Korean Gender Reader

( Source )

1) Life is Beautiful (인생은 아름다워) cuts out gay vows

Highly commended for being the first Korean drama to feature a gay couple (see #3 here), many viewers have been disappointed and angered at the decision to literally mute a key scene in response to a complaint by the church in which it was filmed. Let alone the actors themselves.

2) Korean military’s ban on gays ruled unconstitutional by the National Human Rights Commission (NHCR)

A welcome contrast to the above news on the surface, in Korea homosexual men are usually merely judged “psychologically unfit” to serve. Homosexual acts that occur between enlisted soldiers nevertheless however, are punishable by up to 1 year in jail, and indeed 3 male soldiers were convicted of it in the years 2004-2007 (out of 176 cases).

Unfortunately however, the Korean military already has a long history of simply ignoring NHCR rulings, and ROK Drop also notes that “gays in Korea do not have the political connections, media backing, and the money of the gay groups in the US.” Moreover, as I explain in detail here, 15.8% of Korea’s new 250,000 conscripts each year already experience sexual violence, so I too expect virtually no changes to come as a result of this ruling.

3) Celebrity couple targeted by crazed anti-fans

Within hours of the announcement that singer Kim Jung-hyun (김종현) and actress Shin Se-kyeong (신세경) were dating:

Preexisting “anti-cafe” sites of  Se-kyeong surged in membership

More were formed

Se-kyeong was forced to close her personal homepage due to the overwhelming number of personal attacks. Later, her main fan-site also had to close

Many of Jung-hyun’s fansites were also closed (albeit because of the disappointment of their owners rather than because of attacks)

And Jung-hyun’s management company SM Entertainment cut off all contact between his group Shinee (샤이니) and the public (source, right)

While excessive, by itself this case doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy compared to most celebrity news. Place it in the context of numerous prior victims of Korea’s “anti-fans” however, the most recent and well-known of whom would probably be singer Tablo (타블로), then suddenly it seems much less like the irrelevant rantings of broken-hearted teenagers, and more a fundamental part of Korea’s wider netizen culture, with very real – and often tragic – effects on people’s lives.

To prevent broken-hearted teenagers growing up to become netizens though, surely it would help if they were actually punished for trashing their classrooms, not simply forgiven because they were so angry with Shin Se-kyeong?

Hell, it’s no wonder most Korean celebrities go to such elaborate lengths as these to hide their relationships.

4) Awwww

A romantic story? Or, more cynically, a simple reflection of the fact that many Koreans seem to get married very quickly after first meeting?

( Source )

5) HIV-positive 19 year-old prostitute arrested for having sex with 20 men

Possibly a high-school student, reportedly she did actually suggest using condoms, but her clients refused to wear them.

Would such acquiesce be typical for most Korean prostitutes however? It’s difficult to tell: in general, sexually-active Korean women are similarly reluctant to insist on using contraception, but I would have assumed that prostitutes had less qualms about losing their virginal reputations.

Much more interesting though, how on Earth did the police that found her learn about her HIV status? And more worrying, that one third of her classmates would similarly consider exchanging money for sex.

6) Foreign prostitutes no longer required to have AIDS tests to get a visa, but English teachers still do

Like numerous commentators have said, you simply can’t make news like this up, and there is probably no greater testament to the regular scapegoating and stereotyping of foreign teachers by the Korean media here.

In fairness though, the E-6 visa category is a real mess, and by no means are all the “entertainers” that come to Korea under it are prostitutes, as well explained by Benjamin Wagner (who filed a complaint about the tests last year).

7) “Dad? I don’t know why I need him”

It sounds like a gross generalization, but I have heard from numerous personal and written sources that Korean children (and adults) are much closer to their mothers than their fathers. Kim Seong-kon, a professor of English at Seoul National University, explains why here.

( Source )

8) Korea: the hub of cosmetic surgery?

