• black_rose45000

    Yes, because we as women should just listen to whatever the men say and be their faithful subjects.

    F*** this shit.

    Anyway, thank you for an informative article.

  • http://twitter.com/kmi_chan Camille カミーユ

    as a feminist sometimes I wonder why I love kdramas, because I hate how the korean society treats them, I know it’s culture but I just can’t understand this because in my opinion man = woman so I disagree with everything. When I read this article I’m happy to be French.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/lovetigerfist xnopex

      it’s not hard to shut down the critical portion of our brains and watch a tv show. this is why many of us enjoy tv. we can like a story and acknowledge how problematic it is.

      the entire planet has an issue with sexism and misogyny but people tend to notice it more if it’s in another culture than our own. france finally did away with madamoiselle in 2012. and france has a heap of problems when it comes to how women are treated as well. every country has its own issues with sexism and misogyny and it’s important for us to remember that any time we cast a critical gaze at one culture.

      • http://twitter.com/kmi_chan Camille カミーユ

        Maybe my words were too strong, I love kdramas but sometimes there are comments, scenes that irk me so much.
        I know that France is not perfect, we still have a lot to do for the cause and I’m fighting for it, but I still think that being a woman in France is less pressure than Korean women, I’m not being patriotic there ^^
        I don’t hate korean culture but sometimes I just can’t get it.

        • http://twitter.com/#!/lovetigerfist xnopex

          haha no. i got what you meant. your words were not strong. there’s aspects of korean culture i don’t get either (specifically the weird korean age thing and fan death) but haha yeah i understand what you mean.

  • http://twitter.com/adhsty Stevani Adhisty

    i laid off k-dramas long ago, for the exact reason that you’ve mentioned above. girls always ditched the good guys and went for the bad guys, no matter how much of a jerk he treated her. the girls protagonist always be displayed from lower class society, but she always worked hard to reach her dream or to protect her family. i’m so sick of these plots, also some cheesy moments from the dramas which i couldn’t bear. the last drama i watched was queen inhyun’s man, because of yoo inna and ji hyunwoo. but this drama also has an interesting plot, so i watched them until the end. whenever i tried to watch k-dramas, i always failed to make it to the last episodes. i watched secret garden until the end because big bang parodied them last year. actually i kinda got a little bored while watching it. another one is baker king, even though the first 6 episodes slowly progressed, but the entire story was really interesting to follow.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XZMSVOCJOA7ZA47SDPHNBVFNWM Lizzie Heart

      Queen In Hyun’s man have a good/nice main guy and the second guy is the jerk that treats the main girl badly. So who she end up with? With the good guy!

      Check can you hear my heart too  :) 

      • Amber Goss

         Don’t forget “That Fool”!

  • http://twitter.com/#!/lovetigerfist xnopex

    excellent article! another interesting thing about the depiction of women in korean media is the bear/fox dichotomy. when i learned about this and how korean mythology came into play, it explained EVERYTHING i needed to know about how women are depicted in korean media.bears: strong, fillial, loyal, may not be as refined, but dependablefoxes: seductive, dishonest, deceitful, cunningrelatable example: think of that dumb taylor swift video with the slut shaming and her wearing a t shirt.throughout asian mythology (heavily influenced by confucianism) , bears have a positive depiction whereas foxes do not. when we watch korean dramas, our heroine is usually the bear. she’s not overly feminine, but loyal, has a great sense of family responsibility, may not be a beauty queen (but can transform into one with a makeover montage!). the loyal part is important bc when you see what the heroine goes through at the expense of the male lead and the fox (usually the well dressed, way prettier, smarter, assertive rival), you can def see another theme at play.and that theme: the bear is marriage/girlfriend material(hence why our dopey poor female protagonist always beats all odds to get the male lead, depite how much of a dick he is to her) while the fox is someone you play around with until you marry a bear. korean women in dramas usually embody one or the other and it’s rare to see a blending of the two. realistically, no woman is one or the other as most women on a whole are conditioned and pressured by society to put male needs before their own. this trope is obnoxious bc it pits women against one another when there’s really no need for it! i want a drama where the bear and the fox team up against the male protag and walk off into the sunset, not caring about how fat food makes them, and wearing whatever the heck they want hahaha.this isn’t to say japanese dramas aren’t rife with this bullshit either (ye olde yamato nadeshiko trope is still a thing), but the majority of dramas i’ve seen aren’t centered on a love story and interpersonal relationships between family and friends take more precedence than ‘getting a man’. plus, most japanese dramas pass the bechdel test (google this, it’ll blow your mind how much of media fails it) and that’s more of a reason why young women tend to be drawn to them more. i can still shut down the critical portion of my brain, and still enjoy korean dramas. however, sometimes, you can’t keep rooting for the doormat and sometimes, you get tired of a story about a women revolving around a man.

    • CJux

      Your Korean mythology input is very interesting, and it makes sense. Thanks for sharing.
      Oh, the Bechdel test! Indeed, even some of my favorite Western series don’t pass that simple test. 

    • RC_RC

      I doubt this is exclusively confucianistic and that bear/fox dichotomy is the same in the West (already in the middle ages, see 
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reynard ).

      • http://twitter.com/#!/lovetigerfist xnopex

        yeah the fox has been depicted as cunning although the weird bear/fox thing in korea is basically the same sexist bs but under a different name. 

        it’s a huge bummer that this type of trope is found in almost all cultures too!

    • illerz

      I want them to be eating a cookie as they walk way humming an anthem of girl power!

      • http://twitter.com/#!/lovetigerfist xnopex

        YESSSS. a tray of oreos for each heroine. and comfortable shoes as they walk toward the sunset

    • Paloma

      The Bechdel test totally literally blew my mind. Thank you, really interesting!

    • xNoirX

      That bear motif can be traced to shamanism, animism or totemism.

      • http://twitter.com/#!/lovetigerfist xnopex

        i don’t think anyone is debating that people throughout history haven’t attributed human characteristics to animals. and no one has made the assertion that confucianism did it first?

        however when discussing how misogynistic tropes play out in media, it’s something to consider.

    • Lia Renee Freeland

      Even though it is not related to Korean dramas, the ending of the Legend of Korra cartoon was basically your ideal ending (bear and fox team up and go off into the sunset together)

  • Xaestra

    (Most) Korean drama female protagonists are almost just as bad as Mary Sues – predictable, boring and homogenous. *gag* No one likes such characters. 

    And as for women being the submissive and needy ones… yeah, “Fuck this shit.”

  • Regina Schneider

    I’ve always found this part of Korean Society interesting due to the fact that I always wonder how much of our beloved Idols think this way. And if they do, I wonder how many of their female fans, especially their Western fans, would take a step back and question them.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XZMSVOCJOA7ZA47SDPHNBVFNWM Lizzie Heart

    Thanks for this article, and here is the main reason why I hate secret garden and couldn’t stand it.

    • CJux

      Glad to know I’m not the only one.

  • Chotto1

    The doormat female protagonist has always been a huge source of irritation for me. I remember the first k-drama I watched was Full House. I’m not sure how I made it all the way through, because the first episode made me want to break something. If two of my “best friends” sold my late fathers house for their own means, I would kill them. I would straight up end their lives and there would be no story!
    Not to mention all the abuse that SHK characters goes through, how she ignores the good/handsome/nice guy and ends up with the loud mouthed (he seriously shouted too much) character. Why was she so stupid? I’m getting upset just remembering this.

    This theme is way too common; female protagonist goes through betrayal or even something criminal from family member or friend, and she doesn’t beat their arses or send them to jail. In fact, she remains in their lives, talks to them even. Not realist to me at all. Especially when they show time and time again that they care not one iota for the clueless heroine. Ridiculous. 

    • asianromance

      The whole best-friends-sold-my-late-father’s-house thing drove me crazy though I enjoyed the drama.  I can understand a female protagonist sticking up for family, but with friends – I would sue them. 

      With contract relationships being such a drama trope and female leading unusually isolated lives(seriously, you only have 2 friends and they are selfish people who treat you like dirt? or maybe I’m just blessed with a large circle of friends who care about me and would be seriously concerned if some dude started to drag me around by the wrist), sometimes I think the whole gal-falls-for-shouty guy may be a result of stockholm syndrome or an inability to understand what the norm should be. 

      I tend to like my kdrama female leads even though they’re doormat-y sometimes.  I’m more upset at the portrayal of second female leads.  These women are often modern, successful, accomplished, and ambitious.  Rich too.  Then they turn into cartoonishly evil viragoes and totally petty – all. because. of. some. guy!!  Like he’s some great catch or something.  Why does the second male lead gets to be nice while the second female lead should be going for psych exam?  And why can’t the second female lead be nice, charming, and endearing while being self-assured and accomplished?  It makes me groan to see dramas pit women against each other -especially when they’re pitting the traditional low-income ditz against the modern, educated boss-lady and letting the ditz win.  Why can’t they just be friends and learn from each other. 

      • http://twitter.com/alualuna alua

        The only second female lead I’ve truly liked in k-dramas so far was in Protect the Boss. She tried to get the guy, but she just couldn’t be evil! Loved her.

        But most second female leads are terrible, in particular all the exes drive me bonkers… And the fact the lead females often respond to them. So many dramas in which I think if I were the shoes of the lead, I would just turn around to the ex and say “Darling, you are just a bit deluded to think that (x) years after dumping this guy and disappearing without explanation/cheating on him/hurting him/etc. you think you still have a) a right to him, b) that he still likes you and c) will like you with the evil shenanigans you are now pulling!” Prime examples: A Thousand Kisses (just mentioning makes me feel ill) and My Name Is Kim Sam Soon. Coffee Prince too (even if I enjoyed the main pairing – I hated the second female character!).

    • http://twitter.com/alualuna alua

      I agree about Full House! I could, by the life of me, NOT understand the thing about her “best friends”. I would have called the cops the moment they sold the house and never spoken to them again!

      Which reminds of Mary Stayed out All Night… the father faking the marriage contract would have lasted 2 seconds with me because I would have ripped it up in an instant and if that wouldn’t have been enough, equally I would have used the law! Well, maybe a bit more hesitation here than with friends, but still! There’s certain boundaries that people, including family, can’t cross!

