Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Should adultery be a crime? In South Korea, it is...

BBC invites readers to post their ideas on the topic "Should adultery be a crime?" ... no, really, should it? In my ignorance, I had no idea that in fact adultery is considered a crime in South Korea. As BBC reported today about the case of a Korean actress accused and sentenced for adultery, I was forced to ruminate - once again - over how gender remains a deeply political matter.

As I teenager, I had read the Bible and was astonished to find that people stoned to death women who had committed adultery. Not that I agreed to adultery, but to stone someone over sleeping around could hardly justify killing them. As a teenager, I've also discovered that it is much more easier for men to get away with sleeping around than for women. One only has to think of poor Madame Bovary... But no, Lord Byron could get away with all his love poems to his many lovers...

But to find out that in some places people may still be imprisoned for this... I mean, this is hard to swallow. I ran a quick search to see where adultery is a crime. According to Wikipedia's entry on adultery, here's where sleeping around can get you in trouble:
- the United States (some states, like Maryland, Pennsylvania and Michigan)
- South Korea

- Taiwan
- Iran
- Pakistan
- Uganda (until 2007)
- In 2004, Turkey tried to pass a law incriminating adultery.

The trick is that sometimes it's the woman who gets punished for adultery, while men are free to do whatever they want. I guess some things are the same as in Madame Bovary's time... Some people point out that adultery should be punished because it is immoral or because it undermines the morals of a society. Well, so do politics and capitalism, but when did morals ever stopped politicians or businesses? Hell, when did it stop priests and churches of all kinds? And exactly who is supposed to be the guardian of morality, who decides what is 'good' and 'bad', and based on what?

Hey, adultery is not the best thing in life. And yes, when your partner is guilty of it, you're not the happiest person on earth. But that's a private matter, not a public one. Each case is different. And each case is differently resolved by the people involved. But not by the state. Not by the police. Not by the court system. Yes, I can see in some situations, when the man decides to leave, the wife remains powerless and sometimes broke. So, there is a need for some mechanisms of support, but this does not in any way call for criminalization of adultery.

Photo credits: Smirnoff Sweetie


Kelsey said...

I'm an American expat living in Korea, and this whole thing has really irritated me.

In Korea, the adultery law very, very seldom actually convicts men, even though it was created to "protect women". Most of those convicted (from what I can tell, and while I seem to remember a stat, I won't quote it, because it's from memory) seem to be women, and this bugs the hell out of me because around 20% of Korean men (and I do remember that stat) see a prostitute at least once a week. If you lower the frequency to once a month, it is astonishing.

That, right there, is very nearly institutionalized gender inequality.

- Driftingfocus

Kid said...

I would like to see some statistics, like how many women were punished by law comparing to men.

a very public sociologist said...

That is an amazing statistic, Kelsey. Is there a thriving blackmail industry going in S Korea too?

Kelsey said...

No, not really. Women are expected to just look the other way. Korea has some very, very strange views on sex. There's a great post about it here:

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