11.04.2010

Women's bodies, cont.

Thinking more today about the post I made quickly this morning answering a question (or rather concern?) about a Western woman apparently causing a ruckus in her work place by having breasts, and a few other things, plus looking over The Grand Narrative's latest post, I wanted to revisit the topic in a little more detail. Because it's something that's been bothering me. And if it's bothering me, and considering the question that was left for me to respond to, it's more than likely been an issue for at least a few of you as well.

The Grand Narrative left a link to this article in response to the earlier post, which was basically exactly what I was thinking when I saw that question come up in my inbox. It obviously happens all over the world, including in our home environments, where a woman is easily classified as being any degree of "slutty" based solely on the way that her body naturally looks. It's highlighted, however, by the fact that Western women can often have more curvaceous or naturally busty bodies than what is considered the norm in Korea, which is only exacerbated by the Korean media's ease and comfort with highlighting these differences, while simultaneously depicting Western women as largely promiscuous. Which is not even a word I like, to begin with.

Tom Spanbauer
is a largely unknown, hugely brilliant writer who runs a workshop based on a concept called "dangerous writing". He is responsible for Fight Club, and basically anything worthwhile Chuck Palahniuk ever wrote. Dangerous writing is defined as the following:

The emphasis is on writing "dangerously" -- that is, writing what personally scares or embarrasses the author in order to explore and artistically express those fears honestly.

I had the privilege of hearing Spanbauer speak in person about his theory, which came out of his experience of having his religious father find his journals when he was in high school, which were full of accounts of his own homosexuality, and being kicked out of his home and alienated from his family as a result. That has little to nothing to do with what I'm about to write, but it just annoys me that more people know who Palahniuk is than Spanbauer, so I wanted to put that out there.

Anyway. This is all to say that, although I am an intensely private person by nature, in order to properly illustrate a point I'm trying to make, sometimes I have to publicly admit something that I don't really want to. Now, I'm about to do it again.

I recently joined a dating site. Now, please immediately erase that fact from your memory, because, although it's common enough in today's society, and largely popular and widely accepted in Korea especially, I personally find it a bit humiliating. Mostly because I don't like to admit that I even want to date. I won't justify it beyond that.

The point is, it's mostly just been really annoying and disappointing. And it hasn't even been a week. I know there are sleaze buckets all over the world, but there's something that seems particularly empowering to the male about a dating site which encourages him to approach a foreign woman in a completely unacceptable manner, and under ridiculous pretenses. I've already had a Pillsbury Doughboy of a man ask me within the first five lines of correspondence if I have a "nice body" (the fact that he is a bit rotund would be unworthy of mention, in my opinion, were it not for his uninhibited concern about my condition), and then tell me that I was jumping to conclusions when I immediately informed him that I didn't find that question to be within the confines of good manners, and therefore didn't think we would make a good match. He was apparently just being "friendly". Another man who contacted me filled in his profile with the information that he had both joined the site in order to find a sex partner, and that he would not want a child of mixed ethnicity, and then informed me that I was a "crazy girl" for telling him, for those specific reasons, that he wasn't what I was looking for, either.

Charming, no? The only upside I can see to internet dating thus far is that all the stupid shit that will undoubtedly eventually issue forth from men's mouths is right there out in the open from the beginning, so I don't have to decide between being "polite" and continuing to sit through a dinner with a man I find repulsive, or being a "bitch" and immediately putting on my coat and walking out. Three cheers for that, I suppose.

This has been combined, this week, with one of my new students deciding that it's acceptable to tell me that I am a beautiful girl and repeatedly attempt to kiss me. To the point where I had to physically restrain him. There is not a doubt in my mind that this little shit would never fucking dare to try such a thing with a Korean teacher.

And then, the cherry on the fucking shit sundae: a coworker has informed me that I have a very nice S line. Where I come from, that qualifies as sexual harassment in the workplace. And my co-teachers quietly confided, back in the office, that as far as they are concerned, it does for them as well. Now. This last one didn't happen just because I am foreign. The incident, in fact, led to a private discussion amongst female teachers in our office about similar instances they had all undergone or witnessed. But. Because I am foreign, my body naturally looks a certain way that is not as common in Korea as it is back in the States. The same as the body of the woman who wrote in about what's happening in her workplace. And that, apparently, is open season for comment.

