Korean Sexuality

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James Turnbull's picture

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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Sex and the University, Part 3: University Students’ Cohabitation Culture

( Live Together, 2007. Source )

Much to my regret later, I never properly met any Koreans in New Zealand before I first came here.

But by coincidence, a Korean woman replaced me in my last flat after I left. And as my ex-flatmates soon gleefully reported, she was the perfect flatmate, paying her share of the rent without ever actually spending so much as a single night there.

Glee rapidly turned to genuine concern though, as she completely disappeared a week after moving her stuff in, not answering her cell-phone at all for 2 weeks.

Alas, once she was back from her trip home(!), she explained she was actually living with her Korean boyfriend at his place. But, lest she be caught with him by her parents back in Korea somehow, she needed a separate address and home phone number, and a pretend bedroom just in case they made a surprise visit.

And once they were in the loop, then naturally that was fine with her flatmates, and she would end up spending less than, say, 4-5 hours a week there for the next 6 months.

( Source )

Of course, I’m sure she had good reasons for what she did. And even 10 years later, openly cohabiting is a big taboo in Korea, testament to which is the fact Korean portal sites like Naver require age verification for you to search for anything related to donggeo, “동거”, the Korean word for cohabitation, placing it on a par with pornography and so on.

Granted, along with pregnancy, couples are generally forgiven if they have already made arrangements to marry, or at least do so shortly after being discovered.  But as a Seoul-based friend who wrote his MA thesis on them frequently lamented, that means it can be near impossible just to find cohabiting couples, let alone ones willing to talk about their experiences with a researcher.

Still, that’s not to say that they don’t exist, and fortunately amorous Yonsei University couples at least don’t seem to need to go to quite such extremes to hide their living arrangements, as the third of four articles on the “Sex and the University” theme from the Yonsei Chunchu (연세춘추) campus newspaper explains. Not really giving any background on the subject though, if you haven’t already then I recommend reading this short introductory article I wrote for the Korea Times before starting here, and it also has a list of links to many other related posts for anyone further interested.

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Reading the Lolita Effect in Korea, Part 2: The role of K-pop and the Korean media in sexual socialization and the formation of body image

A simply surreal video making the rounds at the moment. As explained by Lisa at Sociological Images, it:

…beautifully illustrates the socialization of children into particular kinds of worship. With hand motions, body movements, and facial expressions, this child is doing a wonderful job learning the culturally-specific rules guiding the performance of devotion.

Which led to a great deal of discussion at that site, but I’ll confine myself here to echoing Jason’s comment that it simply reminds him of his son picking up his own behaviors such as sweeping, and that the young girl:

…certainly isn’t worshiping here, but is just mimicking her parents and the other people around her. I can guarantee she has no concept of a deity.

But what has all that got to do with K-pop, let alone Meenakshi Durham’s The Lolita Effect? Well, because after reading all that, it was very interesting comparing my daughters’ own reactions to KARA’s Lupin just half an hour later. First, those of 4 and half year-old Alice:

Then with her 2 and half year-old sister Elizabeth:

Granted, perhaps you had to be there…and in which case I probably would have removed my laundry from the floor first (sorry). But I didn’t notice it myself, because at the time I was simply transfixed. You see, along with dozens of other K-pop music videos, Alice and Elizabeth must have watched and “danced” to Lupin at least 20 times before that night. But that was the first time that Alice at least seemed to demonstrate that she not only remembered it, but actually knew it very well, and was performing repetitive actions that were recognizably part of the same dance…which she’d demand the chance to do 7 more times before going to bed.

Unfortunately for my paternal pride however, in hindsight she was neither simply copying the music video nor giving her own original interpretation of it: as confirmed by her teacher later, she’s preparing for a Christmas performance at her kindergarten soon, and – yes – she’ll be dancing to Lupin.

