Women in Korea, as is the case of women in many parts of the world, are subjected to all manner of indignities, courtesy of their friendly, Confucius based, patriarchal society. To illustrate this point, MBC, a major Korean broadcasting network recently released a video entitled, “The Shocking Truth about Relationships with Foreigners” which stated that Korean women are manipulated and taken advantage of by foreign men (specifically Western men). Amongst their many complaints they stated that Korean women are impregnated then abandoned, given HIV/AIDS, and of course have their purity taken by the lack of morals and the rampant promiscuity of foreigners.
Obviously, the video is racist, was badly done by any journalistic standard and unfortunately shows Korea in a highly xenophobic light; however while few Korean women are victims of Western HIV/AIDS and hit and run impregnations, they are the victims of some pretty intense sexism in this video. While never directly stated, framing this whole narrative is the idea that Korean women are inferior; they’re not smart enough to know they’re being manipulated and they are no longer the pure and innocent women that conservative Korean society thinks they should be.
This is in direct opposition to my own experience with Korean women; many of the women are intelligent, educated, hard working, and deeply invested in their future. It’s disrespectful to say that Korean women are too naïve to realize when they’re being manipulated, or that they can’t take care of their own relationships without being publicly disgraced on national television.
As with quite a few societies, it is expected that women should be sexually pure and submissive, a women taking control of her own sexuality negates that earlier submissiveness. For some reason, many cultures have stories where lesser, minority men have degraded their pure women. I know the United States used this narrative often when talking about the Native Americans and white frontierswomen, as well as other minorities. Here in Korea, as it was in the United States, what is really at stake is control. Another man partaking in the sexuality of women in his culture, is undermining his superior place in the culture, and of course, displacing him from a place of control and power.
Because of course, never once in the video did it mention Korean men with foreign women. Men should obviously be free to sleep whomever they wish, whenever they want, women on the other hand, should only engage in sexual activities when it is deemed appropriate by a man. This is actually incredibly ironic, because Korean men do not only have a massively high prostitution rate, 70% of men have used the services of a prostitute and 50% currently are, (that last article is in Korean, try a good online translator) but because of how they treat women in general.
Recently I was at a girls night party with about ten other Western women, every women in the room had been sexually harassed or assaulted while in Korea, myself included, with dozens of stories of friends and colleagues having had similar experiences. Unfortunately in Korea, date rape and sexual assault aren’t as big of deal, and still happen quite frequently.
I confess that I was pretty furious when I saw the video, and when a few weeks ago, after seeing this video, I was forced to take an HIV/AIDS test in order to renew my contract to teach in Korea, I ranted about it for quite a while and felt a definite bit of discrimination. However, my intention in writing this article was not to demonize Korea, but rather to point out that double standards, sexual repression, and a general disdain for women’s choices and intellect, still exist. Even in countries that we would normally consider fairly advanced.
Similarly, while the United States has more stringent sexual assault laws, America still has a long way to go in it’s treatment of women. Women in America still aren't free to make a lot of choices about their bodies, they're sluts if they sleep around but you're a stud if you're a guy, and many still believe that purity only comes with an intact hymen.
**I have another article, published in the Gwangju News, about the racial and cultural consequences of the video.