Interracial Relationships

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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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Countering Sexual Violence in Korea

Once again, Korea has gotten the lowest score of all high-income countries in a recent survey of gender-equality worldwide. And, at 104th out of 131 countries surveyed, it was bested by numerous much poorer countries at that.

Given that record, then it’s very easy to focus on Korea’s shortcomings when talking about gender issues. But that can mean that we can easily miss the positive developments that are occurring though, and sometimes right in front of our very noses.

Take what this humble-looking subway ad for instance, and what it ultimately represents. First, a translation:

부산 해바라기 여성 • 아동센터

Busan Sunflower Women & Children’s Center

여성 성폭력 피해자와 가정폭력 피해자, 학교폭력 피해자들을 돕고 있는 부산 원스톱 지원센터와 아동과 지적장애인 성폭력 피해자 전담센터인 부산 해바라기 아동센터가 2010년 1월 1일부터 부산 해바라기 여성 • 아동센터로 통합되었습니다.

From January 1, the Busan One-Stop Support Center, which helps female victims of sexual abuse, victims of family abuse, and victims of physical abuse at schools, and the Busan Sunflower Children’s Center, which helps children and mentally handicapped victims of sexual abuse, have joined together and become the Busan Sunflower Women & Children’s Center.

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“Want to Sleep With a Foreign Woman?”

 

A provocative article title from Yahoo! Korea yesterday, yes?

Alas, actually it’s only about one lawmaker’s concern over the growing number of “lewd” internet advertisements these days, among which presumably that’s a common slogan. But that does underlie some of the street harassment and groping that many foreign women experience here, so it’s interesting in its own right.

As is the irony and hypocrisy of Yahoo! Korea posting such an article in the first place too. For Korean portal sites are virtually like The Sun newspaper in their content, tone, and adherence to journalistic ethics, like I said of them last year:

Unlike their English-language counterparts, you have roughly a 50% chance of opening Naver, Daum, Nate, Yahoo!Korea, and kr.msn.com to be greeted with headlines and thumbnail pictures about sex scandals, accidental exposures (no-chool;노출) of female celebrities, and/or crazed nude Westerners.

And indeed, scroll to the bottom of Yahoo! Korea as I type this, and just today’s “image galleries” below include lingerie photoshoots and “beautiful Russian news anchors”, let alone the links on the rest of the site.

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Presumed Causes of Racism Against Interracial Couples in Korea


( Sources – left: GR X Hermark; right )

Over at a recent post on Noona Blog: Seoul, an excellent blog written by a Swedish woman in a relationship with a Korean man, currently there’s several interesting comments about the sources of racism often directed against Korean female – Caucasian male (KF-CM) couples in Korea.

Many of which were written by Jake of Asian Male Revolutions, who has the admirable and very necessary goal of challenging the racist and emasculating images of Asian men in the US media through that website.

But in the process of – in my view – very much contriving to paint racism against KF-CM couples in Korea in those terms, as well as global racial power relations, I found he made many extremely sexist assumptions about Korean women, which I’d like to challenge. As technical issues prevent me from doing so at Noona Blog directly however,* then – assuming that you’ve already read his comments – I’ll post my original response here instead:

Dear Jake,

it’s difficult not to sound offensive when critiquing someone’s opinions so harshly. But still, however legitimate your concerns about representations of Asian men in the US media are, you are completely mistaken in assuming that these are also perpetuated by the Korean media, in a culturally imperialist sense.

Indeed, it is simply apologist to ascribe anything but the most minimal of roles to that in attempting to understand racism against KF-CM couples in Korea. Much more seriously though, in so doing you also rely heavily on some extremely patronizing and sexist assumptions about Korean women, let alone racist ones against Caucasian men. Let me explain.

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Korean Sociological Image #47: East End Girls, meet West End Boys

Yes, it had to happen eventually! A big round of applause to Nextour (넥스투어) for producing the very first Korean commercial to feature a Korean woman literally dreaming of having a romantic and/or sexual relationship with a Western man, and with no suggestion that there will be anything but happiness once she succeeds.

New readers shaking your heads in disbelief however, then by all means prove me wrong by finding earlier examples. But before engaging on what I think will ultimately be a long and fruitless search, please consider reading other posts in the “interracial relationships” category, especially here, here, here, here, here, and here. And please also ponder the following quote from Hyun-Mee Kim in her chapter “Feminization of the 2002 World Cup and Women’s Fandom” in Feminist Cultural Politics in Korea, ed. by Jung-Hwa Oh, 2005, pp. 228-243 below on the then unprecedented public attention by Korean women on the bodies of the Korean players in the summer, and which gives a big clue as to why it has taken 8 years(!) for such an essentially innocuous commercial to emerge:

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Korean Sociological Image #46: The Language of Exclusion

 

( Source: Mental Poo; reproduced with permission )

A receipt from a recent visit by blogger My Jihae to an upscale restaurant in Seoul, about which she wrote:

I’m not sure how many restaurants do this, and why this restaurant bothers to do this in the first place, but on the top of the receipt they blatantly keep track of whether the guests are locals or foreigners. They pegged me right away, I guess it’s that obvious.

For those of you that can’t read Korean, for now let’s say that waegookin (외국인) on the right generally means a foreigner, and naegookin (내국인) on the left a Korean person. And that does indeed describe My Jihae and her dining partner respectively, although she is actually Korean-American. But why bother to note the distinction between two ethnically-identical customers at the same table?

Some commenters to her post speculate that it may have been done for taxation purposes, and which as I wrote there, would be something good to know if true, as otherwise:

…many expats (myself included) may simply chalk things like this up to Koreans typically and completely unnecessarily pointing out our foreignness, when in fact they may be nothing of the sort.

And see Occidentalism here and here for a similar case in Japan. Unfortunately however, not all perceived Korean tendencies towards exclusion are simply misunderstandings on the part of non-Koreans.

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Korean Sociological Image #44: Westerners, Nipples, and the Presentation of Sexuality in the Korean Media


( Source: Metro, July 8 2010, p. 7. Cropped slightly)

It’s amazing what pops up in Korean newspapers these days.

Yes, however difficult it may be for overseas readers to believe, that is the actually the first nipple my Korean wife, friends, and I have ever seen in a Korean advertisement. Moreover, it’s probably no coincidence that it belongs to a Caucasian model too, and one that looks like she’s about to get involved in a ménage à trois at that.

Focusing on the nipple first though (as one does), let me provide some context: with the important exception of ubiquitous single-sex bathhouses, Koreans are generally more conservative than Anglophones when it comes to public nudity. Topless males are extremely rare away from beaches, swimming pools, and concert stages for instance, and topless females unheard of, let alone full nudists of either sex (recall also that just 5-10 years ago, women even covered their swimsuits with t-shirts too). In addition, while female celebrities have been showing a lot of cleavage in recent years, this trend has yet to be adopted by ordinary women, whom can expect just as much unwanted attention if they accidentally leave home bra-less.

However, breast-feeding is generally fine if done discreetly, and indeed one of the first things I noticed in my first time in a Korean supermarket 10 years ago was a brand of milk (or soy milk) that prominently featured a large breast and a suckling baby on its packaging. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name to find an image, but I do also recall that it was by no means hidden away in any sense.

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Korean Sociological Image #43: ESL Students on Top?

( Source: Gusts of Popular Feeling. Reproduced with permission )

A recent advertisement for the Pagoda chain of language institutes noticed by Matt of Gusts of Popular Feeling, who notes that the attraction “is clearly for women to get close to, to have one on one communication with, and to have almost direct contact with the male foreign teacher.”

In any other context this would be unremarkable, but unfortunately the Korean media is notorious for presenting foreign male – Korean female relationships either negatively or not at all (although this is slowly improving). So this advertisement really stands out for the rare, quite literal closeness of the models in it, albeit not necessarily in a romantic sense.

In contrast, Japanese language institutes have already been advertising this way for a long time, as noted by Keiron Bailey in his 2006 journal article Marketing the eikaiwa wonderland: ideology, akogare, and gender alterity in English conversation school advertising in Japan. Two examples from that, both from 2002:

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Dating in Korea: A Request

제시카 고메즈
( Sources: left, right )

Well, the good news is that I’ve been asked to write an article on dating in Korea for a local magazine. But I need your help!

To be specific, I’m going to discuss blogs about dating in Korea, of which a great many seemed to have been formed in the past year or so, either devoted entirely to that topic or mentioning it frequently. And of these, the vast majority seem to be by women, which leads me to the following questions that I can’t answer by myself:

1. Do you also think that there has been a big increase in their numbers? How about those written by women in general? Of course I’ve noticed a definite increase personally, but then I’ve gone from reading perhaps 5 blogs a day in 2007 (when I starting blogging) to subscribing to perhaps 80 today just for keeping up with news related to my niches and new material, so it may just be because I’m noticing them for the first time.

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