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Dissertation Defense, Edward Glayzer, “Intimate Inequality: The Commodification of Courtship Rituals in the South Korean Marketplace”

December 17, 2020 @ 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Intimate Inequality: The Commodification of Courtship Rituals in the South Korean Marketplace

Abstract: “The economic boom of the 90’s promised increased gender equity for Korean women through their new ability to “find employment off the land and outside of the family economy,” gaining some level of autonomy from their families. However, Korea now has the widest gender income gap among OCED nations. I argue that, while women have gained the power to choose their own marriage partners, the hyper-commodification of dating rituals has left them as unequal partners in the negotiation of romantic courtship. Additionally, the commodification of intimacy has also increased inequality between men and women within the Korean sexual field, hardening class hierarchies. This has had negative effects on men’s ability to materially express their feelings of interest, love, and intimacy with their dating partners during a time of slow economic growth, concentration of wealth among elites, and high unemployment among South Korean youth. I found that a reversion to a reliance on Korean singles’ parents class status and economic clout in the competitive Korean sexual field has taken place despite tremendous economic development, and advances in women’s rights and education. While the democratizing effects of capitalism that have allowed Korean women to choose their own marriage partners would seem to have increased gender equality, my study calls this assumption into question and asks how this shift instead creates new inequalities. I investigate how the development of a consumer economy has affected gender inequality through the commodification of intimate relationships within dating and marriage rituals.

I use dating and courtship rituals in South Korea as a lens through which to examine how the commodification of intimacy has affected gender and class inequality. Unequal access to income between genders and classes unevenly effects the expression of intimate relationships that are heavily mediated by the hyper-consumption of commodities. I argue that inequity in the economic market creates analogous inequity in dating, marriage, and intimate markets with especially negative repercussions for those who do not fit what that market has deemed ideal feminine or masculine actors. Class inequalities within the sexual field are most apparent between men whose evaluations are based on breadwinner masculinity; strongly correlated with their incomes and the class background of their parents. Women too elevate or descend the hierarchy of the Korean sexual field through their adherence to marketable ideals of femininity and a “good wife,” namely their education, docility, and erotica capital.

The emancipatory power of new technologies of intimate consumption such as the internet are interrupted by both commodification and the threat of abuse by Korean singles with the ability to weaponize their higher incomes within their intimate relationships. Online matchmaking agencies who perform such screening services are expensive and reintroduce economic inequalities and hegemonic male power back into intimate relationships. Koreans exploit the internet to discover new social groups and extend the reach of their existing social networks through Meetup groups and hobbies rather than deploying dating applications more directly to find a dating partner. However, I argue that the rise of online dating in South Korea and its intensive commodification has actually led to the retrenchment of existing gender norms and ideals rather than their subversion.”


This dissertation defense will be held via Zoom. If you would like to participate in the defense, please contact Eddie Glayzer at glayzere@msu.edu for video meeting details.


December 17, 2020
12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Event Category:


Video Conference