Free The Nipple in Korea? Why Not? Uncovering the history of a taboo

Earlier this month, the Korean media ignored a Free the Nipple event held by Womenlink. This lack of coverage is just one reason why the campaign may struggle to take-off in Korea. But stranger things have happened. Once, men too were forbidden from exposing their chests in public. As Korean summers get hotter and drier, soon these double-standards may seem as absurd as no-pants laws and the skirt-length police.
(Source: @womenlink)

Boobs don’t get much love in Korea.

If they’re larger than average, their owners are often criticized for flaunting their femininity, and stereotyped as sexually voracious. Those same women also struggle to find comfortable, attractive bras that will fit them.

This, despite Korean women’s breasts getting larger for decades as Koreans’ diets have changed.

Of course, women the world over struggle with these issues. But it’s not just size, it’s exposure in general, and standards in Korea are that much stricter. As I’m no Picasso explains:

“Base line standard in Korea: If you are showing even the tiniest centimeter of a crack of cleavage, you are not dressed appropriately for work. Shoulders are also largely taboo, although we have noticed this changing a bit this past summer. Even too much exposed skin on the chest above the cleavage mark can be considered risque.

It’s a pain in the ass for girls with larger chests, because it’s really difficult to find garments that won’t show any cleavage, no matter what position you are in. I’ve also had to take to having an army of undershirts on hand, in order to be sure that not even the shadow of a bra can be seen…”

That probably explains why, per capita, more Korean women plump for breast reductions than enlargement or lifting operations. Also, why bust-reducing bras are so popular, despite Northeast-Asian women’s genetic tendency to have much smaller breasts than—for want of a better catch-all term—Western women. I suspect why braletteswhich can only be really worn by women with small breasts—haven’t been available in Korea either, as Korean women may not have considered them concealing enough. (Although this recent campaign to start producing them has been very successful, and this Japanese-sourced one is also making waves.)

In the midst of this, the Korean media and K-pop industries occupy ambivalent positions. On the one hand, the latter stumbled onto a strategy of emphasizing female performers’ legs instead, considered a “safer” body part in Korea and its Asian markets (well illustrated by this classic cartoon, and the surprising modesty of these “sexy dances“), which simultaneously sexualized the girls and women while deflecting criticism. On the other, the entire industry is centered around securing endorsement contracts with the advertising and beauty industries, which have vested interests in creating new markets through encouraging bustier, more revealing beauty standards.

Image Source: Rok Kim. Anonymous source (quoted with permission): “What are you, ladies? Personally I am 가슴 B컵 for Boobs Are Great In All Sizes and 얼굴 F급 for Fucks Given About Your Opinion Are Zero.” (Advertisement Caption: Breasts, D-cup; Face, A-grade.

But these are all necessary generalizations. The reality is messy, undercut by age, class, marital status, motherhood, occupation, and region. Every morning while working on this post, the range of women’s fashions and levels of exposure I witnessed even just on the subway would defy any of the neat conclusions I’d arrived at the night before.

So, two weeks of pondering nipples and breasts later, as one does, the only generalization I’m still confident of making is that all women suffer from the inconveniences—and, ultimately, the dangers—of the double standards of men’s and women’s fashion.

Most of the negative effects I’m aware of have been covered in those earlier links. But I also happen to be a guy, so I would appreciate female readers’ input. One I didn’t know about for instance, because I don’t shop for women’s clothes, one anonymous woman told me:

“When I came back here 5 years ago, I was shocked because…dresses and/or skirts were way too short in general even when they were meant for the ‘office look’. When you buy clothes online, often the pictures are very misleading because companies often use very petite models so dresses/skirts look something of a normal length. I’ve learned it hard way and started to double-check the length. Nowadays I tend to stick with only a few sites when I shop my work clothes. I should probably start exploring offline stores again.

I don’t mind sporting short skirts/dresses every now and then when time & place is right—I just don’t wanna be surprised when I expect to receive something in a normal length for my work.”

Continuing, I’ve just been wearing short-sleeved shirts to work for the last month, and just long-sleeved shirts before that. In contrast, as a Womenlink activist wrote on her placard at the event (see below), women always have to wear unventilated padding to hide their nipples; to wear bras to hide their breasts; to wear vests to hide their bras; and to wear t-shirts to hide their vests.

No wonder my very well-developed, very active 11 year-old daughter is so reluctant to make the transition from her flimsy training bras. Fortunately though, her school has no uniform, whereas many schools that do have one end up slutshame their female students and forcing them to wear such uncomfortable clothing.

Even more alarmingly, in one 2013 survey of Korean police officers, over half considered revealing clothing to be a cause of sexual assault (indicating little had changed from back in 1996). To those who would make fun of and dismiss Free the Nipple and Slutwalk campaigns in response to such attitudes, and continue to police women’s bodies so unfairly, I’m genuinely curious as to where they would draw the lines. Especially if they claim to still support women’s rights. For to whom else but misogynists, could so much shame and blame hinge on an exposed bra strap or visible nipple?

“I dropped a lot of money on a nice bra…one with frills and made of lace, not like all my other ones that I bought from Uniqlo.” / “Minju! You can see your entire bra! Don’t wear a white t-shirt!” Source, above and below: @bambooblock)
“But what about her? That’s the fashion!!” / Fashion you say… / Jeez… [put this on].” Ironic coincidence: this picture of Korean duo Love X Stereo appeared in my Facebook feed as I was translating!

But where did these attitudes come from? Again, the question is more difficult than it appears, and there’s no handy introduction akin to Laura Miller’s “Mammary Mania” chapter in her excellent book on Japanese body aesthetics.

So, I spent most of those last two weeks laying the framework for what may be my own equivalent chapter on Korea someday. Allow me to present the fruits of that research, in the form of themes and trends I’ve identified that any answer must cover, as well as some highlights from new sources I’ve discovered (please let me know if you have any difficulty obtaining copies of the journal articles). As you’ll soon see, there’s a lot of things to consider, and it can be very difficult—even naive and counterproductive—to separate nipple and breast exposure from taboos surrounding other body parts:

For a discussion of late Joseon Dynasty art, notions of eroticism, and dress codes, as well as a great introduction to a painter who turned out to be quite a maverick and social commentator for his time, see Saehyang P. Chung’s “Sin Yunbok’s Women on Tano Day and the Iconography of Common women Washing Clothes by a Stream,” Oriental Art, vol. 47, no. 5 (2001), pp. 55-69. For instance, consider Chung’s description of Women on Tano Day, painted at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries (p. 56; my emphasis):

“[Most striking of all] is the provocative portrayal of semi-nude bathers in the lower left-hand corner, where a woman stands sensually, her face turned in the direction of the beholder. Equally daring is the inclusion of two young monks, who observe the bathers with unequivocally frank poses and facial expressions…Considering that even in the West, the female nude in a contemporary setting—devoid of classical or biblical context (e.g. Diana or Susanna in Her Bath)—did not appear until the 19th century, the representation of bathing women in Sin Yunbok’s painting is all the more remarkable.

