Women Riding The Hallyu Wave: Strong women both on and off-screen in the Kdrama industry
K-dramas have ridden the Hallyu wave well, bringing a new freshness to the television
industry and challenging many stereotypes with their eccentric yet interesting plots.
Globalization opened the doors of countries and facilitated the flow of cultures and media, the Hallyu wave being the best example for the same. Many might enjoy Kdramas for their saccharine romances, yet Kdramas are not devoid of strong female leads in their plots. These women can stand their own and they know just how to show it to others. Be it ‘Its Okay to Not Be Okay’s” quirky Ko Moon-Young, ‘Hotel Del Luna’s cold and scary yet fiercely independent Jang Man-Wol, Vincenzo’s passionate Cha-Young or be it the single mother Oh Dong Baek in ‘When the Camelia Blooms’; these women have proved that female leads in Kdramas are not merely limited to crying over their misfortunes and waiting for the male lead to come and sweep them off their feet.
Beyond Cliches and Swoon-worthy Eye Candies
Fairy-tale romances are not anything new but the gripping storylines of K-dramas like
“What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim” or “Crash Landing on You” gives the theme a very
refreshing spin which the viewers seem to enjoy; one in which the women have not been
portrayed as mere damsels in the need of rescuing by their Prince Charming but independent and strong-minded women with their agency.
The male ‘softer side’ in Kdramas
Kdramas defy the gendered beauty industry. Usage of objects which have been deemed as conventionally ‘feminine’ by females like pink objects or pink clothes for example- The male leads in Kdramas have no reservations with wearing pastel colors and looking drool-worthy in them in the dramas. Park Hyung Sik in Strong Woman Do Bong Soon, for example, wore headgears. They help break the stereotype that pink is a ‘girls color’ or that floral clothes are feminine.
The ’Female’ gaze- Turning the Male Gaze on Men?
Almost 90 percent of K-dramas have female writers, hence the television industry in k-drama usually is based on the dramas wooing the hearts of the female audience with sensitive cliched male heroes who support the heroines with a strong personality, for example in dramas like “Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo” or the very popular drama “Strong Girl Bong-soon”. The camera lovingly lingers on the male chest in many shirtless scenes of Kdramas- turning the tables on the male gaze which has been prevalent in Hollywood and Bollywood for years. With the volume of female voices both on and off camera, in the writer’s room i.e.; on-screen affection and emotions have been shown through a lens that would not merely appease the male audience (as was seen in pop culture in the past) but the female audience. The camera does not objectify women, because women are found behind the camera as well rather than just merely in front of it. Moreover, Kdramas do not sensualize relationships- it is more about the emotional intimacy and relationship and skinship or physical intimacy is not give undue importance in the sense that even though we can say that it is common for the camera to appreciatively indulge and show the male lead and his handsome charm (and of course, his abs!); the prime focus of the scene is always the emotional intimacy which one can see from the lovestruck eyes’ close up of the couple.
The Female Gaze is NOT tit-for-tat
Reversing the objectification of women by objectifying men instead is not the goal. The
female gaze simply helps us look through the female lens at the world, or the female vantage point if you may. The female on-screen in Kdramas have been liberally freed from the male gaze. Men are allowed to cry. Women are not just hair-twirling bimbos but they have depth in their characters.
-By Mrinalini Vashisht