Dismantling Gender Stereotypes in K-Dramas

About Korean Dramas

Since the 1960s, the flourishing Korean entertainment industry has been highly sought after by many. Hallyu (The Korean Wave) has acquired the soaring global recognition in various media platforms. From the myriad of K-beauty products to the fascinating line of Korean fashion styles, you probably would agree that South Korean culture has taken the world by storm in some way or another. When we talk about South Korean Culture, we absolutely cannot forget about the growing presence of Korean Dramas.

My ID is Gangnam Beauty

How different are some Korean Dramas?

Similar to K-Dramas, many other types of fictional media are also often thought to be romanticised, or even just simplified representations of our society. When the idea of K-Dramas flashes across our mind, a considerable amount of us would only think of the ones consisting of stereotypical damsel in distress narratives.  Yet, in a world where mainstream media is continuously perpetuating gender stereotypes, some of these K-drama series are actually doing the reverse and are subverting gender roles. Deeply ingrained notions of the rigid manner for how males and females should behave in a society is constantly entrenched in the entertainment we are introduced to, leaving ingenuous and impressionable audiences like children and even ourselves to absorb such preconceived notions unsuspectingly. A lifetime viewing such fixed content would ultimately alter the way we view the world and the people in it. On the other side of the spectrum, there are certain narratives showcased in the Korean television series that depicts a more diverse representation of our society. Nonetheless, there are other films like some in the Korean television series that illustrate a more varied representation of the society. 

Strong Woman Do Bong-Soon

For instance, the South-Korean television series Strong Woman Do Bong-Soon , stars Do Bong Soon played by Park Bo Young born with superhuman Herculean strength. She is not like the stereotypical female casts in your typical dramas. She can crush things with her bare hands and can physically overpower men. This refreshing twist to conventional dramas certainly shows us an attitude to dismantle notions of femininity, empowering females. Girls can be strong. Girls can have power.

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo

Another K-drama that perfectly presents a multi-faceted female lead is Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo. This show features a female weightlifter, Kim Bok Joo played by Lee Sung Kyung. The profession undoubtedly draws a connection with traditional notions of masculinity  and is mainly associated with males. Thus, in this show, the gifted weightlifter struggles with the love of the sport between the ideas of usual femininity. This is especially linked to the fact that in South Korean culture where females with a slim body type are more favoured. Hence, she painfully wrestles with the submission to usual beauty standards between her aspirations. At the end of the drama, she comes to realise that she can still love herself for who she is and still be loved for it. The heartening journey to dismantling the concepts of femininity and proving that one should not be restricted solely by society’s standard is evidently encapsulated in this show.

My ID is Gangnam Beauty

In a world where true stereotypical standards of beauty for females and males prevail, plastic surgery as one of the ways to improve one’s appearances is still a taboo in many countries.

In this show, it highlights how terribly stale the notion of beauty is in our society.  Due to her previous unpleasant experiences she faced in her encounters because of the judgement she received for her unattractive appearance, the female lead Kang Mi Rae played by Im Soo Hyang chooses to go through plastic surgery to ‘ improve ’ her looks. However, she ends up facing more flak for her new looks as she had gone through plastic surgery. In the end, she learns to accept herself for who she is regardless of her appearance with the support around her. Her ordeal has certainly spotlight the unrealistic standards of beauty for each gender in our society. Yet, through this, we are also taught to love ourselves and to not allow expected beauty standards to bog us.

It’s refreshing to see these unconventional narratives in K-drama storylines, reconstructing female and male gender stereotypes and even expected beauty standards in our society. These exemplifying examples are only one of the many few refreshing ones that are paving the way to a more diverse representation in the entertainment industry.  Hopefully, we will also be greeted by more wonderful ones in the future.

Jia Xuan

Graphic Designer, Calligrapher, Writer

As a 14 year old passionate youth in Singapore who has a growing, fervent interest in the arts and sociology, Jia Xuan is also deeply fond of seeking challenges and learning. She aspires to give back to the society and spread more love in the community.






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