Women Getting on Top: Korean Sexuality and Popular Culture in the 1990s

The Adventures of Mrs. Park 박봉곤 가출 사건

For those of you that are interested in the title topic, then let me mention that I’ve finally finished the rather lengthy post on it that I started back in May, which you can read here. Apologies for taking 2 months rather than the promised 2 days to do so, and by why of compensation you can expect a flurry of related posts from me over the next 3 weeks, which by complete coincidence I’ve just realized is all the time I have left to prepare a presentation on the subject for a conference in Daejeon

Seriously though, while it is a much more academic post than usual, even if you just give it a quick scan then you may be simply amazed at how much Korean television and movies have changed in the last 10-15 years, and how important dramas in particular have been at subverting traditional ideologies of female sexuality. This provides a precedent for the impact of things like Friends and Sex and the City on Korean gender relations and consumerism a little later, and hence also myself a newfound respect for them: see here for some recommendations for more recent ones in the same radical vein as the ones mentioned in the post.

7 thoughts on “Women Getting on Top: Korean Sexuality and Popular Culture in the 1990s

  1. I think we take for granted the relationship between media and society. Couldn’t you argue that shows like Friends and Sex and the City are popular because society is looking to change? (And not the other way around)

    I’ve become a little sensitive to this topic over the years having seen my fair share of fingers pointed at “Westernization” to blame for a changing Japanese society. Of course, there are probably certain features that were influenced by the West, like specific genres of music or fashion trends, but I don’t think we can assume fundamental aspects of society like gender relations can so easily change by having a population exposed to a weekly broadcast. I feel like society was already looking to change itself, and media is just what gives it a nudge.

  2. I think Alex makes a valid point. At the very least, it’s a two-way street: media models new narrative forms, new behaviors, and new attitudes and beliefs, making them normative, but these are often a reflection of what is increasingly acceptable for at least a segment of society. And certainly new media representations, if they are not seen by the individual as appropriate or suitable for the individual, won’t be well received or absorbed.

    • Actually I quite agree with both of you, but by way of an answer let me refer you to this comment by Charles Montgomery on another post, who argues that it’s best to think of these things as feedback loops. He certainly changed the way I look at these sorts of things at least.

      On other hand, that is not to say that certain films, dramas, and so forth can’t be well ahead of their time, and deeply influential as a result. While I’d be the last person to claim that Koreans are merely passive recipients of Western culture, and the examples I give in the earlier post are testament to that (I admit, though, that my wording in the text might give the wrong impression), on the other hand had Sex and the City not come along when it did then arguably something so provocative might only just be emerging now, and so there’s no denying that that one drama alone did indeed have a large effect on ideologies of female sexuality in a great many countries, the U.S. and Korea included, simply by virtue of the fact that it was difficult to ignore. A parallel just of the top of my head, albeit possibly a superfluous one, is how the standards of computer graphics for The Matrix came out of nowhere, yet compelled audiences and instantly set a new standard for the movie industry.

      If anyone’s further interested in the nuts and bolts of Westernization in Korea by the way, with obvious parallels to other countries, then you might find this post on the Korean Women’s magazine industry interesting, with Korean women very much actively demanding Western-style advertisements, styles, and content.

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