Friday, March 13, 2009

Predators and Sex Objects: Media portrayals of foreign male and female teachers

In the comments to a post about media representations of male foreign English teachers, Foreigner Joy wrote this:
So I am trying to raise the issue here of the woman expat's role in all of this. What is it? Is it as badly portrayed as the male? I have to say that I see blog posts about your topic often across the K-blogs. But little do I see how woman expats fit into the puzzle.
To answer this, I thought I'd look at how foreign men and women are portrayed in two different 'texts': a film from 2003 (predating the English Spectrum incident) and an episode of a TV show from 2008.

The 2003 film is Please Teach Me English, which can be watched with subtitles here. The film begins with Young-ju, who works as a public servant, being approached by a foreigner (presumed to be an English teacher) and asking for help with an incorrect electric bill. Young-ju looks for help at her co-workers, who all hide because no one can speak English.

The foreigner gets annoyed at being ignored, and eventually shouts at her: "Say something for Christ’s sake! Doesn’t anyone here speak English?" So he's portrayed as an ass, and is told to leave because it's closing time. Later at a staff dinner, the boss plays spin the bottle, and Young-ju is chosen to learn English for the team, much to her dismay. As she rides the bus to the hagwon the next day, she wonders why she should have to learn English, and in one of the (very) few clever scenes, we see the signs on the stores come to life, until her view is obscured by so many English language store and brand names. She arrives at the hagwon and falls for Mun-su, who obviously has a thing for their teacher, Cathy, who in turn seems amused by Mun-su.

"You... are... beautiful."

Next, the registering students have to take a level test, which is portrayed as a video game. Munsu is asked by a female foreign teacher, "Honey! What was your score on the college entrance exam?"[Honey??]
Munsu replies, "Oh baby! Welcome to Korea! You great sexy girl!" He tries to kiss her and the following ensues:

Groping foreign women makes for comedy, it seems. Luckily, since he has so obviously crossed the line, it's acceptable for this Korean male to be punched by a woman (or do the (possible) rules regarding debasing treatment of Korean men on TV which I discussed here apply to foreign women?).

Young-ju and Mun-su end up in the same class, with Cathy as their teacher. To avoid having to show what learning a language actually entails (and perhaps to also avoid having the actors speak any more English than necessary), much of the dialogue in class is in Korean, which Cathy speaks (with painful pronunciation). She has the students pick English nicknames and forces Young-ju to choose one (she chooses Candy). At one point Cathy leans over to help Mun-su with his pronunciation. It's not too hard to see what he's focused on:

Young-ju pokes her in the ass and, thinking it was the older man behind her, Cathy slaps him, but then immediately feels remorse. Mun-su steals Cathy's phone and goes to meet her at a bar with lots of other foreigners to return it. Young-ju follows him and while spying on him, guess who shows up?

It's the foreign guy who came into her office at the beginning of the movie! He offers her whiskey, and continues to pour her drink after drink, which Mun-su sees and which pisses him off, as it's clear she's had too much to drink (though he's not too concerned, fixated on Cathy as he is). The foreign guy offers to drive Young-ju home in his 'nice car,' but she begins pouring him drinks until he suddenly passes out. This allows her to watch Mun-su and Cathy as they take part in a tap dance contest on stage. Mun-su uses this as an opportunity to bury his face in her chest at one point.

Cathy handles this reasonably gracefully and the night ends with a drunken Youngju headbutting Cathy. They make up the next day at Cathy's apartment, where she runs into another student: the older man who she mistakenly slapped earlier, who drops a pizza off at her house while making other pizza deliveries. He sneakily tells her, "I love youuuuuuu," and she is smitten.

So to sum up, for the main Korean male character, Cathy is a walking set of breasts, while the male foreign character is Mr. Neocolonialism; impatient, demanding people speak English, trying to get local girls drunk and offering to take them home, etc. It's not done in an over-the-top way, but he's not portrayed very positively.

The ease with which Cathy becomes smitten with the ajeossi pizza deliveryman reminded me of a scene in a recent TV show, namely Boys over Flowers (꽃보다 남자). In it, the F4 boys are being served at a fancy European-style restaurant, when the (foreign, female) chef approaches one of the boys.