  • zazuki_24

    Did I just read that women are supposed to be ‘obedient and submissive’ in the eyes of men? 
    *rolls eyes* 

  • CJux

    Great article! Very good research, I like that you provided a lot of bibliography – definitely going check on those once I have the time.

    I think you’ve just said pretty much everything about the way Korean women are perceived on TV, but I’d like to offer an additional example that illustrates better the difference between j-doramas and k-dramas. It’s not that j-doramas are less stereotypical than k-dramas, it’s just that j-doramas have generally more plot variety (i.e., more stereotypes of women to work with, instead of just one). One of them is the “Ohitorisama” genre, which focuses on romance between an archetypal independent woman who loves her job and a main male character who is often shorter, younger and more passive (or submissive, depends on the story) than her.
    Kimi wa Petto, the drama adaptation of a manga with the same title, is a good example of this genre.  But what happens when Korea finally makes a movie adaptation of a manga/dorama that defies all patriarchal rules of their conservative, Confucian society? Well, shit happens. Aside from having to deal with a man’s rights groups bitching about it, the movie itself – let’s say it did not, at all, translate the essence of the Ohitorisama genre. It was also a big commercial flop, but I think the main reason was because even the Korean fans of the original manga or dorama were disappointed with the movie.

    Here’s the main differences between Kimi wa Petto (manga and j-dorama) and Neoneun Pet (k-movie):

    1 – In the Neoneun Pet, the guy is taller than her. It may not be an important detail, but if you read The Grand Narrative’s “Korean Sociological Image #66 – Inventing Labels for Women’s Bodies” post, you can see how Erving Goffman’s concept of “Relative Size” is really obvious here.

    2 – Sumire is a chain-smoker, a perfectionist and a strong willed career woman. In the Korean movie, Eun-yi is nothing like that. She looks a bit lost in life, and I hate the fact that her boss is always looking down on her (well, at least she’s not the typical empty-head bimbo from your average k-drama, so I guess that’s an improvement).

    3 – Manga/dorama Sumire wears normal working clothes, but she’s not afraid of being sexual with men she’s attracted to. Movie Eun-yi: her sexual desires are non-existent, but she goes to work wearing miniskirts or hot pants.

    4 – Their relationship. Because the movie changed the background of their story, the nature of their master/pet relationship isn’t clear (neither understood) in Neoneun Pet. In the manga/dorama, Momo was in a subordinate position because he clearly had no choice (he was physically and spiritually broken, he had no self-esteem, and he was homeless), but in the movie – god forbid if you’re going to have a weak male lead in Korea! In-ho agrees to be her pet because he just fancied the idea, after all, he could’ve just stayed in a five-star hotel room… (*facepalm*).

    5 – The ROMANCE. Argh. Seriously, Korea. You and your f’ing virgin marriages.
    This review by Alua (http://alualuna.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/neoneun-pet/ ) sums this point pretty well:

    “Manga-Momo tells Sumire to name him after her ex-boyfriend or favourite celebrity, but the never shy dorama-Momo additionally provides “the guy you lost your virginity to” as an option. Movie-Momo, on the other hand, completely desexualises the choices (“your favourite actor’s name, or a singer’s”). [….] What makes the difference? With crude humour, the dorama crackles with sexual tension. Matsujun-Momo comes shirtless in the bathtub and, most of all, Kimi wa Petto makes it very clear that adults – have – sex. Thus, by the time Sumire and Momo admit their romantic feelings for one another, we are at the point of explosion.

    Neoneun Pet? Eun-yi seems to fall for In-ho because he looks cute when sleeping. He also bathes with a full set of undergarments (the ‘sexy strip dance’ that he attempts, unfortunately, is only silly). And then there are a few rather clichéd scenes of near-kisses, which fail to turn the heat on. As for sex, let’s just say that we get served with marriage proposals before the would-be fiancés have actually begun dating.”

    I’m not a romantic person; heck, my favorite American TV series are Breaking Bad and Six Feet Under. But in the rare occasions I want to watch an Asian drama with some fluffy romance, I’m definitely going to choose one with a female lead I can at least identify with to some extent – and that is practically impossible with k-dramas.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/lovetigerfist xnopex

      yesss!!!! all of this. 

      it’s been years since i’ve watched the kimi wa petto drama but i completely agree with how disappointing the korean adaptation was. they definitely adjusted the characters to fit with the audience. those changes completely crushed the story. 

      momo was a “herbivore” type in the manga and drama but momo doing things that didn’t fit society’s ideal of what’s ‘manly’ (ballet, cooking, doing sumire’s nails, etc). the cool thing about the manga (and i think the drama did this too) his doing ballet wasn’t seen as a “bad” thing. i think in the movie, they even changed the ballet aspect and made inho do modern dance instead. (i’ll rewatch it to make sure)
      their relationship worked because momo had no problem with sumire’s assertiveness and didn’t take that as a threat to his “manliness”. this bit of gradual acceptance and the fact that each complimented one another was kinda obliterated in the korean version. i took a break from korean rom/com dramas to get back into japanese dramas bc i’m tired of watching women fight over/fight for/fight against men for 16 episodes. it’s exhausting. hahahah

    • Paloma

      Really interesting comparison! I didn’t get too much in depth with that Japanese/Korean drama topic, but there’s definitely something worth to explore.

