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[Changing Tastes] How I became a feminist through dramas


Six Flying Dragons

By @redfox

When I first started watching dramas, I was all about the male leads. Whether it be the flower boys with facial features that looked like a roman statue, or the action heroes like City Hunter and Gaksital, the masterminds and the kingpins who had the freedom to do anything ’cause they had money, fame, power and success… It wasn’t that I liked chabeol jerks; I liked the million possibilities it opened to them (which they mostly didn’t use and just put all their energy into brooding over a girl). I still liked every cliché and trope of the male lead saving the heroine like a Superman, and I had no problem with the heroine being clumsy, helpless and dependent. I liked when men DID THINGS. After all, it felt like the girl wasn’t even the “main character.”

My love for action heroes and faces has not died; instead it has grown (Lee Jun-ki!). But more and more I am coming to appreciate the strong-ass women — in a lot of senses, strong physically and mentally. I used to have no favorite actress, only favorite actors, but now I have plenty: Kim Hee-sun, Lee Shi-young, Nam Ji-hyun, Park Bo-young, Oh Yeon-seo, Lee Bo-young, Han Ye-ri, Kim Mi-kyung (the real superwoman ajumma!), Chae Soo-bin, Lee Sun-bin, etc. Being so invested in the male leads’ quests and the general atmosphere of the drama being dominated by male characters, I couldn’t even remember what the actress looked like in the past.


Angry Mom

But at some point, I started wishing for more empowerment, more independence, more action, more personal dreams for the women. I wanted them to save the hero… and then kick his butt for being such a wimp. I wanted them to open their own businesses and let that stuck-up chaebol heir go through a grueling job interview to join it after losing his fortune. I wanted the girls to be the brains in police operations and great leaders, yet I didn’t want any power games and black blood between them and the male lead because of it. It is normal to accept that a woman can be in charge. it should just be natural. No clashes or resistance.

One of the best examples of a drama with many strong female characters was the amazing Six Flying Dragons. What gave Cheok Sa-kwang her reputation was not the sword she held, but her knowledge of using it. Everyone held a sword anyway. Her existence in the world of generals, kings, and male leaders showed that the sword is not exclusively a masculine tool. If a woman knows how to use it, she can, and not just as an accessory. Han Ye-ri was amazing as Cheok Sa-kwang and it will for long be one of my all-time favorite female characters from Korean dramas.

Boon-yi, the leader of villagers, was also a strong character, but more mentally than physically. She had a very clear understanding of how the world around her worked and she never got any delusions about it. I am just thinking what a strong spirit and willpower she had to have to accept it, yet to not let it break her.


Six Flying Dragons

Maybe when I started watching sageuks is when I wanted every girl to be a literal fighter, hold a sword, and become a fierce avenger in the world of male dominance, impracticality and aggression, to create a world based on necessity, humanity, and compassion. Just, with a sword — that’s how men would do it. But that would be falsifying history.

Then I tuned down my radical approach a little. Feminism doesn’t mean that girls rule and men drool. It means they stand on equal levels. It is just as much about men’s rights as about women’s. There shouldn’t be that much difference in their attitude and dreams since both are humans who only exist once on this Earth. It is about learning to listen to each other, negotiating, finding equal ground through honest communication, being considerate, giving a chance to both sides to express their frustrations and likes. It is about men’s right not to be on guard all the time lest the heroine trip and fall and need their help. They no longer need to be like Bruce Wayne, sitting in a cave, waiting for the girl to flash that batsign and rush out to save them. Wouldn’t they breathe with more ease if they knew the heroine could take care of herself? Female empowerment gives freedom to men.

Yet they would be there when she doesn’t even know she needs somebody by her side. I was happy when I started seeing heroes with soft, kind, and respectful personalities and chaebols who weren’t jerks, and leads who gave each other space, respect, and independence mutually. Also second leads who didn’t try to force themselves into the girls’ lives. And it is about age equality too. In their twenties or in their fifties, everyone wants the same kind of respect, attention, consideration for their dreams, and appreciation of their existence. Be they male, female, alien, or another gender, or even Shopping King Louis’ Cha Joong-won with his eccentric outfits.

Still, ninjas — let’s not forget female ninjas, though that’s just a job, not an identity. But remember, there can always be more ninjas. Here’s one for the road.


Warrior Baek Dong-soo

 
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Six Flying Dragons, yaaaaaas

I love this. Thanks for sharing.

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Han Ye Ri was the most badass woman ever in 6FD!

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Dont forget Boon Yi when she literally Fire Up the entire rice granary for offering and walk away grudely, just badass..
YAI falls over heels !

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I can identify with this one. I now love strong female characters and like only those males who treats them with respect. Also, I watch rom-coms rarely these days. I dropped so many I started. More into the crime/investigation/mystery genre now.

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"More into the crime/investigation/mystery genre now"

AGREEEE..... I am kind of tired of too many love dovey xD These day crime drama consist of badass woman... They did a very good job with action :D Make me want to learn martial art xD

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This is beautiful! Thank you so much for writing this. Actresses and female characters in general tend to be underappreciated (especially in Dramaland, at least the international fandom). It always makes me sad when casting news pops up and there are tons of comments for the lead male actor but sometimes not as many for the female, even if she's arguably a superior actor. I understand that most fellow Beanies are (straight) women (so am I!) and you can't deny that attraction plays a part in these things in fandom, but it still makes me sad.

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Totally agree. Even worse is when the writer is all about the male lead and criminally underutilises the female lead - who is sometimes an even bigger star.
Writer of Missing You wasted YEH in this drama and made it mediocre in the end. Would have loved more of her story instead of making her a pawn to be owned by the lead and the second guy. She was great in her scenes but...
Warm and Cozy writer also failed to properly use Kang So Ra. What a shame. Such a good actress woefully underused.

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You know. This has always been a tough conversation to have with myself, and it shouldn't be! I considered myself a feminist. However, full disclaimer, I don't think I immersed myself enough in being an activist feminist. However, I do try to call out gender inequalities when I see them. I'm not perfect, and sometimes I may not see them. I try to stay informed and provide feedback to my employer when I see how women staff is treated differently than men, to my friends for how they sounded when they make comments, and other colleagues.

But sometimes I enjoy the fantasy aspect of Korean Dramas when it comes to women. I sometimes feel guilty for enjoying that, and sometimes I feel guilty for not engaging in thoughtful conversations about it. Now, being a feminist can take a toll on your mental stability, so Korean Dramas for me, provide an escapism that I longed for, and at the same time, I feel guilty for enjoying the Korean Drama hero pulling the woman's wrist or the forced kiss. I sometimes get upset for the over an analytical aspect of a Korean Drama and how much other try to nitpick on everything. I struggled with this all the time because Korean Dramas have always been an escapist form. Don't get wrong, I enjoyed the thoughtful dramas too with great heroines like in Signal or even in Forest of Secrets, but I can't help to swoon for the grabbing of the wrist or the forced kiss sometimes. In short, my inner struggles are now part of my enjoyment of Korean Dramas which is good because it means that more characters are written thoughtfully. Has anyone felt the same way?

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I understand your struggle very well. I feel the same way. I feel guilty when I pay more attention to the romance than to the other aspects of the story. Even with Forest of Secrets I found myself being just a tad more interested in the romance than the other story lines. I had to work on getting past it and it was interestingly Yeo-Jin's characterization that pushed me past the romance. To me she was such a great character that I wanted more for her than just romance. Another character I'm recently liking a lot is Byun Hye-Young in Father is Strange. Her relationship with her husband is such a great partnership and so romantic. I love it. A few years ago I would have thought it's too dry.

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yasssss hye young! [clap clap LOL]
we need more heroines like her in dramaland
someone who knows what she wants and who is willing to fight for what she wants but also knows when to compromise and to apologize.

...and i give her mad props for dealing with her crazy mother in law.