Well of course I hear I you say, but in practice it’s often difficult to find exact numbers. And so, before the financial crisis at least:

…an estimated 30 percent of Korean women aged 20 to 50, or some 2.4 million women, had surgical or nonsurgical cosmetic procedures [in 2008], with many having more than one procedure.

Note that the 30% figure is for women that received procedures just in 2008, and so the figure for all women who have received procedures is likely to be far higher.  See here for more information and counter-arguments that the US is far more deserving of the title; and while we’re on the subject, also see here and here for composites made of female celebrities’ faces from various countries.

9) Ethics teacher fired for sexually harassing his students

Unfortunately, not only is he unlikely to be charged with anything, but commenters point out that his record will be wiped clean and he will be able to teach again in 5 years.

Much of the blame for that lack of punishment can be placed on the Korean Teachers’ and Education Workers’ Union, which apparently believes that verbal abuse is far more heinous.

10) No Sex Please, We’re Korean

Apparently “other than an alarming amount of rape, their is very little sex in Korean fiction.” And this is a big issue for translators and the popularization of Korean fiction overseas too, as even when it is there it is mentioned it is hardly explicit, and “and this means that translations from Korean will not seem ‘natural’ to western readers who expect bodices to be heaving and trousers (and panties) to be dropping.”

Apologies for all the largely negative stories this week folks: please send me in positive ones if you have them!^^

Update: with thanks to London Korean Links, this was nice to see the instant after typing that last line:


Korean Gender Reader

Ha Ji-won Jinro Chamisul

Granted, that soju posters have been becoming increasingly risqué in recent years is by no means news (see #1 here), and it’s also true that advertisers tend to rely more on consumers’ baser instincts during recessions…but still, even I did a double take when I saw this latest one (source) with Ha Ji-won (하지원), and it makes one wonder what the summer of 2010 will bring if present trends continue.

Ironically however, it is actually rather tame compared to what Korean musicians have been doing recently to get themselves noticed, such as the Brown Eyed Girls (브라운아이드걸스) having a lesbian kissing scene in their latest music video, or former “race-queen” Jung Eun-joo (정은주) producing a music video that is literally soft porn, her management agency (not unreasonably) arguing that she wouldn’t get noticed otherwise. And yet while the latter in particular is complete trash that will never make it to Korean screens, and like Chae-yeon’s (채연) new music video Shake (흔들려) for “suggestive dancing” (see #1 here) and  TVXQ’s songs for their “lewd content” (see #2 here), the Brown Eyed Girl’s effort may similarly also end up being banned from television, those represent just a handful of cases that have cropped up just this year, as cultural producers really do seem to be testing the limits these days. Hence, although Korea’s various state bodies involved with censorship certainly do have corporatist interests in exerting their authority, they may well have their hands full at the moment, and I wonder if as a result we might be about to witness a tectonic shift in the liberalization of the Korean media similar to what happened in 2004, when the following commercial for Hong Kong clothing company Giordano with Jun ji-Hyun (전지현) and Jung Woo-sung (정우성) was banned:

But which resulted in so many clones shortly thereafter that censors seemed to give up on them. Here’s an example from the following year for 17차 for instance, again with Jun Ji-hyun:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

True, the former is very sexual, whereas the latter merely glorifies objectifies the female body…a distinction that I’m only just realizing as I type this, and one that I suspect I really haven’t given enough thought to previously: it deserves further exploring. Regardless, lest you think that I’m exaggerating about the potential for a shift, recall that it also occurs in a context where the Lee Myung-bak’s increasingly authoritarian policies towards the media are creating a backlash, and standards for movies have been liberalizing without pause for breath (see #1 here, #8 here, and #7 here for starters).

In other news:

1) Bending over backwards to satisfy his readers, Ask the Expat provides a very comprehensive and clearly well-researched guide to cruising for gay sex in Korean bathhouses.

2) Approaching things from a different angle, Korea Beat translated a lengthy article from The Chosun Weekly about Lesbian clubs in Hongdae, a major night-life area of Seoul.

