On January 26, Wonder Girls’ leader Sunye became the first member of an active K-pop idol group to walk down the aisle. Resplendent in a beautiful wedding dress designed by Korean bridal fashion designer Lee Myung-soon (seriously, that lace-decorated full-length skirt was just gorgeous, as were the sheer sleeves), SunYe and her Korean-Canadian fiance James Park tied the knot at a ceremony emceed by Sunye’s best friend and labelmate Jo Kwon. Never one to pass up an opportunity to insert himself into his idols’ special moments, Park Jin-young sang the congratulatory song — and James even got in on the action to do a dorky (but cute) dance to the Wonder Girls’ 2008 hit “Nobody.” Following the nuptials, the newlyweds boarded a plane for Maldives, where they will spend their honeymoon before returning to Canada, home to James and Sunye’s in-laws. Sunye will take some time to focus on her new family life, while the other Wonder Girls’ members will engage in solo activities for an undetermined stretch.
A truly lovely and well-attended wedding should be a great way to start off the new year, but of course, nothing in the K-popiverse can truly go off without a hitch. In this case, the hitch was the completely unnecessary rumor-mongering that surrounded Sunye’s decision to get married at a young age (23 as calculated in the US, 25 if one is going by “Korean age”) — rumor-mongering that followed her literally right up until the actual ceremony itself. I pointed out in my last piece on Sunye’s impending marriage that the most ridiculous (and potentially damaging) of these rumors was the one that an unplanned pregnancy preceded her engagement. It was bad enough that netizen noise-making around the idea of Sunye having a shotgun wedding prompted JYPE to make an official statement in late November denying a pregnancy and affirming Sunye’s decision to marry her fiance based on love and trust. Really, that should have put the issue to bed; no means no, and at any rate, shotgun weddings are called shotgun weddings for a reason. No couple that finds themselves with a bun in the oven should reasonably want to wait an additional two months after announcing the wedding to actually have the ceremony — the bride’s ever-changing stomach (and the ever-quickly approaching baby) would make that difficult.
And yet — and yet! — that still did not stop reporters at the press conference just hours before Sunye’s wedding from bringing up and essentially asking for clarification of these totally unfounded — and already once dispelled — pregnancy rumors. While she was wearing, mind you, a mega-tight (and also gorgeous) dress that no woman who was in any way attempting to hide a pregnancy would wear in her right mind. Did that really happen? Why, yes. Yes, it did.
First of all, it is basically never okay to ask a woman if she is pregnant. Pregnancy is an extremely touchy subject, and everyone looks and feels differently during one’s pregnancy. Additionally, news of a pregnancy is a woman’s alone to share, and the divulging of that information to anyone should be done on her own terms. Even if a woman is so obviously pregnant that it looks like she might give birth any minute, whether or not she chooses to discuss her pregnancy with anyone — especially people with whom she isn’t personally acquainted — should be entirely up to her. Asking about it is just plain rude. End of story.
But that’s not all.
Look, I know that there is no way to stop curious minds from wandering, especially when a pretty young idol star at the height of her youth and bursting with potential decides to take the unorthodox path and seemingly give up years of hard work for marriage and a family. That’s just the way things are. However, that does not in any way excuse journalists and reporters — who are ostensibly professionals — from participating in the mudslinging of a bunch of uninformed and likely spiteful children. Indirectly asking her if she is pregnant at the press conference — again, on her wedding day, a day that should be the happiest of her life — validates netizen speculation that something about her marriage was amiss, accuses both Sunye and JYPE of lying about it, and cheapens her relationship and reduces it to a set of rationalized variables instead of celebrating it as a welcome expression of love and deep commitment.
Even if (in an alternate universe in which Tiffany and I are BFFLs and Gong Yoo is my boytoy) Sunye were to be pregnant, the way that K-pop and the Korean media have dealt with shotgun marriages should indicate that Sunye would be no worse for the wear than were any of a surprising number of celebrities who have publicly announced their impending parenthood along with their engagements. These celebrities include (and are not limited to): Um Tae-woong, Lee Chun-hee, Kim Tae-woo, Jang Dong-gun, Tablo, Kwon Sang-woo, and Park Sun-joo. All of them are males, none of them are idols, and some were involved with women nearly a decade their junior. Any careers hanging by a thread as a result of their essential admission to having premarital sex? Any lynch mobs out for their blood? No? Well, then. In this alternate universe in which Sunye’s reasons for marriage stem from the fact that she’s up the spout, she should be fine…right?
Let’s put it this way: only in an alternate universe would a young female idol who found herself enceinte out of wedlock be dealt with in the same relatively calm manner as were these male celebrities — and this inevitably has a lot to do with gender and position. In the first place, the very fact that idols are just that — idols — places them in a bubble in which they are marketed as perfect girlfriends (and boyfriends), but are essentially forbidden to become someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend in real life. Additionally, though the industry’s overwhelming commodification of sex is completely obvious to anyone with eyes and ears, idols’ squeaky clean images are their bread and butter. Scandals that discredit the portrayal of idols as innocent, opinion-less, perfect citizens are doubly shocking because of their incongruity. Just think of the uproar that IU caused when a photograph revealing her in a compromising position — yet fully clothed — was accidentally uploaded to her Twitter account. Recall all of the nasty accusations that had been hurled her way — considerably more, it must be noted, than were tossed in Eunhyuk‘s direction. Never mind that most people were aware that her image of purity and innocence was more or less a facade; the very fact that it was compromised was enough to shatter her reputation.
Now imagine that IU, Sunye, or any other female celebrity, was hiding the evidence of her indiscretions under her shirt — just as the girlfriends of any of the male celebrities mentioned above did. How much worse does it get? I can only imagine the names that a pregnant female idol would get called; “slut” and “whore” would probably be only the tip of a really nasty iceberg. Men and women are equally complicit in unplanned pregnancies, yet women seem to bear the brunt of the shame largely because they simply can’t escape it. This is due in large part to an uncomfortable reality related to gender equality in South Korea; though statistics would suggest that both men and women engage in premarital sex, the societal pressure on women to remain virgins until marriage is much, much greater than it is on men. It’s hard to imagine anyone questioning male celebrities in the same way that Sunye was questioned about pregnancy, simply because a pregnant Sunye would be perceived as infinitely more scandalous. It is indeed sad that shotgun weddings involving male celebrities are treated almost as a norm, while Sunye’s non-pregnancy created a rumor that was so prominent reporters just had to address it on her wedding day.
The K-popiverse is an unpredictable place, and it’s entirely likely that we may one day see a pregnant female idol — and we will cross that bridge when we come to it. But for now, that pregnant female idol isn’t Sunye — and I hope this total lack of journalistic integrity (and blatant sexism) will call upon reporters to reexamine how they deal with netizen nonsense in their reporting in the future. And as we did last time, we wish Sunye all the best as she starts this new and exciting journey!
Thoughts on the matter, readers? Share them below!
(Images via JYPE, The Grand Narrative, Ebuzz, Netizen Buzz)