    • http://twitter.com/alualuna alua

      Thanks for quoting from my review AND sourcing it. :-)

      I agree with your other points about Neoneun Pet as well – I definitely think even little things like the height are important details that the writers just did not get. There is so much in Kimi wa Petto that is highly symbolic in Momo & Sumire’s relationship and any change completely changes the dynamic.

       “but she goes to work wearing miniskirts or hot pants” – apparently that’s a very normal thing in Korea (the topic recently came up in a discussion on the super short skirts in BIG that teachers wear to school). How this fits into Confucian values I don’t know, because those skirts that barely cover anything and signal everything but professionalism just don’t make sense to me. But, apparently, these don’t explicitly mean “sexy” in Korea…

      There are certainly way too many submissive, weak k-drama heroines. Although I still watch k-dramas, I often feel that once I have taken in a whole drama beginning to end, it leaves me empty because I just can’t relate to the characters – precisely because there are too many moments where I just don’t get what they do (or don’t do). Even with the current “I Do, I Do”, where the female lead is a sort Ohitorisama type, we still see more submissiveness (towards her parents, not deleting the doctor from her phone from the start).

      There are plenty of flawed J-doramas as well but, I agree, they are more diverse and, on the whole, they feel more real.

  • Ditu3ka

    Very good article, pleasant to read. Good job.

  • http://twitter.com/seaseesea Janice

    The k-drama scene just seems rife with double standards, and I’d say that while masses are more critical on the aspects of the female gender role, they fail to do likewise for the male gender. Whatever happened to the whole concept of men being the provider of the family, bearing the responsibilities of rice and beef? Why is it that we end up with spoilt chaebols, pampered and cushioned to no end with the family fortune, essentially bringing not much to the table at all? And yet female characters who work several jobs just to pay the rent are chastised as lowly? How is it that there is so much of insistence with using the proper honorifics and banmal/joendamal and yet we end up with various characters showing enormous amounts of disrespect to the elderly but it is accepted anyway?

    K-drama land makes me LOL for all the wrong reasons.


    • AcadiasFire

      Remember Shining Inheritance -_-

  • RC_RC

    Seoulbeats is a some kind of paradox. People here enjoy Korean cultural products but at the same time ‘everyone’ seems to want Korea to change into something that resembles more or less Canada. So something that is almost the same as USA but still everyone can claim that it is different. 

    But if Korea changes into Canada then Korean culture is more or less gone, then there is no need to consume Korean cultural products anymore. 

    I think that there are two reasons, one, a lot of Western people think that Western values are universal and the second is the economic competion between Western countries and East-Asian countries. The West is no longer superior when it comes to technology and money. So to feel superior it wants to portray itself as people(s) with superior values.  

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/P4ZSUYNPUIRG7OCJAG3CTPDETM Bazinga

      What’s wrong with Canada? 

      • RC_RC

        Nothing, did I say that there is something wrong with Canada? 

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/P4ZSUYNPUIRG7OCJAG3CTPDETM Bazinga

          lol sorry i just wanted to be troublesome. ^^’

    • CJux

      Paradox? It would be a paradox if the female lead in Korean dramas was the reason why people here watched k-dramas in the first place, but it’s not. Please do not equate a country’s culture, in all its rich variety, with the stagnated stereotypes and clichés of TV dramas. I have not encountered yet one single avid k-drama watcher that loved k-dramas because of the lead female characters, and if you read the article, you’d notice that this is not about Western values, but more about universal pet peeves shared by Asian women as well:

      “In 2005, Lee Dong-ho conducted a study among young Korean females who regularly consumed Japanese TV dramas. In spite of the increasing popularity of Korean dramas in that time, they seemed to find Japanese dramas more appealing, and one of the reasons given was the depiction of gender identity. In Japanese dramas, the female protagonists have life beyond the romantic relationship; they grow professionally too, and this is depicted as more than just a backdrop like in Korean dramas. Taiwanese viewers interviewed for the study “Engaging with Korean dramas: discourses of gender, media, and class formation in Taiwan” also showed distress with the women’s image in Korean dramas. While the working-class seemed to identify with this domesticity around the female characters, the well-educated informants all pointed to their preference for women who are strong and independent.”

      Allow me to also add that the fact that it’s easier to find strong career women in j-doramas is not because Japan wants to become like Canada (?), but because of the progression of gender roles in Japanese society, as working women are now equally part of the Japanese culture. Korea also changed (this is not the Joseon period anymore), but has yet to accept that strong willed women do exist in their culture too: as they speak the same language, have similar social habits, and share the same work ethics. 

      • RC_RC

        So you want k-drama to change, don’t you? 

        • CJux

          Not necessarily; I would just love to see more diversity in the portrayal of Korean women and het relationships.
          Korea can be still Confucian without having to always perpetuate the same old patriarchal values. The West still manages to be Christian without sending women back to the kitchen all the time.

