Being female in Korea

…and why we need English teachers…

and why Korean choreographers need to be lined up and shot.


“if you wanna pretty.  every wanna pretty.”

and maybe their lyricists too…

This hugely popular song is one of the biggest jokes amongst all of us English teachers, one that is totally lost on the population here.

But what concerns me most is not turning an adjective into an infinitive and then a verb, it’s the way in which the girls are portrayed.  THIS is the pinnacle of attractiveness in a young female here.

She must:

  • remain forever a child to control
  • she is allowed to be sexy  through coyness
  • yet must retain some innocence – through cutesy actions and perkiness

I am guessing aside from the ample amount of leg shown, not much has changed in the past fifty years.  No.  I’m not guessing.  If these old movies I watch are any indication, it is still the same society.  The women are there as vestal virgins, and if they aren’t virgins they are whores, so that virginal demeanor must be extended as long as humanly possible.

This will seem like a non-sequitor, but bear with me:  some of the foreigners here have walked into night clubs and been kicked out for not being Korean.  That’s because here in Korea a night club is what is known as a booking club in Korea-towns in the states.  It is a socially acceptable way for Korean women to hook up and still put up the front of being virginal.  It’s a compromise between Confuscian male/female heirarchy and modern loose morals.  So women come together in groups, for the appearance of chaperoneing one another.  They dance with each other, and then interested men pay a waiter to inform the girls of their interest.  The waiter then drags the girl, protesting, over to the men’s tables where they have a sort of speed date and the girl gets to chat politely or excuse herself saying her friends are waiting, or arrange to meet the guy for sex later and excuse herself from her friends.  It’s also a way for married women to have casual sex on the side by calling it going out with girlfriends.  And it’s a way for Korean men to meet dozens of girls in one evening.  And this is why it’s NOT okay for foreigners.  And the reason I’m bringing it up is because it’s 2009 and it’s crazy to me that all this protocol has to be invented and acted out just to get down and dirty.  And this is one reason I can’t go to a bar and have a drink by myself, because I would attract only those who had no good intentions because obviously if I had any class, I would at the very least be at a night club or at church.

And it’s because women’s status here hasn’t really changed at all.  Their primary purpose in life is still to meet a man and get married, and then produce offspring.  And the way to a man’s heart is by being forever childlike.  And so the women here are infantalized all the time.  And it drives me insane.

And it kind of hurts me too, because children ARE sexy.  Because sex is often power and children are vulnerable.  And a female girl-child/woman-child, sheltered to an extreme and conditioned to attract will often put themselves in vulnerable positions and then not be able to take care of themselves.  And then we end up with naive pregnant girls and babies relinquished out of shame and hopes to restore some manner of virginity. For what is a slut anyway, except a person who’s lost hope of ever restoring their dignity?  And for many of these child-women in this framework, sometimes it only takes one mis-step to be sentenced to being one.  So bastard children must be sent away and erased, as if any transgressions never took place, in the hopes there might still remain a place for them in society.

This shit has got to end.  The cuteness has got to stop.  The women need to empower themselves and find personal satisfaction  that elevates them above these ancient social structures.  The girls need to have a time in their lives where they are women before bearing children.  These women need to learn to love themselves and their bodies for themselves and not for how they are valued by others. And they need to stop imposing this cycle upon their own children…

I want to help single mothers keep their babies and take pride in that effort.  I want to improve social welfare for women subject to domestic abuse.  I want to keep privileged white women away from Korea’s children long enough for there not to be a reason or need for transracial, international adoption.

I mean to be a monkey wrench in this machine.  Somehow, some way.

3 thoughts on “Being female in Korea

  1. I spent a few months in SK in the late 90s and was so glad to get back to Canada where it was so much less fraught just being female. I loved being in Korea, but the constant infantalisation of women drove me batsh*t. It’s a shame it seems that nothing’s changed.

  2. Yeah. I’m guessing (from what I read on old teacher forums) that the shorts are shorter and the stilettos are higher. There are more women graduating from college, but very few that keep their careers after marrying and having children.

    I think things change superficially, but real social change is at a crawl.

    What concerns me is the lack of REAL role models for young girls, who are constantly barraged with images of the ideal woman/child by the media. It’s a high-tech western magic show, but actually there’s only an old Confuscian wizard speaking behind the curtain.

  3. I asked my co-teacher how she could stand wearing stilettos all day and doesn’t it hurt her feet? She replied that yes, it is uncomfortable but they are prettier.

    “We call them our ‘flash’ shoes. They are flash because men like them, so that’s why we wear them.”

    I don’t think they can see how they are fetish objects (child-dolls) wearing actual fetish paraphernalia…or how they forfeit their own power by allowing themselves to be objectified as such.

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