Patriarchy, Abuse and Gender Roles in Asian Dramas

*WARNING: this article contains sensitive content!

*WARNING: minor spoilers!

*Note: I'm aware that some of these dramas have good aspects too, but I'm going to focus only on patriarchy, abuse and gender roles. I'm also aware that what I'm talking about here is not restricted to Asian culture only, so there is no need to get insulted. I would be more than happy to see your thoughts and opinions on my point of view here.



Asian dramas in general are very entertaining, and nobody knows that better than us, MDL users. However, there is a dark side to almost everything, and that includes Asian dramas and some of the values and relationship models that have been promoted by them and media. And this topic is not related to Asian entertainment industry alone, its roots are deeper and they lie in Asian culture, history and gender issues.

Patriarchy is according to wiki "a social system in which males hold primary power, moral authority, social privilege and control of property." 

This system is still dominant in Asia, and you can see it because most husbands are the ones who make the most important decisions and males' opinions in general are more valued than females'.

When it comes to gender roles, I have noticed that females in Asian dramas usually fall in one of these two categories – an "angel" or a "bitch". This is actually not restricted to Asian countries only, but we will focus only on them here. A woman is portrayed either as a completely submissive, dumb or pathetic creature or she is an impolite, noisy and aggressive bitch. There are of course the exceptions, but not many of them. It is the fact that in Asian culture (and I’m mainly talking about China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand) women have always been portrayed as submissive to men and those who are older than 30 are considered to be "hags", especially if they haven’t married until the late 20s and gave birth to children. If you are familiar with history, then you know that meek and gentle women used to be more praised than those who would go against men or society. Even though the situation has got better throughout the years, and Asian society now is filled with intelligent and capable females who are not afraid to speak for themselves, there are still the traits of old discriminative prejudices and views and they can be seen in media and entertainment industry. Violence is disguised as "romance" and I’m not talking about one or two dramas, some of these characteristics are repeated in almost every drama.

And let’s make something clear – I am a fan of can’t-stand-then-fall-in-love plots and rough play, but there is a distinction between that and abuse.


I would like to point out some of the characteristics in Asian dramas that are very popular, but they are clearly the signs of verbal, physical and sexual abuse.

01. Physical Abuse

Take a look at these scenarios; are any of them familiar to you?

  • -        A guy forcefully kisses/touches a girl or vice versa;
  • -        A guy grabs a girl’s wrist and starts dragging her around or vice versa;
  • -        Parents or employees slapping/hitting their children/employers;
  • -        People invading others’ personal space and making decisions without their consent;

If you have watched more than 10 Asian dramas in your life, you’ve probably encountered one of these scenes. And they were probably portrayed as cute and romantic.

It is considered shameful and embarrassing for a woman to be sexually active or at least interested in passion. Women are degraded to objects that should be controlled by men and shocked when someone they like kisses them or touches them and it is even more shameful if they want or touch someone first. Those women that show signs of attraction are usually portrayed as villains. 

There are many scenes in which a guy forcefully kisses/touches a girl, and sometimes she even stays still and endures, because he is physically stronger than her and she cannot fight back. In a drama My Sunshine, the main male character waits for his ex girlfriend in the dark in front of her home, then suddenly jumps at her, bangs her head against the wall and starts forcefully kissing her. I guess this scene is meant to show his anguish and despair but alas, I see it as a creepy guy abusing a woman. Not to mention that she looks like a lamb throughout the whole drama - always scared to look anyone in the eyes. The same happens in the film adaptation You Are My Sunshine. In Coffee Prince, which is considered a remarkable gender bender drama, the main character almost rapes the main female character and leaves her crying all by herself.                                                     

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(Let me just bang you against the wall/fridge, and break some of the bones)

Secret Garden is liked by almost everyone, even though the main guy tries to fondle the main girl on many occasions and without her consent...

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(Yeah, she seems as if she reaaally likes it...)