So what’s the big deal? After all, while I’m still translating the lyrics myself (or at least I was until my “study” got invaded), they seem harmless enough:

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Sex and the University: Part 2

( Sources: left, right )

With thanks to reader Marilyn for translating it, here is the second of four articles on that theme that were recently published in the Yonsei Chunchu (연세춘추) campus newspaper:

대학생들, 신중하게 즐겨라, 섹스 칼럼니스트 박소현 인터뷰

University students, enjoy cautiously! Interview with sex columnist Park So Hyun

현재 「일간스포츠」에 ‘처녀들의 수다’라는 칼럼을 연재하고 있는 박소현 칼럼니스트의 원래 직업은 방송작가다. 연애칼럼으로 시작해 자연스레 섹스에 관련된 칼럼을 쓰고 있다. 저서로는 『쉿! She it!』『남자가 도망쳤다』가 있다. 섹스에 대해 거리낌없이 글을 쓰지만 보수적인 집안에서 자라 지금도 필명으로 활동하고 있다. 박 칼럼니스트에게 대학생들의 연애와 섹스에 대해 물어봤다.

Park So Hyun, whose column “Single Girls’ Talk” currently appears in ‘Ilgan Sports’, originally wrote for TV programs.  After starting with a dating column, she now naturally writes a column related to sex.  Shh! She it! and He Escaped are among her writings.  Though she writes openly about sex, she grew up in a conservative household and so even now uses a pen-name.   We asked Ms. Park about the love and sex lives of university students.

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Sex and the University: Part 1

( Source )

Well, sex and Yonsei University to be precise, with 4 articles on that theme being published in the latest Yonsei Chunchu (연세춘추) campus newspaper, providing valuable insights into modern Korean students’ sexual experience and attitudes.

Unfortunately for the authors though, Yonsei happens to be a notoriously Christian university. And so according to my anonymous informer, they were actually punished for them in some way.

Details are sketchy at the moment, but the main problem appears to have been a sex survey sent to all students, with the first article below discussing the results. Perhaps the board of trustees was shocked and embarrassed that 1 in 3 Yonsei students are quite happy having one-night stands or something?

연세인, 당신의 성의식은 어떤가요? 대학생 성의식은 개방으로 황새걸음, 사회적 인식은 아직도 뱁새걸음

Yonsei students, how is your awareness of sexual issues? While university students’ awareness is progressing by leaps and bounds, Korean society is still only making baby steps

가장 기본적이고 보편적인 욕구인 동시에 가장 은밀하기도 한 것, 바로 ‘성(性)’이다. 아직 성적인 이야기를 스스럼 없이 털어 놓을 수 없는 한국 사회에서 연세인들은 성에 대해 어떠한 생각을 갖고 있는지 「연세춘추」에서 알아봤다. 설문조사는 이메일을 통해 지난 9월 13일에서 10월 4일까지 약 3주간 진행됐으며 1천287명의 학생들이 이에 답했다.

Sex is the most basic, universal desire, but at the same time it’s also the most private one. And in a society in which people still feel unable to speak frankly and openly about sexual matters, how to find out Yonsei students’ thoughts on them? So, the Yonsei Chunchu conducted an email survey for 3 weeks between the 13th of September and the 4th of October, and received 1,287 replies from students.

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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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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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Newsflash: Korean Doctor Sent to Jail for Performing Abortion, Korean Woman Fined for Planning to Have One

 

( Source: Dramabeans )

Yes, those really did happen in the last couple of months.

Perhaps it was naive of me to be so shocked and surprised however? After all, according to the Korea Herald, “about 30 [doctors] have been brought to the court over the past 5 years, mostly resulting in probation or fines”, so presumably this latest case technically isn’t the first time a Korean doctor has been incarcerated for performing an abortion (for 1 year, with probation for 2 years). And then the Lee Myung-bak Administration did signal it would begin enforcing Korea’s long-ignored abortion laws over a year ago too, in a vain and wholly misguided effort to increase the record-low birthrate, so prosecutions had to emerge sooner or later.

Still, I’d be surprised if this wasn’t the first time a pregnant woman has been fined for just planning an abortion, and according to the law she could even face having her baby in jail herself if she tries again. And the fact that she was charged as a result of her husband informing the police? It sounds positively Dickensian.

Seriously, is he physically confining her to their home as I type this? Is she still allowed to divorce him, or has she been stripped of that right too?

My second surprise was that, yet again, I didn’t actually learn of this important news via any English-language media, but rather via the following humble-looking video passed on to me by my Facebook friend Mee-young Cherry, who in turn found it via her friend Heejung Paik of Gwangju Womenlink (광주여성민우회). Simply a very brief overview of Korean’s draconian abortion laws in the global context rather than a discussion of the cases themselves though, I’ve just translated those parts relevant to Korea below:

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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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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)

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