-after pill, and it can take a lot to convince them otherwise (see here and here as to why).


10) The Piggy Dolls (피기돌스) finally explain their name, and why they don’t think it’s degrading

If this is the first you’ve heard of them though, first see #10 here and #8 here on why there’s such an interest in them.