          • RC_RC

            A drama is what it portrays. 

            You want k-drama to change, it should become less ‘confucionist’ and it seems that ‘everyone’ here wants that to happen.  

            I don’t know if the West still manages to be Christian, maybe the USA but other parts…?  

          • CJux

            …Except that Confucianism is only present in k-dramas when it comes to the portrayal of the female lead personality. As Janice pointed out, stereotypical male leads fail to honor basic Confucian values by being rich spoiled brats with no sense of responsibility.

            So hey, how about more k-dramas with responsible, hard-working, kind-hearted male leads and non-submissive females? That would provide the variety k-dramas need and they would still remain as ‘confucionist’ as they have been so far.

            Christian mentality is still very present in Southern Europe at least, but cultural and economic changes allowed more flexibility in the way traditional morals are perceived now.

          • nhoki

            Actually, in most of japanese drama, women are portrayed as good wives/mothers. They choose their family over a possible career and turn a blind eye when their husband cheat on them. (of course there are exceptions)

            so no, saying that it only exists in kdrama is false. And in many countries in Asia, people still believe that women have to be submissive : their role is to bear children and serve the husband. 

          • CJux

            Not sure what you’re replying to… if this is about my other post, I only said that stated that j-doramas provide other stereotypes of het relationships instead of exploring the same old story, and that’s why it’s easier to find the independent woman stereotype in J-dorama. But I don’t think I ever said these stereotypes were dominant…? Especially considering some genres like the Ohitorisama plot only started in the 2000s, but many other j-doramas keep the homogenous patriarchal archetypes of the 80s and 90s. 

            Also, I’m only referring to female leads. I don’t even want to talk about the problem of secondary female characters, because that’s something even every j-dorama needs to fix, including the ohitorisama ones.

          • nhoki

            oh no my bad, I misunderstood because I didn’t see the post you were replying to. Sorry

            On a side note, I think the independent woman stereotype doesn’t value women either, it still shows that if a woman wants to have a career, she has to give up on love and lives/acts  “like a man”. It dissuades young women to choose the same path. 
            (But honestly, I still think ohitorisama is pretty awesome)

          • jesuis2

            You make it seem as if K-dramas don’t have that archetype when they do.

          • http://twitter.com/#!/lovetigerfist xnopex

            yes, the yamato nadeshiko trope is strong but like, most of the dramas i’ve seen, that expectation is part of an internal conflict that female leads usually have (give up your career and start a family)

            there’s a few dramas that deal with that conflict. anego, zenkai girl, sappuri, ohitorisama, around 40, kimi wa petto, strawberry night and a heap more!

            that old expecation of women giving up their career for family DOES happen but hahah it happens all around the world as women do leave the workforce to raise children and usually find themselves dependent on their partner’s income. 

          • jesuis2


            According to many, Italian men are infamous for being “mamas boys” – going to their parents house for a home-cooked meal and laundry service done by mom.

        • jesuis2

          So according to the WaPo article I cited above, J-dramas should change and show “sweet and romantic” men like K-dramas apparently do.

    • asianromance

      I think the want for better, stronger portrayals of women, for better treatments of women is a global thing, rather than a Western thing (we’ve got our share of misogynist attitudes).  Don’t let the popular kdramas fool you, there are tons of women in South Korea who aren’t like those portrayed in your average kdrama; there are kdramas out there who do try to go against what is assumed to be the norm; and there is a population of korean women out there who do seek stories/portrayals of women unlike those in the popular kdramas. 

      And it’s not a bad thing to be critical and analytical of something you love.  I think being critical is a way of exploring something you love in a deeper way.   And it provides great material for parodies and meta-references.  =)

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/MMRQEZEPSNJ26LJ7XJNDDM5NCI JasmineA

        Thanks for pretty much saying what I was going say. K-drama’s do not equal K-culture. Feminism is defiantly a global problem, and Im sure k-dramas is not a good representation of what the average Korean is okay with just like the US media is not a representation of how everyone feels and acts, and we still have are problems with feminism here as well.

        I would also like to say that this has nothing to do with being technology advanced. I don’t even think your average American is even aware at how advanced Korea is, I know I wasn’t until I started exploring Korean culture a bit more, the only thing I knew about Asia is that they have a better educational system than us in the States and thats from what I knew about Japan, not Korea. I won’t deny that there defiantly Americans who think the world revovles around them and their cultural views, but I don’t think thats the case with this. Feminism and the way women are portrayed in the media is a human rights issue and these types of issues are talked about all over the world. Western countries even critizes each other for these sorts of problems, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people from the UK and Canda say they have less racial and gay rights issues in their countries than the US and hey, they are probably right. I’m also sure many Asian countries critizes the West as well  spefically when its comes to sexual behavior, drug usage, and how we treat the elderly at times since Asian countries generally have more respect for their elders etc and they have right to critize, I think the west IMO could stand to be a little more respectful to the older generations. We could really learn alot from eachother honestly, but only if people didn’t view critism as a form of attack or looking down on others because I don’t think that’s always the intention.

