Friday, October 2, 2009


Now that I'm officially a respectable member of the working class, I'm getting into the swing of a full time employee's routine. Though I'm not a nine-to-fiver (I work 1:30 to 8:30) there's not a lot of time for me to do anything monumental before I start work. I can shop a bit, I can go for a run, I can Skype someone, I can read a book (I recently just finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road, it rocked)...but I usually don't have the time to leave Uijeongbu before work. Now I understand why people who have full time jobs talk constantly about the weekends...there's just not a lot of time to fit in anything epic on the weekDAZE.

The other activity that I fill my mornings with is streaming/downloading good 'ole Amurican television on my trusty laptop. As much as I love the quality American programing that airs on Korean cable (America's Next Top Model Cycle 16, Flavor of Love VII, Hell's Kitchen et al), Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart have become my post-school therapists over here. I guess obsessing over American media is my way of keeping my homesickness in check.

My newest infatuation of late is AMC's Mad Men. So what if Stuff That White People Like says that I am extra Caucasian for being completely in love? I don't care. The show rocks because:
a) The art direction is GORGEOUS; love love love the costumes. High-waisted pants? Scarfs? Cuff links? Full skirts and dresses? Skinny ties? Yes, please.
b)The acting is solid; woot January Jones and Jon Hamm especially.
c)There's buttloads of feminist commentary. No wonder: over half of the show's writers are women. Feministing even does a regular series on the show: Mad Men Mondays :)

So what does this thoroughly American television show have to do with Korea? Well, you see, I've been wanting to write about gender here--what it's like to be a Korean woman, as I've observed--for quite some time. But I've never really been able to describe the feelings I get here quite accurately, because just when I think I've decided one thing about gender roles and patriarchy here, Korea completely defies my understanding of it. UNTIL NOW

Some of the general attitudes which I've observed, which seem straight out of the 1950's:
--Ladies should wear makeup before leaving the house
--Ladies should probably put on heels before leaving the house
--Ladies should carry parasols to maintain their skin's ivory color
--Ladies should live with their parents if they are unmarried, even if they are 40+
--Ladies shouldn't smoke, or else people will think they are major sluts
--Ladies should aspire to give birth and rear children before anything else
--Ladies should probably get plastic surgery in order to look prettier/whiter/more Western: seriously, 76% of Korean women have had some kind of cosmetic surgery.

Things are changing. Three of my single, female, Korean co-workers live by themselves. More Korean women are moving out of the house and into the workforce, though certain jobs are still considered more female appropriate (elementary school teacher, for instance). Every once in awhile I'll see a Korean women smoking in a bar/restaurant (not to equate lung cancer with empowerment, but in my opinion, if dudes can choose to give themselves emphysema, women should be able to, too). And my partner teacher, Jenny (who is a bad-ass for a laundry list of reasons) has told me she would never get plastic surgery.

I feel like Korea is in the middle of a big sociological switcheroo right now, much like America was in during 1960, (when Mad Men is set). Women are beginning to want more than fixing their husbands a meal at the end of the day. Single women are asserting themselves by moving out of the house. And there's a friction between the traditional older Koreans and the younger generation in this regard, much like there was in the U.S. in the 60's.

Obviously, I'm not Korean, and I haven't been here very long. I'm interested to see how my understanding of gender here changes...until then, watch Mad Men, and as you watch, wonder which episode I'm in the middle of over here...


  1. My prof. was just talking about Mad Men in class this morning. Good TV = really good to know about.
    Other recommendations:
    -Battlestar Galactica (BSG!!!!!). Best Show (G)Ever.
    -30 Rock is hilarious. Mostly because of Alec Baldwin.
    -Firefly, not to be confused with or related to the shitastic movie spinoff, Serenity.
    -and The City.

  2. And the Korean girls on campus here carry parasols with them. I think it's so lovely. (I'm not missing the point of this post...just commenting on the nice things.)

  3. mad men yourself!! yayaya