(Source: Wikipedia)

You may have noticed that the working woman carrying a load on her head is fully-clothed, but has her breasts exposed. This is because, as explained by Hyung Gu Lynn in “Fashioning Modernity: Changing Meanings of Clothing in Colonial Korea” in the Journal of International and Area Studies (2004; pp. 77-78):

“…during the Chosôn period, clothing was not a unifying medium for all Koreans, but rather a means of social differentiation. Considerable scholarly energy has been directed to the study of the regulations that governed what clothes and colors could be worn by [whom]. The results show, for example, that it was only women of the upper class who wore long coats and head covers called chang-ot when venturing outside. In contrast, commoner women who worked outdoors often wore short chôgori [blouses], which left their breasts exposed for ease in nursing their babies.”

In light of the symbolic and unifying role the hanbok plays for most Koreans today, unfortunately there has been considerable opposition to acknowledging that “uncivilized” aspect of Korean fashion history. For more on the controversy, see “The Bare Facts” by Robert Neff and “Time to sex up Hanbok” by Andrew Salmon at the Korea Times, this AskHistorians thread at Reddit, the comments to this well-known photograph from 1945 (update: also, the comments to this 1920s breastfeeding postcard), “Joseon girls gone wild” at ZenKatsuo, and From Fukuoka for more photos.

For a bare-breasted photography series inspired by—and in some cases directly replicating—Sin Yun-bok’s painting, see The Hanbok Project by photographer Kim Jung-nam and hanbok designer Lee Young-hee.

• In the chapter “Female Images in 1930s Korea: Virtuous Women and Good Mothers” in Visualizing Beauty: Gender and Ideology in Modern East Asia, ed. by Aida Yuen Wong (2012), Yisoon Kim notes that women were infrequently depicted in Korean art, even compared to other Confucian societies, but the new “Paintings of Colonial Women” genre exemplified by Sin Yun-bok (briefly) changed all that. What she writes about the anonymous picture on the left below however, contradicts the notion that breasts were not at all eroticized, a notion further corroborated by “firm breasts” being included in contemporary lists of beauty ideals (p. 93.):

(Sources: Naver, Daum, Vosub. On the right is a poster for the fanciful 2008 movie Portrait of a Beauty, which re-imagines Sin Yun-bok as a woman in disguise.)

“…[this left] picture recalls Sin Yun-bok’s style except for the absence of ornate hair accessories. Donning a short skirt, which tantalizingly reveals the breasts, the woman lifts one hand to adjust her hairdo. Although the hanbok is designed to fully cover the body, these paintings expose the flesh in strategic places. Sin’s picture [in the center] includes a silver knife, a traditional symbol of chastity, hanging from the shirt as a reminder of the sexual potential of the image. [Paintings of this genre] facilitated carnal fantasy. They could be made to hang on walls like Western pin-ups or portable scrolls for the convenience of private viewing, presumably at men’s leisure.”

Perhaps it was the elite status of the women depicted that made all the difference? Or, if the women depicted were actually low-status gisaeng, because of the novelty of seeing them bare-breasted, as opposed to commoners?

As Hyung Gu Lynn goes on to explain in her article, the adoption of Western clothing during the colonial period also had important class components, as well as becoming tied to anti-colonialism and nationalism. It’s difficult to understand the rise of—and misogyny against—the “New Woman” and “Modern Girl” ideals without those, so it’s worth quoting her at some length (p. 87, my emphases):

“[In addition to modernization bringing] increasing numbers of women out the house and into public spaces…the diffusion of technologies of visual reproduction and the development of the culture of tourism allowed for more men to consume more images of women, further multiplying the number of meanings embedded in a given piece of clothing.

Although increasing numbers of urban men wore Western-style suits, the changes in women’s clothing occurred at a far slower pace. The transition for women from Chosôn period ch’ima [skirt] to the “improved ch’ima” with the shorter skirt hem and the longer tops meant that the visual distinction between upper class women who had hidden under the chang-ot and the common women with exposed faces and breasts was eliminated. However, in the place of the exposed breast as a marker of commoner status, the degree of calf exposure became one of the indicators of female proximity to capitalism and modernity—more leg, more modern.

Students and workers were encouraged to wear shortened skirts and longer tops for their purported practicality in the more mobile world, but the exposed calf sparked heated debate over its sexual implications…The increased visual presence of women in public and the diffusion of romantic love imbued clothing with heightened sexual meaning.”

And (p.88):

“New styles of clothing which exposed more skin, legs in particular, influenced ideas of beauty that extended and encompassed to the shape of the female body. By the mid-1930s, articles on beautifying calisthenics for women that would not appear so out of place in twenty-first century magazines were appearing in the mass publications…Other articles introduced the proper way to put on makeup, what to wear for which occasions, and how to behave in the “modern life,” further supplementing the new definitions and ideals of beauty and grace. The changes in clothing clearly helped shape the sexual meanings imbued in various body parts, providing further evidence that the eroticized body parts and ‘proper’ areas of skin exposure changes with culture and time.

Developments in visual technology and tourism added to the intensified sexuality of clothing. Magazines, movie posters, and postcards distributed consumable images of women in various styles of dress…The complete covering of the female breast in the colonial period gradually eroticized what had previously been merely regarded a body part. The tourist and travel literature usually contained images of kisaeng in P’yôngyang, but in the late colonial period, the women sea divers in Cheju Island became increasingly popular subjects for postcards and photographs, usually pictured with their breasts exposed.

The ‘traditional’ ch’ima chôgori, which may have been the only clothes a Korean woman owned, or consciously wore as a symbol of resistance to colonial rule or as a reflection of class and status, could be perceived merely as an exotic costume by the unknowing male gaze. The multivalency of each piece of clothing allowed the ‘traditional’ female dress to symbolize Korean identity, and at the same time distend the exotic allure of travel in Korea by promising different vistas and enticing females to the male (predominantly Japanese) tourist.”

(Sources: Sturmgeschutz, OhmyNews. Left image is actually of Busan divers.)

Many years ago, I read that older Korean men (and women?) fondly remember those photos of semi-nude Haenyeo (Jeju divers) from when they were children, taken before the divers began wearing wetsuits in the 1950s and 1960s. Unfortunately, I’ve long since lost the source, so it was good to find indirect confirmation. Actual examples of those photographs however, remain surprisingly difficult to find online, the vast majority actually being of Ama divers in Japan. But they’re out there. The one on the left below for instance, is part of a romanticized series from the 1950s according to the source, although the costumes are authentic; that later one on the right, very likely taken for a Jeju postcard, is much more modest, but remains a good example of glamorization and sexualization.

(Sources: 유자향내를 따라서, hansoo7007)

Yisoon Kim provides a good summary of why a new trend of portraying “virtuous” women then arose, with depictions of breastfeeding in particular becoming the main subjects of paintings for the first time (p. 91):

“…[the 1930s were] the height of colonialism, when conservatism and progressiveness coexisted…Fine artists tended to depict the opposites [of the much-criticized Modern Girls], that is, virtuous women who demonstrated chastity and sexual restraint. Modernization was underway…but unfavorable economic conditions inside and outside the country made Koreans wary of change. [Under the conditions of the Great Depression and coming war], the colonized and impoverished Korean nation took comfort in the idea of women carrying out their motherly duties and grooming the next generation for a more prosperous future.”