The Price Of Sin3) Lee Myung-bak pledged Thursday to increase state subsidies for working mothers and provide more nurseries and daycare centers in an effort to boost the country’s birthrate, but given that (among numerous other things) married women have been overwhelmingly targeted for layoffs in the current recession, then I suspect that this will have minimal effect (see numerous past Korean Gender Readers for more information, but best are #1 here, #2 here, and #2 here, and here is the most recent newspaper article on the subject). It also doesn’t help that, with dwindling numbers of newborns, women’s hospitals are blatantly refusing to deliver babies in favor or easier and more profitable skin care and cosmetic surgeries either.

4) Again, Korea’s adultery laws continue to be baffle: apparently one can have sex with others if one is in the process of a divorce, but not if one’s husband or wife puts “proceedings on hold.” As a commenter at Extra! Korea reasonably points out, in this latest case did the husband even know his wife had done so? Indeed, what if the estranged spouse is in the act while being informed? Hopefully, upon hearing that the recipient is otherwise occupied, then the FedEx guy would have the decency to wait for a few minutes before knocking on the door and handing over the legal documents…

No seriously, it’s hypotheticals like this that demonstrate the law’s absurdity, let alone the arbitrariness with which it is by definition applied in a country with one of the world’s largest prostitution industries.

5) The issue is a little old (see here for an earlier discussion), but still, Kim Heung-sook does a good job of summarizing what is problematic about the choice of Sin Saimdang on the new 50,000 won bill.

6) With parallels to affirmative-action politics in the US, some male students preparing to enter law school are preparing to file a petition with the Constitutional Court against Ehwa Womans University Law School for only admitting, well, women. I can see both sides’ arguments, but given that only 17% of the Korean legal judiciary are women, then personally I’m more in favor of retaining the restriction. It is after all, the only law school in the country that has it.

7) I’m usually very wary of articles about polls in Korean newspapers, but for what it’s worth this one of 921 university students revealed that 30% planned to get some form of cosmetic surgery this summer. Broken down by gender, the figures are 40% of women and 19% of men.

Choi Han-bit8) Choi Han-bit (최한빛) on the right (source) has passed the preliminary stage of the 2009 Supermodel Contest. Nothing remarkable about that you might say, except that she was actually born a man, undergoing a sex change in 2006. See here and here for more pictures of her, including when he appeared dressed as a woman on a television show in 2005. To their (rare) credit, the consensus of netizens is that she is no more artificial a woman than all the other contestants that have had cosmetic surgery operations.

9) Korea Beat has translated the Chosun Ilbo’s response to the avalanche of criticism to its week-long attack on foreign teachers, which naturally created some lively discussion (165 comments and counting); don’t miss Korean Media Watch’s take on it also, and for those few of you that all this is news to, see #1 here for many links to get you started.

10) In a strange article that may well have been written – ipso facto – with the intention of actually creating the trend it is ostensibly merely describing, the Chosun Ilbo reports that 30-something salarymen are now avid shoppers and consumers at department stores. I’m not sure I give much credence to an article that prints the opinions of someone who attributes this to the fact that “men in their 30s are for the first time able to go shopping without the help of a woman” though, even if it did come from a professor at SNU.

11) Completing the transitions between the sexes as it were via the images in this post, let me finish here by passing on two photoshoots of Korean men that both made waves last week. First, these pictures of SHINee (샤이니, pronounced “shiny”) from Vogue Girl (source):


(Update: Here’s an interview where SHINee explain the concept behind the photoshoot)

And then these of Hyun Bin (현빈), from Cosmopolitan (source):

Hyun Bin Cosmopolitan

While it’s not for me to judge women’s tastes, I am sorely tempted to mention that, lacking pictures of actual transexual men with which to complete the set of woman-transexual woman-transexual man-man, then SHINee certainly provide a pretty decent alternative…!