Korean Democratization

James Turnbull's picture

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.

James Turnbull's picture

Sex as Power in the South Korean Military: A Follow-up

 

( Source )

Unfortunately, there is endemic sexual abuse within the South Korean military, which has grave implications for a society with universal male conscription: each year, perhaps 15% of 250,000 conscripts experience sexual abuse as either victims or perpetrators.

That figure comes from the journal article “Sexual Violence Among Men in the Military in South Korea” by Insook Kwon et. al., Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol. 22, No. 8, 1024-1042 (2007), in which I was happy to read that much of the researchers’ data was obtained by interviews with soldiers in their barracks with the official cooperation of the Ministry of Defense. Signs of changing attitudes? Alas no, as I have just discovered that it still remains one of the least transparent institutions in Korea:

When the Cheonan sank [in March], the initial reaction was shock and sadness, which quickly gave way to rage: with a government accused of dragging its feet, but also with a military that seemed unprepared for a North Korean attack.

But anger with the military runs deeper than over a single event. Mistrust of the institution is widespread because it has failed to open itself up, using the excuse of national security, while the rest of the country has embraced democracy.

James Turnbull's picture

Korean Sociological Image #41: Mothers of Warriors

( Source )

A quick question: who would you choose to sell hormone-treatment and anti-depression medication to middle-aged women?

Barring Bae Young-joon (배용준) above, notoriously popular among them, then I’d wager that middle-aged women themselves were your most likely answer. And your least likely? Probably men in their early-20s, which begs the question of why they’re the only ones actually speaking in the following commercial from Dongkook Pharmaceutical (see below for a translation):

Of course, the reason the young men are featured at all is because Korea has universal male conscription, which makes parting scenes like those featured above a normal part of the Korean life-cycle. So while the leaving ceremony itself may be unfamiliar to most Western observers, a company encouraging consumers to associate its product with it is really no different from a bank using imagery of, say, children’s university graduation ceremonies to sell retirement savings plans.

Still, that’s not to say that it’s just any old commercial. For in simultaneously relying on but quite literally denying a voice to emotional Korean mothers, Dongkook Pharmaceutical has ironically provided an apt illustration of Korean women’s wider role in any public debates about military conscription. Which is in short, to be seen and not heard, frequently spoken for but otherwise only noticeable for their absence in rare policy debates, editorials, and opinion pieces and so forth on the subject in the media.

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