In a previous chapter, “The Modern Girl as a Contested Symbol in Colonial Korea”, Yeon Shim Chung notes that other reasons for the adoption of the virtuous mother as a nationalist symbol include the facts that most of the new beauty products for the Modern Girls and New Women—as well as the original ideals themselves—came from Japan. Indeed (p. 82):

“Commerce and feminism intersected with colonialism in controversial ways. Korea’s access to Western goods was one vehicle for Japan to prove its utility as a civilizer and modernizer. As voracious consumers of these goods, Modern Girls inadvertently participated in Korea’s colonial subordination to Japan, which entailed [heavily] promoting [to both Koreans and to the West] progressive images of Japan while denigrating Korea as a remote, pre-industrial land…”

Which may have included bare-breasted women in hanbok, as the comment threads linked to earlier suggest, and why many Koreans’ understandable first reaction to seeing them is to dismiss them as Japanese propaganda.

• Most ordinary women entering the newly-created jobs open to them, of course, had no time for men’s criticisms of their newfound professional and sexual freedoms, or the shoehorning of their consumer purchases into narratives of nationalist betrayal. Indeed, as Young Na Kim describes in “Being Modern: Representing the ‘New Woman’ and ‘Modern Girl’ in Korean Art“, Western clothes became the norm by the 1930s (p. 222) “…not because they signified modernity, but because they were practical and comfortable.” Also, and in particular, further examples she gives caution against tendencies in previously mentioned sources that neatly categorize trends and depictions into the decadent 1920s vs. the virtuous 1930s (p. 238):

“One of the characteristics of the Modern Girl was her consciousness of her body. There were now attempts to freely express the physical strength or beauty of woman’s body. Nude paintings, which once were banned from being shown in public, now could be displayed at an exhibition with no restrictions, but they were still depicted in the setting of the artist’s studio. However, there is a photograph of famous dancer Choi Seong-hee [left, below] in 1931 which reveals that she exposed her body half naked in a public performance, as if to declare the freedom of the body. Kang Dae-sok’s photograph of a female nude [the first nude photograph in Korea; right, below] should be also noted in this context, in her stretched posture facing toward the sky as if to embrace the whole world, breaking away from the passive reclining or standing nude form.”

(Sources: knnews, 술취한★북극성)

• Moving rapidly to the postwar era, two easy guides I recommend on the transition to the full adoption of Western-style clothing are: Sunae Park et. al., “The Process of Westernization: Adoption of Western-Style Dress by Korean Women, 1945-1962” in Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 3, 1993, which has more on the practical considerations behind the shift, and Karlyne A. Anspach and Yoon Hee Kwon, “Western Dress Styles Adopted by Korean Women” in Home Economics Research Journal, Vol. 4, No.4, June 1976.

Next, there is the oft-mentioned mini-skirt fever prompted by singer Yoon Bok-hee, hemlines reaching a peak of 30cm above the knee in 1968. But in my opinion, the liberalization of Korean clothing and attitudes then is exaggerated. While more revealing imagery from the period tends to stick out, it may not be representative, not unlike the aforementioned wide gap between the busty ideals promoted by the Korean media and ordinary Korean women’s attitudes today. Also, not only was Yoon quickly branded a “public enemy” and had eggs thrown at her, but this was hardly the swinging ’60s in Korea. In fact, the country was desperately poor at the time (less than 1 in 10 Koreans had washing machines, refrigerators, phones, or televisions), with most of the public unable to spend much on fashion, and possibly deeply resentful of those that could.

Fears of the ensuing social conflict are one big reason for the implementation of the highly authoritarian “Yushin System” of 1972-1981, which included forced haircuts for men, minimum skirt-lengths for women, and strict censorship of sexual media content.

(Sources: Joongang Ilbo, 나르샤)

This censorship would not just end in the early-1980s however, but in fact sexual content would ultimately be encouraged by the government, as part of its “3S” policy of “sex, screen, and sport” to distract people from politics. Accordingly, Madame Aema, “the most explicit of Korean movies ever made,” would hit the theaters in early-1982.

• In the late-1980s, the government began to lift restrictions on the use of foreign models in advertisements. First, they were allowed to appear in advertisements for foreign products, then in 1994, for domestic products also. Their use exploded after that, particularly after the liberalization of the magazine market in 1999.

This is relevant for understanding exposure taboos, because both Korean and overseas-sourced advertisements with foreign, overwhelmingly Caucasian, models tended to—and still tend to—portray them in more revealing clothing and/or sexually-themed advertisements than their Korean counterparts, perpetuating long-held stereotypes of Western lasciviousness and Korean modesty. In particular, various developments in the fashion industry meant that for roughly 10 years from 2000-2010, it was extremely rare to see a Korean lingerie model, until the entertainment industry began to see the attention-seeking possibilities and financial gains from having its girl-group members and female actors become endorsers.

That said, I remain unaware of any Korean female nipples that have ever graced any advertisements here.

(Sources: Metro, July 8 2010, p. 7., ckmania)

In the summer of 2002, record numbers of Korean women would take advantage of the soccer World Cup to, basically, go out and have a good time, directly challenging conservative standards of dress and representations of female sexuality in the media. Although both developments had in fact already begun in the mid to late-1990s, and were accelerated by the sexual politics of the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis, unfortunately the “movement” was then largely co-opted and channeled into narratives of support for the national soccer team by the media and government.

This set a modern precedent for the very literal use of women’s—and also men’s—bodies for Korean military, nationalist, economic, and soft power purposes, roles which would come to fit the K-pop industry like a glove.

Finally, in addition to the K-pop industry and government censorship regimes perpetuating the notion that breasts are bad, but women’s legs and men’s abs are good clean harmless fun, there is the dramatic rise of the cosmetic surgery industry over the last few decades to cosider. Fueled, I’d go so far as to say primarily by, Korea being one of only two countries in the OECD where photographs are required on resumes, despite multiple attempts to stop the practice. And this is the same industry that, as previously noted, is heavily encouraging bustier body ideals.

Exhausted after reading that? You’re not the only one(!). Yet that potted history of the taboo is still just the bare-bones, and needs considerable fleshing-out. Not least, from all the Korean-language sources I’ve also discovered and barely scratched the surface of, as well as the voices of Korean women and men themselves. I also acknowledge the almost complete lack of mention of men, and eagerly await your suggestions for further scholarly sources on Korean men’s nipples in particular ;)

Despite all the generalizations and gaps however, a clear theme of fluidity and rapid change in Korea’s exposure taboos emerges from all the above, and there’s no reason to suppose those won’t continue. Indeed, to those that feel that women walking around with exposed breasts is too much of an extreme to ever return to, it was once considered just as outlandish for men to expose their chests too, as pointed out in the Free the Nipple movie (2014):

(Via: Astronomy in Reverse)

Moreover, to those that feel a Free the Nipple campaign has chances for success in Western countries, but that a Korean equivalent will inevitably lag far behind, I’d point out how recent the call for change is in Western countries too.* And nobody who was in a crowd of Red Devils in Korea in 2002—or, indeed, in a candlelight democracy vigil in 2017—can fail to appreciate what ordinary Koreans are capable of when they’re tired of others’ BS.

