Gender Socialization

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The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: Part 4

 

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“Smoking Among Men Drops to Record Low” reads a recent headline in The Chosunilbo, with only 39.6% of Korean men over 19 now doing so: a drop of 3.5% from a year earlier, and of 17.1% from 2003. Which is something to be celebrated for sure, but, strangely, the even more amazing news that almost half of women smokers also quit last year barely gets a mention. Why not?

Of course, it may just be an oversight. But there is some context to consider: overemphasizing reductions in the male smoking rate is intrinsic to the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s (보건복지부) tobacco control policies for instance, and it also has a long track record of exaggerating its successes. Possibly then, the report just reflects the Ministry’s own emphases in its press release.

Alternatively, readers too may not have been interested in a paltry reduction of 4% to 2.2%. The rate has always been low, they may have said. And with a 2007 Gallup Korea study finding that 83.4% of Koreans thought that women shouldn’t smoke too, with some even slapping them in the street if they do, then apparently the consensus is that so it should be too.

But given that background, then as you’d expect there is chronic under-reporting of smoking by women, best estimates of their real numbers being closer to 20%. Add the absence of any dramatic social or economic changes to prompt women to give up the habit in droves in just the past year too, then it’s difficult not to conclude that these latest figures are essentially meaningless.

Was a line or two to that effect really too much to expect from a newspaper?

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Photoshop Disaster #8: The 100% Korean Lady Burger

A photoshop disaster, or a deliberate satire of the way women are presented on women’s magazine covers?

Alas, given how difficult it is to find this particular version, then unfortunately probably the former. But with that face held fast between the “A” and the “D”, as if prepped for cosmetic surgery? That X-line? And especially that emaciated look of her skin? Then for her at least, surely Lotteria’s Hanwoo Lady Burger is a “must eat” indeed.

But much more interesting than the bad photoshopping though, or what the ad says about women’s body images in the media, is the explicit gendered marketing contained therein. After all, you can’t call something a “Lady Burger” – and not even allow men to buy it – without explaining what is it exactly that supposedly makes it only appropriate for women.

Yet there are actually no physiological reasons why men and women can’t and don’t enjoy the same foods and drinks, so branding is the only real reason many are still marketed to only one sex nevertheless. Woe betide the company that actually admits that though, and hence Lotteria’s public rationale for Lady Burgers below ends up sounding not unlike the synthetic-tasting heaps of crap that are Lotteria’s products themselves (source, above):

롯데리아, 女心잡는 ‘한우레이디버거’ 출시 Lotteria Launches the ‘Lady Burger’ to Catch Women’s Hearts

한우레이디버거는 100% 한우 패티에 국내산 쌀 떡이 첨가된 떡갈비 형태의 프리미엄 버거로, 여성들이 선호하는 파프리카, 토마토, 양상추 등의 야채로 뒷맛이 상큼하고 깔끔한다는게 회사측 설명이다. 특히 쌀떡의 쫄깃함과 한우의 고소함의 조화도 느낄수 있다고. 가격은 단품 4500원, 세트 6000원.

As the company explains, the Hanwoo Lady Burger is a premium burger made from 100% Korean beef patty with ricecake made from Korean rice added, giving the form of ddokgalbi [ribs with ricecake added].  To that is added what women prefer: paprika, tomato, and lettuce, making the vegetable aftertaste both fresh and clean, and in particular, the ricecake’s chewiness and the Korean beef’s sesame taste harmonize well. The price for one is 4500 won, and for a set 6000 won.

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Reading the Lolita Effect in Korea, Part 2: The role of K-pop and the Korean media in sexual socialization and the formation of body image

A simply surreal video making the rounds at the moment. As explained by Lisa at Sociological Images, it:

…beautifully illustrates the socialization of children into particular kinds of worship. With hand motions, body movements, and facial expressions, this child is doing a wonderful job learning the culturally-specific rules guiding the performance of devotion.

Which led to a great deal of discussion at that site, but I’ll confine myself here to echoing Jason’s comment that it simply reminds him of his son picking up his own behaviors such as sweeping, and that the young girl:

…certainly isn’t worshiping here, but is just mimicking her parents and the other people around her. I can guarantee she has no concept of a deity.

But what has all that got to do with K-pop, let alone Meenakshi Durham’s The Lolita Effect? Well, because after reading all that, it was very interesting comparing my daughters’ own reactions to KARA’s Lupin just half an hour later. First, those of 4 and half year-old Alice:

Then with her 2 and half year-old sister Elizabeth:

Granted, perhaps you had to be there…and in which case I probably would have removed my laundry from the floor first (sorry). But I didn’t notice it myself, because at the time I was simply transfixed. You see, along with dozens of other K-pop music videos, Alice and Elizabeth must have watched and “danced” to Lupin at least 20 times before that night. But that was the first time that Alice at least seemed to demonstrate that she not only remembered it, but actually knew it very well, and was performing repetitive actions that were recognizably part of the same dance…which she’d demand the chance to do 7 more times before going to bed.