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this is food for thought... while i do NOT like the wrist grabbing and the forced kisses, what really garners my irk is when a father-in-law or mother-in-law smacks the daughter-in-law across the face!

the in-law instances happen most in the older dramas, but still occurs in recent/modern melodramas - and yet, i find myself getting upset, but i continued to watch the drama most of the time.

being asian i understand the physicality between parents and their children and amongst siblings. i've had my fair share of fisticuffs with my brothers and sisters when we were young and i've witnessed them getting smacked (deservedly so, btw) for being snarky or getting caught in the act... i just cannot condone the in-laws laying a hand on their daughter-in-law - i hope this does not still happen in daily life in Korea.

is it part of the hierarchic system where elders (regardless of familial/blood relationship) reign supreme?

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I don't think you or you @wonid2017 should feel bad (or any less of a feminist) for enjoying the more romantic aspects of a k-drama, or only watching a k-drama for the rom-com parts. That's the beautiful thing about inclusive feminism, it isn't about forcing women into the opposite end of the spectrum where it's 'strong strong strong, no weakness no love' all the time. At the root of it, is choice and you are allowed to choose romance, and hearts and flowers without any shame or guilt. The same way another woman is allowed to choose sword fights and superwomen saving the day, or hell choosing both hearts and swordfights cause it's all good!

There can be problematic aspects about the forced wrist grab in k-dramas and I think it's always a good thing to have these discussions and talk about them. But at the same time it is okay to both critique a work and enjoy it (well as long as that enjoyment doesn't come at the expense of an entire group of people and their safety, that's my personal take). This is something a lot of people forget, and they assume you can only blindly love something or else you're a 'hater'. I've always been of the opinion that if you truly love something and care for a piece of work then you're always going to want it to be better and hold it accountable for any mistakes it makes.

It's rare to find any form of media that doesn't have something problematic about it or something that can be improved and made better. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't hold content creators responsible and expect better of them. But it is also possible to do that while enjoying the work.

I consider myself a feminist (though by no means am I perfect, we're all constantly learning and unlearning things) but I will not hold myself back from squealing and getting lost in a good romance. Lol, I was one of the few people sailing the sinking Eun Soo/Shi Mok ship from Forest of Secrets.

I also wanted to touch on something else you pointed out, that being a feminist can take a toll on a person mentally. This is absolutely true. Even though it is very important to be aware of social injustices and to (if you can and are in the position of safety to do so) speak out against them, it can also be very mentally taxing to combat that on a regular basis. So it's very important and essential to give yourself mental time-outs. To check out and engage in something without having to assess it critically. Always make sure that you are watching out for your mental health. It is so important. And k-dramas provide a great escape for that. I know that I've personally used them for this reason.

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I didn't provide a specific definition of feminism because I am aware that depending on a person's socioeconomic and cultural background feminism can take on many different shapes. Which is why I also made sure to write not just feminism in my response but 'inclusive feminism'. Because feminism loses any meaning that might be attributed to it if it excludes any type of woman due to one factor or another (race, disability, sexuality, gender identity, economic status, educational status, culture, religious beliefs, etc.). I also included one of the core elements of feminism that is seen regardless of someone's personal definition, and that is the choice.

I was responding to the original commentator's statement that sometimes she feels guilt for enjoying the romantic aspects of a k-drama. Often times, some people will preach feminism by attempting to discredit any and all romantic notions, as if the idea of love makes a woman less feminist or her ideas on equality and freedom of choice less valid; which is absolutely not true.

No one was implying that the ability to relate to a show made you feminist. The statement was that enjoying the romantic aspects of a show don't make you any LESS feminist. It just means that you enjoy it.

>"It’s not feminist to criticize an unhealthy relationship. It’s not feminist to object when a woman is judged according to her sex, particularly when the perceived limitations of her sex in general may not be true or applicable to her. It’s also not feminist to support women living independently"<

I'm going to have to disagree with you on that entire portion of your paragraph. I think you're applying the feminist label too literally onto these topics. It isn't the act of supporting a woman who wants to live independently that is feminist. That would imply that a woman who doesn't want to live independently is somehow wrong. Which she isn't. The feminist aspect comes into play when you recognize that a woman is entitled to her CHOICE of how she wants live. Whether it is independently or with the support of a significant other it doesn't matter. The point is that she has autonomy over her life and her decisions, and whichever way she chooses to live it that is her CHOICE that she is allowed to make on her own. The feminist aspect also comes into play with recognizing that those choices are personal (even if we don't agree with them) and will always vary from one person to another. An individual's feelings on the best way to live their life or pursue a relationship will differ from others as well, all of it based on multiple factors (cultural, monetary, personal preference, etc.). But they are allowed to make whatever choice and have whatever preference they like.