Another drama that comes to my mind is a classic - Hana Yori Dango, Boys Over Flowers and all of its adaptations. Besides the fact that the girl is looked down because of her financial status, she also gets kidnapped, drugged and 'changed' in the meantime. Imagine yourself waking up in an unfamiliar place, dressed up with make-up on? Yes, you would freak out and run for the hills. But of course, this (and many other scenes) are justified as cute on the guy's behalf. MARS is still my favorite Asian drama, however, there is one scene in ep 13 that almost ruined it all. He basically pretends that he wants to force her (without any attention of going to the end) so she would tell him the real reason why she is so scared of touching. As if that is the only way to find out, never heard of conversation before? Ok, it is very possible that she would never talk to him honestly about what happened, but it is still wrong. He just made her experience the pain and anguish all over again. He had no intention of physically hurting her, but he did open up her emotional scars from the past.

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Another example is rarer (provided by fiflydramalover and Orion respectively) but not uncommon - a gender role reversal drama in which the female is the one who abuses the male. The newest drama Oh My Ghost is a great example, because it depicts a shy and mousy girl who gets possessed by a sexually driven female ghost. They end up sharing the main guy throughout the drama (now imagine two male ghosts fooling around with a girl's body - yeah....). I was glad that there would be a drama in which a female would show the initiative, however, it turned into a typical mess. The guy keeps pushing away the main girl (afraid of her sexuality) which makes the girl rapey and even more agitated. The first and second scenes can be funny, but when he ends up running away from her and yelling "No!" you realize that he is being really abused (and that is portrayed as funny and cute). Once again, an Asian drama condemns a female character for having sexual needs and not being afraid to show them; and the poor guy gets abused along-way. 

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There are also many scenes in various Asian dramas in which there are no lip movements during kisses, and women are usually shocked and that is supposed to show how ‘pure’ and ‘inexperienced’ they are (or they should be?). Why is an inexperienced woman more valued than a woman who knows what or whom she wants? Because the society in general does not tolerate strong women who know what they want – be it in terms of career, personal choices or relationships.

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(the shocked expressions on their faces mean that they probably wanted it....)


Then we have the famous wrist grabs. In this situation, a guy (usually) grabs a girl by her wrist and starts dragging her around by force. It is supposed to show male dominance over female and the fact that the guy is unable to express his feelings so he must use force. Not cute to me at all. Firstly, this is very painful. I'm not sure if you ever had someone grab you by your wrist and start dragging you around, but it is very painful and uncomfortable. Secondly, it is humiliating. It is as if you do not have mind or legs, so someone has to 'push' you into their direction.

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(Does this look comfortable and painless to you? Nah, I don't think so.)


Then we have some really hardcore abuse, including rapes. The best examples would be Sealed with a Kiss and Le Jun Kai. These dramas have high ratings and they have positive comments. But what kind of message are they sending out there to their audience and people? That it is okay to take out your anger, frustrations and revenge on someone completely innocent? To beat, use, humiliate and rape them? And even worse, the women should just endure it and say that it is 'brutal love'?? 

The real comments of users who liked these dramas:

The kind of stories I like <3 Brutal Love.

I wish it was longer!!!!

I love it !!

Im already having withdrawals god I love this drama ...Seriously great intense addictive story and an amazing male lead (both character and actor)!

Love this drama.

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(Sealed with a Kiss - in the first scene he breaks her wrist in one of many scenes of beating and harassing her, and in the second scene he almost strangles her in a hospital where she is admitted for having a miscarriage. Lovely and romantic, don't you think?)

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(Le Jun Kai - just two of many scenes in which he humiliates, pushes, beats, rapes and strangles her throughout this romantic drama...)

Myung Wol the Spy is not only ridiculous, but the male character also slaps the main female character in the public and do not worry, they still end up together! In Autumn's Concerto, a very popular Taiwanese drama, the main girl gets almost raped by her 'love' and father of her child. The same happens in Thai dramas Sanaeha Sunya Kaen and Sawan Biang.In a drama Que Sera Sera you can see each main character slapped and hit at least once. There are also scenes of wrist grabbing, forced kissing and throwing water at someone's face. However, the thing is that such behavior is not condemned at all, instead they are acting all cozy and fine after abusing each other...and there is a HEA.

