Cont. from THE Myth, Part I -- Before Korea: Sleeping with Asian men is hilarious.
And THE Myth, Part II: The women, before.
And THE Myth, Part III: In which I'm no Picasso grows a pair.
There was something strange in the air in the ROK come late summer, 2009. I was nearly the end of my first year, and I was doing a lot of reflection back to when I had first arrived, how things had been then, and how things were now. And there was something discernibly different.
It wasn't uncommon, suddenly, for me to be out and about in my local area and spot not just the occasional woman amongst a myriad of male companions, but even groups of women. And they didn't seem miserable at all. They were laughing and talking and interacting with the people around them -- they seemed happy. The men in the area had changed as well. Now, when I walked into the local foreigner bars, nearly everyone inside would turn around and smile, whether they knew me or not, the men included. There were also more women, both Korean and Western, mixed in with the groups of men.
Even stranger, I had begun to have very different first encounters with Western women. Standing outside a local university one day, smoking a cigarette, one made her way toward me. After a few minutes discussing all the usual details, she looked up at me out of the corner of her eyes, squinted and said, "So, have you got it?"
"The I'm sorry?"
"Yellow fever. I don't mean that exactly, but you know what I mean. Are you into Korean guys?"
And then something earth-shattering happened: threads began to appear on Dave's ESL Cafe started by women who were planning to come to Korea. The subject of these threads were not what they would need to bring along with them, or how to sort out the details of their contracts -- they were what to expect of the dating situation with Korean men, and how the culture would be different. And for the first time I'd ever witnessed on Dave's, not only were there enough women with strong enough voices to shout down the occasional asshat who stumbled in and posted something along the lines of "UR ALLZ GONNA BE SAD AND LONELY RAAAAH!" and "SMALL PENISES! WAHEY!" and "FAT! FEMINIST!", but there were also a number of male posters contributing to the conversation in a respectful, non-threatened manner.
I had begun to spot my first Western female/Korean male couples holding hands around Seoul. Something was definitely up.
These were small, but noticeable changes. And if we had worked hard enough at it, eventually we would have made enough small, but noticeable changes for it to culminate into one big change. One big change that would mean that we no longer had to endure hysterical laughter at the prospect of us, as Western women, being involved with Asian men. That would mean we no longer had to protest in vain against a group of men who were so thoroughly entrenched in their own mythology about our situations here, that even our real life experience felt measly as an example against their continued insistence that they knew better than we did. That would mean we didn't have to deal with all kinds of side-eye and rude, childish, unacceptable behavior when we were seen out with Korean men.
But this is where the Korean dating bloggers came in and made one big change all at once. Gave a validating and public platform to not only their own experiences as Western women with Korean men, but also opened up dialogue and discussion without shame among a whole lot of Western women (and men) at once.
I cannot, no matter how hard I try, remember how I first came across them. I can't even remember which one I found first. But around this same time, somebody somewhere drew my attention to three blogs. These blogs were Dating in Korea, Hooking up in Hanguk and Hot Yellow Fellows.
Women were blogging in Korea. Women were blogging in Korea about dating. Women were blogging in Korea about dating Korean men. And other women around the world were eating it up.
These women weren't sad and lonely. They most certainly were not sexless. And, most importantly, anonymity for the sake of sexual content aside, they were not embarrassed. They had no reason to be. And the men they were with were attractive to them, and the men they were with were not sexually impotent.
For the first time ever, if a post came up on Dave's quoting that quickly-becoming-ancient-and-defunct myth about how Western women and Korean men just didn't happen, women didn't have to repeat that that wasn't true for them, over and over again, while being shouted down as liars or delusional: they could just post a few links and let the men see for themselves. Women all around me had started speaking up: Did you hear about? Did you see? Me too. I like them, too.
And for the first time ever, women back in the States or the UK or Australia or New Zealand or South Africa looking to come to the ROK could do a google search and find something other than male-dominated dialogue about the female experience. Or a complete lack of information entirely. They were no longer reliant on the male retelling of the myth -- the myth had finally been dealt an unequivocal and fatal blow.
Did they end world hunger? No. Neither did they solve the crisis in the Middle East. I'm not going to grandstand about the importance of what the dating bloggers did, but they did alter the perception of what foreign women in Korea could realistically expect of their time here. And they put an end to a hell of a lot of superiority women had been dealing with out of male foreigners for a long time. It is bigger than 'omg Nichkhun Oppah saranghaeyo~~!' It is bigger than just having a 'thing' for Korean guys, or even just the acceptance of Western female/Korean male couplings. It has had an impact on relations within the foreinger community, as well. Women are no longer to be thought of as straggling, desperate albatrosses hanging around the necks of their male counterparts -- they have options. They are on equal footing.
In a way, it's a shame that that's what it took. That being able to prove that Western women could have sex in Korea could have such a powerful effect on the expat community's collective psyche. And we're not all the way there yet -- not by a long shot. But you can trust that anytime you hear a comment or see a post online about the myth, it's coming from someone who is tragically out of date, and at least somewhat isolated in their own experience. Now, women are not the ones who are obviously left out in the cold -- it's the people who make these claims that are clearly 'sad and lonely'. On that, nearly everyone can now, finally, agree.
This is where this post originally ended. And then, something else happened. DIK and HYF got called out by an anonymous commenter, who one can only assume has not had her dainty little feet on Korean soil for too long, for creating a bad image of foreign women in Korea. This anonymous poster had been approached by "a few" Korean men whose end designs were sexual relations, and had decided that this was the fault of DIK, HYF and other women like them, who are open about the fact that yes, actually they can have relationships (of all kinds!) here in the ROK.