Unfortunately for my paternal pride however, in hindsight she was neither simply copying the music video nor giving her own original interpretation of it: as confirmed by her teacher later, she’s preparing for a Christmas performance at her kindergarten soon, and – yes – she’ll be dancing to Lupin.

So what’s the big deal? After all, while I’m still translating the lyrics myself (or at least I was until my “study” got invaded), they seem harmless enough:

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Korean Sociological Image #52: Are Celebrities Removing the Stigma of Lingerie Modelling?

After writing about double-standards in the objectification of men’s and women’s bodies in the Korean media last month, this month I was looking forward to wrapping that up. Finally, I thought, I’d be able to remove the prominent “Abs vs. Breasts” folder on my Firefox toolbar.

Alas, I’ve decided some more context is needed first. Which by coincidence, also allows me to get rid of the even more embarrassing “Lingerie” folder in the process.

But while the topic sounds facetious perhaps, having overwhelmingly Caucasian models in lingerie advertisements has definite effects on how Koreans perceive both Caucasians’ and their own bodies and sexuality. If you consider what Michael Hurt wrote in his blog Scribblings of the Metropolitician back in 2005 for instance:

…One thing that I also notice is that in underwear and other commercials that require people to be scantily-clad, only white people seem to be plastered up on walls in the near-buff. Now, it may be the sense that Korean folks – especially women – would be considered too reserved and above that sort of thing (what I call the “cult of Confucian domesticity”). Maybe that’s linked to the stereotyped expectation that white people always be running around all nasty and hanging out already, as is their “way.” Another possibility has to do with the reaction I hear from Korean people when I mention this, which is that white people just “look better” with less clothes, since Koreans have “short leg” syndrome and gams that look like “radishes.” The men are more “manly” and just look more “natural” with their shirts off…

Then I’m sure you’ll appreciate that while that artificial dichotomy between “naturally” nude, more sexual Caucasians (and by extension, all Westerners) and more modest, virginal, pure Koreans is neither new, solely confined to Korea, nor wholly a construct of the Korean media, at the very least this odd feature of Korean lingerie advertisements certainly helps sustain it. And that dichotomy has largely negative effects on all Westerners here, especially women.

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Vintage Gender Socialization?

What was the first thing that went through your mind when you saw the above advertisement?

Me? Why Nazi-occupied Colorado of course.

No, really. Specifically, the end of the following segment from Chapter 6 of Philip K. Dick’s classic alternative-history book, The Man in the High Castle (1962):

…Her shift at the judo parlor did not begin until noon; this was her free time, today. Seating herself on a stool at the counter she put down her shopping bags and began to go over the different magazines.

The new Life, she saw, had a big article called: TELEVISION IN EUROPE: GLIMPSE OF TOMORROW. Turning to it, interested, she saw a picture of a German family watching television in their living room. Already, the article said, there was four hours of image broadcast during the day from Berlin. Someday there would be television stations in all the major European cities. And, by 1970, one would be built in New York.

The article showed Reich electronic engineers at the New York site, helping the local personnel with their problems. It was easy to tell which were the Germans. They had that healthy, clean, energetic, assured look. The Americans, on the other hand — they just looked like people. They could have been anybody.

One of the German technicians could be seen pointing off somewhere, and the Americans were trying to make out what he was pointing at. I guess their eyesight is better than ours, she decided. Better diet over the last twenty years. As we’ve been told; they can see things no one else can. Vitamin A, perhaps? (source, right)

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Korean Sociological Image #51: Male Objectification & Double Standards

 

What would be your reaction if this flashed on your TV screen?

Mine was thinking that abs aren’t exactly the best analogy for airbags. But my mistake: they’re not supposed to be. Rather, Hyundai needed something to signify the number of airbags as the voiceover went through various specs of the car.

Which to be fair, is much clearer in the full commercial.

How about if a proper airbag analogy had been used instead, like BMW did back in 2006?

( Source )

If you found that objectification distasteful however, then consider the following from Renault/Samsung in 2008 below also:

Which uses the same analogy, but is clearly quite a contrast to BMW’s puerile effort. Nevertheless, some commenters on this earlier post did still have some issues with it, whereas nobody on this blog at least has had any with all of the men’s 6-packs that suddenly started appearing in Korean commercials from last year.

But I’m sure you’re already well-aware of that double-standard, so the purpose of this post is not just to draw your attention to it. Nor is it to simply pass on that juxtaposition of advertisements, however interesting. In combination with a recent development in the Korean media though, what that juxtaposition did serve to do was make me realize both the rapid mainstreaming and dogmatic nature of that double-standard here, and which is a combination that I think is pretty unique to Korea too.