I guess I'm just having a hard time adjusting to a few different things. I've always been a bit sensitive about being female, which comes from a long, horrendous history of enforced gender roles within the culture I came up in, and, specifically, my father. It also has to do with the fact that the person I was closest to growing up was my little brother, which led to an early instinct to need to be viewed as "one of the guys", aka on equal ground. I can't even begin to describe the base level of frustration that came with being inside of a body that people constantly told me meant certain things about me, which I couldn't feel as being natural to me at all. It wasn't even about feminism in the intellectual sense -- it was about the very raw emotion of being told over and over again that something about yourself you know isn't true, is true. And that you don't have the right to argue.

And then, when I got out of that environment, I moved away to art school in New York, where gender roles where a whole beautiful mess of fucked up anyway, and you could basically be whatever you chose to be, and most people accepted it without batting an eyelash. Which was a luxury which just couldn't last.

But the other part of it is that my body has actually changed. I've lost weight. I've gone from a wardrobe largely consisting of second-hand t shirts and torn jeans to pencil skirts and heels. For my job. Because what my grandmother used to tell me over and over again actually came true, and one day I got a job where I had to start dressing "like a grown up". And people's reactions to me have changed. It's not as easy now to be "one of the guys". And, on top of that, I've also become a foreign female with a D cup and S line in Korean society.

It's a whole, whole lot to process and deal with at one time. Which is why that question struck a particular chord with me this morning. Because all I've been thinking all week is how I don't understand why other people can't just leave me the fuck alone about my body, which looks the way that it looks not because I chose for it to look that way, or because I made it look that way, or because I want it to look that way, but because it just looks that way.

What's my point? I don't know. I suppose, just that I'm tired. And way too many stupid things have happened this week and I'm glad tomorrow is Friday. And I guess I'll wake up on Saturday and decide whether or not I should go out this weekend wearing a potato sack. Men, I love you. I really do. I really, really do. But you should say an extra prayer of thanksgiving to the Universe tonight for not having to worry about all of the shit that you think we're overly sensitive about, because we ordinarily don't have the time to explain it to you. I know you've got your own problems. But before you hit the bars to pick up this weekend, or, god forbid, log in to your account on that dating website, think twice about the things that are going to come out of your mouth and what all else that woman may have had to already put up with this week. Be her break from all of that, and she'll be way more likely to give you a second date. I promise.

15 comments:

Chris in South Korea said...

About time more than one woman got to talking about this :)

Look, you're living in a country that seems to interpret anything and everything people do in whatever way the senior wants. You say it's sexual harassment, he says it's a compliment.

Regarding the dating websites (what was that again?), forget them. Sorry, the guys you're looking for probably don't have time for an extended profile, responding quickly to e-mails, etc. I discovered the same thing way back in the day (about girls, that is); the week after, I headed out to a swing dance and met the Lady in Red. Just some food for thought.

I'm no Picasso said...

Yeah. When men pull out the "it's just a compliment" line, I always like to ask them how they would feel if the same comment was made to them by a gay male, and then tell them to have fun working out whether they are sexist or homophobic.

I dunno. It hasn't been a complete loss so far. But I'm not even about to get into that yet.

Gomushin Girl said...

(Sorry INP, about to talk about the sites that shall not be mentioned . . .)
Meeting somebody through real life connections is great. I know. It's how I met my SO. But it's entirely dependent on your social sphere and interests and ultimately your gender as well.
I'm sorry, but Koreans are more likely to introduce male foreigners to potential partners than women. Also, as a man in swing dance, you've got a pretty open field there. If you enjoy activities that attract a young crowd filled with members of the opposite sex, great. If you're like me, and interested in, say, petroglyphs or Butoh dance . . .eh, let's just say I didn't meet many young fellows doing that. Had a great time, yes. Meet potential partners, no. And trust me, if you're not a churchy person, Korean church is the very last place on earth you want to try to find somebody.
Also, Korea is largely homosocial and friendships don't broadly cross age ranges. When I was teaching, 95% of the other teachers at my school were middle aged men. Even if your school has lots of female teachers, most of them are out of the dating pool.
In the meantime, there's this wonderful thing called the internet, which can magically connect you to bajillions of people near you! It's so damn easy! Put in what you are and what you're looking for, and voila! Potential shag buddies and future husbands and tennis partners, all waiting. There is nothing wrong with dating sites, either as a supplement or replacement for traditional introductions.
The only thing wrong is that there are entitled jerks everywhere, and dating sites sometimes give them a false sense that they can "cut to the chase," skip the basic social graces, and be rude. You see, the filter of the internet replaces the filter in their brains. Some men are jerks in real life, and the internet just lets you understand their interior awfulness faster.
For what it's worth, US websites are similarly terrible, harboring people who think it is totally ok to start conversations that would get their balls sawed off if they tried it in real life.
As for the rest of it . . .
AMEN. Again. It doesn't matter how you mean it, in a professional context the only thing you should be commenting on are things that are related to the profession.

