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 (298)

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  • Reply
    SuzieKyu 2 days ago

    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 12 days ago

    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.

  • Reply
    keznaa Aug 31, 2016 - edited
    Reveal Spoiler »
  • Reply
    moonlightgalaxy3 Aug 20, 2016

    This is an interesting article because it forces you to think critically about the factors in kdramas that make them not appropriate in the context of basic values of human rights, gender equality, abuse etc. I totally agree with the article because the points are true, and I have seen it all in many dramas as well. Personally for me it’s hard to hate on those things because I started watching Asian dramas ever since I was little and the fact that the times at which I had seen some of these aforementioned “misogynistic” dramas were the times when I was still young, naive, and actually enjoying it because of the thrilling and exciting feeling the romances gave me.

    I don’t feel against what they do in kdramas, because well, they’re kdramas. To me they’ll always be different from American shows and give me a different vibe than them. Maybe because I started watching them/getting obsessed with them earlier on and there’s a sentimental value attached to them as well. But I’ve grown to know the formula of the korean dramas and I’ve accepted that as a part of watching them. I’m probably somewhat brainwashed by them in a certain way. Why do I say this? Because if I am to truly put myself into those korean female characters’ shoes and think about whether I’d enjoy it if a guy I like or a potential guy does the forceful gestures to me, I would not like it at all and it would be a major red flag to anyone really, especially in early stages of getting to know someone. But the excuse in kdramas is that they make the guy-with-anger-issues slowly improve and get better, more affectionate, less violent etc, and seeing that kind of psychological change in a character generates sympathy and likeability ratings from viewers because as humans, we know we all have flaws. We all like to see somebody being fixed or turning into a better person from the mess that they were before due to a specific reason or maybe for nothing at all. Oh yeah, and we also love to watch hate turn into love and how they deal with it.

    Also, a lot of the things that happen in dramas are not what happens often in real asian life. I mean, evil mother-in-laws or step-mothers physically abusing their daughter? Throwing money in their face and telling them to get lost? Nope, but definitely more milder and less violent/dramatic versions occur. It does portray a lot of Asian ideals and dramatizes them though.. Like mother-in-law troubles, and the role that social and economic class play in the family acceptance of two people getting together.

    Another thought I just had is imagine how asians must see western movies and shows. Everything is dramatized too but that doesn’t mean things like that don’t happen. I mean, depending on what it is, a lot of it does happen but not as often as you’d think or with every single person living in the western country you’d see. A big example is all the sex and sexualized things. They probably think that Americans are sex-crazed and that all american girls are slutty and provocative and come on really strongly. Which is a given if they only believed that to be true through what the american media they consume portray it to be. They’d also think that everybody has done drugs before, and that every person will get a divorce or have a chance of raising a single kid, or get cheated on in a relationship. Because those things are portrayed a loot in american shows and movies.

  • Reply
    CharlieBishop Aug 9, 2016

    I just finished Coffee Prince, and I had never been as taken-aback, scared, and disgusted as I was at that terrible kiss in the kitchen. Watching Eun Chan squirm and whimper as Han Gyeol forced her against the fridge made me incredibly uncomfortable. It was hard to watch. When he leaves the room and she slides down to the floor, seeing her tears and how scared and pained she was at being taken advantage of like that was difficult to see portrayed in a show that had been fluffy and cute most of the way up to that point. The fact that his behavior was brushed off as, "he was upset," or, "she deserved it," or, "what she did to him was worse," blows my mind. It really shows how women are set up to be a man's punching bag and are there just for him to take advantage of when he does something wrong.

    I've seen this sort of behavior all over the place. The Heirs was another example. Forget that Park Shin Hye is a notoriously bad kisser- that has nothing to do with any of this. The kiss in the closet was very hard for me to watch. Just the look on her face shows that she doesn't like or want what's happening to her. The same thing goes for the one on the roof, where Tan roughly grabs Eun Sang and forces himself on her. That show was a train-wreck, but the constant abuse and violence was really what sent it over the edge. Tan and Young Do do nothing but threaten each other using Eun Sang as collateral, hurt one another in the name of their "love", and abuse her like she's nothing. Dramas that do this really disgust me, and I'm amazed that it's considered okay.

  • Reply
    choimari Jun 16, 2016

    Parents hitting their children and the infamous wrist grab are somewhat debatable in several aspects, but I don't see a reason to freak out about the rapes and more serious abuse. They're not there for pure entertainment value and are almost never taken lightly, they always carry a strong emotional charge. Most of them are not just a cheap plot device, they're there to portray real life occurrences that happen every freaking day to a lot of people (e.g. Misaeng).

  • Reply
    SSKF Jun 6, 2016

    i agree with everything here. However in relation to my enjoyment of a drama, it depends on the situation. I never watched Sealed With A Kiss or Lee Jun Kai precisely because it was so abusive and being touted as 'love' which it clearly wasn't. However I watched Itazura na Kiss and liked it, even while bemoaning the male lead's words to the female lead and how she took it complacently.

    Even if I enjoy a drama, I'm not blind to everything you have discussed. I notice them all while watching, but I guess I compartmentalize and chalk it up to Asian culture. Another thing I noticed in these dramas, is that there is always more expected from the female - as in even if she she bright and successful, she must devote time to household duties and to serving food and coffee etc, serving her family members, coupled with her school work or her job. A man on the other hand, he comes home, sits and waits for his coffee or food. Yes, everybody must eat etc, but that always strikes me as unfair.

  • Reply
    SecondLeadQueen May 25, 2016

    Well I think it depends on the situation... If is someone you don't love I wouldn't want that person pushing me to a wall and kissing me roughly but if he is I wouldn't mind it.. If he has a girlfriend or lover and I told him already NO I would hate it too. A man has to understand No means NO..
    A situation that I really do hate is when a female lead is threated like a stupid girl by the lead that she hates a first and she ends up with him and she actually has the greatest second lead who threats her like a princess. When she is physically abused like one drama you mention Que Sera Sera and she goes back to that man and she actually had a man who loved her and respect her.
    I actually think how can they be stupid girls like that and I actually keep watching with the hopes they give the second lead a chance. But 98 percent out of 100 they never do. In any dramas American, Mexican and Asian. Which is sad.
    It pisses me when couples fight and scream at each other in public places like nothing yet when they kiss they say stop it they are watching.. I am like come on you can scream at the top of your lungs and every one is hearing and watching. Fighting is a private matter too.
    The pulling of the wrist I see it as a controlling matter. I am not going to lie It does get me excited if it continues with a hug. Like to stop the person.
    I am not in my teens not even on my twenties.. I am 30 what worries me is if teens or girls in their early twenties see this think is normal and go into a relationship and the boyfriend is abusive and they don't stop it thinking is exciting because they see this in dramas.

  • Reply
    Lucine May 22, 2016

    Well documented article. This is completely true women are so pitiful in all those drama except in those where the lead actor is just always nice and not a jerk (like DOTs among the "nice guy" plot I've watched recently).
    Thanks for sharing!

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