Monday, November 26, 2012

Dating in Korea: Gender Roles

I've had most of the research for this post for a while, but have been avoiding writing it because I was afraid that it would be too serious. However, I feel that my caffeine levels are just high enough at present (approaching my third Americano of the day, and it's only 2pm) to tackle this in a potentially humorous manner.

Let me make one thing clear:
These are by no means absolute truths about gender roles in Korea. Nothing it absolute truth when it comes to talking about how people behave. These are merely observations I and other people I have spoken to have made during our time in Korea.

Lets start with the boys...

Male Gender Roles

Korean guys are under a crazy amount of pressure, far more than I think American guys could ever deal with. They must be well dressed, they must have doll-like skin, they must be successful, they must have a car, they must go to a good college, and they must be 180cm tall (yeah, that's actually a thing). Once they enter the job field young Korean men also must be the personal whipping boys of their supervisors, directors, and bosses. Basically anyone who is above them has the right to take over their lives completely without any fear of recourse or even complaint. Many young guys are out until late at night drinking with their superiors until the whee hours and aren't supposed to stop drinking until said superior says it's ok. From what I can tell, a lot of the bosses abuse this privilege, ignoring the fact that their employees either do not look like they are excited about going out or that they have drank too much.
And that, my friends, is how this happens.
As a result relationships often take a backseat to a guy's work. I can't tell you how many dates Mr. Y has been late to or had to cancel due to his boss randomly decided that everyone in the office was going to have dinner together no matter what their actual plans had been. For guys still in college this, of course, doesn't apply, but they fill their days with studying and partying as much as any college student does.
And that's how this happens.
Because of Korea's Confucian history gender roles become... well... let's call them "complicated"(it's nicer than saying "historically fucked up) Men are expected to be masculine and slightly controlling but dedicated to the point where it is almost unhealthy. Many of my friends have reported to me that once a Korean guy sets his mind to something, whether it be losing weight, learning a language, or getting ahead in work, he dedicates his entire life to that cause. Mr. Y was not good at English in his grade school or college days but one day he just decided "I am going to learn to speak English" and he just.... taught himself English. No classes, just him, books, CDs, the internet, and American television shows.

When I try to study Korean (the language of the country I freaking LIVE IN) it's like...

When Mr. Y decides to learn English while living in Korea it's all...

This extreme determination has led to some... clashes between the interracial couples I have talked to. Specifically, many of the "White Woman/ Korean Man" couple ladies I've talked to have said that their boyfriends are shocked at the lack of commitment and "FIGHTING! (화이팅!)" spirit in their significant others.

If I say "화이팅" at you enough times you'll be able to lose 10kg in a week!
Korean culture as a whole is more blunt than English speaking cultures, it's kind of the worst when it's a Korean guy saying it to a western chick. I had one friend who's boyfriend told her she should lose weight on almost a daily basis. There's only so many times you can whisper to yourself "it's just his culture" before you get really pissed off.

Say "you should lose your weight" to me one more time, I DARE YOU!!!
On the flip side of this Korean guys are actually expected to be a little controlling and chauvinistic. My male friends in "White Guy/ Korean Girl" relationships have told me in the past that they were expected to plan EVERYTHING, even though planning activities is just a LITTLE more complicated for someone who doesn't speak the language.

Seriously, Naver, ENGLISH OPTION, LIKE, NOW!

I've also heard from guys who have had their girlfriends actually get mad at them for... not being jealous and controlling enough. One girl texted her boyfriend saying "I'm wearing something really sexy tonight and high heels, I'm going out to clubs, guys are hitting on me" and when he approached the scenario with the "I'm an awesome boyfriend and you're an independent woman" and responded "cool, have fun, be safe" she went BALLISTIC on him! She said that is he isn't jealous then he doesn't care. You can really see this in many Korean relationships.

Now, on to...

Female Gender Roles

Pretty much every Korean spend their lives attempting to live up to impossible standards of beauty and success. I'd say that Korean girls are also under WAY more pressure than American girls. The women Korean popular culture view as "beautiful" are just... insane

What the hell do Korean models eat? Gum and ice cubes?

Also, because of Korean culture's Confucian background, these girls have very strict roles they're meant to play in society, which is difficult in the modern world where women are fighting to be as equal to men. Many women in Korea have been taking control of their lives as well as their sexuality in the last decade or so and the response form men has been... well, let's just call it "varied." If you want to see the disgusting underbelly of how men feel towards women in Korean society you need only to read a few articles on KoreaBANG where articles and comment sections from Korean news sites are translated. 

The maine stereotype Korean women appear to have to fight against is that of being Doenjang Girls (된장녀).

된장녀 are girls who are EXTREMELY materialistic. We're talking, to the max. These girls got their nickname because they will spend every won to their name on designer clothes, shoes, and bags, as well as on plastic surgery, and then eat nothing but 된장찌개 (Doenjang Jiggae, bean paste soup, the absolute cheapest form of food available to South Koreans) because they can't afford anything else. They hunt for rich husbands in 나이트 bars ("Night" bars where women dance and the bar workers will bring them over to tables that request their company, the men at the tables will pay for all their food and drinks) as well as the more affluent parts of the city. These are the least respected women in Korea. Many men and women look down on them and being called a Doenjang Girl is a pretty damn big insult.

It also seems that Korean women have an ultimate enemy: other Korean women. Korean women are constantly comparing themselves to other Korean women because other Korean women are always comparing them to other Korean women. Because men see women doing this to each other they sometimes feel it is ok for them to do the same. Korean women are bombarded with ads for plastic surgery and how it can make you into the "ideal" type.

I mean... I can see why you'd wanna look like that.

And then, after the wooing has been completed and the guy and girl get together Korean men have a really specific role they typically want their serious girlfriends/wives to play: mom.

Mr. Y and I have had our fair share of mild couple fights centered around the fact that I am not his mom and I am not his housewife. The few couples I have spoken to who have lived together (Korean Man- Foreign Girl) talk about how the guy just expect the girl to drop everything and do the laundry and clean the apartment when asked or just know when it is needed. And then there's the super unfortunate task of actually meeting your Korean guy's mother, especially at an event like Chuseok of Seoullal. At these events the girlfriend, fiance, or wife of the son essentially becomes the whipping-boy of the mother. They are expected to cook, clean, and behave properly all while being grilled by the mother, sisters, and extended family. Thank God that I haven't had to experience this with Mr. Y's family yet... but he wants us to have dinner with his mom, dad, sister, and brother-in-law next month...


So there you have it. That's the basics of what you'll be getting yourself into when you choose to date a male or female Korean. Most will understand that you come from a different culture and will not hold you to the absolute highest of standards, but some will know you come from a different culture and ignore that as they try to assimilate you. How you approach these obstacles is entirely up to you, but my  advice is...

If he/she ever tries to make you do something you are uncomfortable with just be like...


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