A culture that cultivates the prostitution of teenage girls: based on the experiences of prostitution among teenage girls

Eun-Shil KIM


The fact that teenagers construct a unique identity of their own different from the older generation became the subject of new discourses in Korean society since the 1990s. As the sexual experience of teenagers came to be understood as an important element in constructing their differentiated identity, the issue of teenager's sexuality has drawn attention from the mass media and culture studies scholars alike. In particular, as it became widespread that the sexuality of teenage women became the "yonggae" product which adult men favored, the sexuality of teenage women became one of the most sensationally portrayed topics in Korea's mass media since the mid 1990s. 

The most dominant discourse on the sexuality of teenage women is based on the approach of protectionism. Another approach, which is usually adopted by feminist studies on teenage women, is that of acknowledging the reality where teenage women are constituted as sexual subjects within the consumer-capitalist society. In the approach of protectionism, the teenagers' practicing their sexuality is understood within the discourse of defiance, delinquency or victimization. Here teenagers are positioned as sexless beings and as minors living a present that only exists only subordinate to the future. What is noteworthy is that the word "teenagers" in general usually refers to teenage boys. Teenage girls are usually described more specifically as female students or young ladies who are considered as a sub-category within the definition of teenagers. They represent the "young lady" (the Korean word for young lady also has the meaning of virgin), a minor preparing for the future in a patriarchal society. 

Since the mid 1990s, feminism studies in Korea have criticized and deconstructed the way in which the teenagers, especially teenage women have been categorized, and the male-centric norms and morals that were used when defining their sexuality. (Kim 1997; ChoHan 1998; Lee 1998; Min 2000) First of all, feminism studies on teenage women understood the reality that teenagers living in the consumer culture of the 1990s had desires and curiosities of sexualities and relationships, and described how a teenager's sexuality was situated in Korean society. They have carried out discussions on what teenagers consider to be the sexual, on the relationship between the meaning of what they accept and practice as sex and the sexual script that is dominating the Korean society, on what knowledge or education on sex they are looking for and how this can be provided. 

With this as a background, this paper attempts to study how the experience of sexuality in prostitution is possible for teenage women and how their experience constitutes their sexualized gender identity. This paper does not apply the categorization of pro-positive sex feminism, anti-sex feminism or sex-radical feminism (Chapkis 1997) as such in looking at the teenage women within the sex industry. Rather, this paper attempts to understand why there exists a cultural acceptance that makes teenage women entering the sex industry a viable choice as a means to fulfill their needs, and to reveal how the Korean society makes them use sex as a trade. I want to explore the way in which teenage women understand and interpret their sexual practices and how they articulate the idea between the body, sexuality, gender and the idea of "me. By doing so, I want to find new way of questioning about women's sexualities in feminist studies in Korea


Author¡¦s biography

Eun-Shil KIM 김은실 is an Associate Professor of Women¡¦s Studies and the Director of the Asian Center for Women¡¦s Studies at Ewha Womans University. Eun-Shil Kim¡¦s major publication include ¡§The Discourse of Nationalism and Women 민족담론과 여성(1994), ¡§Studying My Own Cultural as Feminist Practice (1998),¡¨ ¡¨ Human Right, Culture and Women 인권, 문화, 여성에 관한 시론(2000),¡¨ ¡§The Cultural Logic of the Korean Modernization Project and its Gender Politics (2000), Women¡¦s Bodies, the Cultural Politics of Bodies (2001), Sexual Revolution and Sexual Politics in the West (2002). She has written widely on women and body issues, including feminist critiques of modernity and the medico-political construction of the female body, as well as nationalism and representation of women¡¦s sexualities. She has been involved in the Asian Women¡¦s Studies Project since 1996 and is committed to extending Women¡¦s Studies networks in the Asian region, and problematizing the region from feminists¡¦ point of view.