I came across an interesting department of the Korean government the other day while my wife was reading an article about how men who have only one child who is female are the most likely people to support the equality of men and women in Korea. The report also showed other trends and biases of Korean people based on the gender of their children. The research was carried out by the Ministry of Gender Equality (여성부).
I was curious, and I remembered my students (all boys high school) mentioning something about this department before, which wasn't at all kind. So I questioned them further. It turns out that the rather interesting study they funded, was a significant improvement on past endeavours.
Korean High School Boys Vs the 여성부
I asked my students what they thought of the Ministry of Gender Equality (or Women's Affairs) and I was met with a groan of disapproval and detected the odd Korean swear-word mixed in. It turns out that this particular department is responsible for taking away much of what they find enjoyable in life. I checked out what they said and it all seems to be legitimate, so let's see what they have been up to.
1. Banned - The Computer Game Shutdown Law
This is a law that stops all internet gaming after midnight and is obviously highly unpopular with my students, especially as most of them probably don't get back from school until midnight. Their favourite waste of time has been restricted by Korea's version of the Ministry of Truth, well that's how my students see it anyway.
2. Banned - 죠리퐁 (sugar puffs in snack form)
Apparently, students around Korea used to make fun of the appearance of this innocent snack by saying it looked like the female genitalia. This was deemed enough of a menace to society by the 여성부 (we'll call it the Minstry of Plenty this time) to outlaw this particular snack. I can remember the offending snack, they were the equivalent of a breakfast cereal called 'Sugar Puffs' in my country, England. I have a fairly dirty mind sometimes, but I have never looked at a sugar puff and thought of a woman's vagina. These Korean kids have some vivid imaginations, but banning puffed wheat, are you kidding?
This snack has recently been recalled to the sanck shelves.
3. Banned - online Tetris
What could possibly be wrong with Tetris, I hear you say. Well, it seems that Korean young people's sexual comparisons do not stop at sweet treats but also make their way into computer games too. You know when you make a line in Tetris and it leaves a big hole to be filled by the long straight piece? When you can perfectly fit that long one into a hole it feels almost orgasmic doesn't it? Yep, Tetris was banned because of this little innuendo, although this law has recently been rescinded. The madness of it is that surely you would have to ban an awful lot of things to block us all from sexual punnery. Here is a list of other possibly offensive things based on this argument:
A key into a door
A straw into a fizzy drinks bottle
A book-mark into a book
A letter into a letter-box
A biscuit into a cup of tea (almost equally pleasurable, especially for an Englishman)
A CD into a CD player
A pencil into a pencil sharpener
Connecting your charger to your phone, in fact, plugging almost anything in.
Digging a hole and putting a post in it
Picking your nose
Launching a rocket, etc, etc, etc...
4. Banned - Websites that show adult videos
I never remember pornography being such a hit when I was at school, but maybe the internet has brought this into young people's lives. When I was their age the internet was not quite so developed, I didn't even have a computer (bloody hell I am getting old). Needless to say, however, if popularity with young men was what the Gender Equality Ministry were after, they could have done no worse than block adult videos. As we have already seen, though, they seem to be Korea's version of Mary Whitehouse, the supreme Killjoys. Perhaps this might not be the worst thing they have done, though, maybe Korean boy students do have a little too strong a fascination with it all.
5. Banned - Hyundai Sonata III's car lights
At this point The Ministry of Gender Equality was starting to remind me of an old joke about the writer of the first dictionary, Samuel Johnson, retold in one of my favourite speeches by Christopher Hitchens on the issue of freedom of speech:
The ladies said, "Dr Johnson, we are delighted to find that you haven't included any indecent or obscene words in your dictionary."
Dr Johnson replied, "Ladies, I congratulate you on being able to look them up."
Hitchens went on to say that there are those that will search through a treasure trove of English in order to be offended and accused many of the religious in this world of similar behaviour. One wonders if this is what the 여성부 are doing, except they are not looking for words but for things that look like parts of sexual anatomy.
They outlawed this particular thing because of its phallic resemblance - which, now that they mention it, does indeed look rather suspicious. However, again if we were to ban all things that could be linked to the look of a penis we would be extremely busy.
Pepperamis (maybe UK only)
Bananas (again, pesky things)
I could go on and on again, but wait... sorry the other thing banned for phallic resemblance - at least in school dinners - is indeed a certain kind of Korean mushroom.
Bizarrely, those ice lollies they sell here that come in a hard plastic covering are not banned. To me they have always looked like ice cream in a hard condom.
Now I can see the reason for the hatred of the Ministry of Gender Equality in my students. I think they have covered most of the major interests in their lives in their policies; pornography, computer games, sexual innuendos and jokes, and snack food.
However, if they start banning skimpy K-Pop outfits on girl groups they better be prepared for war as that could be the straw that breaks the camels back and cause a student push back. I might even join them on the front line.