Kudos then, to the activists from Womenlink earlier this month. You can read more about their event (and see many more comments) in two posts on Womenlink’s Facebook Page, or on their homepage, and here’s my translations of their posters and placards to round off this post:

*As friends have rightly pointed out, the puritan standards of the US referenced in those links do not represent those of all Western countries. In particular, nude beaches have been popular in much of continental Europe for decades, and standards for the workplace and presenters on television are much more relaxed. Also, nudity is common on French daytime and primetime TV. 

(Source: @womenlink)

(Speech Bubbles): Your nipples are showing! / Arrgh! (Women’s) Nipples! / Your nipples are too dark!

(Source, this image and following 3: @womenlink)

Those aren’t eyes there.

(lit.) Nipples have a wide language.

(Source, this image and following two: @womenlink)

We wear padding (which isn’t ventilated) to hide our nipples, we wear bras to hide our breasts, to hide our bras we wear vests, and to hide our vests we wear t-shirts…this prickly heat is so frustrating! We can’t live like this! Free the Nipple!

Q) If you have a lot of sexual experience, do your nipples get darker? A) No way!

Free the nipple / Why is looking at only women’s nipples restricted to over-18s?!?! Let’s stop the sexual objectification of women now!!

Update: Korea Observer reported on a very similar event in 2014, although I’m unsure if it was connected with Womenlink in any way. Here’s a video from that:

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic series:

Busan Slutwalk, Sat Aug 31, 6-7PM, hosted by Don’t Do That

Busan Slutwalk 2013 Flyer 1

Update: I’ve just been informed that Slutwalk Korea and Don’t Do That are very different organizations, and that the latter — the organizers of Saturday’s event — advocate wearing more conservative dress than in regular slutwalks, arguing that participants who wear racier costumes run the risk of being charged with indecent exposure, and that toning things down would be more appropriate for a first event in Busan. Nevertheless, they accept short miniskirts, hotpants, croptops, and whatever slogans participants wish to write on placards.

Apologies if I’ve inadvertently misrepresented either organization, and I’ll update readers if any new information becomes available. Alternatively, please also check Korean Gender Café or Don’t Do That’s (Korean) Twitter feed.

Update 2: The Korea Times discusses the disagreements between the two organizations here, saying Slutwalk Korea has accused Don’t Do That of slut-shaming itself in its emphasis on conservative dress. I don’t know enough about either organization to comment sorry, but wager that any such accusation will have been greatly exaggerated to better fit the snarky tone of the article.

Original Post:

Reblogged with permission from Korean Gender Café:

Don’t Do That Campaign welcomes you to participate in a slut walk

I had a great chat today with organizers of Don’t Do That (성범죄인식개선캠페인 돈두댓), a campaign to change mindsets about sex crimes. The group is organizing a slut walk campaign in Busan and Seoul. I translated the information below and hope that readers will share it widely.

Don’t Do That is a voluntary group that comes together to raise awareness about sex crimes. Their site offers a lot of information and is a great resource.

Event in Busan:

On Saturday, August 31, 2013, 6PM ~7PM there will be a slutwalk hosted by the Don’t Do That (성범죄인식개선캠페인 돈두댓) Busan Team.

The walk will take place near Bujeon-dong, Seomyeon Subway Station (Line 1 & 2), Exit 1.

Participants will meet at the ally next to Judies Taehwa and march toward Lotte Department store. Please see the map below and spread the word~

For additional information about this event, please contact organizers via KakaoTalk ID jinamarna or via Facebook.

Here is a little map I made of the area in Busan where the slut walk will take place:

Busan Slutwalk 2013 MapThis is an image I found of Judies Taehwa storefront, participants will meet nearby at 6PM:

Judies Taehwa BusanFor more information about Don’t do that (성범죄인식개선캠페인 돈두댓) please check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and Daum Café.

Please share the flyers below (James — I included one as the opening image):

Busan Slutwalk 2013 6PM Flyer 2

Busan readers, if you attend the event, I would really love to hear about it~ I wish I could make it out this time, but I can’t. Please share this event and support the cause.

Readers in Seoul, I will be sure to provide similar translation/map when I hear from the Don’t Do That Seoul Team.

Another group that may interest readers is Slutwalk Korea. Slutwalk Korea organized the first slutwalk movement in Asia in early 2011. They launched a number of events in global solidarity with the slutwalks that started in Toronto and all over the world that year. They have also hosted global solidarity events for Pussy Riot and on March 8, 2013 for International Women’s Day. They have a great Twitter feed and regularly post information related to sexual violence or slutwalk-type events in Korea ( I learned about Don’t Do That from a Slutwalk Korea Twitter post).

Posted by

(See here for a write-up of the 2011 Seoul event by Roboseyo, or the “잡년행진” tag and “Rape” and “Sexual Harassment” categories for related posts on this blog)

Update 3: Here’s a report of the event, written by one of the participants.

Quick Hit: Korean police blaming sex crimes on scantily clad women

Slutwalk Korea(Sources: left, right)

From the Korea Times:

The government is vowing stronger punishment on sex offenses. As a start, the Justice Ministry has rewritten the law to allow law enforcement authorities to investigate and prosecute sex criminals without a complaint filed from the victim.

But were loose laws ever much of a problem because the majority of our obtuse police officers are regressive enough to claim that some female victims simply had it coming?

The Korea Women’s Development Institute recently quizzed some 200 police officers in South Gyeongsang Province cities over their thoughts on sex crimes against women and the results were disturbing.

About 54 percent of the respondents supported the view that women who wear revealing clothing are somehow culpable in any attacks on them. Around 37 percent of them felt the same about women who drink and 21 percent about women walking alone at night. And 24 percent said they found it difficult to believe a victim when they don’t report the incident right away.

Read the rest at the link. Meanwhile, I’ll try to find the original KWDI report on the survey and/or related news article, and translate it for you by sometime next week.

Also, for anyone interested in the Korean Slutwalk (잡년행진), see here for information about the last two years’ events. I’ve been unable to find any information about this year’s, but do hope that one will go ahead. After all, as the police officers’ attitudes above indicate, unfortunately it’s needed more than ever…

Update: I’m No Picasso has a must-read response to the article.

Korean Sociological Image #71: “Specs” for the perfect Korean wife or husband

(Source: Slutwalk Korea)

When I lived abroad in Korea, I spent a lot of time doing work in cafes. Probably a 100 or more during my 2 years there. As such, I eavesdropped on thousands of conversations. And nearly every one of those conversations was about two topics: complaints re studying English and complaints re losing weight.

(Patricia Park, Korean Bodega, June 15)

Maybe I’m just nostalgic for my bachelor days, but it’s conversations about “specs” (스펙) that I’ve really noticed myself. A Korean term for the criteria used to evaluate a potential spouse on, it’s also my experience that it’s almost exclusively used by women, although that may just be because there’s usually more women than men at my local Starbucks.

Either way, in February Kim Da-ye at the Korea Times argued that looking at marriage this way is a relatively new phenomenon, and that it’s “matchmaking companies that rate spouse seekers by specs [that] have fueled [such] materialism.” And, as if to bolster that point, Donga-Reuters would report on exactly the same phenomenon emerging in China after I’d already begun writing this post.