One of his friends says, "Yo, yo, yo. Wazzup man?" [cringing yet?]
Another says, "They only take one group per week" (probably not a business model I'd follow). He then looks into the distance as a flashback fades in. He's in a pottery store and approaches the chef who's looking at a plate, and suggests another.
"This one is better."
"You're right. It's a beauty."
"Enough to make your cuisine even finer."
"And just who told you that I was a chef?"

Before he replies, he takes her hand, which gets an interesting response.

"Your delicious looking hand."

One kiss planted on her hand is all it takes. On other occasions, all you have to do is suggest the benefits of using Samsung Card when traveling to a group of foreign women and off to a motel on a trip you'll go.

The women in that advertisement are of course panelists from 미녀들의 수다, or the 'Beauties' Chatterbox," a show that at its best allows for foreign women to openly discuss both the positive and negative aspects of their lives in Korea, and at its worst is (was?) a forum for Korean men to ogle foreign women and act like it was their first time in a room salon.

One of the panelists who first appeared in November 2007, Djamilya, from Uzbekistan, "pretty much encapsulates what that show is about - foreign women put onstage as exotic sex objects," as Marmot's Hole commenter dokdoforever put it.

What was interesting about her first appearance was that at the end of the same show, American panelist Winter Raymond illustrated just how these images of foreign women as sex objects could have a very negative impact at a crucial moment. She told the story of how she was attacked by a man who broke in to her apartment in 2005 and beat, choked and nearly raped her. The police cared little to find the attacker, and when she was taken to a hospital, she got this response:
My friends were speaking with the man admitting me, he said that the hospital would not help me unless I paid him $1000.00 in cash because I was a ‘Russian prostitute who probably deserved what I got’.
Her entire story can be read here. It should go without saying that this story of the biases foreign women face reflect attitudes that exist towards women in Korea to begin with, as this story (from 30 years ago) shows:
I was raped while on vacation in Korea 30 years ago. The attending doctor would not believe that I had been raped. He, in fact, implied several times that he believed that my parents (who he first wouldn't believe were my parents) had caught me having sex and had beat me. That accounted, in his mind for my wounds and for the OB/gyn exam my parents wanted. I was 16. I was a virgin, but the doctor wouldn't believe that, either, because I guess I had broken my hymen in some other way. I didn't say much to him at the time, but I wish I had. I wonder how attitudes towards rape have changed since the '70's. It seems perhaps not enough.
The show didn't give much time to Winter's story, and the way the captions refer to her experience seem rather cutesy:

Essentially, 'But at the hospital, Winter was treated as a "prostitute"!' When the Marmot's Hole reported on her experience, she left comments (here and here) describing her experience on the show. One of the main reasons she chose to go on the show was to publicize the story of her assault and the treatment she received afterward, especially considering no media outlet was willing to touch it back in 2005. She also had interesting observations about appearing on the same show as Djamilya:
The sad thing in this whole matter is the timing of my story on the show. I am sure everyone knows the show that I told my story was also the debut of someone else. [... H]ow ironic that on the same show where I talk about a story that happened because of the terrible stereotypes women have in Korea, the show puts on that.[...]

ALthough I don’t think it is intentional that I was made to speak the story the same time as she came out, I think it is highly ironic and in essence, makes my story all the more relevant. It is important to remember that following the airing of the show, almost a day went by before any news reported the story. It wasn’t until I was angry enough to put the pictures on my blog, with the story and my anger at the media, that I got fans to write to the news organizations to cover it. Without that, I don’t think it would have gotten any coverage at all.
The pictures she refers to are photos of her taken in the hospital after the assault. Also in the comments to that Marmot's Hole post are stories posted by other women of their negative experiences in Korea (here, here, and here).

It was of little surprise that Djamilya would be a hit on Korean TV, and in April 2008, she appeared in the soft-porn late night TV show Sexy Mong Returns, which was described thusly:
The first episode of “Sexy Mong Returns,” a four-part series to run every Wednesday and Thursday starting from April 23, is already drawing attention as its deals with an episode involving sexual assault by foreign English teachers, something that has been a social issue for some time.
It was also looked at by Brian in Jeollanam-do here. The show begins with a shot of a street in Hongdae, and cuts to a club where foreign men are dancing with Korean women, bringing to mind, perhaps, the photos of the 'Sexy costume party' posted on English Spectrum which began the whole 'foreign English teacher as sex fiend (stealing our women!)' from January 2005.