I think you're confused about the mental exhaustion I was referring to and trying to apply it solely to the critical analysis of k-dramas. People can become mentally exhausted by a variety of factors, a tough life, a rough day,...

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having to interact with toxic people on a regular basis, etc. The list can go on. And sometimes critical analysis of dramas and other entertainment can cause mental exhaustion as well. I thought that my statement was pretty clear. I stated that even though it is important to be aware of the problematic themes present in our media, to always hold content creators accountable, and to engage in critical discussions; it is also okay to sometimes use k-dramas as an escapist tool where you can mentally check out and enjoy the content without having to analyze the social connotations of an action. It is okay to take a break.

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Sorry for deleting so much. Final points:
1) Let’s stop using feminism as a label to define whether something is socially acceptable. The term is meaningful to describe specific social or political movements, but it’s ill-defined otherwise.
2) The real focus should be on whether the women on screen are relatable. More realistic, complex female characters make better television.
3) Are love and romance the focus of criticism, or are unrealistic, disempowering television relationships the problem?
4) If possible, able-bodied adults should try to live intelligently to preserve their autonomy. Women who do not do that are as worthy of criticism as anyone else.
5) When indulging in escapist fantasies, viewers should remember that they are consumers who help determine what is produced and its impact.
6) Foreign viewers should probably be wary of overanalyzing the political and social implications of a series without a decent understanding of the environment in which it was produced.

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Thanks for this. Loving a drama doesn't mean being in the extremes all the time. You can love it and critique certain parts of it that you didn't love, and explore why they didn't work for you.

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I love how in dramaland they write a realistic female lead. Some have strong bodies, some have strong mentality. A badass women is not only those that can solve everything by themselves. By showing their weaknesses, we relate more to them. That's also why I don't like Rey (from Star Wars) as much as Wonder Woman.

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YES YES YES this is what dramas need strong women characters.
A woman can be feminine and strong , most of dramas seem to think that these two characteristics exclude each other, and fail to see that a weak leading lady does not make her male counterpart more heroic it is the opposite. I wonder when will dramas stop objectifying women as love interest or mothers only women are more than this and they deserve to have complete characters as persons with opinions, dreams and flaws. What I hate the most is that when dramas try to fool us with "suppose to be strong" female character only to make her cry sacrifice herself and do a lot of foolish mistakes to be used against the the hero just because she is his weakness, or worse if they need to show that a male character is good or kind let him save a woman this does a lot of disservice to male characters as well as female ones. I really cannot stand when a female character falls in love and the drama makes her like she had a lobotomy and the only thing she sees is the hero no common sense or even self-preservation instinct, yes we all act a bit silly when we are in love, but a strong women in love is capable not only to take care of herself but to save her man even if she has to go against everyone and everything.I love me a male hero too but if his character respects and values a strong woman as his partner I will love and respect that character all the more.

Talking about ninjas or sword wielding characters one of the first ones I liked was Ha Ji-Won in the movie Duelist (2005) she has played plenty of decent strongish female characters in dramas and movies alike.

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Cheok Sa-kwang! Six Flying Dragons started my love for Han Ye-ri (and so many others). I'm going to have to agree with you on her being my all-time favorite female character. Not just for the way she kicked butt but also for her allegiance to the one she loved. That kind of loyalty always moves me no matter which side of the line they fall on. And I respected that although she could easily dispatch anyone, it wan't something she enjoyed doing. Such a tragic story. Han Yeo-jin in Forest of Secrets is right up there too as one of my new favorites. Amazing characters played by amazing actresses. Thank you for this article!

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I love LOVE your essay. Your journey mirrors mine to a great extent. