“Gender Advertisements” in the Korean Context: Part 1

(Source: SeoulBeats)

Be warned: Gender Advertisements, by the late sociologist Erving Goffman, is one of those books that changes your life forever.

Well, not life-changing like reading The Communist Manifesto inspired an Argentine ex-lecturer of mine to start shooting police officers. But you will pay much more attention to advertising messages, of which you already receive between 500 and 1000 every day. (Yes, it’s really that many.)

Of course, advertisements have changed considerably since the book was published in 1979, and are much less sexist overall. But indeed that’s precisely because of the attention given to them. Moreover, some elements have actually gotten worse, advertising to children for instance now an embarrassment compared to the relatively gender-neutral tone of the early-1980s (compare these to this, this, and this), and also there is now so much partial nudity in advertisements that several researchers argue that a new category has had to be added to Goffman’s framework to analyze it.

However, partial nudity isn’t objectifying or sexist per se: rather, it is the manner and context in which it is applied. And if that is the case, then you can imagine how problematic applying Goffman’s framework as a whole to Korean advertisements is, in which such different cultural codes operate.

Or do they? In at least one case, yes: social status usually trumps all other considerations in Korea, and so having one person (usually a man) elevated above another (usually a woman) in an advertisement, perhaps by him sitting and her reclining on the floor in front of him, by no means implies superiority, rendering that subcategory of Goffman’s “Ritualization of Subordination” category problematic (see here and here for examples). Still others, such as cute and/or childlike depictions of women, or having them staring off into the distance rather than directly back at the viewer (a subcategory of “Licensed Withdrawal”), are not necessarily sexist in light of East Asian notions of metrosexuality and politeness respectively, as helpfully pointed out by reader Melissa. And in point of fact the only analysis (Nam et al, 2007) that has looked at men as well as women in Korean magazine advertisements did find that Korean men were depicted much more childishly and “withdrawn” than Western men in them.

Still, while this point is easy to miss in posts that necessarily give only a few illustrative examples, surveys of depictions of men and women in advertisements using Goffman’s framework are made to determine if there are statistically significant differences between them as a whole. And, if those are found, then there are a number of different cultural and anthropological explanations that can be suggested in addition to feminist ones: Occidentalism, for instance, may have played a role in the above result, or the fact that it is quite acceptable for Korean 20-somethings of both sexes to behave in a manner that many Westerners might consider childish (see here for possible reasons for this). Alternatively, Nam et al (2007) found that Western women were much more likely than Korean women to be depicted in a lower physical position than men, such as by him standing and her reclining in a chair on on the floor, but while this could be interpreted positively (for Korean women), much more likely is the fact that status trumps all other considerations in Korea, and so to be physically lower than someone else by no means implies that one is the inferior. Accordingly, there were no statistical differences between Korean men and women in this regard.

Other differences however, like the fact that regardless of the social norms I’ve discussed, Korean women are still depicted childishly or withdrawn more often than Korean men for instance, are extremely difficult to account for other than in terms of their inferior social and economic status in Korea. Or in other words, while an individual advertisement depicting a woman like a child isn’t necessarily sexist in itself, that there’s more of them than there are of men is certainly evidence of sexism. Moreover, I fail to see how noticing discrepancies like this is somehow Eurocentric of me, or “looking at Korean society through Western eyes.” Which is not at all to say that Melissa argued that, but others have.

Update: Specifically, aegyo is often claimed as a form of empowerment that Westerners fail to appreciate. In which case, guilty as charged: when (usually) women act like children to manipulate (usually older, higher-ranked, and/or richer) men, how is that anything but wholly accommodating to a patriarchal system?

(Source: Unknown)

In response, in what was originally intended to be a single post here I wanted to discuss the problems Kang (1997), Hovland et al (2005), and Nam et al (2007) had with Goffman’s framework, the alterations they made to it, and the latter two’s discussion of how appropriate various categories of it were to the Korean context.

In particular, the last found that Western men and women were more likely to be depicted as partially nude than their Korean counterparts, but with allowances again for Occidentalism, and the fact that Korean female models will rarely appear in lingerie advertisements (of which the authors were unaware, and so didn’t account for), they argue that this is again evidence of sexism because in fact “many scantily garbed women [emit] a sense of independence and confidence.” While I’d be a bit more circumspect than that myself, fortunately having long since on moved on from the days when I automatically equated bikinis with feminist liberation, they do have a point, particularly in a society where the majority of women were too scared to wear them 5-10 years ago.

Also, I wanted to discuss the “female-stereotypical” depictions of Korean men in advertisements like Melissa identified, posing a challenge as they do to especially Western men’s notions of masculinity. Unfortunately however, for reasons of space and ease of reading those will have to wait for Part 2 and perhaps even a Part 3. Instead, having provided a grounding in this post, let me devote the rest of it to a practical example of another discrepancy in the ways men and women are portrayed in advertisements, one that I stumbled onto by accident in the process of investigating the Evisu (에비수) advertisement at the beginning of the post.

Featuring Jung Yun-ho (정윤호; also know as “U-know”) of the boy band TVXQ (I don’t know who the woman is sorry), the first thing it reminded me of was this:

(Source: Shine So Cold)

Of which I wrote this back in November 2008 (update: since edited out sorry):

Personally, it took me a few moments to figure out what this advertisement is supposed to represent exactly: were the couple prisoners? No…why would their sunglasses be tied up too? How apart parts from a model kit then? No…then they’d be disassembled, and besides which the man appears to be raised from the white background a little, a rather awkward position for a model component. And then I realized that he’s actually standing, which would mean that the woman is too, although I can surely be forgiven for thinking that she’s lying down.

So probably they’re supposed to be like a Barbie and Ken doll set in a box, like you find in a toy store. But then why is the women tied down so helplessly, whereas the man, ostensibly also tied down, looks – as the photographer points out – firmly grounded and in control? I haven’t been looking (sorry!), but I dare say that Barbie and Ken dolls don’t leave the Mattel factory like that in real life. So why would the advertisers choose to depict them like that?

Granted, it’s a much more extreme example than the own with Yun-ho. But while I don’t mean to equate the two, that is indeed what it reminded me of, and the final question I pose is just as relevant.

But in terms of Goffman’s framework itself, probably this is more similar:

(Source: Tech Fatale)

And with that, let me add “participation shields,” a subcategory of Licensed Withdrawal, to add to all those others I’ve already elaborated on here, here, here, and here as well as those in this post. This is what Goffman (1979) had to say about it:

It is possible to look in on a social situation from a distance or from a one-way panel—a “participation shield”—and be little seen oneself, in which case one can, in effect, partake of the the events but not be exposed to scrutiny or address. A splitting up this results between some of the gains and some of the costs of face-to-face interaction. I might note that when one’s participation is thus shielded, simultaneous maintenance of dissociated side involvements would seem to be facilitated, since these could hardly intrude between oneself and one’s availability to the others in the situation – one not being available at all.

A ritualization of participation shielding occurs when one presents oneself as if on the edge of the situation or otherwise shielded from it physically, when in fact one is quite accessible to those in it. Still further ritualization is found in commercial posings. (p.70)

Then he gives examples of using walls as shields, then window frames, then various objects, then animals, and finally people:

…with the consequent opportunity to overlay distance with a differentiating expression, in the extreme, collusive betrayal of one’s shield. (p. 72)

Here are some examples he provides, from my scan of page 73:

And I think the Evisu advertisement is a good example of that last point, as Jung Yun-ho’s aggressive, confrontational stance is betrayed by that of the inquisitive, unconcerned expression of the woman partially hiding behind him. But lest I contradict myself and read too much into one image (and I’ll grant that those above are deliberately much more extreme cases), again let’s consider the discrepancies among the advertisements currently on the Evisu website. In particular, when the woman and Jung Yun-ho are by themselves, both have strong, confident stances, good examples of the “Independence/Self-Assurance” category first suggested by Kang (1997) and expanded on Nam (2007) which I’ll be discussing in Part 2:

(Source, all remaining images: Evisu)

So why then, in most of the few Evisu advertisements that have a man and a woman together, are the women relegated so to speak? But don’t just take my word for it. Instead, see all of them for yourself, starting from the most glaring example to the least:

Note also that only the woman has the “head cant” in each, which I discuss here.

