Korean Sexuality

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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.

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“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.

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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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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.

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Men Can’t Get Raped in Korea?

 

( Source )

But in Korea at least, perhaps the most appropriate revenge would have been to inflict the same back on the rapists? For I’ve just been shocked to learn that legally speaking, men can’t actually be the victims of rape here.

In fairness however, Korea is by no means the only jurisdiction that strictly defines rape as non-consensual penile penetration of the vagina, so perhaps my reaction was quite naive. But still, recall that not only is spousal rape not a crime, and that the Korean Bar Association remains opposed to its criminalization, but that there is also endemic sexual violence within the military, so it’s not like some decidedly archaic notions of sexual identity and rape don’t still exist both in theory and in practice in Korea.

Accordingly, the fact that males can’t be raped is not so much highlighted as taken for granted in the webtoon Judge Byeon Hak-do’s Puzzling Law Questions (알쏭달쏭 변학도 판사의 법률이야기) below, instead focusing on the question of if a rapist of a male to female transsexual would be charged with rape or indecent assault instead, concluding that as the victims are not considered women in Korean society then it would be the latter. And indeed as of 2006, only 25 transsexuals had been successful (and 26 denied) in their applications to change their legal gender, easily the most famous being entertainer Harisu (하리수) and model Choi Han-bit (최한빛) below:

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Korean Photoshop Disaster #6: I like it hot, strong, and black!

( Source )

Do men pay more attention to men’s chests than women?

As a gym addict 10-15 years ago, I read somewhere in a newspaper that they do. And with my self-confidence back then wholly tied to how much I buffed up, it certainly matched my own experience.

Unfortunately for the sake of objectivity though, it’s been difficult not to remember that every time I’ve seen a topless man ever since. One look at Changmim of 2AM half-naked and holding his crotch in a coffee ad then, and all I could think about was the large, firm package that used to be the weekend edition of the New Zealand Herald.

Naturally enough, most commenters at allkpop and Omona! They Didn’t focused on the one that Changmin was allegedly holding in his left hand instead, and I’m going to take a wild guess that most of those were heterosexual women. Perhaps that explains why so few noticed the appalling photoshop job on his chest?^^

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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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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.

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Korean Sociological Image #44: Westerners, Nipples, and the Presentation of Sexuality in the Korean Media


( Source: Metro, July 8 2010, p. 7. Cropped slightly)

It’s amazing what pops up in Korean newspapers these days.

Yes, however difficult it may be for overseas readers to believe, that is the actually the first nipple my Korean wife, friends, and I have ever seen in a Korean advertisement. Moreover, it’s probably no coincidence that it belongs to a Caucasian model too, and one that looks like she’s about to get involved in a ménage à trois at that.

Focusing on the nipple first though (as one does), let me provide some context: with the important exception of ubiquitous single-sex bathhouses, Koreans are generally more conservative than Anglophones when it comes to public nudity. Topless males are extremely rare away from beaches, swimming pools, and concert stages for instance, and topless females unheard of, let alone full nudists of either sex (recall also that just 5-10 years ago, women even covered their swimsuits with t-shirts too). In addition, while female celebrities have been showing a lot of cleavage in recent years, this trend has yet to be adopted by ordinary women, whom can expect just as much unwanted attention if they accidentally leave home bra-less.

However, breast-feeding is generally fine if done discreetly, and indeed one of the first things I noticed in my first time in a Korean supermarket 10 years ago was a brand of milk (or soy milk) that prominently featured a large breast and a suckling baby on its packaging. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name to find an image, but I do also recall that it was by no means hidden away in any sense.

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Korean Sociological Image #43: ESL Students on Top?

( Source: Gusts of Popular Feeling. Reproduced with permission )

A recent advertisement for the Pagoda chain of language institutes noticed by Matt of Gusts of Popular Feeling, who notes that the attraction “is clearly for women to get close to, to have one on one communication with, and to have almost direct contact with the male foreign teacher.”

In any other context this would be unremarkable, but unfortunately the Korean media is notorious for presenting foreign male – Korean female relationships either negatively or not at all (although this is slowly improving). So this advertisement really stands out for the rare, quite literal closeness of the models in it, albeit not necessarily in a romantic sense.

In contrast, Japanese language institutes have already been advertising this way for a long time, as noted by Keiron Bailey in his 2006 journal article Marketing the eikaiwa wonderland: ideology, akogare, and gender alterity in English conversation school advertising in Japan. Two examples from that, both from 2002:

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