Why are Korean Grandmothers Selling Their Bodies?
South Korea’s ‘Bacchus Ladies’ are selling more than bottles of Bacchus energy drinks to the male patrons. In fact, elderly Korean women are profiting from the world’s oldest profession — prostitution.
As BBC reports, Kim Eun-ja, a 71-year-old South Korean Bacchus Lady, points to other Bacchus Ladies, and she explains, “Those ladies sell more than Bacchus. They sometimes go out with the grandpas and earn money from them.”
Kim Eun-ja’s appearance of bright lipstick and eye-catching red coat might signal that she also sells more than Bacchus drinks, but she insists that she does not. She’ll sell the energy drinks all day and earn 5,000 Won (or, $5) for the day. She explains that the police are wary of all Bacchus Ladies, and they watch her constantly.
The nucleus of the underground activity isn’t a brothel smack in the middle of a red-light district. The heart of the Bacchus Ladies’ sex exchange is the family-friendly Jongmyo Park, in Seoul.
How it Goes Down in Jongmyo Park
Elderly Korean men gather in the park to socialize and play a friendly game of chess. This scene can take place in any park in the world.
Yet, the Korean ladies in their 50s, 60 and 70s standing along Jongmyo Park’s periphery makes it more unusual. What starts as an innocent Bacchus drink purchase can “end in a cheap motel nearby.”
Not surprisingly, the men are much more willing to discuss their transactions with the Bacchus Ladies. In one group of men that BBC approached, half of the men admitted to using the Bacchus Ladies’ extra services.
Mr. Kim told BBC that men are always “curious” about other ladies; curiosity must not age. Mr. Kim also “cackled” and explained, “We have a drink, and slip a bit of money into their hands, and things happen!”
So, how much does it cost to make “things happen” with the Bacchus Ladies? Sex in the nearby and cheap motels costs between 20,000 to 30,000 Won. That’s a great deal more than the 5,000 Won for just selling the energy drinks.
The Other Costs
While there might be an initial lightheartedness about the whole situation, there are serious risks for the roughly 400 Bacchus Ladies and their male customers. As Slate reports, many of the Bacchus Ladies inject the grandpas with “special medicine to give them erections.” Many of the needles aren’t sterilized properly, and they can be used up to 20 different times. One survey found that 40 percent of the male park goers were infected with sexually transmitted diseases.
Underlying the rise of Bacchus Ladies is a serious issue: these senior women are poor, they are hungry and their government doesn’t have an adequate retirement system that they can rely on. When you’re hungry, things like dignity, honor and respect don’t matter as much.
As Slate explains, the authorities have their hands tied. Crackdowns aren’t the answer because the “seniors need to be able to vent their stress and sexual yearnings.” However, the government has launched sex ed clinics aimed at seniors.
Confucian Filial Piety Before Bacchus Ladies
It’s going to take more than sex ed clinics to solve this issue. It’s going to take cultural and familial healing. Many of the Bacchus Ladies have families, including children and grandchildren.
Jongmyo Park sits around a Confucius temple. As the Huffington Post explains, Korean culture is “rooted in the Confucian principle of filial piety,” and the elderly have traditionally been highly respected. Young Koreans traditionally also cared for their aging parents and showed “deference” to elders outside of their families.
Many of the Bacchus Ladies are in the time when their old age should be celebrated. In Korea, the 60s and 70s are huge milestones. For example, the 60th birthday, or hwan-gap, marks a “joyous time when children celebrate their parents’ passage into old age.” Before advents in modern medicine, many Koreans didn’t make it to 60.
Confucian Principles and Bacchus Ladies
Now, many Koreans are making it to 60 and beyond, and shifting cultural norms toward the elderly have also created Bacchus Ladies. Ironically, another Confucian principle is: “successful children are the best form of pension,” as many of the Bacchus Ladies’ savings and pensions have funded their children.
Yet, these women can no longer rely on their children. Living standards have soared astronomically, and the younger Koreans can’t support themselves, their own families and their parents.
The more educated children also often don’t listen to their parents, aren’t as submissive and not as respectful as previous generations. The same Mr Kim from Jongmyo Park told BBC that seniors who depend on their children to look after them are “stupid.”
I think it’s more sad than stupid since many of the Bacchus Ladies didn’t start out as prostitutes. Many were just loving mothers and grandmothers who found themselves destitute. For many, their government, their culture and their children turned their back on them. South Korean seniors (and seniors from around the world) should be enjoying their golden years with their families instead of worrying about their next meal.
Photo Credit: Freshly Diced