But here is one example that is the complete opposite to all the above:

And I include this one also as it’s the only other one with two people, although strictly speaking it shouldn’t be counted:

Personally I think that the woman on the right above is not quite as “out of it” as she in her advertisements with a man, but I’ll grant that that’s open to debate, as is how much she is using the man as a participation shield in that second advertisement in which she is wearing black gloves. But that’s precisely the point: again, those are all the advertisements with more than one person in them on the Evisu website as a I type this (please note that the first one with Jung Yun-ho isn’t on the website though), and so please make your own minds up about whether there is a discrepancy in the way the men and women are depicted in them. Naturally, I think it’s obvious that there is, but if you agree and yet have a non-feminist, culturally-based argument for its existence however, then I’m all ears.

Meanwhile, a note on the sources for this post: if they look very familiar to regular readers, then that’s because there have been so few surveys of Korean advertisements made using Goffman’s framework. Moreover, even Nam et al’s (2007) is based on magazines from 2002 and 2003, hopelessly out of date for a society as fast-changing as Korea, and so I’ve long wanted to conduct my own survey(s) to compensate. That would involve far too much work for just one person unfortunately, and so if any readers are interested in co-authoring a conference paper and/or journal article on the topic, please let me know!^^

Goffman, E. (1979), Gender Advertisements.

Hovland, R. et.al. (2005) ‘Gender Role Portrayals in American and Korean Advertisements’, Sex Roles: A Journal of Research December 2005, pp. 887-899 (although I have a physical copy, unfortunately this is no longer downloadable; I’d appreciate it if anyone with library access could email a PDF).

Kang, M. (1997) ‘The Portrayal of Women’s Images in Magazine Advertisements: Goffman’s Gender Analysis Revisited’, Sex Roles: A Journal of Research December 1997 (ditto on downloading)

Nam, K. et. al. (2007)  ‘Gender Role Stereotypes Depicted by Western and Korean Advertising Models in Korean Adolescent Girls’ Magazines‘, Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, TBA, San Francisco, CA Online (2007), pp. 1-31.

Update: If you’ve enjoyed this post, then you may also be interested in this one at Sociological Images that describes how even the “physiology and anatomy” theme of a university website also genders the stances of the physiological representation of both sexes, the man standing straight, looking ahead, and having even weight distribution, but the female form being “almost classically passive, hands held behind her back, weight distribution uneven” in contrast.

Korean Gender Reader

elton-john-drugs-quoteSource: id-iom.

Sorry for the delay: although I’d like to provide a much more professional-sounding excuse, the reality is that my toddler’s constant temper tantrums over the last two days have completely ruined my blogging plans for this week!

1. Joo Ji-hoon Drug Scandal

My personal choice for the most interesting story last week. In brief:

In the latest drug bust of entertainers, police booked popular film star Ju Ji-hun, 27, on suspicion of drug use and arrest warrants were sought for actress Yun Seol-hee, 28, and model Ye Hak-young, 26, for alleged smuggling ecstasy tablets and ketamine into the country from Japan. Two other residents were booked on similar suspicions.

“Besides the suspects on the list we have secured, there are likely more, given the amount of drugs smuggled. Further investigations are unavoidable,” an officer of the Seoul Metropolitan Policy Agency said (Korea Times).

Why I found it so interesting, and why it’s notable in a feminist sense, is because of how the huge disparities between Western and Korean celebrity culture may play out here. Very broadly speaking, Westerners usually tolerate – nay, encourage –  debauchery on the part of their idols, but Koreans are the polar opposite, usually demanding of celebrities standards of behavior and conduct much stricter than they do of themselves. Throw sexual double-standards and many especially young actresses frequently playing “sweet and innocent” roles into the mix too, then many female celebrities in particular have faced heavy public opprobrium once they have been revealed to be, say, merely human.

