South Korea: Flight Attendants Demand Right To Wear Trousers

On this year's International Women's Day, March 8, 2012, a rather unconventional protest was held in downtown Seoul, South Korea. Female flight attendants of Asiana Airlines, one of the nation's major airlines, held a press conference in front of the Kumho Asiana building accusing the company of having sexist guidelines regarding female flight attendants’ appearance.

Park Bong (@jayparkbong), member of a feminist organization, tweeted [ko] :

실핀 개수, 눈화장 색, 스타킹 색까지 규정하고 있는 아시아나 외모복장규정. 안경 불가 규정 때문에 건조한 비행기안에서 렌즈를 껴야 하고, 커트 머리도 몇 년 전 파업으로 간신히 따낸것이라 한다. 여성노동력을 어떤 시선으로 보고 통제하고 활용하고자 하는지 너무 티난다.

Asiana's guidelines on appearance and uniform even regulate the number of bobby pins they can use, which color eye makeup to use and even the color of their stockings. Since glasses are not allowed to be worn inside the cabin, they have to wear contact lenses in that dry environment. The right to wear  short hairstyles was one they fought for and achieved through a strike few years ago. It is a clear indication how the company views their female labor force and its desire to control and utilize it.
Asiana Flight Attendants

Screen capture image of Asiana flight attendants, Originally a video clip uploaded on Youtube by YouTube user Rogapol.

Later she tweeted [ko] about the protest:

금호아시아나 빌딩 앞에서 여성승무원에게 바지를 허하라는 기자회견을 하고 사무실 들어가는 길. 104주년 여성의날인데 정말 이런 내용의 시위를 하고 있어야 한다는게 이 나라 여성의 현실. 짜증난다.

Now I am heading back to my office after attending a press conference in front of the Kumho Asiana building calling for the airline to allow women crew members to wear trousers . Today is the 104th anniversary of Women's day and now I do this kind of protest. This situation and women's status in this country are so frustrating.

According to a news article by Hankyoreh that went viral over past few days, Asiana Airlines has the most complicated rules regarding female flight attendants: the airlines uniform for women uniform exists only in skirt form—there is no version with trousers. Skirts are required to reach knee level. Female flight attendants cannot wear glasses. Hair should be held in place and pinned down to the back of the ears. Women who wear their hair should leave at least one-third of the forehead uncovered. Only two bobby pins in total are allowed in the hair. Restrictions are also imposed on the size of the earrings and necklaces. Eye liner and mascara should be either black or brown.

Asiana responded that the reason they don't have a trouser version of their women's uniform is that the latter is “not compatible to the company's brand image.”

Echoing flight attendants’ complaints, a majority of South Korean net users expressed anger regarding the company's sexist policy. Twitter user @vanilladoll8 tweeted [ko]:

여성 근로자의 “외모” 따위로만 설명할 수 있는 회사 이미지란.. 참.. 하찮다.. 예쁜 승무원이 아닌 안전한 비행, 편안한 서비스.. 이런게 이미지가 되어야 옳지 이 양반들아[…]

How petty the company's brand image is if it can only be explained/defined by female employees’ appearance. They should care more about the flight safety and providing comfortable service, instead of pretty attendants.

@Astralpink warns [ko] that too much focus on female crew members’ appearance is could annoy people into considering a boycott of the airline.

여성 승무원들에 대한 불필요하고 성차별적인 용모, 복장 규정에다가 바지 유니폼을 허용하지 않고 근무 시, 비상 시 불편한 치마 유니폼만 고집하는 아시아나 항공 @Flyasiana.승객 안전보다 승무원 용모를 중시하는 항공사라면 불매하게 될지도.

The airline's policy on female crew members’ appearances and uniforms are unnecessary and sexist. The company insist they wear only skirts although it is uncomfortable in their working environment and (worse when it comes to) emergency situations. If this airline really cares more about attendants’ appearance than passenger's safety – people will boycott it.

Lee Jung-hoon(@sm749tweeted [ko]:…아시아나항공 승무원은 바지입으면 안된다네요. 시대착오적이고 인격체로 보지 않고 기업의 이익을 극대화 하기 위한 상품 (으로 보는) 복장 용모규정 70년 박정희 시대인가

Trousers (uniforms) are not allowed for Asiana's flight attendants. This guideline is anachronistic and treats women as objects they exploit to maximize the company's profit, rather than treating them as human beings. It seems like this company’ policy belongs more to the 1970's under the (South Korean former President) Park Jung-hee regime.

South Korea's Network for Glocal Activism [ko] filed a petition [ko] that read:

이와 같은 규정들은 항공사가 […] 여성 승무 노동자들을 ‘관리'의 대상으로 보고 있음을 보여주는 것이다.[…] 기업들의 이러한 행태는 여성 노동자들이 수행하는 업무의 전문성을 보이지 않는 영역으로 밀어내 버리고…

This guideline shows that the airline views women as objects that need to be managed/controlled by. […] corporations such a perspective of women depreciates women employees’ professionalism.

The petition added that the guidelines regarding female flight attendants are five pages long, male crew members are merely expected to maintain a “clean and decent look”.

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