TOTD: Not Accepting Misogyny Within K-Dramas

March 9, 2021 - Ashleigh Lowe

A memorable feature of any Korean drama, or K-drama as they are commonly known, is the female-lead. They are often strong-willed, charismatic, and relatable. Despite the resolve of these characters, many older K-dramas are centered around the misogynistic belief that women are meant to be won. 

To accomplish this goal, many of these dramas follow a similar pattern or storyline. The audience meets an independent and determined woman who appears different from those around her. Her strong-willed personality causes her to clash with the male-lead but also catches his attention. What becomes problematic about this storyline is that, as it progresses, the once strong-willed female-lead becomes “unassertive, docile, and yielding.” She finds herself conforming to a prescribed gender role: women should be submissive, especially to their partners. Additionally, in order to ‘win’ the female lead, the male lead often makes unwanted advances, which raises the question of consent within these shows. “The female lead’s character ‘transformation’ is complete when she finds herself being conflicted, overly emotional, and easily dependent on the lover in the latter part of the story progression.” (source)

A popular example of this is the relationship between Goo Jun-Pyo and Geum Jan-Di in Boys Over Flowers (2009). Goo Jun-Pyo is a member of F4, which is a group of elite male students who also act as the school bullies. Jan-Di starts the series as one of the people taunted by F4, but she often stands up for herself and others. Her unusual assertiveness catches the attention of Jun-Pyo and for most of the series, he relentlessly pursues her. Jan-Di resists Jun-Pyo, but following the pattern, Jun-Pyo eventually ‘wins’ Jan-Di and she becomes unassertive and dependent upon him by the end of the series. 

In addition to these storylines reinforcing the idea that women should be submissive to their partners, they also suggest that women can be won over by any means necessary. Many of these storylines do not consider the feelings of the female lead about the relationship as the male lead makes continuous advances. For this reason, this storyline does not reinforce healthy ideas of consent. 

However, there have been efforts to change this storyline recently. For example, a Korean web drama called It’s Okay to be Sensitive covers the topics of consent and sexual assault. It is considered a truly feminist drama, due to its willingness to discuss these issues through a female lens. The Netflix K-drama Run-On is also a great example of healthy relationships. Within Run-On, the relationship between Ki Seung-Gyeom and Oh Mi-Joo forgoes problematic relationship tropes. Mi-Joo helps Seung-Gyeom practice self-love after living his whole life for his family and his career. The show also builds a stable friendship between the two that naturally develops into a relationship. Run-On spends time establishing that these two are equals, rather than creating a relationship where one partner is overly dependent on the other. 

The changes in Run-On and It’s Okay to be Sensitive suggest that audiences are no longer willing to accept the misogynistic portrayals of relationships that existed in older K-dramas. They are demanding that the industry portray women as complex individuals, with thoughts and feelings who have a right to an opinion on their romantic relationships.


Read more here!