Yoon eun hye the temptressHence my first thought that the female celebrities involved in this scandal might get the most flak for it, but as Joo Ji-hoon (주지훈) is so much better known than them then so far most attention has been on him instead. Naturally, this story is all over the K-pop blogs, but DramaBeans provides the best coverage: see here, here and then here for all the details in chronological order, to which I’d add the surprising news that so far he hasn’t given the tearful apology that is de rigueur for these situations, and instead is – shock! horror! – unrepentant.

(Right: Does the blame ultimately lie with Yoon Eun-hye? Source)

2. I’ve Got You Under My Skin

Previous restrictions on nudity, sex, and swearing in the media are rapidly being lifted in Korea (see #1 here), but that doesn’t mean that all the individuals and institutions involved are liberalizing things at the same speed, nor, indeed, that they’re even on the same page. As I explain in the bottom of this post:

…aside from the government’s push for a  “real name” internet system of course, one other notable censorship issue is the Youth Protection Committee’s (of the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs; see #4 here) recent banning of music group TVXQ’s latest songs from being played on TV and the radio because of “lewd content” (see here also). But one might ask what exactly the point was considering the album has already been out for six months though!

And blogger Gord Sellar has written an excellent post on the supreme irony of this:

…The idea that a censor who cannot speak English well enough to understand the nuances of what’s being said is interesting.

But then again, there’s also the nuances of what’s being heard. After all, I can say, “Ha, that censor doesn’t know enough English to know that it means, “I’ve got you on my mind,” or, “You’ve affected me emotionally in such a way that I cannot shake this effect you have on me.” But the censor’s grasp of English is…

Well, there’s the question. The Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs certainly doesn’t seem to know what the phrase means in English — though it’s well-documented, is present in popular culture, and absolutely innocuous in an English speaking context. (Even the stuff about “… deep down in the heart of me, so deep inside, that you’re really a part of me…” is tame enough to have been on mainstream TV back when sexual content was not broadcast in the States.)

See here for the rest.

3. More Female Toilets to be Built in Seoul

By coincidence, I heard on the Guardian Daily podcast last year about recent changes to laws in the UK requiring all new buildings to have female toilets double the size of those provided for men, and as a guy I had no idea of just how impractical and inconvenient and still steeped in a Victorian architectural mentality many are there, ultimately with big impacts on women with children in particular (and in turn, families), although as a father now I have much the same problems myself, and can certainly empathize. See here, here, here for more information on that UK case, but most of the problems mentioned would be universal,  and so provide some good context for the following news about the Seoul City Government, which will:

…increase the number of women’s toilets to close to that of their male counterparts. Currently, there are 42,348 male toilets compared to only 34,649 toilets for females. It will build 3,100 more this year and 3,800 next year (Korea Times).

A curious disparity. Regardless, and even if you’re a guy and/or not interested in such matters, at the very least more and bigger female toilets will mean less waiting for your partner, as someone on the podcast I heard mentioned.

Another, somewhat misguided initiative also mentioned in that report is to provide many slightly larger female-only car-parking spaces, the logic presumably being that women are worse drivers and so need more space to maneuver. Admittedly I don’t drive myself, but I’m pretty confident that any car-insurance salesperson can confirm that that is complete bullshit (women actually have less accidents than men), and so this idea reflects the prejudices of the city councilors more than anything else.

Update: See KoreaBeat here for more details.

4. Gwangju Female High School Students Stripped as Punishment

For the details, see Brian in Jeollanam-do here. One minor thing that he forgot to mention in that post is that it occurred at an all-girl high school, but which is not to say that that condones the punishment in any way

Also occurring at a high school, it was reported by the Korea Times that four male teachers are to receive punishment for sexually harassing female interns. Unfortunately, given a history of teachers getting off lightly for far worse offenses, such as one being given only a six-month sentence for sex with an 11 year-old (see #9 here), then…let’s just say I have my doubts as to how effective their ultimate “punishment” will be.

