Korean Families

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

Resisting the Criminalization of Abortion in South Korea

( Source )

Like Lindsay Lohan says, some stories do indeed keep on growing. And the more I’ve learned about abortion in recent weeks, the more certain I am that if it doesn’t become a hot political issue for Lee Myung-bak in the remaining years of his presidency, then it certainly will be if not addressed by his successor.

Not so much because Koreans feel strongly about the issue itself however. Rather, because this is the same president that despite campaign promises not to, immediately tried to abolish the (then) Ministry of Gender Equality for instance. And also, because a year later, he encouraged targeting women for mass layoffs as a solution to the financial crisis.

Criminalizing abortion simply in order to increase the birthrate rate then, is really part and parcel of a wider mentality that is fundamentally failing to get to grips with women’s entrenched inequality here. And perhaps could come be the symbol and/or catalyst for later volatile protests about any number of related issues, much like those in 2008 were never really simply about imported beef.

James Turnbull's picture

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.

James Turnbull's picture

Pink Imperialism?

 

( Source )

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.

James Turnbull's picture

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.

James Turnbull's picture

Korean Sociological Image #45: Modernizing Traditional Korean Clothes

( Source )

For all my love of Korean culture, I’ve never really understood the appeal of modern hanbok (한복).

Primarily, because of their impracticality: after performing the ancestor worship rites known as cha-ryae (차례) in mine at my parents-in-laws’ house on various Korean holidays for instance, I find it very difficult to eat the traditional breakfasts that follow with such baggy sleeves getting in the way, especially at the low tables that most Koreans use. It also has no pockets, no zipper, and can get uncomfortably hot very easily, especially during Chuseok (추석) when the weather can still be quite warm. And my wife has similar problems with hers too, adding that women also seem to find their slightly more elaborate version more uncomfortable than men do theirs.

For those reasons, I fully expected the Wikipedia article on hanbok to mention that despite popular perceptions, only the small elite known as the yangban (양반) ever really wore them historically, who were notorious for being resolutely opposed to performing anything that smacked of physical labor. Was Koreans’ pride in their “national dress” a little misplaced then, and just another invented tradition like the kilt in Scotland?

Alas, it doesn’t say, although it does seem reasonable to suppose that practical considerations were undoubtedly more important for the bulk of the population. But what the article does demonstrate though, is that the hanbok has as rich and varied a history as, say, the Western suit (it was naive of me to be surprised at that), and the frequent changes in the various forms and usages of the garment over time indicate that its role as a signifier of class, status, and occupation was much more complicated than I first thought.

Still, I can’t think of a more unflattering garment for women.

James Turnbull's picture

The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: News Flash

( Source: Metro, Busan edition, 8 July 2010, p. 3 )

A quick newspaper report that caught my eye while preparing the next post in this series.

Of course, I was a little disappointed that it discussed “average” smoking rates for men and women, an essentially useless concept given the diversity within each gender, and also widely inaccurate for women because of chronic underreporting by them. But that is to be expected for a free daily, and for what it’s worth it was interesting to see that Korean men retained the dubious honor of having one of the highest rates in the world. It also takes a step in the right direction by pointing out that female teenagers tend to start smoking much earlier than males too, which will hopefully result in more attention being given to that group:

People Would Consider Quitting if Cigarettes Cost 8500 won a Packet

James Turnbull's picture

The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: Part 3

( Korea is 4th from right; source )

Apparently, Korea is pretty unique in its huge difference in smoking rates between the sexes: up to 10 times more Korean men smoke than women. Or do they?

In short, probably not: considering that a 2007 Gallup Korea study found that 83.4% of Koreans thought that women should not smoke, then the accuracy of almost all figures are undermined by chronic underreporting by women. Moreover, it is misguided to speak of male or female smoking rates in the first place when those within each gender differ so widely by age, socioeconomic position, and/or marital status. Even unhelpful too, as low perceived rates for women overall have encouraged Korean medical authorities to almost exclusively focus on reducing smoking rates among men instead, overlooking rapidly rising rates among young women especially.

But for all their flaws, it is only natural to want to have some numbers to work with. And so, when I wrote Part 1, my original intention here was to pass on all those provided by 3 recent journal articles on the subject, hopefully providing readers with enough information to get at least a rough idea of the true numbers in the process. Numerous failed drafts later however, I now realize that that approach was a mistake, and should have paid much more attention to the following points by Lee et .al. (2009):

…the limited data available on female smoking prevalence and behaviour in South Korea must be urgently addressed. Data from the Korean National Health and Nutrition Survey (Table 2) suggests female smoking rates have fluctuated significantly between 1980 and 2003, with variations within age groups by year that are difficult to explain. There are also inconsistencies across different data sources which prevent clear understanding of smoking behaviour within specific cohorts by age, location, socio-economic group and other variables.

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.

James Turnbull's picture

The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: Part 2

 

With apologies for the poor quality of the scans, those are from an activity in the ESL activity book Decisionmaker: 14 Business Situations for Analysis and Discussion (1997) by David Evans, which I happened to be doing with my advanced students when a reader sent me the journal articles that inspired this series.  It seemed a pity not to mention the interesting coincidence!

Syndicate content
Powered by Drupal, an open source content management system