But as discussed below, matchmakers have been encouraging such pragmatism for decades, so they can hardly be described as driving that change in outlook. Rather, it’s economic factors that are responsible, as Kim later acknowledges in her article:

(Source: Ozzyz Review; edited)

…today’s buzzword “Sampo” generation (삼포세대) …indicates a 30-something who has given up dating, marrying and giving birth because of the lack of financial means…

Contrast the “880,000 won generation”, which generally refers to 20-somethings. Continuing:

….What’s interesting about such preferences for the partner’s economic qualification is that they don’t come from conservative parents or rigid social structure but independent, young individuals….

….The near obsession with fine lifestyle is a contrast to the attitude of the baby boomer generation, many of whom used to say that they can start from a small rented room….

When asked why the younger generation isn’t willing make such a humble start, Lee, a single woman in her mid-30s working at a media firm, said, “Back then, amid fast economic growth, people had hoped that they would be able to climb up the social ladder and afford a bigger place in the future. Nowadays, people feel that if they start in a small room, they will be stuck there for the rest of their lives.”

The high cost of getting married naturally leads to some couples to be heavily indebted after the honeymoon ends. In addition to the Sampo generation, another phrase linked to both the economy and marriage has emerged — “honeymoon poor.”

And Kim — whose article is still very informative overall — gives several examples of engaged couples’ fights over money, some of whom ultimately break up. Yet those would not be out of place in popular discourses of marriage in, for example, the 1980s, when women’s magazines were similarly promoting the virtues of arranged ones. Presumably, at the behest of their advertisers:

(Source: Google Books)

Passage Rites Made Easy [A 1982 Korean book by Ko Chonggi] describes marriage through an arranged meeting as more “rational” behavior than simply falling in love because the candidates for romance and matrimony have already been carefully scrutinized by parents and matchmakers. Korean women’s magazines also emphasize the value of prior screening in choosing a mate, suggesting by the frequency with which they address this topic that their youthful readership is by no means convinced of the merits of matchmade matrimony:

Today, with the trend towards frankness in sexual matters, talk of “arranged meetings” or “matchmade marriage” might sound excessively stale. Even so, in marriage the conditions of both sides enter into things. Matchmade marriage, where you can dispassionately investigate these considerations beforehand, has some advantages that cannot be ignored (“The Secrets of a Successful Arranged Meeting,” Yong Reidi, 3 March 1985: 347).

From pages 89-90 of Getting Married in Korea: Of Gender, Morality, and Modernity (1996), by Laurel Kendall, the next page sounds a little ironic 18 years later:

The evolution of Korean courtship practices provides one excellent example of how notions of progress, of an enlightened “now” versus a repressive “then”, mask the particular disadvantages for women in new forms of matrimonial negotiations, be they “matchmade” or “for love” — a mask which sometimes slips in angry conversation or social satire. Through courtship and through all of the talk about getting married, notions of ideal “man” and “woman”, “husband” and “wife”, “son-in-law” and “daughter-in-law” are constructed, reinforced, and resisted….

….In Korean popular discourse, the evils of old-fashioned matrimony, in which near-children were forced by the will of their elders to marry total strangers, have been replaced by more enlightened practices. The “old days” are still on the horizon of living memory, but are recalled as from an utterly vanished time. In confessing that he never saw his wife’s face until his wedding night, the writer Cho P’ungyon states [in 1983] with a touch of hyperbole that “Today’s young people would consider this laughable and the faint-hearted might swoon away, but in my day these procedures were considered natural.”

(Source: Korea Portal)

The difference being that in 2012, financially-strapped singles can no longer afford to be so dismissive (nor Japanese ones either). Moreover, while they’re not marrying complete strangers perhaps, many Koreans do marry people they’ve only known a few weeks, as discussed in an earlier post. Also, some mild social coercion can indeed be involved, as Gomushin Girl explained:

It’s important to differentiate between different kinds of matchmaking arrangements…lots of Koreans use services that are similar to eHarmony, It’s Just Dinner, and other similar paid and unpaid services. Just like in the US, there’s free and paid computer matching sites, and more expensive and comprehensive personalized dating services. These offer a great deal of flexibility, and allow you to reject partners at many stages of the process – the worst consequence being that the agent in charge of finding you matches will decide you’re too picky, and start sending you “lower quality” matches. You’re free to meet multiple people at once, and they’re basically meant to facilitate dating.

However, 선 (Seon) matches are pretty different. Most of the time the people proposing the arrangement are close family or friends (of your parents), and parties are expected to make up their minds pretty quickly. Delaying too long or changing your mind after the first few dates is strongly frowned upon, and may even cause major social riftts. This means that women especially are pressured to marry people before they’re comfortable with them, and even if they’re not really what they’re looking for. Seon is serious, and you’re expected to commit yourself pretty quickly.

It’s also expected to override existing social relationships. My Korean host mother once called me up to ask if I’d go down to Busan to meet a friend’s son, who was interested in a seon meeting with me. I told her I’d just started dating someone, and her response was essentially, “That’s wonderful! When can you come to Busan?”

(Source: Sinbustory)

And on that note, let me leave you with a translation of the image that prompted this post, a poster for last week’s Slutwalk in Seoul. The slogan reads, roughly, “Let’s stop these fantasy gender roles now. Let’s play at being ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, 2012 Slutwalk Korea.” Many of the specs it mentions would be shared by people the world over, but there are also some quintessentially Korean ones:

For the “man” (literally, it says “manliness”):

  • 키180이상 Over 180cm in height
  • 전문직 A professional
  • 대기업정규직 Regular worker at a big company
  • 인서울4년제 Went to a 4-year university in Seoul
  • 자차소유 Owns a car
  • 장남아닐것 Not a first-born son
  • 데이트비용 Pays for everything on a date
  • 신혼집구입 Buys a home after marriage
  • 사회생활잘함 Good social skills
  • 성격좋음 Good personality
  • 술잘마심 A good drinker
  • 정력왕 Good sexual stamina

For the woman (“womanliness”):

  • 키170미만 Under 170cm tall
  • 몸무게50미만 Under 50 kg
  • 가슴C컵이상 A C-cup or over
  • 30살이하 30 or under
  • 날신한몸매 Thin body
  • 작고하얀얼굴 Small and white face
  • 화장은기본 Always wears make-up
  • 제모는상식 Shaves legs and underarms
  • 명품백하나쯤 Have at least one brand-name handbag
  • 애교있는성격 Have aegyo
  • 시댁을부모처럼 Treats parents-in-law like her own parents
  • 섹스경험없음 Be a virgin

Are there any others readers would add? Especially Korean ones?

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

Korean Gender Reader: Slutwalk Tomorrow!

(Source)

Starting 4pm, from Tapgol Park in Seoul. Again, see here, here, and here for the organizers’ Facebook event page, Facebook group, and blog respectively, here for an English translation of  the “Slut Walk Korea Declaration 2012″, and finally here for R0boseyo’s excellent write-up of last year’s event.

