K-Dramas: Too Much Casual Misogyny Onscreen?
As an avid viewer of K-dramas, I’ve grown passionate about the shows I watch every week.
From noir thrillers to romances, body-switching comedies, and historical fiction, K-dramas are not only fun and entertaining, but they’re also a glimpse into a culture and a nation.
But as a discerning viewer, I can’t help but notice the sometimes disturbing nature of how women are viewed and treated by men onscreen. There’s the obligatory objectification (a universally old story), and there’s the cliche rag doll-like tossing of women via wrist-grabbing between men. I cringe at some portrayals of women on K-dramas, and sometimes it’s the casual misogyny depicted that I find much more unsettling than the dramatic scenes shown. Granted, they are (usually) committed by the villainous characters onscreen.
I’ve been shocked at some of the ways in which violence, in particular, is directed at women onscreen.
Prejudice in any form is an ugly sight to bear, and violence against women is no different. Taking these images with a grain of salt, though, I recognize the context – these are scripted dramatizations. But I’m also fully aware of the influence that media images carry, and oftentimes the message from the image is far more influential than the dialog surrounding it (i.e. how many times would you more easily recall a music video’s images than it’s lyrics?).
K-dramas are entertainment, and, in effect, a piece of pop culture which bears distinct messages as an export of South Korea; their role in positing perspectives on a growing global audience is a considerable one.
Is there too much violence directed against women onscreen? Here are a few examples below.
Example #1: “Falling For Innocence”
In “Falling For Innocence,” Soon Jung (Kim So Yeon) is viciously slapped by her boss (Park Young Gyu) so hard that she drops to the floor (Episode 4). This happens in the middle of the day, in the workplace, in a very public and humiliating way.
Her boss doesn’t flinch, and he walks off in a huff, entitled. There’s nary a word of admonishment doled out following the scene. Employees not huddled around the perpetrator are left to stand and gawk, a dulled hush washing over the crowd. Soon Jung is then escorted by friend Joon Hee (Yoon Hyun Min) out of the office, the only one who tries to console her.
This carries such large implications, and brews questions. Is this the type of abominable behavior that is acceptable for company heads? Is it indicative of attitudes in South Korea? I can’t help but wonder if there’s any truth to it, at least on some level. (I suppose that query may be tagged under the eternal debate of if art imitates life, or vice versa.)
Example #2: “Angry Mom“
In “Angry Mom,” Oh Yoon Ah plays Ae Yeon, secretary to the abusive Hong Sang Bok, played by Park Young Gyu (sidenote: potential typecasting?). Ae Yeon suffers numerous counts of abuse from her employer, who doesn’t hesitate to assault her in more ways than one, flinging nearby objects at her, leaving her bruised (or bleeding), or shamelessly smacking her on the butt.
Hong Sang Tae (Baro) bears witness to much of this, and his stone-faced exterior tells us that it’s the norm around his house. It’s heinous, the level of violence which is directed at her character.
And Ae Yeon just takes it. She doesn’t report it, she doesn’t try to stop it from happening; she has long since accepted it. And this was another can of worms. It just reeked of the tragically cyclical nature of women caught up in abusive relationships with their boyfriends, subject to emotional and physical abuse, and mentally tangled so far in that they can’t get out. But – another story for another day.
Example #3: “Misaeng“
Critical darling “Misaeng” did such a great job in so many ways, and one of them was showing the grotesque prejudice against women in the workplace. The numerous moments of misogyny portrayed were so disconcerting because of their sense of realism.
It’s unthinkable that any working professional (or human being) would be so disrespectful and degrading as to throw a stack of papers in a co-worker’s face – in this case, Ahn Young Yi’s (Kang So Ra) (Episode 7). Or do something as vile as hurl a scalding cup of coffee at a woman (Episode 14). (Thankfully, Baek Ki, played by Kang Ha Neul, heroically intercepted the atrociously thrown amber fluid).
The scene was so incredibly repulsive – and partially because it felt so true to life. I think that’s one of the reasons that made “Misaeng” such a well executed story – it brought to light the kind of discrimination that women face, in a very genuine way (and putting Ahn Young Yi on the team of revolting misogynists was no accident, I’m sure).
And the perpetrator of that coffee assault? Manager Ma (Son Jong Hak) was, well, the old dirty bastard, emerging as the most evil of the sexist drones at the company. He was never worried about his behavior, or concerned that he might get fired for his inappropriate comments. He was such a loathsome, unapologetic character with a hard grudge against women so nasty it makes one wonder if he believed he was birthed by a man.
Still, the slew of unacceptable, chauvinistic behavior that went on during those office hours were troubling and painful to watch – and made me pay more attention, since it felt honestly couched in authenticity.
What do you think? Do you find depictions of violence against women in KDramas disturbing? Is there too much casual misogyny portrayed onscreen? What other scenes can you recall?
Also from author luckymic: