(Guest Post) Misogyny is Sexy: The power structure of sex

korean-misogyny-k-pop(Source, left: Isabel Santos Pilot; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Source, right: SenseiAlan; CC BY 2.0. Both pictures edited.)

The 2016 US presidential election can be viewed as a struggle for power. Not only was it a struggle for political power, but there was a very basic struggle that permeated throughout the entire election season — the struggle between men and women. Late into last Tuesday night, we saw Donald Trump, a man with a history of misogyny, triumph over Hillary Clinton and dashing the hopes of those wishing to see the first female president in US history. As I sat in my living room watching the results unfold, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Misogyny is sexy.”

Misogyny, defined as an ingrained prejudice against women, is at its core an ideology which allows the man to assert power and dominance over the woman. This can be manifested in many variations, a prominent form of which is portrayed through the culture of sex. Misogyny is highly embedded into the culture of sex in that sex is often times presented as a power trip for men. Under the context of misogyny, women are the gatekeepers of sex and men are the conquerors who must get past the gatekeeper in order to claim the prize. By viewing sex as a competition of man versus woman, misogyny is inherently at play. In this cat and mouse game, the woman is initially presented as having the upper hand and the man’s goal is to shift the balance of power by conquering the woman through obtaining sex. In essence, misogyny is normalized in this kind of relationship and, in turn, a man’s dominance over a woman is at the very center of this culture of sex.

As with any form of culture, its inherent values are often highlighted in the media, and K-pop is no exception. Misogyny is widely at play in many concepts, storylines, and character tropes of our favorite groups and idols. It’s the normalization of misogyny, and its influence on our perception of sex, which makes some of these examples so subtle and hard to distinguish. However, it’s important to recognize misogyny in the things we consume and to identify the difference between what’s sexy and what’s sexist.

The roots of misogyny appear in many forms among a wide variety of cultures. Many civilizations have a popular mythology which represents the female embodiment of wrongdoing in which the foundation of misogyny resides. The most well-known of these mythological scapegoats among Christian societies is the story of Eve and the Original Sin which resulted in man’s exile from the Garden of Eden. Under the influence of the snake, Eve bites the apple despite God’s specific instructions not to and, as a result, Adam and Eve are booted from paradise. By listening to the treacherous snake and indulging in the Tree of Knowledge, Eve decided that knowledge was worth the price of utopia, and her female descendants have had to bear the scorn of her mistake ever since. The characteristics of the snake, the embodiment of deceit and evil, also happen to be attributed to Eve.

Ancient Greece introduced the idea of women as dangerous creatures who lured unknowing male seamen into shipwreck by their irresistible song. The Sirens of Homer’s The Odyssey are a prominent example of the demonization of women in popular mythology. They are the classic representation of a trope which depicts women as duplicitous, treacherous, and all the while irresistible to their male victims. The song sung by the Sirens introduces an element of temptation. The allure of their song can easily be interpreted as the irresistible offer of sex which draws in unsuspecting men. Very much like Eve’s snake, the Siren’s song is another embodiment of the deceitful and ill-intent female. In the case of the Sirens, these females are directly portrayed as villains and their ill-intent is specifically targeted at men.

Korea is not without its share of misogynistic roots in its popular mythology, the most prevalent of which is the Kumiho. As legend would have it, a nine-tailed fox that lives for a thousand years turns into a shapeshifting creature who’s out to ingest men. One of its most poignant tricks is to change into the shape of a seductive woman in order to attract men and devour them. While comparisons to the Sirens can be easily drawn, the Kumiho is certainly much more vicious in her deceit. The premise of shapeshifting, the ability to look like anyone or anything, can be truly horrifying when the creature is clearly a predator out for the blood of men. At best it’s a trope which adds to the element of deceit introduced by the Sirens, but at worst it may also be viewed as a painstaking metaphor for women who seem insincere, double-dealing, and generally untrustworthy — terms which happen to be associated with Hillary Clinton.

Not surprisingly, the Kumiho is often depicted as the Korean version of the treacherous, man-hating woman whenever she appears in K-dramas and in K-pop MVs. T-ara’s “Bo Peep Bo Peep” depicts the Kumiho as a seductive woman who frequents nightclubs to lure her prey, not unlike the monster in the Species franchise. There’s also this A-Jax MV which combines an odd mishmash of mythologies.

Woori, formerly of girl group Rainbow, plays a villainous mix of Eve, Siren, and Kumiho all at once. The boys are on some deserted island which may indicate that they were shipwrecked at some point. They happen upon the lifeless body of Woori who eventually awakens to entrap and devour each A-Jax member one by one. She’s constantly shown biting into an apple and there’s even a sequence of shots which shows five skulls by her feet, one for each victim. Then the screen flashes and the skulls turn into apples. As if the heavy imagery was not enough to drive home the point, the English title of the song is somehow translated into “Snake.” The tone of the MV is silly yet it hits upon many subtle points that are associated with this trope — women are lying evildoers who are dangerous because they possess the power of attraction.

Despite what these tropes may implicate, they alone do not indicate misogyny. However, these tropes point to a perceived suspicion of women and the power that men believe women have over them due to their ability to use attraction as a form of deception. This correlates with the notion that women are the gatekeepers of sex and that they hold all the power in deciding who gets to have sex. By equating sex with power, it creates a power structure where women have all the power and men must gain it back by obtaining sex from women. And thus misogyny rears its ugly head as it is used as a tool for men to regain the power they feel they have lost due to the perceived imbalance of power in their pursuit of obtaining sex.