5. Han Chae-young Models Men’s Clothes

han-chae-young-rogatis-한채영-로가디스As allkpop reports, Rogatis (로가디스), a Korean menswear company, has chosen actress Han Chae-young (한채영), as their next model for their latest line of mens clothing (right, source). Not that significant perhaps, but it immediately brought to mind Danish clothing company JBS’s notorious underwear advertisements from last year, which featured virtually naked (naturally) women in men’s underwear, and which ultimately got…er…pulled (see here and here for more on those, but which are probably NSFW).

Now, I’m not going to feign outrage at those, nor at the notion of using women to model men’s clothes in itself, although personally I found the ones with nurses and so forth actually sniffing the underwear (and savoring the smell) to be very unrealistic more of a turn-off than anything else. But I’m curious as to readers’ opinions on the Rogatis advertisements specifically, as although they’re certainly still quite risqué (see more examples here), most of the complaints against those by JSB focused less on the women’s nudity as their explicit subservience in them, which clearly doesn’t apply here.

So, does it work? It it still objectionable in any way? Why, why not?

6. Korea’s Lost Generation

First becoming involved in Korean sociology via the huge differences in living arrangements for 20-somethings between Korea and Western countries, then I’ve long been interested in the various financial barriers that prevented Korean twenty-somethings from leaving home, and without which it’s no exaggeration to say a veritable revolution in Korean sexuality would occur. Indeed, the situation of today, rife with double-standards and open secrets and all, is not at all dissimilar to that of Western countries before huge expansions in university enrollments in the 1960s and 1970s, but until a similar Korean generation of cohabitants that no longer feels a need to hide things emerges from that, then it will continue to be women especially that suffer the most from sexual matters not being out in the open, either physically or by placing feminine virginity and “modesty” on a pedestal.

In my most recent posts on the subject then (here, here, and here), excessive student loan interest rates and rising univeristy fees have emerged as the biggest of those financial burdens, and in many ways what is occurring in Korea today parallels what occurred when I was a student myself in New Zealand in the mid-1990s. I didn’t, however, have this to contend with also:

As a candidate, President Lee Myung-bak promised to slash school fees by 50 percent and create 600,000 jobs annually. He did neither….

….It’s true President Lee had made these pledges before he knew the world would fall to what he has dubbed the “unprecedented” economic crisis. But there are not many governments trying to get out of this crisis by cutting initial salaries of college graduates, and telling them to remain content with internships, as the Lee administration does now.

President Lee called for the new entrants into labor markets, who probably constitute the best-educated generation of all, to “lower their sights and start humbly.” This could pass as advice among individuals but hardly a sermon coming from a responsible official ― much less the head of state ― to the fresh workforce that will shoulder the nation’s future.

By all means much recent criticism about the Korea Times is deserved (see here and here), but the editorial that that is from may prove remarkably prescient: at the very least, telling a whole swath of young people to STFU and be content with working in Family Mart for what should be the most productive and exciting part of their lives will accentuate their disengagement with the political process.

7. Birth, Death and Divorce in Korea

A swathe of statistics on each have been published recently:  for links and analysis on the former two especially, see Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling here, and for the latter see Brian in Jelloanamdo here.

Meanwhile, if you’re futher interested in Korean demographics, particularly similarities and differences in family structures between Korea, the US, and Japan,  then you’ll probably like this series of mine on the subject also.

8. Korea’s Lack of Rape Kits: A Comparison to the U.S.

As someone who gets plagiarized himself on a regular basis, then normally I’d be very reluctant to cut and paste a post by KoreaBeat in its entirety, but in this case I think I can make a rare exception:

Nicholas Kristof wrote in [the] New York Times about the problem of severely backlogged rape kits in the United States, putting me in mind of how they are often never even collected in Korea.

And the latter, a translation of a lengthy article on the subject, should be required reading for everyone reading this blog!

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)