We then see a man (his face isn't revealed) drop a pill into a bottle of (non-Korean!) beer and walk over to an unsuspecting victim.

He undresses her and fondles her, as the camera plays slowly over her exposed body (soft-porn, remember?) until she wakes up.

After this scene of a foreign English teacher molesting a Korean woman, we see a taxi driving down the road, and after being treated a Djamilya's cleavage, we're given this shot of her.

Shucks, what could the taxi driver be looking at?

Djamilya then arrives at the bunsik restaurant where the other two Sexy Mong girls live and work, and the viewer is treated to Djamilya undressing and having a shower.

Unable to pronounce Djamilya's character's name, the other two instead call her Gil-da. They find a photo taken by the molester of a semi-clad Korean women, and they eventually realize what H.D., written on the photo, must stand for.

"Hongdae, club street. A wretched hive of
scum and villiany. We must be careful."

We see the same club where Foreign men are dancing with Korean women. One of the (Korean) men running the bar sets the teachers and women up together. Two girls who have been talking to the foreign teachers chat in the bathroom, and one tells her friend she can learn 'body language,' a reference to the anti-English Spectrum types who, in 2005, wrote that girls didn't actually learn English from foreign boyfriends, only 'body language.'

Just to reinforce how unfair this is, we are shown two salarymen following a young woman into the club.


...the club is a playground for hip Korean men and foreign teachers, not regular working stiffs (the likely target audience). The sexy mong girls infiltrate the club, and Gil-da keeps a low profile.

One of the sexy mong crew sees a foreigner with a very drunk Korean woman...

...and follows as they engage in some foreplay in a back room.

She then confronts the foreign teacher and headbutts him, the same move (coincidentally) that Young-ju pulled on the foreign teacher in "Please Teach Me English." Gil-da meanwhile meets up with some foreign teachers.

A North American teacher asks, "So Gil-da, are you coming to the party?" to which the Korean looking guy, Tom, replies, "Of course. She’s my girlfriend."

The guy on the left says, "Who told you korean girls are so ___?" (The last word is unintelligible due to his foreign accent.) The guy on the right replies, "Korean girls are good. They’re so easy."
Tom is asked if his parents are from Korea, and he replies, "No way, I’m American. This is my first time in Korea. I just know about Kimchi and Korean girls. But now," he says to Gil-da, "I wanna know about you."
"Korean girls are so hot," says the guy on the right.

Gil-da goes home and tells her friends about her date for the next night. With some sleuthing, the girls realize that her date is the molester, and head for the party. At the party, we see several foreign-Korean couples.

Tom gets Gil-da alone, but she doesn't want to sleep with him and leaves. Another girl walks in and promptly undoes his pants. She looks at his wallet and gasps, and he beats her and rapes her. Gil-da watches, and waits until he's finished to kick him in the balls. The other girls arrive to find her in control of things. What the girl saw in his wallet was his resident card, which points out that he is actually Korean, and his name is Kim Deok-ho.

Now, you might think that having the molester be a Korean might be confusing in that it seems to take the blame away from English teachers. Not so. 'Tom' confesses to the girls that he used to hang out in the foreigner bars, but Korean girls rejected him when he introduced himself as a Korean, Kim Deok-ho. He then looked longingly at all the attention the foreigners were getting, simply because they were American.

By simply changing his name to Tom and saying he was American, he suddenly had throngs of girls around him, and new American friends. It really is that easy (but he still needed to drug the girls).

The Sexy Mong team then takes him and another manager from the bar and bury them in the sand by the sea up to their heads. Then they return home and the girls realize Gil-da's usefulness as throngs of teenage boys crowd into the restaurant to be served by her.

There are some paradoxical elements here regarding the male English teachers: it's not fair that they have women flock to them just because they are foreign, but at the same time they are predators and get girls drunk or drug them to have their way with them.

As for foreign women identified as western, they are viewed as exotic sex objects, and the male gaze (the good one, the Korean one) features prominently.

In truth, I think the key word is "exotic." Korean women are often viewed as sex objects (reinforced by the media and a massive prostitution industry) and have little power in society, while some foreign women are viewed as exotic sex objects, and often have even less power within society than Korean women. Entertainers working on E-6 visas (more than 90 days) need HIV tests, which obviously shows that the government isn't blind as to what their employment is likely to consist of [Update: As of 2011, these tests have been removed]. In the past many of these women were Russian, and that stereotype (plus decades of R-rated Hollywood movies, TV shows, erotic music videos, etc) certainly influences the behavior of some men (for example, three friends were in McDonalds in Bucheon one night and a drunken man walked up, pointed at the three of them, and said, “You! Come with me!”).

One wonders the degree to which Korean American women are perceived in this category. One Korean American woman who moved into my apartment was always treated nastily by the elderly security guard because she obviously had a white boyfriend, while another Korean American woman (who had no boyfriend) fought off a rapist in the elevator of her building (and when she ran out and told the security guard, he told her that he’d have to put his shoes on, and that it would be too much work to chase him). One theory was that she was targeted because she seemed 'western' in the way she dressed (which was probably conservative by North American standards but less so by Korean standards).

In another interesting story from a few years ago which deals with perceptions of foreign male and female English teachers, four foreigners were sharing a large apartment and were loud and annoying, so the residents of the apartment building signed a petition saying that they’d have to leave unless they followed a set of guidelines. I really wish I’d seen it (and not heard about it second hand) and saved it, as it likely contained both remedies for witnessed bad behavior, as well as examples of Korean biases. Stuff like “Men must not make out with their (Korean) girlfriends in the elevator” was mixed with “Women must wear bras when they leave the house.”

Interestingly, in a post on the Sexy Mong episode at anti-English Spectrum, (where site administrator 'Emtu' chimed in happily, “The eternal subject, the inferior foreign English teacher!!!”) the conversation turned, in the comments, to a discussion of shallow Doenjang Nyeo (bean paste girls) and English teachers. There are different ways in which these kinds of insecure people (whether posting at that cafe or writing soft-porn for television) try to rob Korean women who date westerners of their agency. They are perceived as either shallow girls who are hopelessly attracted to western culture, or are helpless victims to be drugged or beaten into submission by callous western teachers.

Again, it was lovely that the episode was marketed in such a way that the Segye Ilbo could write that it "deals with an episode involving sexual assault by foreign English teachers, something that has been a social issue for some time." In the end, the episode wasn't about that at all, and what we see, once again, is the media emphasizing the concept of sexual assaults carried out by western men - much in the same way they are happy to ignore actual sexual assaults carried out against foreign women.


JIW said...

Thank you for taking the time to answer my inquiry. Your examination is right on target with what my thoughts were as to how foreign women are portrayed in the media here.

I guess I could say that the male and female portrayals are giving us real-life foreigners no justice. But when I see some female foreigners on TV programs who use thier sex appeal purposely I do get upset.

The show "Talk With Beauties" is so hard to watch. They pool all these foreign women to one side and doll them up for the cameras.


Although annoying the image of an exotic foreign woman is not surprising. Considering how the west tends to exoticize Asian women.

Anyways thank you again!

nb said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JIW said...

I want to add that I realize now that other bloggers have talked about the portrayal of foreign female teachers here. This certainly helps spread awareness amongst our community.

Brian said...

Very nice work, as usual!

You could expand this into several volumes, such as newspapers reporting on the sexual exploits of foreigners, while their photo galleries are filled with bikini models.

I'm also curious where you found the episode of Sexy Mong?

Jroc said...

The media portraying foreigner women/men is very one sided, but the fact that authorities can turn their eye to such incidents involving the sexual assault of foreign women is absolutely disturbing.

The actors/actresses who agree to portray these characters are just reinforcing these ridiculous stereotypes. Its all really sad.

Have there been any articles published in Korean media about how these portrayals are making things worse?

Diana said...

Thank you for this post.

Overall, you highlight some of the main problems of oversexualization of foreign women in the Korean media well. However, your comments are a bit one-sided if you consider that MOST foreign women living in Korea are prostitutes or mail-order brides from China and Southeast Asia (just like your foreigner bias about men ignored the majority of male immigrants who are laborers from South/Southeast Asia and China). Unfortunately these groups are mostly just ignored by mainstream Korean media because their presence in the country is considered an embarassment.