I'm no Picasso said...

Gomushin Girl --

I know the dating website thing is probably normal in any situation in any country, and it's a bad example, but it's just reminded me of all the times I have had Korean men stroll right up and say something completely unacceptable straight to my face, which they immediately get really embarrassed about once you call them out about it and it suddenly clicks that you are actually a human being. Some guys are just creeps. But some *aren't* and just say/do creepy things because they don't realize that it counts with us, at first.

And that's exactly the thing. I have no problem meeting men. I have no problem meeting friends. I have a problem meeting men who I would want to be more than friends.

Gomushin Girl said...

I'm sorry, I should have made it clearer that most of my comment was directed at Chris, re: the dating stuff. Chris, dear, you're a sweetheart, but it's not nice to imply that INP is doin' it wrong. Comments like that just stigmatize it further, and that's a shame, because sociologically I think it's fufilling a very important role. It's an imperfect tool, but so are the people who matchmake in everyday life.
As far as the strange verbal diarrhea that seems to affect some people . . .many Korean men have these wacked-out views that can in fact be changed, and more are simply afflicted with a moment of "OMG! It's a foreigner, what do I say?" panic. It's just so damn annoying. I'm grumbly when it comes out of the mouth of a twelve-year old boy who is still learning the rules of life and polite society. I'm livid, however, when it comes from adults who really ought to know better, though. I try to be forgiving in real life, though, I swear!

아만다 said...

Gomushin Girl, thank you thank you thank you! Good Man and I met online and I'm not ashamed of it at all. My main hobby in Korea was taekwondo. Unless I wanted to date a 17-year old, I wasn't going to meet anyone there. And I sure wasn't going to give up taekwondo to do some other hobby with a higher chance of meeting adult men.

Also, I think you're not considering, Chris, that straight men have got different dating experiences in Korea.

For example, if you end up dating Koreans, you're dating females, who work fewer hours than Korean males do and who don't have quite the same work obligations that men do. Sure it's easier to meet women when they're not holed up at a drinking party several nights of the week.

Also, women are always available at any age in Korea. But the men? They disappear for a couple of years, which reduces the dating pool.

Also, the familial pressures on males and females are very different--especially since so many men are the eldest and ONLY sons.

Why am I using Koreans in Korean culture as my primary explanation? Because it's a numbers game and there are far more Koreans in Korea than expats.

People say the same thing in America--meet someone in your daily activities! I teach in an elementary school. I won't date coworkers, and even if I did, most of them are women, and the men? I wouldn't date them. Taekwondo here? Again, all of the men are married or teenagers.

INP, dating online does have its disadvantages. But it can also be a very quick way to filter people out. The jerks who speak rudely? At least if they do it in email, you didn't get gussied up only to find out they were jerks on the first (or fourth) date.

And hey, you get some great stories. Oh man, do I have some stories. (Although really, they're not much different than the stories my friends who met people in natural life have. Dating it, after all, dating, no matter how you meet.)

For the record, I found that the biggest assholes were actually the expats, military guys, and kyopos who were pissed I'd put my message in Korean. Ha!

Jess said...

Look, Chris, you are a white man living in a country where white men are viewed as conquering heros (or dominating devils, depending who you ask...) while we are white women in a country where white women are viewed as big boobs with legs and a hole.

It's a little deeper than the "normal" (male) bullying culture. Had your ass grabbed on the bus by a guy who sees you as a thing to touch if he wants? No? Then shut the fuck up.

MikejGrey said...