Sorry that I can’t join you Seoulites this year, and please let us all know how it goes!^^

Body Image/Health:

Both men and women may be hardwired to objectify women’s bodies (io9)

Are Men Attracted to What They Think Other Men Approve Of? (Jezebel)

Miss Korea 2012 Dubbed ‘Miss Plastic’ by Netizens (Korea Bang)

A(nother) Problematic Experience in a Korean OBGYN Clinic (Agent 071)

S-line is default dynamic pose for female comic book characters (Escher Girls)

I’m Loving It? The Fast Food Health Epidemic in Singapore (Thick Dumpling Skin)

Why is plastic surgery considered bad? (Angry K-pop Fan)

The Skinny Fat Girl (Or: It’s not just the Korean media that fatshames skinny women) (Nursing Clio)

Singapore blogger undergoes major facial surgery in Korea (Yahoo! Entertainment Singapore)

Great legs but ridiculous poses on Min Hyo-rin (Omona)

An Ugly Reflection: Plastic Surgery In Korea (Follow Your Hart)

Cosmetic Surgery Patients Getting Younger (The Chosun Ilbo)

Objectification: Nothing As Easy As It Looks (Seoulbeats)

Crime:

Repeat offenders commit half of sex crimes (The Korea Times)

Korea’s kiddie porn enforcement lax (The Marmot’s Hole)

Sex offenders poorly monitored (The Korea Times)

Children and women remain unprotected against sex crimes (The Korea Times)

Sometimes you have to wonder about the world… (The Marmot’s Hole)

Missing girl found dead in Tongyeong (The Korea Herald)

Sex-Offender Website Swamped After Child Killing (The Chosun Ilbo)

South Korean Police Tire of Abuse by Drinkers (The New York Times)

Children from poor families more likely to be targets of sexual crimes (The Hankyoreh)

Dating/Relationships/Marriage:

Celebrating 10 Years Together With My Husband (Speaking of China)

PDA in South Korea (From Korea with Love)

“The Reality and Twisted Values of Some White Men” Series at Gusts of Popular Feeling:

Part 8: After the ‘hidden camera sex’ report… victim hurt again through ‘comment terror’

LGBT/Sexuality:

Women’s Gait and Dancing Attractiveness Across the Menstrual Cycle (Psychology Today)

Teen prostitution – the numbers have grown, the conditions are worse (Ilda)

Shoutout: Gay Friends in Seoul

What should schools teach about sex? (The Korea Herald)

Misc:

The male feminist: a contemporary player in the fight for women’s liberation (The F-Word)

A Glimpse into the Lives of the Women of the Coalition for North Korean Women’s Rights (Ministry of Unification)

Beware of sexy waitresses in North Korean restaurants – they may be spies? (Examiner.com)

Feminist Culture Clash (Us in Busan)

Now Confucian Culture Causes Nuclear Meltdowns Too? (The Unlikely Expat)

Politics/Economics/Workplaces:

How Eve Grew up in Korea (Seoulbeats)

Womenomics for growth (The Korea Times)

Concern for Young Temporary Workers’ Rights (Human Rights Monitor)

Retirees in South Korea find it’s no country for old men (Reuters)

Pop Culture:

Nice to see a Korean MV simply featuring black people as – well, people (Mixtapes and Liner Notes)

Can you recommend the Korean route to becoming an idol? (Angry K-pop Fan)

On (Bad) Driving in Korean Popular Culture (Seoulbeats)

The Weaknesses of SM, JYP, and YG Entertainment (Allkpop)

When fans forcibly pair up two males who are actually straight (Angry K-pop Fan)

Pregnancy/Abortion/Childbirth/Demographics/Parenting/Education/Multiculturalism:

Anti-English Spectrum vs. the Asiatic Exclusion League (Gord Sellar)

One brain, two minds: The surprising impact of speaking another language (Kim Yuri)

South Korea teenagers bullied to death (CNN)

Children with Smart Phones: Are We Being Smart About It? (Human Rights Monitor)

Japanese women fall behind Hong Kong in longevity (BBC)

Weekly Chosun on multiculturalism, xenophobia (The Marmot’s Hole)

Korean Gender Reader: Slutwalk Next Saturday!

(Source)

See here, here, and here for the organizers’ Facebook event page, Facebook group, and blog respectively. Alas, there isn’t any information available in English, but R0boseyo’s excellent write-up of last year’s event gives you a good idea of what to expect.

Update: The “Slut Walk Korea Declaration 2012” has an English translation.

Body Image/Health:

Do I look fat in this country? A look at beauty ideals in Korean culture (Chatelaine)

“Rougan”: How My Husband Helped Me Love My Curves (Speaking of China)

Big Boobs in Korea (Eat Your Kimchi)

Continued Criticism of Miss Korea Pageant (Korea Human Rights News; scroll down for translation)

London 2012 Olympics: let’s celebrate sportswomen’s bodies (The Guardian)

Comic Book Industry Rejects Human-looking Female Characters (Escher Girls)

Blog Shoutout: Women’s Comic Book Poses in Real Life (Maxi and April)

Snoop Dogg vs. SONEs: The Tweet Heard ‘Round the K-popiverse (Seoulbeats)

North Korea Experts Can See a Lot in a Hemline (The New York Times; Asia Times)

Censorship:

Rolling Changes in K-pop (Seoulbeats)

China arrests 31 in U.S.-hosted porn website crackdown (People’s Daily Online)

Bill to ban alcohol ads by young celebrities (The Korea Times, EUCAM; see The Wall Street Journal also)

Crime:

Girl Posts Picture of Alleged ‘Molesting’ Man on Bus (Korea Bang)

Teen rape exposes dark side of the Korean Web (Korea Joongang Daily)

Anti-Trafficking NGO to Set Up Shop in Korea (The Chosun Ilbo)

“Looking for Pretty Women: Minimum 1 Million Won per Day” (Human Rights Monitor)

Foreign Ministry engulfed in sexual harassment case (The Korea Times)

Dating/Relationships/Marriage:

Getting Your Marriage Certificate in China (My Beijing Survival Diary)

Dating in Korea (Rok On!)

Ask the Yangxifu: My Boyfriend Doesn’t Understand My Past Child Abuse (Speaking of China)

“The Reality and Twisted Values of Some White Men” Series at Gusts of Popular Feeling:

Part 8: After the ‘hidden camera sex’ report… victim hurt again through ‘comment terror’

Who’s Hunting Who? (The Korea Times, The Marmot’s Hole)

Newspaper Reveals the ‘Truth’ About Foreigners in Korea (Korea Bang)

LGBT/Sexuality:

LGBT Groups Oppose Reappointment of NHRCK Byung-chul Hyun (Human Rights Monitor)

Xiyadie depicts homosexual love in Chinese paper-cuts (Los Angeles Times)

Dance, Mingle, Be Gay (Matt Lemon Photography)

Misc:

Tokyo’s new Robot Girls Restaurant will bring out your inner cyber-fetishist (io9)

London 2012: Japan, Australia and organisers face sexism claims (The Guardian)

China 2050: Caucasians to Become China’s Migrant Workers in the Future? (Chinasmack; Ministry of Tofu)

Koreans are Individualistic (in Stressful Environments) (Via Korea)

Is it okay to bar the visually impaired from bath houses? (Ilda)

Politics/Economics/Workplaces:

How to avoid false accusations of sexual harassment (I’m No Picasso)

Dreaming of a future where people finish work at 5pm (The Wall Street Journal)

Solbi shares that she was in a sexual harassment prevention video (Allkpop)

Problems with Korea’s labor law (this time from an employee perspective) (Korea Law Today)