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Now it is time to take a look at the abuse and discrimination at work and in family, especially the way parents/cousins and employers treat their family and employees. Family is very valued in Asian culture, however, it is too much when your parents can dictate every second of your life and your employers slap you and beat you. That is actually wrong on many levels, but not unusual in Asian dramas. 

For example, in Reply 1997, after the daughter does something that she should not have (goes to another city to watch her favorite band without her parents' consent) her father almost shaves off her hair completely. Cutting one's hair forcefully is considered a rape. Imagine having your silky long hair cut by someone in order to punish you. In Marriage, Not Dating, the main girl gets slapped and cut by her future mother-in-law and then she almost slaps her again. She frighteningly backs away, as if she has been hit many times until then. It is 'normal' for them to get hit, slapped and abused by their parents and elders, not to mention that they must follow their every order. Scary.

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When it comes to disgusting employers, the winner is the boss from Falling for Innocence. He slaps the main female character so hard that she gets hurled across the floor. The boss never apologized to her, nobody helped her and she just meekly accepted the slap, even later on returned to the job post. 

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The similar happens in Misaeng, in which the capable and hard-working female woman gets yelled at, humiliated and the boss even throws a coffee and stack of papers at her. In Angry Mom, the boss even sexually abuses his secretary (she is a supportive character, but never mind) by smacking her ass and yelling at her. In one scene, while she is massaging his leg like a slave, he kicks her with that leg. She does nothing and just accepts the situation. The similar abuse can be seen in Age Harassment, however, this drama is about the abuse and discrimination, not portraying it as love and something normal.


02. Verbal abuse

All of the mentioned examples above contain verbal abuse too, but now I'm going to focus on characters that use primarily verbal abuse without any/much physical force.

The best example would be all of the adaptations based on the manga "Itazura na Kiss" by Kaoru Tada.

There are many adaptations, but they all have something in common - a naive, stupid and pathetic girl who falls in love with an emotionally cold, abusive and intelligent guy. The girls makes him the priority of her life, going to the same university because he goes there and rejecting all normal suitors who respect her because of him. He humiliates and verbally abuses her all the time and even later on, when they get married. He even mocks her with other people in front of her and openly laughs into her face. He gets the most sadistic when he realizes that she is really in love with him, using every opportunity to baits her when he sees that she may walk away and that he would lose his plaything. Worst of all, she never realizes that she is his slave and she stupidly declares herself in love with him while idolizing him. I will present some of the quotes from various adaptations so you can get the picture:

Baek Seung Jo from Playful Kiss:

Your stupidity overwhelms and annoys me.

I hate stupid women like you.

Irie Naoki from Itazura na Kiss:

A girl like you, even if I met you a hundred times, I would still ignore you.

Don't worry. I have no intention of having a relationship with you.

Zhi Shu from It Started with a Kiss

Living with an idiot like you day after day, I'll become stupid too!

A person like you, what do you have in that head of yours?


Discussion questions:


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Comments (312)

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  • Reply
    EmpyreanConqueror 27 days ago

    I mean, they're just dramas xd. FICTIONAL dramas unless stated otherwise. However I think males prefer dominant males and females prefer dominant females, I'm just curious there aren't any feminists trying to argue.

  • Reply
    Luiza Bakumenko Jun 15, 2017 - edited

    Whatever... I still like dominant guys more and I still love Asian dramas, to me they're the best. If you don't like these kinds of movies/ dramas then simply don't watch them, but don't come here expecting to change something in Asian culture and their films by writing this shit

    • Reply
      redxxxcrimson Jun 16, 2017

      totally agree

    • Reply
      Muni Jun 19, 2017

      You can like dominant guys more and still love Asian dramas. This isn't telling you not to. However, it's not right just to watch this kind of abuse and derogatory actions towards females and say "simply don't watch them." People, and especially women, can be critical of this type of stuff and saying to not to write "this shit" is shocking and disappointing.