Also, Winter's story of being denied admittance to a hospital is not just disturbing because they were treating her like a prostitute, but because a medical institution would think treating a prostitute like that is somehow acceptable. In case anyone is unclear on this, it is NOT acceptable to demand extra money or favors from prostitutes in exchange for proper medical treatment.

nb said...

The Korean man who can pull a good looking western woman in Korea is the envy of the town. I knew a rather sexy young american woman fresh out of college who was working at a university that I worked at. I taught the intermediate class and she taught the beginner class. One day, her name came up in class.
"I don't like her," a Korean guy stated.
"Why not," I said.
"She is a slut."
"Why do you say that?"
"She went out with her class on the first night of classes and slept with one of the students."
"Really? How do you know?"
"He told me. First she licked him then he licked her, then they had sex (like this) and then like (that).
The worst part about the whole thing was that every student knew about it. And he was still dating her. They were boyfriend and girlfriend. But he told everything to the other students and he was admired for it. I write a lot about sex on my blog, but I don't share details of my exploits (in a not anonymous way) like I am talking to the bros after I fingerbanged a cheerleader when I was a sofomore (sp).

matt said...

Foreigner Joy:
You're welcome. Thanks for asking that question in the first place!

I found Sexy Mong using Emule - it's often good for tracking shows down. Oh, and I'll email you close-ups of the actors - I took screenshots of them with you in mind.

What's interesting is if you switched your story around and it was a male teacher having a relationship with a student, it'd get a rather different response.

I don't know if there have been any articles by the Korean media looking at the effect of such portrayals on English teachers. I suspect there have been migrant workers, but have doubts about westerners. Note how much effort it took by Winter's fans to get the local media to report on her story. Anyways, that's something to look into.

I'll reply to Diana in a bit.

King Baeksu said...

nb, what do you hope to accomplish with your blog, apart from looking like a jackass and making life difficult for the rest of us here?

Anonymous said...

I agree with scott. I'm not identifying myself because I don't want NB or his buddies trolling on my site, but frankly, take a look at NB's site, Matt, and decide whether you even want him pimping his blog on your site. Just allowing him to promote himself on your comment board damages your credibility when it looks to me like the guy is basically setting out to have the next foreign teacher scandal named after himself.

matt said...

I wasn't ignoring migrant workers; this post was about perceptions of western foreign teachers (even if Djamilya isn't quite a foreign teacher, she is perceived as a western (or Russian-esque) female). As for "MOST foreign women living in Korea are prostitutes or mail-order brides from China and Southeast Asia," I wondered if this was true. The numbers (from here)don't support this. The total number of foreign women (as of July 2008) in Korea is 408,000. Of this number, 136,000 are laborers (E9 visas), 89,000 are marriage migrants, 26,000 are students, 52,000 are naturalized citizens (still considered foreigners - lovely), and 75,000 are 'other.' I take other to include both women on E2 and E6 visas (E6 being the 'entertainer visa, who seem to be mostly from the Philippines), among others. Prostitutes would mostly fall under E6 visas (or so I believe) and this article says about 2,500 to 3,000 women come on this visa every year (I don't know how long it lasts for). If you were to guess, say, 25,000 women were on that visa, and added that to 89,000 marriage migrants, you'd still have only 115,000 out of 408,000 foreign women being either marriage migrants or prostitutes - which is certainly not 'most' (even if it is a lot).

I didn't have a chance to look at your blog til now. I didn't spend a week researching and writing this to have it used as a forum for promoting stories of two dollar bjs or suggestions that all Koreans should follow Jang Ja-yeon's path. This story might be worth looking at, as it's essentially what the last two commenters were referring to.

Diana said...

Thanks for the stastics (although I'm pretty sure a large number of the female migrant workers and many illegal, and therefore unrecorded, immigrants are also working in the sex industry). The research you put into your posts is very helpful. I just wanted to make sure that we English teachers remember that we are not the only (or even halfway to a majority of) the foreigners living and working in Korea. :-)

In fact, the injustices we suffer at the hands of the Korean media and institutions are quite negligible compared to other immigrants here. Not that we should excuse any of it, but certainly our awareness of (and sympathy for) the plights of all immigrants in Korea can help us move in the right direction regarding social changes here.

