Sunday, October 9, 2011

Kim Bob? Back to the drawing board!

Organizing a project runway competition between my high school students this past week gave me some insights into gender differences in Korea. I drew the outline of a man’s body on the blackboard. Then I drew the outline of a woman and as soon as the boys saw the shape of breasts and hips they let out oohs of anticipation. I told the class, “These people are going on a date and they need to get dressed.”

“Couple?!” some students asked.

“No, this is only a date,” I said. “They might not like each other. We are going to have a contest to see who is more fashionable. Let’s play boys versus girls.”

In one class, the girls named the chalk figure Meri, after me. The boys picked the name Kim Bob for their eligible bachelor. “Great,” I thought. “I’m going out with a Korean redneck.”

I asked students to draw articles of clothing. “Harry, will you please give Kim Bob some PANTS?” I’d say, emphasizing the most essential word.

The boys did such a slap dash job of getting Kim Bob dressed, I was thinking, “Kim Bob better have an amazing personality.” For Meri, the girls painstakingly drew a mini tube dress with a flower pinned to the front, fishnet stockings and stiletto heels. They got my hair right, but they made me look like a cheap whore. The girls were taking such a long time getting Meri dressed, I had to think of extra accessories for Kim Bob’s outfit just to kill time.

To convey the meaning of suspenders, I had to walk around jauntily with my hands holding invisible straps. When both Meri and Kim Bob were finally ready for their date, Kim Bob had tattoos, suspenders, lots of bling bling, glasses, a scarf, mittens, a mustache and beard, a belt, three watches, clown shoes, cut off shorts and fishnet stockings inspired by my outfit. At my suggestion, the boys also drew Kim Bob holding a bouquet of flowers.

I was the judge of the fashion contest and I hesitantly gave the award to Kim Bob, basing my judgment purely on creativity. I asked students about the date. Unless it was Halloween, I had a feeling this date would be a disaster.

“Where are they going on their date?"

“Circus!”

“Okay, that’s great. What about dinner?”

“Gangster circus!”

“Cool. What is Kim Bob’s job?"

“Gangster CEO.”

“Does he give Meri compliments, like ‘Meri, you are so beautiful’?”

“Hot!”

“Does Meri like him?”

“No!”

“Okay, I think this is their last date.”

In every class, the girls took the assignment seriously and the boys tried to create the most ridiculous outfit and distorted face imaginable. I thought of all the stories about ugly men who prove themselves endearing to the women they are pursuing: Beauty and the Beast, The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Cyrano de Bergerac. I have never read a love story about an ugly woman and a handsome man living happily ever after. The closest thing I can think of is Calypso and Odysseus in The Odyssey, but Calypso kept Odysseus prisoner, so that’s not a good example. In "Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story" by Russell Banks, the narrator admits with embarrassment that he dated an unattractive woman, but he turns out to be cruel.

I have to turn to the songs of the 60s like “Happy for the Rest of your Life” by Jimmy Soul and “Beauty Is only Skin Deep” by The Temptations to find evidence of men seeing past a pretty face. But in the Jimmy Soul song, he seems to be telling men that being with an ugly woman has its benefits, because then you can treat her like dirt. “An ugly woman puts beers on tap. She will give you peace of mind.” Not exactly on par with Rumi’s poetry.

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