Korean Feminism

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It’s Official: UNDP Says Korea Now Feminist Paradise (NOT April 1 Joke!)

 

(Source: unknown)

If there was only one statistic that best sums up contemporary Korean society, then that would be its “Gender Empowerment Measure” (GEM). Calculated by the UNDP, it is:

…an indicator of women’s degree of participation in political and economic activity and the policy-making process, using for its evaluation factors such as the number of female legislators, the percentage of women in senior official and managerial positions, the percentage of women in professional and technical positions, and the income differential between men and women (source).

Or, to put it graphically (see here for more details):

And why Korea’s GEM is so revealing is not just because of its abysmal ranking, which, at 68th out of 179 countries surveyed, is bested even by developing countries such as Kyrgyzstan, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Vietnam, Moldova, Botswana, and Nicaragua. Rather, it’s because that rank is so out of sync with its other rank of 25 in the Human Development Index (HDI), which measures a country’s  standard of living. Surely, as I explained two years ago, there is no greater testament to the palpable gender apartheid here, than the fact that Korea does such a good job of educating and taking care of the health its citizens, only then to effectively exclude fully half of them from political and economic power?

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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace & the 2001 Equal Employment Opportunity Law: What Still Needs to be Done

 

(Source)

With thanks very much to Marilyn for the translation of the following article from Ildaro (일다), I’ll quickly let it speak for itself:

>고용불안 속, 직장내 성희롱 위협 커져

In the midst of employment instability, the threat of workplace sexual harassment increases

고용평등상담실 10년, 여성노동의 현실과 미래를 말한다(2)

10th year of the Equal Employment Counseling Office, discussing female employees’ present and future

[편집자 주] 2001년 남녀고용평등법 4차 개정으로 고용평등상담실 지원제도가 도입된 지 10년이 되었습니다. 민간단체들의 고용평등상담실은 그동안 여성노동자들의 실질적 보호장치로 기능해왔으며, 여성노동자들이 처한 현실을 사회에 고발하는 창구역할을 해왔습니다. 일다는 여성노동자회와 함께 고용평등상담실에 접수된 상담사례를 통해 IMF 경제 위기 이후 후퇴 일로를 걷고 있는 여성노동의 현실과 과제를 살펴보고자 합니다. 필자 황현숙님은 현재 서울여성노동자회 회장을 맡고 있습니다.

우 리 사회의 성폭력 문제는 온 국민이 알게 된 끔찍한 아동 성폭행, 유명 정치인의 성희롱 등으로 자주 언론에 오르내리는 이슈가 되었다. 직장내 성희롱으로 고용평등상담실의 문을 두드리는 여성들의 호소 또한 가벼운 성적 농담이나 접촉을 넘어서 심지어는 강간에 이르는 경우조차 발생되고 있다. 직장내 성희롱은 그 자체가 미치는 정신적․신체적 악영향, 노동환경의 악화뿐만 아니라 일자리 자체까지 위협받게 된다는 데에 그 심각성이 있다.

[Editor’s note] It’s been 10 years since the Equal Employment Counseling Office support system was introduced through the 4th Amendment to the 2001 Equal Employment Opportunity Law.  During that time, the Equal Employment Counseling Offices of private organizations have been functioning as female workers’ practical safeguards and have acted as liaisons that report to society the realities that female workers encounter. Through the case consultations received in the Equal Employment Counseling Office, Ilda and the Women Workers Association intend to look at the realities and problems of women workers, who are losing ground after the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.   Author Hwang Hyun-sook  is the current head of the Seoul Women Workers Association.

Through incidents of horrible child molestation, a famous politician’s sexual harassment, and others of which the entire nation is aware, our society’s problem with sexual violence has become an issue that often comes up in the press.  According to the complaints of women workers who’ve knocked on the Equal Employment Counseling Office’s door because of sexual harassment, there are also cases occurring that surpass light sexual jokes or touching to go as far as rape.  Workplace sexual harassment itself not only has bad mental and physical effects and worsens work environments, but is even of such a magnitude that jobs themselves [of victims] may be threatened.

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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?