Thanks again!

King Baeksu said...

The funniest part of "Please Teach me English" is when Young-ju/Lee Na-young goes to the countryside to visit her grandparents, along with her Korean classmates and some of Cathy's expat friends. When she introduces everyone to her grandparents, she says, "These are my classmates, and the foreigners just came along." Translation: These undifferentiated "foreigners" are just here to provide some exotic background scenery, so who cares where they're from, what their jobs are, etc.?

Also not very believable that Cathy would be able to speak in and understand complex Korean sentences, but not know the difference between panmal and chondaemal. And when she finally is taught the polite verb ending, she pronounces it "you" for the rest of the movie, instead of "yo," just so that the filmmakers could make that stupid "I love you" pun/scene you reference in your post.

Hey, it's nice to be plot devices, rather than real characters or people! Thank you so much!

Dave MacCannell said...

It's not that foreigners are viewed as the only ones committing sexual misdeeds, (as the panty-stealing, AIDS-spreading taxi driver shows us), it's that Koreans can't stand having their citizens sexually abused - unless it's by other Korean citizens. I suppose it's because only a Korean can sexually abuse another Korean with "JEONG"!
Who is worse, a guy who molests some young girls and puts their pics online or a family member, (or three), who REPEATEDLY molest their mentally disabled, (defenceless), granddaughter/niece? OR the judge who releases the poor girl back into their custody to be molested again?
The relative ho-hum attitude of Koreans in the second case when compared to the moral outrage that has lead to new visa laws, cameras being installed in hagwons and other places where foreigners teach, lessons on what to do if a foreign teacher touches you incorrectly, the beginning, (and likely not the end), of false accusations against foreign teachers and a palpable re-invigoration of anti-foreigner sentiment has exactly nothing to do with sex or the power dynamics associated with rape or sexual molestation. It's about racism/ignorance. And there is little urgency shown in changing the mass brain stamping procedure that passes for education in this country that is the source of both the sexual attitudes and the portrayals of foreign male and female teachers.

Anonymous said...

as long as english teachers are teaching trash slang like this in Japan

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Matt - this is excellent research.

The view of the "foreign English teacher" has shifted in the Korean public consciousness from being a respected and distant figure (the Confucian default) to an exotic, sexualized (and approachable - thus the danger) "entertainer/consort" of sorts.

I see the law trying to keep pace with this shift in the E-2 visa policy, especially the HIV test.

Have you seen the Lady Kyunghyang (women's mag) article on dating foreigners? There was a poll taken by XY in Love and the Lady K where they asked Koreans (men & women) how they tried to hook up with foreigners for sexual encounters.

The number one answer (120+) was trying to meet English teachers through language hogwans. Respondents were about 6 times more likely to attempt a hook-up at a hogwan than at a Hongdae nightclub (20). (Clubs where E-6 type workers would be found weren’t even mentioned.)

The law sees sexualized foreigners as a dangerous public health risk.

Korea's "Prevention of AIDS Act" (No. 7451, March 31, 2005) requires ‘risky long-term stay foreigners’ to receive HIV tests before visas will be issued. Foreign English teachers are not defined as one of these risky types of foreigners under this Act. (The E-2 visa ad hoc policy memo fills the gap though, I would argue).

So who are the risky ones? A separate ordinance of the AIDS Prevention Act defines them as follows: “Those who enter the country with the goal of
sojourning for 91 days or more . . . to engage in performance entertainment/show business, sports and other entertainment-related businesses or activities in order to make a profit . . ."

(The new E-2 visa, an E-6 visa for men?)

Again, I'd argue that in the current Korean consciousness the foreign English teacher falls squarely in the "other entertainment-related business" category. Thus, the E-2 visa HIV test is less of an aberration than it seems. It really has very little to do with the goal of protecting children as it claims. I'd suggest that, just like the de jure E-6 visa foreign "merry-maker" already covered under this Act, the E-2 visa English teacher has been identified as a de facto foreign "merry-maker" that the law needs to protect the public against.

Anonymous said...

Great article!

Would love to see how this ties into how Western media portrays Asian men and women.

For example, the women are often only paired with non-Asian men while the Asian men are often wimpy and asexual.

I guess this is what the majority character likes to portray against the "other."