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James Turnbull's picture

The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: Part 4

 

( Source )

“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?

James Turnbull's picture

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.

James Turnbull's picture

Lessons about Korean ads from a Hong Kong Teenager

How cool is it that a teenage girl in any country makes a video starting like this:

Now, I’ve been here [in Hong Kong] for about…3 and a half years…and I think that if you look at common stereotypes, and you look at the way women are portrayed in the media, there are basically 3 main categories of role models for young girls to look up to. I call them: the sex-object, the virgin baby-machine, and the [bitchy] career woman. And the thing is, I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t matter which category a woman finds herself falling into…cause they all suck! And no matter what she chooses, she just can’t win!

Without deriving from her arguments, many commenters at Sociological Images note that those categories are equally valid in many other developed countries. But as pointed out by Emma, some of the things she mentions are at least more pronounced in the Northeast-Asian region:

…there are a lot of similarities between gender dynamics in HK and many other places in the world, but I do feel the dictate of virtue/virginity is especially strong here, along with a notion of ‘cuteness’ which I do not really recognize from Europe. I would say that the ‘sex babe’ model is not really something you see played out that much in daily life – it’s mostly confined to celebrity culture…

…I also know women from Japan and Korea, who tell me it is still very difficult for many women to balance between having a career and being ‘the good wife’, meaning a modest and submissive mother who mainly spends her energy on the family and the home-sphere.

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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.

James Turnbull's picture

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)

James Turnbull's picture

Korean Photoshop Disaster #7: I Hate You Lee Soo-kyeong…

( Sources: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th )

No, not really. But after eating Special K (스페셜K) for years thinking that it was low-fat, only to just discover that it actually has more fat than regular cornflakes, then it’s high time to call Kellogg’s out on the appalling photoshopping of her that’s been greeting me every morning.

See how she compares in real life to the Barbie dolls above:

( Source )

But don’t get me wrong: while she could certainly do with a bit more sun, I still find her attractive (and love her expression at the top-left!). Yet lacking even a hint of an hourglass figure however, then why on Earth was she chosen to be the model for a product purporting to give you one? Because of Korean advertising’s over-reliance on star appeal perhaps?

Alas, more likely it’s because Korean consumers aren’t actually all that concerned with photoshopping. For not only do they regularly have it done on their own resume photos for instance, but there are even products on the market claiming to give women an “X-line” too, despite the inconvenient fact that it is physically impossible for a human to ever possess such a body shape:

James Turnbull's picture

Blood Type Condoms?

 

With thanks to Cate Newton of phlebotomist.net for passing it on, here is her handy infographic on the practice of blood typing, which notes the wide variety of blood type-themed products in Japan despite there being no scientific validity to the practice whatsoever.

Known as hyeolaek-hyeong in Korean (혈액형), the practice is also popular here, and definitely a common theme in advertising (such as for kiwifruit and soft drinks). But there are far less actual products available though, and certainly not condoms.

Perhaps because people would be confused? After all, is the required condom type determined by the blood-type of the wearer, or of his partner?

Putting aside the fact that the question itself reveals how completely inane the product is, then I’m guessing the former. Otherwise, some pretty big wallets would be required when heading out for a night on the town…

Any Japan-based readers that can confirm that though, then do please fill me in!^^

Update: See here for a blood-type condom vending machine in Japan.

(Posted at The Grand Narrative)

James Turnbull's picture

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.

James Turnbull's picture

“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.

James Turnbull's picture

Korean Sociological Image #50: The Depths of the Red Ginseng Craze

Are commercials for this product really the same the world over? Put that to the test by quickly trying to guess what is being advertised above, before all is revealed at o:10.

For non-Korean speakers, the powder shown is a combination of ganghwa-yagssoog (강화약쑥), or “medicinally strengthening” mugwort, and hongsam-paoodeo (홍삼파우더), or red ginseng powder. And surely there is no greater testament to believing in its health benefits than by being prepared to use it in the most intimate of places?

Lest my bashful euphemism for VAGINAS detract from that point however, do recall that during the 2008 protests against US beef imports for instance, many Koreans genuinely believed baseless rumors that Mad Cow Disease could be caught via the gelatin used in sanitary napkins. So it makes perfect sense for aptly-named manufacturer Body Fit (바디피트) to capitalize on the belief that what’s inside sanitary napkins can have direct effects on the wearer’s health.

Indeed, red ginseng in particular is even rumored to be an aphrodisiac too.

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