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Korean Music Industry Double Standard

FrigginSushi's picture

            In my last web paper, I gave a brief history of Korea and the dynamic religious background that has followed Korea’s development in its fundamental ideas of woman’s relationship to man and vice-versa. Essentially, the stemming of modern discrimination against women, or the dichotomy of the two sexes, could be said to come from Korea’s groundings in Confucianism during the 14th century.

            This web paper will deal with more current notions of female inequality as well as resistance in Korea, pertaining to the Korean Music industry. Sekang linked me in my last web paper to a discussion forum called “The Grand Narrative” where there are tags that link to articles addressing related topics like Korean female beauty standards, Korean advertisement and its influence on body consciousness, and the article that made me interested in this topic called “Korean Boys: “Wearing Hot Pants Says Something About You””. Being a fan of Korean Pop (K-Pop), I’ve seen many articles where Korean Idols—this is what famous celebrities are called by their fans and supporters—are bashed for wearing tiny shorts for stage performances or for advertisements. In late November, Allkpop (a major Korean Pop new source) reported Tiffany (a member of one of the biggest K-Pop girl groups in South Korea, Girls’ Generation) was called out for having shorts that were too short.


Many people took different sides. Her logical fans sided with her on the open forum of the article, explaining that idols are given these clothes by stylists who work for their label companies to wear during performances so it wasn’t Tiffany’s choice. Those who were attacking her said that she should have refused to wear them; they are too exposing and gave the wrong impression of her to her fans. In the comment section, the words “slut” and “whore” popped up a lot. The “neitzens” allkpop sites who are in favor of Tiffany’s shorts say “What a great view!”, “She’s allowed to wear them because she has pretty legs”, and “Marry me?”. Most were not concerned with the debate of whether they were too short or not. They were supporting Tiffany because she looked good in the shorts and they were bashing Tiffany because her short shorts made her a slut.

            In “Korean Boys: “Wearing Hot Pants Says Something About You””, Jame Turnbull translates another article written in Hangul Korean about So Yeong-Mi who is currently involved in a sex-education program aimed at teenagers. The students bring up the question “Why do women wear such short shorts? … If young women didn’t wear hot pants, that would be good,” continuing, “Doesn’t wearing clothes like that say something about you? And it’s dangerous too!” The students also make a distinction between pretty girls wearing hot pants and ugly girls wearing hot pants. So explains, “The logic of boys in their early teens was that if pretty girls wear hot pants and so on it’s okay, but if they’re not pretty then it’s not, and that [in either case] such clothes are both too revealing and dangerous”. There is a clear divide between which girls can wear what things, but in both cases it is still “dangerous”. The teacher tries different techniques to dissuade this type of thinking such as comparing the decision to wear hot pants and the decision to wear a hat; though this oversimplifies things a bit, they are both equally valid options of clothing to wear if one wishes to, but they did not see it that way.

This is a common concern in brought up in many allkpop articles dealing with female idols showing too much skin where the negative/positive comments that follow such postings display similar ideas shared in Tiffany’s article. But often times, there are some people on forums who will bring up the clear double standard between what female and male idols are able to get away with. Take for example, Park Jin-Young. Jin-Young is one of Korea’s biggest names in the music industry as the CEO for the JYP Entertainment record label. Though he is the owner of this record label, he tends to join in and makes music videos from time to time as well as acts. He’s most recent video is called “No Love No More”.

After watching this video, I was angry at the way that women were portrayed. The first woman, who I take to be Jin-Young’s lover, is shot by him and while he turns the gun to himself and shoots, he is resurrected to live his “life of pleasure” as the lyrics claim. The rest of the women in the video are either standing around as eye candy while Jin-Young dances, or fondling him while he sits. The top rated comment on this video is “Wait, so the owner of this entertainment company is producing music and acting too? He’s officially the coolest guy ever.” As a huge force in the Korean music industry, it’s disgusting that he’s promoting this type of disregard and degradation towards women for all of his fans to see. How is purposefully objectifying women in your own music video like Jin-Young and companies giving revealing costumes for their artists like Tiffany affecting Korean society today and most importantly, how are feminist dealing with these issues and fighting back?

Bluebox wrote her second web paper on the major protest called “The SlutWalk”. In efforts to combat this type of prejudice against women wearing particular clothing, recently Seoul, Korea hosted their first ever SlutWalk in front of Korea University. They protested specifically about the sexual assault made on a female colleague at the University by three male medical students. The protestors spoke the words that have been carried through Chicago, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London and Sydney since the SlutWalk started on April 3rd: that women should be able to wear what they want and not have to fear they will be sexually assaulted because of it. They protested the very belief that those Korean boys in So Yeong-Mi’s class held that hot pants and miniskirts were a dangerous thing for any woman to wear. It shouldn’t be dangerous for women to wear certain clothing under any circumstances and they certainly shouldn’t be called a slut for wearing the types of clothes that they were.

There is resistance happening in Korea. There are people who see Tiffany as a victim to her own company. There are people who see “No Love No More” as offensive towards women. If Korea’s history of discrimination of women is an indicator of the type of discrimination held now, then there are people, whom I consider to be feminist, fighting for a society of equality.


Anne Dalke's picture

Gateway drug?


I'm glad you accepted my invitation to update the historical overview you provided, last month, of feminism in Korea--and I'm particularly heartened by the fact that your further study followed leads suggested by two of your classmates, sekang and bluebox. Yeah for collaborative feminist work!

We've observed, more than once in class, that "pop culture is a gateway drug to feminism"--> paying (too much?) attention to current cultural trends is sure to make us angry and disgusted (two of the emotions you evince above).

In the field of feminist studies, in which this course situates itself, such emotions need also to operate as gateways to analysis and political action. I'd like to see more of both of those in your work here. Having described the phenomenon of hot pants, and the various web debates about their appropriateness, what observations can you make, beyond the general ones you offer here, about the inappropriate objectification of women?

And what more can you share with us, regarding feminist interventions into this debate? You end by claiming both that "there is resistance happening in Korea," that "there are feminists fighting for a society of equality." Tell us more....