Blogging 'bout Love in the ROK
Thirteen percent of new marriages in South Korea are international, with the majority being Korean men marrying non-Koreans. Grand Narrative blogger, James Turnbull, looks at the growing presence of Western women blogging about love and marriage in the ROK.
BUSAN, South Korea -Whether you’re new to Korea or have been here a while, blogs can often be invaluable sources of information about the place. With over 300 active ones available, you are almost guaranteed there will be at least one on literally any aspect of Korean life you are interested in: from military affairs and K-pop to science fiction and gender issues.
With such diversity, you might expect it to be very difficult to speak of any definite trends in this Korea “blogosphere”. Any yet, one thing does stand out: a very sudden and a very large increase in the number of Western women blogging about dating and/or being married to Korean men. But why so many, and why now?
One reason may simply be that is increasingly easy to blog. It can take as little as two minutes to create one on popular platforms like Wordpress or Blogger for instance, and one, Tumlbr, which many of these new blogs are based on, seems particularly well-suited to quickly cross-posting content and getting dialogues going. Otherwise isolated in what had previously been a very male-dominated field, this ease may have helped a critical mass of like-minded bloggers to finally develop and lend the topic some legitimacy, in turn encouraging other would-be bloggers in a kind of snowball effect.
But much more important are those factors now “pushing” Western women to produce these blogs, and/or literally “pulling” them and Korean men towards each other!
Focusing on the former, one blogger (It's Daejeon, darling!) cited the dearth of information to help her navigate the wholly unfamiliar terrain of intercultural dating before she came here, in stark contrast to that on teaching English and living in Korea. On top of that, popular forums like Dave’s ESL Café bombarded her with so many negative messages about Western women that she wrote “I came here prepared to be single and stay single, because I had the impression that local and foreign alike were just not interested and it was all my fault.” But she soon learned that this just wasn’t true, and blogs like hers now help to both fill the gap and provide a more accurate impression of the dating scene for women.
As for the latter, one possibility may be increasingly positive representations of East Asian men in the Western media, after historically being underrepresented and stereotyped. Combined with the popularity of the Korean Wave, this may have increased their appeal to Western women. Indeed, many of these new blogs (but by no means a majority) feature the bloggers quite brazenly discussing their sexual exploits with Korean men, albeit anonymously. But while this can obviously be problematic sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with that in itself, and to be fair many of the blogs’ names belie much tamer actual content.
However, the vast majority of expats of either gender do not travel to a foreign country because of an exclusive preference for a certain ethnicity or nationality, nor do they acquire one once they’re there. They do anticipate being able to date or even marry locals if they choose to though, and may well blog about that in passing when it happens. But crucially, Korean men generally did not seek long-term relationships with Western women until recently, seeing them as only suitable for casual dating partners instead.
Western women that have lived here for some time however, now report that Korean boyfriends are starting to introduce them as their girlfriends to their parents. As blogger Msleetobe puts it, it’s like “suddenly there is a possibility of being a Western girlfriend to a Korean now in a way that was much more difficult just a few years ago. We’re not just fantasies, but we don’t have to immediately become wives either.” And she directly links this to the increase in the number of related blogs.
Does this mean that the trend is here to stay? Conventional wisdom dictates that women like to discuss relationships much more than men do, and so this appears likely. But it’s also true that strong double-standards exist in the ways men and women in any country can publicly discuss the topic, and in turn, no article on the subject in Korea is complete without mention of the “English Spectrum” episode of 2005 (just Google it if you haven’t heard of it). Just how reliable is that “conventional wisdom” then, when many Korean netizens will simply not tolerate Western men openly discussing dating Korean women?
Either way, for many Western women the blogosphere is now just the new locker room, and perhaps Western men in particular should be encouraged to visit this realm previously out of bounds to them. At the very least, it’s likely to overturn their “conventional wisdom” surrounding Korean men, whereas Western women have already known the reality for a long time!
James Turnbull writes about Korean gender issues at his blog “The Grand Narrative”, and would like to thank all his readers for their help in compiling this report.
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