Social transition and changing masculine idealsThis may not stimulate your appetite, but it will wake you up from a nap. As I got home last week, a business card that had been stuck in my door fell at my feet. I picked it up without any suspicion, until I curiously noted that the card was bright pink.
As I read on, I found that it wasn’t one of the discount coupons from the chicken joints in my neighborhood. Instead, it was from a “male massage parlor,” whose masseurs travel to homes to provide private massage services to female clients. Below the masseur’s phone number, it read, “I will do my best.” Do his best in what?
Typically, you find cards like this in city “officetels” for singles. But most often they turn out to be services for men. So what does this mean?
After talking to several girlfriends about this incident, I grew perplexed. For one thing, I am curious about what led to these dramatic changes in the attitudes of Korean men, who seem increasingly open ― at least on the surface ― to the idea of providing services for women’s pleasure.
OK, there were a few salesmen who put the shoes on women’s feet at shoe stores and waiters who kneeled to take orders at restaurants. But we learned that just because those men cajoled a few women with their smile didn’t mean they’d given up their chauvinism. Interestingly, male workers in the service sector never came across to us as being softer than other men, or unmanly. Instead, their masculinity was coded with special sex symbols.
But men who show up in some Korean dramas nowadays tend to be a bit different. They melt the female audience with impossible visions of masculine ideals. They are young and cute, often wealthy. Yet they don’t appeal to women through a domineering attitude.
In a simple analysis, this is all part of a social transition. Ten years ago, a man who made “hangover” soup for his working wife was a symbol of incompetence. Now, the positions of many women have become stable enough that they can choose men who meet their needs as active consumers, in the way that men used to choose women.
It’s a period of adjustment for women. But it must be a giant shift for men as well, who over the past five decades have been taught masculine ideals in the military. Most Korean men still have to spend up to three years of their precious youth secluded from ordinary life, surrounded by guns. But it’s no longer a public disgrace for them to work in a service industry where more than half of the consumers are women. I wonder if this has caused any psychological complications for Korean men. Or maybe this is why an increasing number of them now openly display their distaste for fulfilling their military obligations, some of them insisting that women should go into the army as well.
For the physical exam in the military, men are still told to strip off their pants without suffering any humiliation. Three years later, those same men turn into “flower men,” working for trendy restaurants in Seoul.
How to Cook
Ingredients (for 1 serving): 1 dried pollack, 100 grams tofu, 100g beans sprouts, 50g sliced radish, 1/2 red chilli pepper, 1/3 green onion, 1 teaspoon crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, salt and pepper.
1. Soak the dried pollack in water until soft. Cut into bite-size pieces.
2. Cut the tofu into cubes. Remove the ends from beans sprouts.
3. Dice chilli peppers and green onions.
4. In a greased pan, add the pollack sections. Stir gently, then add water. Add the pollack head.
5. Boil for 20 minutes. Remove the head. Add the remaining ingredients.
6. Serve with rice.
by Park Soo-mee
More in Features
Sculptor Joo Hoo-sik finds inspiration in the Year of the Cow
Nothing's fair in love and Covid
Top culture stories of the year
[ZOOM KOREA] The pipe organ master with plans for a uniquely Korean instrument
ENFJ-LMNOPQ what does the MBTI say about you?