Under this notion, men become naturally drawn to mediums which reassure them of their power, and nowhere is this balance of power so skewed, so unevenly distorted in the favor of men as it is in porn. As explained in this brilliant Ted Talk, porn is often a misogynistic power fantasy for men which reaffirms the “male domination of women, [the] subordinance of women, not only as a sexual preference [but] as a way of being, a genderial hierarchy of this world.” Porn has the power to dictate what is sexy by giving men what they truly crave and wish to reclaim — power. As a result, because corporations know that sex sells, mainstream media has imitated the imagery of porn in order to appeal to men. In other words, what is sexy becomes influenced and ultimately defined by porn. And because porn is influenced by misogyny, it’s easy to cut out porn as the middleman and make the logical leap that what is sexy is defined by misogyny.

There are a ton of examples of how mainstream media, particularly girl group imagery, imitates porn but, since we’re cutting out the middleman, let’s focus on how popular culture induces misogyny into its products in order to make them sexier. Sailor Moon is an underrated example of misogynistic depictions because, although the show has its share of feminist supporters citing examples of strong bonds between female characters, the autonomous decision-making of its female protagonist, and even its willingness to explore gender roles, the show’s underlying misogyny rests in the particular method in which it sexualizes the show’s cast of underage girls.

Aside from the skimpy fetishized uniforms that Sailor Moon and her team of Sailors transform into, there is a gendered power structure which the show very subtly exploits to further insatiate the sexual appetite of its male audience. On the surface, the Sailors are presented as powerful women with extraordinary powers which allow them to overcome obstacles and destroy their enemies. Despite their powerful demeanor, however, there are many incidences where they fall for some sort of trap laid out by the villain, get tied up, and require the rescue of the show’s male protagonist, Tuxedo Mask. In these moments where strong female characters are shown to be physically vulnerable and in need of a man’s rescue, there’s a shift in power which reaffirms the man’s dominance. Despite all the time the show spends displaying the strength of its female characters, they still must rely on a stronger male character to save them. Combined with the sexual imagery of underage girls in fetishized costumes, the shift in power from the powerful women to the more powerful man invites the male viewer to take further sexual pleasure in the show’s underlying message.

It’s not too dissimilar from the Women in Refrigerators trope which uses the murder of a strong female character to motivate a male character into action, subtly implying that the strength of the female character is inferior when juxtaposed against the power of the male character, reaffirming the shift in power which once again favors that of the man.

In similar fashion, the idea that even an empowered woman can be conquered by the sexual desires of a man makes it so alluring, so provocative, and so misogynistic all at the same time. Not only is it sexy to depict a strong and confident woman as being physically and sexually subordinate to a powerful male figure, it’s even sexier to depict her as being physically and sexually resistant to the man’s advances before eventually succumbing to them. This is the ultimate shift in power that caters to the male viewer’s delicate ego and fuels his power-hungry libido. Under this context, sexual assault can even be viewed as sexy, as is conveyed by Mamamoo’s “Decalcomanie” beginning at the 3:14 mark.

As mentioned in Qing’s review at Seoulbeats, the encounters depicted during a sequence of scenes are borderline displays of sexual assault against each member, deploying wrist grabs and wall slams in order for the male figure to secure a kiss, and possibly more depending on how one interprets the symbolism of the bursting fruit and blindfold removing imagery. The MV subtly builds to this climactic moment by portraying the male in each scene as a stranger to each of the members and implying that these are completely random encounters in very isolated and vulnerable environments for the victim, such as the side of the road, an empty hallway, and inside an elevator. Not to mention that there was an actual struggle depicted between Solar and the man in the elevator which was quickly edited out after Mamamoo’s agency received a litany of complaints from upset viewers.

mamamoo-decalcomanie(Source: Asian Junkie)

Furthermore, we’ve come to know Mamamoo as a strong and confident girl group through their powerful singing and rapping voices, funny and confident variety personalities, and elegant yet non-exploitative concepts. “Decalcomanie” seemed to follow the same pattern until scenes of sexual assault were seemingly strung in for none other than to satiate the sexual appetites of its male audience. The shots of Solar struggling against her male assailant (I was unfortunate enough to see the original MV before the edits) is in the same vein of Sailor Moon getting tied up and Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, falling victim to the Joker in The Killing Joke — it’s a form of misogyny meant to satisfy the male libido by demeaning a strong female persona.

In a culture where misogynistic portrayals of women are considered sexy to the point where sexual assault, entrapment, and even murder is used to stimulate a man’s sexual desires, is it really that surprising that the same narrative occurred in this year’s presidential election? A woman with decades of political experience was defeated by a man who’s never held a political office. With the odds heavily in his disfavor, the man was able to shift the balance of power and triumph over the woman to reaffirm for all men that the gender hierarchy is still in their favor.

Like the men who feel disempowered by the culture of sex, many voters gravitated towards Donald Trump because he was misogynistic. They turned to him because his narrative is one they can understand and are familiar with. They turned to him because misogyny is sexy while acceptance and inclusion is not. The misogynistic culture of sex which exemplifies the degradation of women as a form of sexual arousal is harmful, distasteful, and discomforting. It also provides insight into how a misogynist was elected into the highest political office in the US.

Mark is a writer and editor at Seoulbeats. If you’d like to be a guest contributor, you can send your regards to recruiting@seoulbeats.com. Otherwise, you can follow Seoulbeats on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

(Guest posts reflect the opinions of the author{s}, and do not necessarily reflect those of The Grand Narrative. Please get in touch if you’d like to make your own contribution.)

One thought on “(Guest Post) Misogyny is Sexy: The power structure of sex

  1. Pingback: Counterpoint: “Decalcomanie” Reveals Broader Passivity of Female Desire – seoulbeats

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