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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.

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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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Groping in Korea: How Bad Is It Really?

( Source: leftycartoons )

Not that I ever really did think that women should consider street harassment as flattering of course.  But this cartoon is eerily effective in getting that message across, and it’s no wonder that’s it’s received nearly 300 comments over at Sociological Images.

Naturally, it’s made me curious as to how bad street harassment in Korea personally, and now I realize that I’ve largely overlooked that in favor of covering workplace discrimination on the blog, and most recently the landmark sexual harassment lawsuit against Samsung.

I did know about bbikkies (삐끼) though, or men that literally drag attractive women into nightclubs to encourage men to spend their money there (see here also); that Korean dating culture actually condones stalking; that this sometimes affects foreign women (see #12 here); and that Caucasian women especially are hypersexualized by the Korean media and/or often get confused for Russian prostitutes; and so on.

But groping? I’ve never really thought about it, except in passing: after all, what guy does?

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Fighting Sexual Harassment at Samsung: Part 3

( Source )

This post, about Lee Eun-eui’s successful suit against Samsung Electronics for sexual harassment by her boss and then being punished for reporting it, follows directly from Part 1 and Part 2. If you haven’t already, please read those before continuing:

소송과정에서 가장 힘들었던 점은?

What has been the most difficult thing in the whole legal process for you?

회사에서는 내가 거짓말 한다고 했다. 인권위에서나 법원에서 회사의 주 변론이 ‘원하는 부서에 배치 받으려고 있지도 않은 성희롱을 했다고 주장한다’라는 거였다. 그럴 때마다 수치스러웠다. 주로 남자들이 있는 자리에서 내가 당했던 일을 말하는 게 쉬운 일도 아니었고.

처음 성희롱이 몸의 수치였다면, 사내에서 가해진 왕따는 영혼의 수치였고, 그 이후 회사의 반응들은 영혼과 몸을 다 부정당한 기분이었다. 내가 나의 성을 팔아야 할 만큼 부서배치나 승진이 대단한가? 매번 그런 사실을 법원에서 인권위에서 해명할 때마다 느꼈던 좌절감이 오늘의 나를 만들어 준 것 같다. 분노로 담금질 됐다. 회사는 나를 괴물같이 보겠지. 퇴사하지도 않고 심지어 (소송에서) 이기기까지 했으니. 그렇지만 나는 이런 ‘괴물’을 만든 건 회사라고 본다. 나는 원래 그런 존재가 아니었는데, 나를 자꾸 흔들어서 내가 살기 위해 움직이다 보니까 이 자리까지 온 거다.

잠시 숨을 고르던 이씨는 신입사원 시절, 연수원에서 배웠던 ‘도덕성ㆍ에티켓ㆍ인간미’를 이야기 했다. 그는 “유치하고 뻔 한 말이지만, 그 세 가지가 지켜졌다면 없었을 일이 황유미ㆍ박지연(삼성전자에서 일하던 중 백혈병으로 사망)씨였고 나였다”라고 말했다.

Samsung Electronics saying that I was lying. Their response to the Human Rights Commission and the Court was that I was simply accusing my boss of sexual harassment in order to get the position I wanted within the department. I felt really ashamed and humiliated whenever I heard that. And it was especially difficult to talk about it when there were men around (source, right).

At first, the sexual harassment made me feel ashamed and humiliated bodily, but then when I was ostracized within the company my spirit felt that way too, and because of the company’s reaction I felt such a sense of injustice and frustration both mentally and physically. Was being promoted within the company so important that I had to sell myself sexually? Whenever I had to explain the fact of what happened to the Human Rights Commission or in the Court, I felt such a sense of frustration and discouragement, and that’s made me what I’m like today. But my anger was sated, and the company will look at me as a monster from now on. However, I wasn’t originally like that, it’s what the company made me; because they kept pressing so hard, I had to hold my ground just to survive and get on with my life.