        • CJux

          “I’m also sure many Asian countries critizes the West as well  spefically when its comes to sexual behavior, drug usage, and how we treat the elderly at times since Asian countries generally have more respect for their elders etc and they have right to critize, I think the west IMO could stand to be a little more respectful to the older generations.”

          That is a very good point. I honestly find it disgusting the lack of respect for the elders and teachers in my country. Also, lack of work ethics and responsibility all the while demanding too many rights is also a problem here.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/lovetigerfist xnopex

      i really hate it when people think that turning a critical eye to certain things means “looking down on that culture” or thinking “we’re superior”. no one here thinks they’re superior to koreans and each of us here can acknowledge that our own cultures are equally flawed (if not more!)

      this is a site that covers korean pop culture and it’s important to acknowledge problematic behavior (wherever it pops up)  and not excuse it.

    • Paloma

      I think it’s interesting how you assume that I’m comparing the Confucian tradition with the Western values when I don’t do that comparison myself not even once. I can’t get rid of my Western self, I know, but if you noticed, all of the audience studies that I used were made in East-Asian countries, so the article is pretty much focused of what Asian audiences think of these stereotypes, not Western. 

      I can see your point, actually, but I also think you should consider that not every critique thrown towards some aspects of the Korean society necessarily imply an admission that Western values are superior. I really tried to be careful with that.

      I don’t think it’s wrong to be critic with some aspects of a culture while enjoying others tho, and I definitely don’t think you have to agree with some things just because they are part of a tradition. As I said, “Korea is still beyond in terms of equality compared to most of the developed countries”, and note that I didn’t say “Western” but “developed”, and that’s not just me being offended by passive females on TV, but the reality in South Korea.

      • jesuis2

        Confucianism has little to w/ all of this, esp. grown children still living in the same household w/ their parents (which is happening less and less in Korea).

        Grown children live w/ their parents until they get married in many parts of the world which never had Confucianism – the Indian subcontinent, the Central Asian countries, Russia, the former Soviet bloc states, the Middle East, Iran, most of Africa, etc.

        The same applied for the US and Western Europe as well until industrialization/modernization.

        The same applies to gender equality.

        Japan, the Indian subcontinent, Russia, etc. all didn’t have Confucianism but gender equality has been slower in coming due to later development.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/3O73S4PB7NZRSRVPOOCIH3ZG34 Susan

    Sexism is deeply entrenched in Korean society and I highly doubt it’s going to change anytime soon. What’s so frustrating is that the majority of Korean women are perfectly willing and go to great lengths to conform to these traditional feminine ideals and it drives me up the wall. It’s also the biggest reason why I can’t bear to watch most dramas. I alternately want to slap and shake these female protagonists by the shoulders and scream at them to grow a fucking spine and find some self-worth.
    And I’d just like to say that not all Korean men want subservient women. In spite of my father’s constant lectures about traditional feminine and masculine roles, my brother can’t stand the sexism in Korean society and hates dramas and idols more viciously than I do, lol.

    • jesuis2


      So why have divorce rates in Korea approached that of the US?

  • http://www.facebook.com/juli.ka.583 Juli Ka

    Perfect indication of source. On Seoulbeat most references are kept very poor.Good article.

  • mangochic

    I never really connected the dots between Confucianism and k-drama leads. It always puzzled me why the female lead will always fall for the jerk (who is a shouting control freak) when she has a perfectly good guy who is willing and able to do everything for her and actually respects her. I guess that is why I was enamored by QIHM.

    I think the best female leads I have seen in k-drama were sagueks ‘Age of Warriors’ and ‘Jumong’ which were not set in the Joseon period which allowed the women to be able to be both ambitious and be able to go toe to toe with the guys. 

  • muggle87

    great article. this is why most of the time i end up shipping the second lead with main girl. main guy is such jerk that if it was me, i wouldn’t have stick around to see him transform to a better guy towards the end.

  • http://www.michelle-chin.com/ Michelle Chin

    This is what gripes me so when I watch Korean dramas. The female protagonist is often portrayed as weak at one way or another. For example, in the famous You’re Beautiful, the female prot. is willing to help her brother but her role, IMO, is pretty passive. In Boys Over Flowers, the female prot. is occasionally seen as standing up for herself but she again, fits the image of a passive female. 
    Also, I am not sure if you have noticed but evil characters tend to go against these values. For instance, in Queen Seondeok, Mishil, who plays an important part in pulling the strings within the palace, is pretty assertive and it is kind of obvious that she defies the Confucian concept of a female. For a lot of viewers, she is an impressive character. The sad fact? She is evil. Another instance would be Jaekyung from Boys over Flowers. She’s clearly the sort of person who would go after what she wants, unlike our meek damsel in distress who Jun Pyo is smitten with. Then, in Scent of a Woman, the female antagonist is successful in what she does. This association between powerful, assertive (maybe aggressive at times…) ladies = bad,  irks me to no end because I think I am pretty assertive with what I want in life (it is not a crime, kay!). 

