*WARNING: this article contains sensitive content!
*Writer's 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.
Additionally, this article is not meant to belittle anyone's experience or past so go easy on your keyboards.
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 our beloved 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' (e.g. sons being preferred over daughters etc).
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 women who are not afraid to speak for themselves, there are still the traits of old discriminating 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 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 attacking 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. Later on he kinda apologizes, but she still ends up with him and brushes aside all the humiliation he put her through.
(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 without her consent...
(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 'transformed' in the meantime - by the male lead. 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 one of my favorite dramas, 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 skinship. 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. It was very difficult to watch. The point is - he had no right to do that.
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 were funny, but when he ended up running away from her and yelling "No!" you realized that he was being really abused (and that is portrayed as funny and cute). Once again, a drama condemns a female character for having sexual needs and for not being afraid to show them; and the poor guy gets abused along-way.
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.
(the shocked expressions on their faces are not really romantic....)
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.
(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.
(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?)
(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.
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 which is why they have a very distinctive hierarchy in terms of addressing people older than you (formal language); 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 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 can be considered a rape in terms of having a part of your body violated (A. Pope explained it better than me). Imagine having your silky long hair that you have grown for years cut off by someone who wants to punish you.
In Marriage, Not Dating, the main girl gets slapped and cut by her future mother-in-law who 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.
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.
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 supporting 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 same 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 people endure in Japanese firms, 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?
I recommend these articles:
- Confucianism and The Female Roles in K-dramas
- Kdramas, Rape Culture & Complicity
- Dangerous Men: The Normalisation of Domestic Abuse in Korean Dramas
- K-Dramas: Too Much Casual Misogyny Onscreen?
- Why I Hate The K-Drama Wrist Grab
- Stranger in a Strange (Drama) Land
- Hands Off: Consent and the Asian Drama Male
- Is the Hair Grab the New Wrist Grab?
- Female Sexuality in K-Drama: Where is it?