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Fighting Sexual Harassment at Samsung: Part 2

( “What? Sexual Harassment at Samsung Electronics?? Heaven Forbid!”. Source )

This post, about Lee Eun-eui’s successful suit against Samsung Electronics for sexual harassment by her boss and then being punished for reporting it, follows directly from Part 1. If you haven’t already, please read that before continuing:

블로그에 “1 레이싱이 얼추 막이 내렸다라고 썼더라. 1 레이싱을 뛰고 소감이 어떤가.

On your blog, you wrote that”The First Round is almost over”. How do feel about that?

아직 실감이 잘 안 난다. 꿈꾸는 것 같다. 회사가 항소를 할 건지 안 할 건지에 따라 바뀌겠지만, 지금은 해묵은 숙제를 끝내고 조금 쉴 수 있는 시간이다(삼성은 “내부적으로 법률적인 판단을 거친 뒤 항소 여부를 결정할 것이다”라고 밝혔다). 판결 뒤 며칠 편하게 잠을 잤다. 사건을 겪으면서 죽고 싶다는 생각도 많이 했다. 내가 일하는 건물(수원 삼성전기 본사)에서 죽을까, 삼성 본관이 있는 강남이나 태평로로 갈까…생각하면서. 그런데서 죽었으면 신문에 한 줄이라도 날까? 결국 살아서 싸우니까 좋은 결과를 본다고 판단했다. 삼성 사건 치고는 기사도 많이 나왔다(웃음).

It doesn’t feel like it’s real yet. It’s like a dream. Of course, Samsung may yet decide to file an appeal, but for now at least I am finally able to finish all my work related to the case and take a rest (Samsung stated that it will “decide whether or not to file an appeal after discussing the legal judgment within the company”), and I’ve slept soundly in the few days since the judgment was handed down. While the case was going on, I often thought of killing myself, but wondered whether to do it at my workplace (Suwon Samsung Electronics branch), at Samsung’s headquarters in Gangnam, or on Taepyeong Road [in front of Seoul City Hall - James]…but if I did, would it even get one line in a newspaper? So, I decided to carry on and fight, and in the end I was able to see a good result. And now (laughing) there are many articles about Samsung electronics in the news!

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Fighting Sexual Harassment at Samsung: Part 1

( Source )

Extremely important for its ramifications for Korean workplaces, frankly I’m amazed that I’ve been unable to google any English-language sources on the following sexual-harassment case at Samsung. Perhaps the Korean English-language media still feels intimated by the company, let alone the Korean-language one?

Either way, it deserves to be much more widely known, and if I’d realized that when commenter “previouslyafter” first passed it on, I certainly wouldn’t have had a month’s break from blogging immediately thereafter! My apologies for the delay then, and to make the long article from Sisain more readable, I’ve decided to split it into 3 parts, especially as there are some important questions raised by the first. Which for the sake of accuracy and context, I would really appreciate readers’ help with answering before continuing translating Part 2:

삼성에 맞선 ‘만년 이 대리’의 기적 같은 승리

A Miracle-like Victory in a Long-time Deputy Section Chief Lee’s Stand Against Samsung

by Jang Il-ho (장일호), 28/04/10

뒷목과 머리카락으로 부서장의 손이 오고갔다. 브래지어 끈을 만지작거리는 날도 있었다. 해외 출장을 갔던 2005년의 어느 날, 부서장 박아무개씨는 엉덩이를 치면서 “상사를 잘 모시라”는 말을 하기도 했다. 삼성전기 전자영업팀에 근무하던 이은의 대리(36)는 지금도 그날의 수치를 잊지 못한다.

2005년 6월, 이은의씨는 더 이상 견딜 수 없어 부서장 박아무개씨한테 당한 성희롱 피해를 회사 인사팀에 알렸다. 그러나 돌아온 것은 부서장이 아닌 자신의 대기발령이었고, 부서전환, 그리고 왕따였다.

Park, the department head, would quickly touch the hair on her back of her neck with his hand. One day, he fondled the strap of her bra. And once while on a business trip in 2005, he stroked her buttocks while telling her “You should obey your superiors”. Deputy Section Chief Lee Eun-eui (36), who worked for Samsung’s electronic appliances’ sales team, still can’t lose the sense of shame and disgrace she felt on that day.

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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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