Let me explain.

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Women’s Typical Poses in Advertisements: A Pain in the Neck?

 

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Something about Kong Hyo-jin (공효진) got me all hot and bothered last week. And no, I don’t mean her lingerie photoshoot for Calvin Klein.

Rather, it was her ads for Uniqlo (유니클로), all over Busan at the moment. Surely, I thought, the creative team could have anticipated how their ads would look on the side of buses, and designed something that didn’t look like she was literally squashed into them?

But then I caught a subway train on Line 2, every carriage of which was decked out like this:

And suddenly I realized that her squashed appearance wasn’t an accident:

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Pink Imperialism?

 

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Koreans have curious attitudes to pink clothing.

On the one hand, they are by no means considered feminine on adults, nor have they ever been historically. Indeed, far from rejecting the color, these days many young men positively embrace pink as a loud and easily visible sign of rebellion against the gruff, dull rural roots of their parents (most Koreans lived in villages until as recently as the late-1970s). As The Joshing Gnome puts it:

Many young guys who grew up in this world find that it’s just not them.  What recourse do they have but to declare loudly and pinkly to the world ‘I am not what my parents are.’  They’re showing people they’re young, they’re modern, they’re not dissolute drunken bums (and how would one know if not for their outfits?) and they’re urbane.  If my two choices of apparel are white pants, a pink shirt, and ‘wax’ in my hair or slippers, track pants, a motorcycle and a case of the soju rosies, then I have to say I would be right there with these preening young men foppin’ it up.

And I’ve made a similar argument for their wearing of “couple clothes”, such a visible sign of affection possibly being a stark rejection of the model of their own parents’ often arranged marriages. But I’m not so out of touch though, that I don’t realize that it could just as easily be because men will simply do anything to get laid, and if their partners want them both to look “cute” by wearing exactly the same pastels and pinks as them, then why not? After all, looking cute is a strong cultural prerogative in Korea, much like the equivalent in many Western countries is to be ‘Xtreme’ and too cool for school.

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Korean Sociological Image #48: The Male Gaze

( Source: L-C-R. Reproduced with permission )

Like photographer L-C-R says, this 2008 Gundam advertisement is a prime example of a woman being portrayed as a child and/or sex object, of which she saw entirely too much of while she was in Korea.

You may be very surprised then, when you learn whom it was actually aimed at.

But first, please consider what is it exactly that so demeans drama actress Min Seo-hyeon (민서현) in it? I identify 4 or 5 things myself, which I outline in descending order of importance below:

  1. her childlike expression, combined with putting her fingers in her mouth
  2. the canting of her head
  3. her surprisingly awkward stance
  4. her passivity as she awaits the masculine-looking robot to make the next move

And after discussing those, albeit briefly because I’ve already done so in great depth in this similar post about soju advertisements, I’ll finally look at the ad in the context of the campaign as a whole. But feel free to disagree with any of those and/or suggest others, and in that vein I highly recommend asking your Korean partners, colleagues or friends their own opinions also. As if the experience of asking my wife and her friends earlier is anything to go by, then they are very likely to disagree with the first. Or rather, that she’s being portrayed childishly at all, and – jumping ahead – not even in the following commercials either:

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Reading “The Lolita Effect” in Korea: Part 1

There’s so much raised by Kim Hyuna’s (김현아) performance of her infamous “pelvic dance” (골반댄스) on last week’s episode of Quiz That Changes The World (세상을 바꾸는 퀴즈) below, that it’s difficult to know where to start.

Probably most notable however, is the surrealism of having observers explicitly acknowledging the dance’s sexual nature, only then to implicitly deny that nature by their subsequent actions. For while the men whoop and comically feign arousal while watching it, looking for all the world like they’re in a strip club, actually the heterosexual women display a similar enthusiasm, and later a mixed group goes on to parody it. Finally, a 12 year-old girl in the audience is brought on stage to similarly thrust her crotch at the camera, much to the delight of all.

Naturally, I’ve already discussed the issue of the media projecting, exploiting and yet simultaneously denying female sexuality like this many times before, but after recently reading the The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It by M. Durham (2009), I realize now that I was rather naive in ever thinking that that was unique to Korea. Nevertheless, there are some features of the Korean media and social landscape that certainly exaggerate the phenomenon here at least, such as the slave-like contracts musicians have with their entertainment companies (did Hyuna want to dance because it was “empowering” in a sexual and/or feminist way, or because she felt compelled to?); “sexy dances” being synonymous with Korean talk shows, overwhelmingly by 20-something women; stereotypes of married and/or 30-something women as asexual; a huge prostitution industry; and so on. With the “Lolita Effect” being so extreme here then, in this series I’d like to use this episode of the show both to pass on Durham’s arguments to a wider audience and to gain some greater understanding of Korean media and sexuality in the process.

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