Best Places to Work in Korea (Human Rights Monitor)

Park Geun-hye pledges after-school childcare for working couples (The Korea Times)

Are Koreans ready for woman president? (The Korea Times)

Lighting the way to female leadership (The Korea Times)

Pop Culture:

How To Be The Asian Female TV/Movie Sidekick (8asians)

Gender and Race: The Relationship Between Same-Sex Couples and Interracial Depictions in US Television (Overthinking)

Being branded as a K-pop fan (Angry K-pop Fan)

New drama series “Answer to 1997” to tackle obsessive fans (My First Love Story)

Why all the English phrases in K-pop? (Angry K-pop Fan)

Variety Screen Time: An Idol’s Ongoing Battle (Seoulbeats)

‘You only like Korean idols because they’re good looking’: the role of visuals in K-pop (Angry K-pop Fan; Part 2)

Pregnancy/Abortion/Childbirth/Demographics/Parenting/Education/Multiculturalism:

National economy threatened by shrinking population (The Hankyoreh)

After corporal punishment debate, Korean students still being hit (Asian Correspondent)

Refugee Rights Movement Finally Takes Root in Korea (Human Rights Monitor)

Mandatory HIV Testing Policy Challenged at the International Level – Korea charged with violating racial discrimination treaty (Gusts of Popular Feeling, Voice of America)

Op-Ed: A Need to Better Understand Youth Suicide Issues in Korea (Human Rights Monitor)

Life about to get enough tougher for migrant workers (The Hankyoreh)

(Links are not necessarily endorsements)

Korean Boys: “Wearing Hot Pants Says Something About You”

(Source)

A much more serious topic than it may sound, this article from Ilda Women’s Journal will definitely give you a renewed appreciation for the goals of the Slutwalk (잡년행진) movement.

Once it does though, unfortunately you’ll probably find yourself pretty frustrated with it too. For the author only really gives platitudes about the need for change, rather than provide any details about who those boys were, what they said exactly, and the sex-education program her and her colleagues were involved in.

But still, she’s right to be concerned about the messages children are receiving about sexuality when any elementary school boys both approve of and chastise attractive women for wearing revealing clothes. Let alone disallow “ugly” ones from wearing them:

(Source)

“못생긴 애들 핫팬츠 입지 말라”는 아이들 Children That Say “Ugly Girls Shouldn’t Wear Hot Pants”

여성의 노출’을 바라보는 십대들의 시선 Teenagers’ Views on Women Who Wear Revealing Clothes

So Yeong-mi, August 2010

(일다의 독자위원인 서영미님은 현재 십대들과 함께하는 성교육 프로그램을 진행하고 있습니다―Editor)

Editor: Ilda reader So Yeong-mi is currently involved in a sex-education program aimed at teenagers.

“선생님, 질문 있어요. 왜 여자애들은 그렇게 짧은 반바지를 입어요?”…“여자애들이 핫팬츠 좀 못 입게 해주셨으면 좋겠어요!”…“?????????”

“Teacher, I have a question. Why do women wear such short shorts?”…”If young women didn’t wear hot pants, that would be good.”

이게 도대체 무슨 문제란 말이지? 최근 들어 두 번이나 받은 질문이다. 고등학교 청소년 남자 아이들을 만났을 때 한번, 그리고 초등학교 남자아이들과 교육하면서 한번. 성장기 자신의 몸의 변화나 성관계, 임신/출산에 관련한 질문들이 대부분인 편이라 이 질문이 유독 기억에 남았다. 같은 반 여자아이들이 핫팬츠를 입지 말았으면 좋겠다니 이 무슨 말인가?

(Source, NSFW)

Why on earth are they saying and asking these things? This has happened to me twice recently. Once, from teenage boys at a high school, and the other from boys at an elementary school. Most of the questions I get are normal ones about their development, changes to their body, sexual relationships, pregnancy and childbirth and so on, but I especially remembered these. Why are boys saying that girls in their classes shouldn’t wear hot pants?

James – Because of the mention of female classmates, I’m assuming the boys were in mixed-schools then? But So Yeong-mi doesn’t mention how the girls reacted to such questions, an omission which hopefully means she taught the boys and girls separately.

뜬금없는 질문이 궁금해 스무고개 하듯 계속해서 질문을 주고받으며 질문한 의도를 파악하려 애썼다. 질문자는 한 명이었지만 반 아이들 모두가 동의하고 있었고 별로 웃기지도 않은 질문에 아이들은 자지러졌기 때문이다. 질문을 받은 내가 자신들 생각대로 웃어넘기지 않고 진지하게 계속 물으니, 나중엔 아이들도 제법 진지하게 맞받아쳤다. 그리하여 나온 결론은 같은 반 여자아이들은 핫팬츠를 입으면 안 된다는 것!

I was very curious why these questions came out of the blue, so I sort of played 20 Questions with the students to find out. Only 1 student [in each case?] asked, but all the other students thought it was hilarious, and they expected me to laugh along with them. I wanted to get to the bottom of that, and so later when they gave me feedback it emerged that they felt that girls in their classes shouldn’t wear hot pants.

(Source)

모자와 핫팬츠는 다르다? What’s the Difference Between Hot Pants and Hats?

“오크가 그런 걸 입는 게 말이나 돼요?” “Would Orcs Wear Hot Pants?”

판타지 소설이나 롤플레잉 게임에 주로 등장하는 괴물, ‘오크’족. 쭉쭉빵빵 몸매도 좋고 능력도 좋은 미녀캐릭터들에 비해 볼품이 없어 쉽게 무시당하고 힘만 센 캐릭터. 아이들의 설명에 의하면 이랬다. TV에서 연예인들이 입는 것과는 다르다는 것. 그건 당연히 ‘봐줄 만하다’는 것이다. 핫팬츠뿐만 아니라 미니스커트에도 역시 강한 불만을 표했는데, 이번에는 또 다른 이유를 제기했다.

As the students explained, in fantasy novels and role-playing games the monster that appears the most frequently is the orc. Unlike beautiful female characters, with great abilities and voluptuous bodies (and usually useless armor – James), orcs are essentially faceless characters that can easily be disregarded. What entertainers wear on TV is different though, and, of course, it’s worth watching.

But it’s not just hot pants that the boys had problems with girls wearing, but also miniskirts. They gave a second reason for that.

“옷이 그러면 그렇고 그런 거 아니에요? 위험할 수도 있잖아요.”

“Doesn’t wearing clothes like that say something about you? And it’s dangerous too!”

아이들은 여성인 내게 “선생님도 그런 옷을 입냐”며 “도대체 왜”냐고 야단이었다. 한 학생이 모자를 쓰고 있기에 “너는 왜 모자를 쓰고 있냐” 물으니 “그냥 좋아서”라고 가볍게 얘기했다. 그럼 “핫팬츠나 미니스커트를 선택해서 착용하는 것은 무엇이 다르냐” 물으니 “그건 당연히 다르다”고 소리친다. 적절한 대답이 없을 때 아이들은 대개 화를 낸다.