    Fortunately, things are improving slightly. I think in Dream High 1, Go Hye Mi’s character is a bit different what we normally expect from your standard “damsel in distress” and is associated with success. Also in Tree with Deep Roots, the character played by Shin Se Kyung has a bit of autonomy and defies the male lead when asked to leave the palace for good! 

    • mangochic

      Well Mishil’s character was set in Shilla period which was way before Confucianism took over Korea.

      • http://www.michelle-chin.com/ Michelle Chin

        Hehe. Apologies. Completely forgotten about that! I wrote this in fervour. I was kinda pissed off just how powerful and assertive females are often associated with evil!

    • jesuis2

      There are plenty of strong female protagonists in K-dramas like “Jumong”, “The Emperor of the Sea”, “Dong Yi”, “The Iron Empress” (pretty much every sageuk w/ a titular female character), “Coffee Prince”, “The Greatest Love”, “My Girlfriend is a Gumiho”, “My Princess”, “Biscuit Teacher Star Candy”, “Punch”, etc.

      Same goes for films like “Singles” and “My Sassy Girl” (which started a whole slew of copycats in film and TV).

      And popular variety shows aren’t w/o strong female members as well – “Ace” Ji-hyo (Running Man), Hyori and “Sweet and Savage” Yejin” (Family Outing – where they ruled the roost) and Yoon Eun-hye aka “young girl warrior” and the Queen of dangyunhaji (X-Man).

      Even in the drama “Big” – the female protagonist’s fiancee seemingly lost interest due to her totally accomodating him and no longer being the spunky woman that he 1st met.

      • http://www.michelle-chin.com/ Michelle Chin

        Hmm, I apologize if I appear to be making generalizations but I feel that in most dramas, most female protagonist have a ‘damsel in distress’ syndrome and seem to be dependent on the male counterpart. 
        It is interesting that you brought up variety shows. I never really watch them, so I am not sure.

        • jesuis2

          Make that most crappy dramas; but that whole damsel in distress is prevalent in Hollywood as well, where the “hero” is predominantly male (of which a common theme is the WM hero saving the AF from her domineering father, brother, an Asian gang, etc.).

          And there are plenty of Korean films where the female is the more dominant character – “My Sassy Girl”, ‘Windstruck”, “My Scary Girl”, ‘My Wife is A Gangster”, “Arahan”, “Shadowless Sword”, “Love, So Divine”, “My Mighty Princess”, “Too Beautiful to Lie”, “Wedding Campaign”, etc.

  • Roberto Campohermoso

    i do agree with what your saying for the most part but Aejung supported her entire family so she stayed home not as duty but bc she cared for her family

  • Molly Delbrouck

    Great article!

  • igbygrl

    Wow great article Seoulbeats.

    It’s kinda ironic and sad the way how Confusionism seems to have dictated the feminine mistique to be nothing more than a parlay of a feminine mistake.

    My father is the worst offender with his confusionist, mysogynistic beliefs that a woman has no value unless they get married and become barefoot and pregnant by the age of 25. He still hold onto the belief a Koreawn girl is worthless if she has no prospects in marriage by that age. Oh and also only women are deemed worthy to do household chores. Doing laundry, washing the dishes and the like are too beneath him. I love my father but he get’s really under my skin when he goes on a self-righteous  lecture rampage, saying how I am too Americanized for my own good. Never mind the fact I still hold onto my other confusion beliefs, but I only hold onto the non-chauvinistic ones.

    My mother is not that bad, but she does give me  mixed messages on how a Korean woman should act. One minute she’ll be telling me a Korean woman should be strong and don’t back off from a fight. The next minute she tells me I have to be submissive, patient and sacrificial.   

    Sure maybe I am Americanized and yet most of my US friends say I am too “asian” for my own good. They say my beliefs are too Asian, meaning I too have some confuscious beliefs engrained in me.

    Anywayz when I do watch Korean dramas ( although as the years go by I am starting to get turned off by them and watching them less and less) I do catch myself being appalled by the Kdrama female protaganist’s actions, yet I still sympathize and and could still relate in some situations she is in and how she reacts. That view point I guess reflects on my own situation. For me I feel like I am balancing on a tight rope, trying really hard to still hold onto my western idealz and beliefs that I acquired through my own experiences in life, yet still try to hold onto the confusion beliefs that my parents enrooted in me while I keep my own self-worth intact.




  • goldengluvsk2

    woww now that i look at it… this may be the reason why -aside from dramas like Kim Sam soon, protect the Boss and coffee Prince- i usually dont like the lead couples in dramas… i always root for the “second” couple and end up watching the dramas because of the second couple that most of the time is free of the submissive girl and the brat obnoxious guy… I remember how i started watching dramas with my dad and even before i’m raising my eyebrows in disapproval, about to hit the TV and my blood is boiling when the brat guy is being obnoxious and possessive towards the girl he’s already ranting about the guy’s being a savage! he’s always as mad as I am with that behavior xDD
    but besides the guy being an ass, it also bugs me that aside from like Noh Eun Seol if you want a girl that doesnt depends of the male lead or isnt as dumb as a pole… then if she’s smart… she is the bitchy mean golddigger antagonist female character… really?! T___T
    I think I loved Queen inhyun’s man so much because it was balanced in what both leads did for one another, they respected each other and even when it was a fantasy drama, the way the relationship developed from being friends and then eventually falling in love was credible… guess we’ll need more joseon scholars like kim bung Do and cool girls like Hui Jin in k-dramaland to balance things out…

    • jesuis2

      So the 2nd female lead in “Coffee Prince” (Chae Jung-an as Han Yoo-joo) wasn’t a strong, independent female character?  

