Friday, April 08, 2011

"Too much democracy" leads women to a "mistaken impression of equality with men"

I was looking through 1940s-era Stars and Stripes and found some interesting articles from the time of the American military occupation (from 1945 to 1949, which I've written about before here and here) which point to concerns - on both sides - about the effects of American influence on Korean women.

First, this article from February 5, 1949:
Army Relaxes Ban
Korean Girls invited to Soldier 'Shindig'

SEOUL," Feb. 5 (AP)—If everything works out right there will be 150 Korean girls to dance with American soldiers at their Hourglass Club Feb. 13.

Brig. Gen. William L. Roberts, Redlands, Calif., who took over command here last month said Friday the plan of inviting Koreans to a soldier's dance was tried successfully last Saturday night at a Quartermaster depot at Ascom City, 20 miles west of here.

The Army had not permitted that sort of thing in Korea since late 1947 when a Korean operated dancehall was put off limits for soldiers.

Girls from Seoul colleges and daughters of good families are being invited, Roberts told the Associated Press.

He said the guests will come and leave in Army buses and during the dance there will be no strolling from the Hourglass Club.[...]
I'd certainly be interested in learning more about the dance hall which was put off limits. While this photo taken in late 1945 shows an off-limits red light district in Seoul, it's not as if it wasn't possible for "fraternization" to take place. As described in Katharine Moon's Sex Among Allies,
The women who sold sex to U.S. occupation forces from 1945 to 1949, who like other camp followers in other lands at other times, followed or greeted troops with a willingness to wash laundry, run errands, and provide sex for some form of remuneration - money, food, cigarettes. Prostitution took place in U.S. military barracks in the early years of the U.S. military occupation (1945-46) and in shabby makeshift dwellings called panjatjip (literally, houses made of boards). By the late occupation period (1947-49), simple inns or hotels... also became the loci of sexual exchange.
When the planned dance took place, however, there was to be none of this kind of fraternization, as this March 5, 1949 article describes it:
Social Experiment Held By U.S. Army In Korea

SEOUL, March 5 (INS)—American Army officials completed a relatively new "social experiment" in Seoul where American soldiers were permitted to dance with Korean girls for the first time in nearly two years.

The "experiment" was conducted in the Army's Hour Glass Club which attracted so many American soldiers that Korean dancing girls were outnumbered 17 to one.

Irene Karl, Army hostess and director of the club, said the whole affair was conducted under strict Army supervision which included special guards assigned to club exits to prevent "strolling."

Also, she said invitations to the dance were carefully screened and sent to the daughters of "good Korean families" living in Seoul.

During the dance, she said, a total of 2,868 American soldiers arrived at the club while only 150 Korean girls, were able to attend.'

"About 30 girls," she said, "had to get permission from, their husbands."

At the same time, she said some soldiers traveled 35 miles to reach the club from the 38th parallel where Army service clubs do not exist.

Actually, the tremendous attendance by American soldiers was partly attributed to the Army's fraternization ban which virtually prohibits American troops from associating with Koreans.
Interesting that married women were attending. As for the fraternization ban, this article, from February 22, 1948, makes one wonder how effective it was:
Korean Brides Called Advanced Phenomena

SEOUL, Feb. 21 (UP)—In the eyes of at least one authority, Korean women who marry foreigners are, for lack of a mere earthly definition, to be considered an
"advanced phenomenon."

According to the right-wing Cha Yoo Shih Mun[자유신문], this is the view of Ann Chai-hong[안재홍], who holds the post of Civil Administrator, the highest official position in the South Korean governmental stratum.

In answer to a question by a reporter of the newspaper, Ahn said "the fact that there are too many Korean women married to foreigners shows their adoration of the foreigners." Ahn then obliquely suggested, according to the newspaper, that these women "had better keep their self-respect since we cannot prohibit their marriages."
Somehow I doubt he went on to criticize Syngman Rhee for his self-hating adoration of his foreign wife (though Ahn did go on to run against Syngman Rhee as an independent in the 1948 presidential election). As I've pointed out before, this attitude was shared by others, as described in Donald Clark's Living Dangerously in Korea:
[T]he young, educated women who worked in USAMGIK offices were often approached for dates. The women, their families, and Korean society in general misunderstood these overtures, and they put the women in a difficult position. For example, one morning an American officer found that his Korean receptionist was very upset by a leaflet that a man had handed her on the way to work. He ordered up a rough translation and found that it said:

"WE COULD NOT OVERLOOK YOU, WOMANHOOD, when you fool around with Westerners in just showing your vanity and worldly devices, which is nothing but scandalous, while you should put all your strength on establishing the state of new Korea. From now on any one of you who shows the following scandalous actions beware that you will be insulted right in front of public.

1. Those women who are quite animated in riding automobile with Westerners.
2. Those women who wink at Westerners in saying “Hello gum” and “My home” and such short words.
3. Those women who chew gum and stroll all over town.
4. Those women who are whispering to the Westerners in the night.
5. Those women who go into the dance hall just because they are crazy about coffee and chocolate."
Number 5 has another mention of "the dance hall." While it's hard to know if the marriages Ahn was complaining about(which could not be prohibited) referred to US soldiers, they would seem to be the most likely candidates. It's interesting to see that not only guys on the streets handing out fliers, but even someone in the "highest official position" who ran for president also made such statements.

As it turns out, it seems that others had worries about Korean women being exposed to American culture, as this January 19, 1949 article reveals:
Movie Cut May Aid S. Korean Husbands

SEOUL, Jan. 19 (UP)—A government spokesman told the United Press U.S. movies imported into American-backed South Korea will be severely cut down because Korean authorities consider some of the movies "degenerating" from the standpoint of Korean morals and culture.

An official in the Motion Picture Section of the Korean Department of Public Information said imported American movies for Korean audiences will be cut to 17 per year from the current 40 because they are considered demoralizing.

The official said American movies tend to give Korean women a "mistaken impression of the equality with men." He added the Korean Government plans to produce a dozen movies of its own each year.
This reduction in the number of American films may have been too little, too late, however. It seems the men complaining about women getting "mistaken impression[s] of the equality with men" may have had reasons for feeling this way, considering the contents of this July 29, 1949 story:
Keeping of Concubines Assailed
Korean Women Call For Officials' Purge

SEOUL, July 29 (UP)—Three thousand embittered Korean women marched on the capitol to present a resolution demanding the "purge" of all government officials who keep concubines.

The reaction of the men as the line of determined females passed was, as one bearded Korean said, "There is getting to be too much democracy in this country'."

The women presented the resolution to the National Assembly which last week rejected a move that would have purged officials with "second and third wives." The ladies worked themselves up to a heated fighting rage before fearlessly heading for the Assembly chambers which, incidentally, were heavily guarded. At a rally in the city hall theater, the girls, representing all women's organizations, demanded quick action on their resolution.

It included the following points:
1) The whole concubine question shocks Korean women extremely.
2) To use the question of women as a political tool is an insult to womanhood.
3) The constitution guarantees equality of sex. (The wording of the third point hinted that the women might consider exercising their constitutional rights and try matching men if men keep on with this number two and number three wife business.)
One imagines the men who read the last point (if it did indeed hint in that direction) must have thought the world was turning upside down. This concern with the effect on Korean society of western culture - and those who carry it - has ebbed and flowed throughout Korea's postwar history. While its most recent (and not so recent) manifestation is something I've looked into a great deal, over the next few months I'll be focusing on the events of the early 1970s, when Park Chung-hee declared war on Korea's western-influenced youth culture.

1 comment:

Roboseyo said...

"whispering to the Westerners in the night" - that's AWESOME.