I don't spend much time reading the entertainment section, so to speak, so the use of the word 'kkulbeokji', or 'honey thighs, to describe, well, thighs, wasn't something I was aware of. It apparently means, according to this article and allkpop, 'sweet-as-honey thighs' or "alluring as-if they-were-coated-with-honey thighs", though a more creative, if incorrect, translation would be 'alluring thighs that spread like honey.' Ahem.
The word 'honey thighs' has often been applied to After School (a Kpop group, not a wonjo gyoje chatroom) member and actress Uee, (유이 - it took me awhile to figure out how to Romanize that - if she ever goes solo and international, I recommend she not Romanize it as 'U2', seeing as Negativland tried that and it didn't turn out so well), seen above. Chosun.com is also happy to give readers an example.
At any rate, on February 20, a 'high school girl living in Cheonan' posted a petition on the Ministry of Gender Equality's website claiming that the word 'honey thighs' actually means 'thighs that you want to smear honey all over and lick off', and represented the sexual commodification of a female body part, was sexual harassment, "induced a feeling of sexual shame" and said its use should be banned. She was also irritated that such a 'sexually derogatory word' was used by the media and asked that it stop. According to allkpop, "Even Korean portal site Daum has requested people to refrain from using this controversial term."
Others disagreed, and some said that if you're going to get rid of 'honey thighs', you'll also have to get rid of jinseungnam (beastman) or 'chocolate abs'.
According to this article, a statement from the Ministry of Gender Equality was also considered controversial, as it essentially refused to get involved: "The criterion for sexual harassment victims is based on feelings of humiliation when they come into contact with sexual expressions or actions and so is a personal matter."
As for the woman this term has most been applied to, her opinion on the matter was that "the word 'honey thighs' made me [popular]. I thank it. I don't have any bad feelings [toward it]."
While the reaction of the ghost of Emma Goldman would be that her comments represent a lack of feminist (and revolutionary) consciousness, I don't know what you would expect from someone who's been training for years to be a commodity that looks pretty, says nothing controversial and does 'sexy dances' on stage (wait - perhaps that describes school in general?). I didn't even know who she was until I noticed a picture of her on the sidebar of a news article the other day with the caption 'Uee wants to be the nation's little sister like Mun Geun-young,' though I seem to remember that Mun's charm and 'little sister' status came from the fact that she had an innocent cuteness about her, not that she had thighs you wanted to lick honey off of.
Thinking of these pop stars and how they're groomed to be polite, pretty and musically inclined, I can't help but think of entertainment groups like SM Entertainment and their training programs as modern pop cultural versions of the gisaeng training schools of old. But I digress.
I was amused when I saw this in my local paper here in Canada:
"A South Korean woman poses with Samsung's Ultra Slim Watch Phone..." I just liked how that had to be pointed out, and reminded me that, 'Oh yeah, having young women pose with every single new product being sold is kind of strange, isn't it?' As Michael Hurt points out in these two posts, "this phenomenon of young girls in short skirts selling almost everything money can buy is new and unusual for even this society."
It's something that strikes me as being part of how women are viewed in general in the media these days. The front page of Naver today had a link to this article with the caption 'Chae Jeong-an, Sexy Figure 'Wow'.'
The Chosun Ilbo is well known for reporting on the battle of the butts, or for its adult only section (it's not alone in this, of course), and its penchant for hosting photo galleries of school girls. Or think of how Sports Hankook Ilbo titled a tale of forced underage prostitution as "Wow, lots of guys had sex with a 15-year old!" Or look at the Segye Ilbo highlighting 'Rhythm Gymnastics 'pixie' Shin Su-ji', and in the sidebar a link to a Racing Gallery with this '28 year-old 170 cm tall 46 kg' model. Looking at these, and at the rather high incidence of teenage prostitution, or even the existence of elementary school aged girls engaging in prostitution, and it doesn't seem so surprising that Uee would declare that she was thankful for being made popular by a term objectifying her thighs, or that a good many people don't consider it objectionable at all. As the fish said, "What do you mean it's wet out? It's not wet!" So even if I think banning a word is a bit severe, I still say kudos to the high school girl who got people arguing over this, and putting out there the idea that some commonly-used language might be sexually demeaning. It's a start.