I would just like to add, that not matter where you are in the world, Internet dating is awful because most people are awful.

But then again no one calls me a seshkshi gull. As if I were some sort of newly discovered bird.

I'm also working on a Portland variation of "Where's that Asshole Going?" It's much too mean and is something alone the lines of: "Homeless or Typical Working Portlander."

I'm definitely going to hell some day, but not today!

Burndog said...

I have never told anyone this before....it's part of a pact that The Bird and I have entered into...but...I met The Bird online. Nobody knows that. But it's true. I met a few donkeys before I met her, but the key was meeting someone who had lived in Australia and understood Australian culture to the same (amall) extent that I understood Korean culture. That's what worked for me.

On other topics...I'm not shocked about your Principal saying that. My VP is always groping teachers and commenting on their appearance (usually when he has had a few sojus at norae). It's disgraceful...and it's not a compliment...there's no culture where somebody treating you like a piece of meat because they're drunk and horny, is a compliment. Even if you take out the word drunk...it's not a compliment.

Gomushin Girl said...

The numbers game is a HUGE part of why dating is so theoretically difficult for western women who come here, I think.
Theoretically, you start with all the men, foreign and not, in the country. Now, you have to eliminate men who are . . .
Married
In a closed romantic relationship
Too old
Too young
Doing their military service
Coworkers
Can't communicate because of language issues
Have objecting family members
Work until 11 pm every day
and this is before we even start sorting for emotional compatibility and whether we think they look cute or dorky in those hipster glasses. Men start out with a higher number of available and willing partners here, and a set of social expectations that helps increase the number of potential dating experiences.
Life is so unfair, but letting people debate whether to be sexist or homophobic strikes me as an amusing way to pass the day^^

I'm no Picasso said...

Haha you guys are awesome.

Look. I'm totally down with everyone else in the world doing the internet dating thing. It's just *me*. It's having a deflating effect on my too-cool-to-give-a-fuck persona. I've always had issues finding dating partners because I'm picky as shit and possibly a bit of a handful. I just usually pretend it doesn't bother me. Or, usually, it doesn't bother me.

Actually, so far, the Korean guys have been the duds. The foreign guys have mostly been on the up-and-up. And a hell of a lot different from the foreign guys I tend to meet out and about who are basically almost always blind drunk. Anyway. I'll chicken out and not meet any of these people anyway, so it won't matter.

Burndog said...

I will say that as far as 'acceptance' goes...it's generally more 'acceptable' for a Korean guy to date a foreign woman than it is for a Korean woman to date a foreign man. However...the 'acceptability' for marriage of said foreigner is about the same, regardless of gender (unless the Korean male lives somewhere rural, then there is a greater chance that his family will accept a foreign wife). There are exceptions to these rules of course (The Bird's mother is very accepting of me...but her father says he will disown her if she tries to marry me *sigh*).

Discuss.

Oh...and whilst I met The Bird online...it's a source of horror and shame for both of us and neither one of us has EVER told anyone!

Gomushin Girl said...

ㅎㅎㅎ
I think you should regard your dating service the way a 1950's exec would have regarded the receptionist: Haughty disdain overlying acknowledgement of the usefulness of having somebody else handle all your social engagements because you are too damn busy thinking great thoughts and being important. "What's on the schedule for today, Mr. Dating Service? Appointment at seven with Mr. Potentially Tolerable? Make sure you pick up my dry cleaning at lunch, then."

The Realistic Optimist said...

A+ analogy! On the other side, I completely understand your sentiments toward online dating, Liz. It's totally cool for people to meet that way, but that's just not for me. I'll lose my self-approved cool points or something. But then again, I'm also planning to be single for a long time, so I guess that can be taken with a grain of salt.

Talkin said...

I've been lurking through your blog for awhile now. Yet another great post from INP!

I too have the tough, independent, too cool to care thing down pat. I, too, joined not one but TWO dating websites a few months ago. It's killing my ego. I've yet to meet a single one of these guys in real life. Hell, I've never given out my phone number to any of them. Furthest I've gone, is to give my Skype name to ONE guy who I chat with threeish times a week.

I don't care how anyone else meets, but I feel like I'm surrendering the "don't need nobody else" attitude I usually clutch on to for dear life.

I feel you.