Something else happened before that, when another K dating blogger (again, a woman), who I won't link for diplomacy's sake, made a few different rather biting comments about having seen foreign women who were, in her eyes, less than attractive (again, stating things mildly) with Korean men.
And I just think.... one step forward, two steps back. And who's doing it this time? Western men in Korea? No. Other women.
We can't win, apparently, even with ourselves. We don't have sex in Korea, and it's because we can't, because nobody wants us. We do have sex in Korea, and it's somehow to blame for the long history of a very heavily documented and obvious stereotypes of Western women that have existed in Korea since the concept of Western woman has existed in Korea. We're the reason why men engage in repulsive assumptions and unacceptable behavior toward us. And when we do finally start having sex, it's not because we're deserving of it, but only because -- suddenly! -- Korean men aren't not attracted to Western women -- they are, in fact, attracted to all of us, regardless of whether or not we are actually attractive.
And when the comment section here on I'm no Picasso takes a hit from that old dinosaur of a nuisance, the bitter, out-of-touch-with-reality, nasty, entitled white male, what happens? Do women step in and get back in their faces? No. One did. Everyone else stayed out of it. But when women start attacking other women on DIK's blog? Women come out of the wood works to leave reams of comments echoing the same exact ideology. (To be fair, many also commented to back the dating bloggers up -- but it was about 50/50, all the way through.)
What the fuck?
I mean, I'm going to go a little liberal arts college 101 on you all here for a minute. Some of us come from a little thing called the working class. Some of us grew up in this world and processed it on first a literal level, only to go on to then study it excessively theoretically at university. Which changed things. The two identities I have which I have most closely examined have been that of being working class and that of being a woman. They are both identities that I was born into with no input or responsibility of my own. They're both identities that I have always felt fiercely defensive of, since a time before I was able to articulate that defense on anything other than a guttural level. And my articulation of that defense, to this day, remains somewhat guttural. That part of me wants to tell everyone to just get fucked and mind their own fucking business -- to fuck off out of my face, because I don't have to explain shit to anyone. It's not my job to educate you about myself, what I am and where I come from, so that you can "understand" why I have the same rights as you do. If you don't understand me, if you don't like the rights I claim for myself, then you don't have to keep engaging with me. In fact, I would prefer it if you wouldn't. In fact, I'm straight out telling you not to. I'm not asking you to understand me. I don't need your understanding. I'm going to take what's mine, and if you think I need to be stopped, then you're fucking welcome to try.
But when I see anyone else who falls into the category of these same identities attacking that identity, something in my heart just fails. Because the educated part of me knows where that's coming from. Knows that that is a result of carefully constructed systems of control that outside forces have put into place so that we will police ourselves. Like the racism that runs rampant through the working class, pitting the poor of this color against the poor of that color, so that they end up spending all their energy and hatred and blame on each other, instead of realizing that they're fighting over fucking scraps. And that they need to cut it the fuck out, and look up at who it is that has control over what's really worth fighting for.
So it is also with the women. Sex positive, sex negative. The marrying type and the whores. The lesbians and the straights. The uglies and the pretties. The fats and the thins. The blacks and the whites. The Westerners and the Koreans. The ones who date Westerners, and the ones who date Koreans.
Do you realize what you're doing? Do you know how far we've come? Is tearing down other women who choose to live their lives in a way that you don't really worth going back to being told that nobody wants us? Is there only room for one type of foreign woman in Korea? And are we the ones who are forcing that decision on ourselves? Where did we get that fucking idea from? Who is making your choices for you right now, while you're trying to control someone else's? Who made you feel like you have to hold another woman responsible for the sexual harassment you've gotten off of a man?
Just cut it the fuck out. It's too depressing to even cope with, honestly. That the second the vicious attacks from Western men start to move on the decline is the same second the women just start turning on each other is more than my poor heart can bear. That we are so quick to engage in vicious attacks and placing blame on each other, while we still hesitate so much to stand up for ourselves to men, still somehow needing their approval, is just evidence that it does go deeper for all of us than even we can understand at the moment. The fact that men can shut the fuck up and the same shit still goes down, and we're still damned if we do, damned if we don't, is unacceptable to me.
So. Foreigner Joy has issued a challenge to Western women in Korea to reevaluate the choices that they make in their personal sex lives and the effects those choices have on other foreign women. But sex lives are personal, and I'm not about to start getting into anyone else's personal business. What I will say is that, in the public world, I have a challenge for Western women as well, which is to think twice before you open your mouth to condemn another woman for being ______. Think about whether that woman is the secondary or primary cause of your discomfort or you objection. Think about why it is you feel the need to consantly compare yourself to other foreign women, and weigh their lifestyles or their looks or their sexuality against your own, especially when all of the end results that are offending you are coming out of the behavior of, or approval of, or lack of approval of men. Think about why you're making other women responsible.
Stop fighting over scraps. Get yours, in your own way. Live and be happy and correct the behavior of every person who tries to get in the way of that directly. Create your own image of the ideal foreign woman in Korea, and do your best to promote it right along side all the other images, so that someday we can hope to be recognized as something other than a category, by Western men, by Koreans and by other women. Because I refuse to settle for one myth, or one box that we all have to try to squeeze into. It's not enough. Demand more.