Trigger Warning: This post includes strong language and disturbing content.
A viral video hailing from South Korea is making the rounds online – and it’s absolutely teeming with ugly implications of racism, imperialism, and misogyny.
The video is one of the most awful things I’ve seen recently in terms of outright objectification of women, so please brace yourself. And also, maybe be kind to yourself and set up your Internet queue with some cuteness to feel better afterwards – check out pictures of this tiny, hurt kitten wearing a mushroom costume. I sure needed it.
The video is only 78 seconds long, barely giving us a chance to get acquainted with the situation. But the facts are made abundantly clear: a Korean woman is sitting alone in a club, minding her own damn business, when two white Western expatriate males approach her, and then start to viciously harass her.
The men don’t seem to know her, but one of them easily slings an arm around her, taking advantage of her lowered guard – and why wouldn’t it be? She’s out at a club trying to have a good time, not expecting to suffer such discrimination.
The other dude guffaws off screen, saying that’s he’s shooting her body on camera. The two gloat about how they’re displaying her legs and breasts – “Look at this little bitch - we gotta get the boobs in there! Tit shot!” – as she tries initially to wave them off, putting up a hand in light protest.
It gets more sinister from there as the guy closest to her grabs her face, lifts her chin up, and exclaims gleefully, “I see a booger,” sticking his finger up her nose, obviously without her consent. To that, the camera guy responds, “Make her eat it!” After forcing the woman to eat her own snot, they sneer at her, “You’re disgusting.”
It’s certainly chilling how quickly the men jump from exalting her body to degrading it, but it’s not surprising. As Cracked editor David Wong says, “From birth we’re taught that we’re owed a beautiful girl. We all think of ourselves as the hero of our own story…so it’s very frustrating, and I mean frustrating to the point of violence, when we don’t get what we’re owed. A contract has been broken…Yes, women in these stories are being portrayed as wonderful and beautiful and perfect. But remember, there are two ways to dehumanize someone: by dismissing them, and by idolizing them.”
After finding out that the woman’s teeth aren’t perfect, the men yell at her cruelly – “Why can’t you get plastic surgery like every other fucking little Korean bitch?” I can’t even articulate how disgusting and horrifying it all is. The woman in the video looks extremely distressed, of course, but her response is strong and amazing. She shoots back, “Fuck you,” in English to make sure the expats understand her, brushes their hands off of her, and walks out.
The video was posted on Youtube in early June, gaining 24,000 hits before being taken down. Now, a month later, it was posted again to Facebook, generating more than 250 shares and 800 comments, mostly in Korean.
The blatant and ghastly misogyny are fairly obvious, but there are also subtler forms of racism present in the video that have sparked a heated debate. Some commented that white expatriates in Asian countries tend to be arrogant and foolhardy in their Western imperialist ways, often being rewarded “simply for being white.” Others took to victim-blaming the Korean woman, saying, “She went crazy over white guys, lived at a club, and ran into trouble,” implying that she was responsible for how she was treated – which, of course, is total bullshit, not only because victim-blaming is always wrong but also because she didn’t even initiate contact with the expats!
Korea and other Asian countries are no strangers to the influences of Western imperialism, particularly salient today in how beauty ideals have been affected. Plastic surgery is booming in Asia. One in five South Korean women from 29 to 49 have undergone the knife. The most popular procedures are inarguably ones that make Asian women look more Caucasian, such as rhinoplasty, making the nose slimmer and taller, or the upper eyelid surgery, granting an extra fold to the eye that occurs naturally in only 15% of East Asians. Plastic surgeon Anthony Youn writes, “While Asian plastic surgeons claim that these procedures are meant to retain their patients’ ethnicities and make them generally more attractive, I don’t buy it. To put it bluntly: Facial plastic surgery on Asians is about making a person look as Caucasian as possible.”
It’s cruelly ironic, then, that the expats mock her and other Korean women about undergoing plastic surgery, although it’s clear that Western imperialism and white beauty ideals (things that, as white men, they benefit from every single day) are some of the primary driving forces behind the thriving industry.
The video is truly loathsome, but brings to light some of the ways that racism, sexism, and imperialism interact with being a Westerner in a foreign country. Furthermore, it shows a young woman who takes matters into her own hands, refusing to play the beautiful girl in a man’s story, idolized and dismissed in equal turns – and decides to become the hero of her own story instead.
Update: There’s been some debate about the authenticity of the video, as a commenter piped up that the video was actually staged and filmed for the purpose of going viral. But either way, does it matter? It's not as though Westerners don't treat Asian women like this. Its presence must be addressed because there are too many people out there who think that this woman deserved what happened to her.