      That’s news to me (she was in fact a stronger female character than YEH’s Eun Chan who had a lot more insecurities; and let’s not forget about the bossy sister and grandma).

  • jesuis2

    The author should have hated SG b/c of its lousy script/dialogue and acting.

  • xNoirX

    I haven’t watched any of the dramas mentioned in the article.  I gave up on Winter Sonata at around episode 15 due to flashbacks and situations repeating.  I watch “Lights and Shadows” when I can.  All the characters are significantly flawed, but depiction of female ones are more flattering than male ones.  In Korea, it gets more viewers than the other dramas, but international it’s not finding audiences.

    Neo-Confucianism, primarily, was the POLITICAL ideology of elites during Chosun era.  It organized the society into one that is more hierarchal, and bureaucratic.  But Korean ethos, mores and customs were/are more rooted in shamanism and buddhism.  K-dramas should be re-examined with that in mind.

  • MattJack

    In Dae Jang Geum, which I was rewatching recently, the male love interest is a real gent, and the story makes the repeated point that nothing, including their relationship, comes before her fulfilling her goal of benefiting many people as a great doctor. And patriarchy totally gets its ass kicked in virtually every seen. I only mention this because it’s the most successful TV drama of all time.

  • http://twitter.com/Only1Eshe Eshe

    I’m new to K-dramas and have just started noticing the all-sacrificing, faithful until the end, patiently awaiting a man to return her love and devotion (even if it takes years) type of female roles in the handful of shows I’ve watched. Then, there are the roles where the female is portrayed as stupid/vapid/clueless and even stubborn to the point of her own detriment (which of course means that a man has to step in to rescue her at some point). 

    It’s annoying, but I understand that what happens on TV is not necessarily real life. All TV shows and movies make use of what are called character “archetypes”, and K-dramas do as well. These character types should NEVER be taken as completely valid and accurate representations of whole countries or societies (and racial groups in the case of non-homogeneous countries like the USA).

    However, even with my annoyance, I prefer to watch Korean television shows over a lot of television shows that are shown here in the USA. Why? Because, in my opinion, the television shows here are hyper-sexual and use a lot of strong language and imagery – all of which are gratuitous and unnecessary in my opinion. I don’t want all of that pushed on me every time I turn on my TV (and it’s also why I don’t listen to the radio). As it stands now, I only turn on my TV when there is something specific I want to watch.

    I *LIKE* that in Korean television shows a lip kiss is a big deal, or that saying “I like you” is a big deal. I like that saying “I love you” is only said when a character is REALLY in love, and the phrase isn’t tossed about cheaply like penny candy. I like that “shacking up” (an unmarried couple living together) is not just par for the course. It is things like this that keep me watching Korean television shows, even in my annoyance with the gender stereotyping.

  • http://twitter.com/Biilmem live ♫ ♪ ♫

    like seriously it makes me go nuts whenever I watch korean dramas and there is this nice loving caring brave cute and sweet guy and then there is this impolite rude guy who keeps on telling the girl bad things making her feel worthless but she always chooses that kind of bad guy over the nice one Iam like: DAFUQ girl are you out your mind whats wrong with you :/

    seriously thats probably the only reason why i cant enjoy kdramas anymore.. whenever i start to watch the drama iam tryin really hard not to fall for the nice guy but I alwys end up falling for him and feeling angry when at the end the girl as ALWAYS chooses the bad guy ! -.-
    I was so suprised and happy when in DREAM HIGH for the first time the girl actually chose the good and nice guy

  • http://www.facebook.com/angelina.eang.7 Angélina Eang

    That’s why I stopped watching the kind of drama where the same storyline repeats itself. Like the love triangle/square. Bad guy/good girl/good guy/some jealous woman … O.O
    It is the same thing with different character and background but you know how it is going to end so boring.
    But really, there are also a lot of pearls ^^

  • dara

    Not all women are feminists. As a woman, it is this Confucian portrayal of men and women that appeals to me the most in kdramas. Maybe it’s because I am half Southeast Asian, and so even though my culture is not Confucian, I was raised with similar ideas. In this world of “I don’t need a man” and women’s lib and all that, it’s rare and beautiful to find stories where traditional values are honored. The problem nowadays and the reason for this feminist movement is that most men are not worthy. Too many men are not honorable. And that’s where kdramas come in. They have these fantasy perfect men, who do love and cherish their woman, even if not at first, and so we’re attracted to that. Every girl knows the feeling of wanting a worthy man to love, who we can rely on entirely, who will be a “man”. And if he is such a true man, I would be content to serve him as his shadow. The key is that the man must be worthy, which in most cases, they are not. But in kdramas, generally, they are.