(Source)

The students asked me, a woman, “Do you wear clothes like that?”, and, in a critical tone, “Why on Earth do women wear those?”. So, to one student who was wearing a hat I asked “Why are you wearing that hat?”, to which he casually replied “Because I like it”. So then I asked “How is that different to choosing hot pants or a miniskirt”, and got the retort that “Of course it’s different!”, the student becoming angry that he didn’t really have a proper answer.

그날 종일은 아이들과 좀 더 많은 시간을 들여 ‘개인의 취향’에 대한 이야기를 나누었다. 서로의 취향을 존중하고 이해해야 하는 이유를 찾아보며 남/녀를 탈피한 다양한 관계 속에서 역할활동까지 해봤다. 그러나 그 날의 아이들에게는 이미 모자와 핫팬츠의 ‘선택’이 다르지 않다는 것을 이해시키는 것이 어려워 보였다. 너무나 견고한 그들만의 ‘패션철학’이 놀라울 따름이었다.

I spent all day with the students, and shared a story about personal tastes with them. Then we did roleplaying, breaking away from normal man/woman and girl/boy ones, in order to better understand and respect each other’s personal tastes. It was difficult to make them understand that wearing hot pants was a choice, no different to wearing a hat, and I was very surprised in how unwavering some of their attitudes to fashion were.

우연히 비슷한 시기에 만난 이 집단 아이들만의 문제였을까. 교육이 끝난 후 평가시간에 이 에피소드를 털어놓으니 유난히 남자아이들 교육을 진행할 때 그런 질문이 많이 나온다는 실무자들의 의견이 있었다. 예쁜 사람이 입으면 괜찮고, 아니면 안 괜찮고, 짧은 옷을 입으면 위험하고 야한 어떤 것이라는 10대 초반의 아이들의 논리. 고등학생 이상의 청소년 들을 만났을 때만 해도 성인과 비슷하게 생각해나가는 시기여서 그런가 생각했는데, 초등학생들에게서까지 강한 불만으로 표출되어 나오니 그냥 웃어넘길 일이 아니라는 생각이 들었다.

I wondered if this way of thinking was just confined to the groups of students I taught, so afterwards I asked other sex-ed teachers involved in the program, and they confirmed that they get similar questions and opinions from especially male students. The logic of boys in their early teens was that if pretty girls wear hot pants and so on it’s okay, but if they’re not pretty then it’s not, and that [in either case] such clothes are both too revealing and dangerous.

(Source)

Now, if I’d asked high school students and so on, who think like adults, then I wouldn’t have been surprised, but once I learned that even elementary school students are saying such things then I realized that this was no laughing matter.

고 민지점은 성인들이 갖고 있는 편견이나 고정관념들이 고스란히 아이들에게도 답습된다는 것이다. 또한 그 연령이 대폭 낮아졌다는 사실도 놀랄만한 일이다. 그 어린 학생들마저도 ‘여성’의 몸을 검열하고 있다는 사실에 주목하지 않을 수가 없는 것이다.

Children are picking up adults’ prejudices and biases, although it is surprising that they’re doing so at such a young age. And we can’t help but notice that even these children too think the female body is something to inspected and evaluated.

우리가 어떤 일을 할 수 있을까 What can do we do about this?

노출이 많은 옷을 입은 여성과 그렇지 않은 여성을 간단하게 이분화 시키고, 거기에 아름다움이라는 가치를 연결시킨 잣대로 평가하는 것은 아이들도 어른들과 크게 다르지 않았다. 다만 아이들의 용어로 표현하고 있을 뿐이었다. 이를 우스갯거리로 사용하는 아이들을 보고 있자니 솔직히 조금 화가 나기도 했다. 그리고 그와 동시에 우리 스스로 반성해야 될 때가 아닌가 생각해보게 됐다.

Children splitting women into simply those who wear very revealing clothes and those that don’t, and judging their value only in terms of their appearance, is little different from what adults do. But although the children just used these terms jokingly, to be honest I still got a little angry with them.

Yet at the same time, we really need to examine ourselves too.

대중매체에 대한 비판을 하려던 차에 최근 10대 청소년 연예인들을 상대로 60%가 신체 노출이나 과도한 성적 행위 장면을 강요했다는 기사들을 보게 되었다. 한 언론과의 인터뷰에서 가수 이은미는 음악성 보다 외적인 면에 더 관심을 갖는 사회 분위기를 우려하며, 성적인 면이 강조된 걸그룹의 노래, 의상, 춤에 환호하는 이 사회를 ‘몰상식의 극’이라고 표현했다. “초등학교를 졸업한지 몇 년 되지 않은 아이들을 벗겨놓고 대 놓고 섹시하다고 박수를 치거나, 꿀벅지, 꿀복근 같은 용어들을 사용하는 대중문화를 보면 소름이 끼친다.”는 것.

(Source: unknown)

I was about to blame the mass media, as recently I’ve read reports which say that 60% of female teenage entertainers have claimed to have sometimes been forced to wear revealing clothes and/or do sexual dances and so on. And in an interview of the singer Lee Eun-mi (James – Not one of those teenage entertainers; she was born in 1968), she said she was worried about a society that considered external appearance more important than musical quality for singers, where girl groups’ sexual dances, songs, and outfits where cheered…she used the term “thoughtless/careless”. She said “I freak out at the thought that just a few years after they graduate from elementary school, young male and female entertainers are being praised for taking off their clothes and being talked about in terms of their ‘honey thighs‘ or six-packs.

쏟 아지는 대중매체의 벗기기 논란은 새삼 어제오늘 일도 아니건만, 아무 손쓰지 않고 있었음에 반성하게 된다. 상품화되고 대상화되고 있는 여성들의 문제를 공공연히 문제 삼지 않았던 것이 일상생활에까지 주변 사람을 대상화하고 외모로써 평가하는 지금의 일을 만든 게 아닌가 하는 생각에서다.

But these trends in the media didn’t just appear overnight – they were allowed to flourish by the public’s inattention and lack of concern. This way, we have come to consider the commercialization and objectification of women as a normal part of our daily lives.

아 이들의 생각을 넓게 펼쳐주진 못할망정 오로지 외모로써 사람을 평가하는 우리 사회에서 우리가 어떤 일을 할 수 있을지 함께 고민해봤으면 좋겠다. 우리가 그동안 무심코 내뱉었던 말들이 아이들에게 어떤 영향을 미치게 될지 생각해보면서 말이다. 문제가 수면으로 드러난 지금이야말로 왜곡된 미와 과장된 외모 중심의 평가들로부터 벗어나 아이들에게 더 많은 관심을 가져야 할 때다. 아이들뿐만 아니라 사실은 우리 모두를 위해서 말이다.

It’s difficult to broaden children’s minds, but we do have to make an effort to stop judging each other on our appearances. We have to consider what has been the effect on our children of this focus, this excessive emphasis on appearance. Not just for them, but for society as a whole (end).

My post title aside, I don’t mean to generalize about all Korean boys, and given the author’s vagueness then what she says about them really needs to be taken with a grain of salt. So, to get a better overall picture, I’d really appreciate anything any teachers can tell me about what their own young students have ever said about such things (alas, it’s been a while since I’ve taught children or teenagers myself).

And to end on a positive note, was anyone else reminded of the above semi-response to such sentiments? Now I have a renewed sense of appreciation for that too!^^ (See here for a discussion of the song’s lyrics and meaning)