  • Reply
    Vera Jun 7, 2017

    But yes, abuse is never Okay, doesnt if You get abused by your parents, boss , elders etc -- still not okay. It frustrates me so much when heroine is being abused and She doesn't even stand up for herself (yet She is described as someone who is very strong... uhm,, okay? ). I was never a huge fan of 'My Love from The stars' (tbh i thought Do min Joon was dull) , But The heroine Song Yi is one of The best i ever seen in a drama. Not The typical heroine whos too-good-for-her-own-good. She was flawed and could be so shallow and bitchy, yet cool and awesome,,not someone who would ever take crap from anyone:) i wish there were more heroines like her:) i definitately look up to her.

  • Reply
    Vera Jun 7, 2017

    Anyway , yes there are lots of kdramas where The heroine won't respond / give any movement to the kiss (look chocked/uncomfortable).partly cuz they want to keep heroine pure (Dont want to ruin the actress reputation , especially if shes an idol) and partly Because Its not a Cable channel.. (and if Its set in High school then for sure all you gonna see is a peck on lips), and partly Because they don't want to show anything Thats concidered sexual for underage people. if Its cable channels like tvN or jTBC , there Will be mostl likely hot kissing scenes (just look at "heartless city", The heroine has just as much sexual desires as The hero, and she's not afraid to show it)...But if you are watching none cable channels about High school kids , Then having The girl responding to the kiss us very unlikely..

    I have btw seen many dramas from none cable channels where The heroine responds to The kiss (Coffee Prince, It's Okay That's Love, goong, personal taste, Gu family Book etc).. back in early 2000s The kissings were terrible, But not anymore as much.. The kissings are getting better and better, and The arm wristing is getting less and less common.. plus , nowdays The heroes aren't complete d*cks 90% of The times. what Im trying to say is that , slowly But surely korean dramas are becoming more less sexist/abusive towards women. But to be fair, Its not just asian dramas that are sexist/abusive towards women, just look at twilight and 50 shades of Grey ;P

  • Reply
    Vera Jun 7, 2017 - edited

    If k-dramas are sexist, well then thai (lakorn) dramas takes it to another level (*cough* *Cough* sawan biang, anyone?).. Yes k-dramas are sometimes sexist, no doubt about that.. But if you compare it with lakorn, k-dramas are really feminist XD i have at least never seen in kdrama where the hero rapes the heroine and they end up together 0.o in lakorn however they have their own genre called "slap and kiss" and/or "revenge" where hero rapes /tortures heroine and yet she still forgives him and they end up together.. Thats F*cked up. But not all lakorn are bad, I enjoyed sood sanae ha and full house thai :)

    • Reply
      Muni Jun 19, 2017

      I've very disgusted by Thai Lakorns that do this. But it doesn't excuse any sexist nature in Korean dramas. We get nowhere if we say K-dramas are feminist to Thai lakorn.

  • Reply
    Ciara Jun 4, 2017

    I 100% agree with this article! I know that a lot of the things mentioned are staple kdrama/ Asian drama plot devices and only used for 'entertainment'. However there are other ways directors can entertain without showing people, especially young/teen girls who are the main viewers of such dramas,that it's ok to be treated in such a manner. It also shows that it is ok to be abused in relationships and such abuse should be seen as 'romantic' or normal. I am very happy about the new trend of sweeter male leads in recent times such as in weight lifting fairy etc. Dramas should teach girls how they should expect to be treated in a real relationship and show them what not to put up with too.

  • Reply
    XaneriaAnn May 13, 2017 - edited

    There are some overreaching comments here. As someone with experience in the area of being abused and raped, you stretch things here often. The best example is your comment about Coffee Prince. Not one of my favorite dramas as I find Gender Benders a bit dull, but the kiss you are talking about has nothing to do with rape. There was no intended rape. If you look at the context clearly and pay close attention to the entire story line, while the action isn't okay, it also isn't something you should get up in arms about or accuse of being an attempted rape.

    There are actions here that are exactly as you say. They are archaic patriarchal motions that still exist even in the television series. There are some dramas with scenes that we should clearly feel are unforgivable. But there are also things in this drama, such as wrist grabbing, which I feel this article is reaching on.

    I'm not getting into a fight with anyone over this, but honestly, this article is disappointing to read. I was hoping for a thorough analysis of the culture vs. drama vs. modern societies in foreign countries but instead, I read through a rather opinionated and biased standpoint on the over-dramatized actions of fictional characters in already unbelievable and unrealistic situations.

    • Reply
      Ceki May 17, 2017

      I've noticed that many victims of abuse (including you) get personally offended by some of the examples in this article as if forced kisses, grabbing or other forms of molestation (that can easily be classified as intended rape) in a way belittle your own disturbing experience; which is ridiculous.

      I made my points clear in the article, even though many things can be added of course. The patriarchal notions of Asian culture can be seen even today in dramas, and when almost every drama condones physical abuse (such as wrist grabbing in Kdramas) or actual raping (Lakorns), and represents it as romantic, then it is clear that these actions are not "over-dramatized" but their roots lie in the mindset of the almost whole nation. And don't even let me started with gender inequality and shaming...

      The point of the article wasn't to say that every other Asian husband beats his wife but that these dramas reflect the patriarchal notions in a very concealed but menacing way. So yeah, I don't think I am the one who overstretches things here.

  • Reply
    SuzieKyu Mar 27, 2017

    Reasons why I hated woobin's character in the heirs. He literally verbally abused all the girls and even was pretty physical and yet so many viewers liked his character.

  • Reply
    steph_ravita Mar 18, 2017

    This article is one of the reasons why I don't understand why dramas like Itazura Na Kiss, Boys over Flowers and You're Beautiful have multiple adaptations. But then on the other hand, I still end up watching them anyway.

  • Reply
    Ellie Feb 21, 2017

    I would say it depends on the situation. I can handle when the male lead playfully teases her or hits her, but when it gets to the serious point where he does it almost every episode or smth... Yeah that I can't take. I hate it how the male leads always degrades women.. Slapping them for real.. Like who are you to do that? Even worse when the woman doesn't strike back, and just takes it. Ugh, I'm getting triggered writing this. Like I don't like it when the female lead is embarrassed (Or the male lead, but come on, it happens to the females like 100 times more) so just take a hint producers. And I will say I loved Playful Kiss and other dramas like that, that's what I mean by friendly teasing the female. But it did annoy me some times when he took it to far.. Lol, so yeah, that's why I think it depends on the situation really.

  • Reply
    Snows Jan 25, 2017

    I'm totally with you, this is a toxic aspect of asian dramas that should be eradicated. In fact, my favourite kdramas are this that show mature characters, where the girl is not defenceless and can hold herself against the main guy/villain. For instance Healer, Descendants of the Sun, Oh My Venus, King2Hearts, It's Okay That's Love... In all of them the main guy treats the girl (woman!) like a human being, an equal worth of respect.

  • Reply
    Pinoy_Oppa Jan 4, 2017

    I don't have a problem with it, it's part of the character's personality and development and it adds colors to the story. The way the scene and dialogues are written gives life to the story itself. So what happen in Korean or Asian shows are just normal that happen in real life.

  • Reply
    JulySnow2 Nov 25, 2016

    Depends on how the characters treat the abuse. If the guilty party is forgiven in the end, like they often are in drama endings, then Yes they shouldn't have included the abuse in the drama! However, when it's taken seriously and no forgiveness, then it not only makes for good drama/emotional impact on characters but also makes people think seriously of real issues! So I think it's time to drop the ridiculous forgiveness and focus on bringing forth MORE abuse but that it's taken SERIOUSLY!

  • Reply
    Hillary Newton Nov 21, 2016

    Ok I didn't see this anywhere so I'm just going to put it out there. "Rape Fantasy". ... also Harlequin romances back in the day almost always had rape as a premise for the misunderstood female lead and the misguided male character that spends the rest of the novel trying to make it up to the female. I say that if these things bother you, then you really should read reviews BEFORE you dive into a drama. No matter where they have been made. Also, relationships in real life are messy, bad things do happen. The growth of the character usually begins to depend on how they handle the situation from there.

  • Reply
    niceandcurly Oct 19, 2016

    I was watching Itazura na Kiss and thinking to myself, just how many rejections, insults and humiliations is that girl going to put up with "in the name of love"
    Such a BAD example for young girls. I would die before I let my daughter be like that.

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