Korean Sociological Image #42: Sunset for the Red She-Devils?

James Turnbull's picture


( Source: ROKetship. Reproduced with permission. )

Like Joe McPherson of ZenKimchi fame says of the above cartoon, either way, it’s a win for my gender, so I was surprised that this was the first time I’d ever really noticed this curious Korean social more.

For those of you still at a loss however, yahada (야하다) generally means “too revealing” if it’s about clothes, and “too sexual” if it’s about anything else, like a conversation topic; alternatively, nomu pa-ee-da (너무 파이다) could have been used instead, which literally means “dug too much”. So, it’s a commentary on the difference in what is considered revealing clothing by Koreans and Western expats, and something which of course expat women have long been well aware of(!), congratulating ROKetship artist Luke Martin for his astuteness in droves on his Facebook page. One of them, Kelly in Korea, wrote on her blog:

So true. Showing your shoulders or chest will definitely get you stares from the older crowd and young men, while lotsa leg is okay. That being said, I feel like I see more Korean girls showing shoulder this summer than last—is that just me? Regardless, now that the full heat of summer is upon us, I have stopped worrying so much about societal dress codes and just wear whatever keeps me from passing out in the midday sun.

And for all my lapses, I think that there’s definitely something to that change. How long-lasting it is however, literally remains to be seen.

Why? Because as I’ve written here, here, here, and here (for starters), squads of daring female soccer fans known as oppa budae (오빠 부대) did have a dramatic and permanent effect on what were considered acceptable standards of dress for Korean women during the 2002 World Cup. But then it’s also true that many people that had tolerated their croptops, say, were much less willing to do so the next summer once they were no longer in the service of a national cause, which again just goes to show that revealing clothing (or suggestive dancing) should never be taken as a proxy for female sexual liberation.

In that vein, I’ve often wanted to do an empirical study of advertisements in various men’s and women’s Korean magazines for the summers before, during, and after the 2002, 2006, and 2010 World Cups, hypothesizing that there would be definite peaks in World Cup years. But note that those would not just be because of young women hoping to emulate Shin Mina and “Elf Girl’s” examples, who become famous overnight for, well, little more than having good bodies and wearing skimpy “Red Devil” (붉은악마) costumes like those above (source); that isn’t why oppa budae women were wearing them in 2002 (Shin Mina was only noticed once the games were almost over), and surely only accounted for very few in 2006 and 2010 too.*

Moreover, for anyone lucky enough to have been in Korea during any of the summers of 2002, 2006, and now 2010, you don’t need me to tell you that Koreans tend to let their inhibitions go during the World Cup, and that at the very least the normal standards for clothing didn’t apply; indeed, it would be very strange if – à la Rosie the Riveter – Korean women returned to their formally conservative ways afterwards. Accordingly, I’d also expect that study to show an increase in revealing advertisements for the period overall (although of course many factors would be responsible), and so while I don’t expect to see many croptops on Korean streets in the summer of 2011 unfortunately, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the fashion in, say, 2015, or 2016. After all, recall that women didn’t even use to wear bikinis at the beach just 8 years ago!

What do you think? Either way, I’m perfectly serious about that study, in which I would using Erving Goffman’s 1979 Gender Advertisements framework (see here, here, and here), and would publish the results in a journal article; unfortunately I can’t do it alone though, so any Korea Studies geeks, please contact me if you’re interested (but be warned it would be rather more tedious than it sounds!). Meanwhile, see here, here, here, here, here, and here for more insights from ROKetship about Korean attitudes to fashion and body-image, (the last may be a little confusing though: see Scribblings of the Metropolitican for an explanation), and of course there’s many more about other aspects of Korean life that all expats will identify with!

* That’s unlikely to be repeated in light of entertainment companies using it to market their female stars in 2010, prompting a backlash)

(Posted at The Grand Narrative)

(For all posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here)


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I completely agree with the

I completely agree with the above comment, the internet is with a doubt growing into the most important medium of communication across the globe and its due to sites like this that ideas are spreading so quickly.

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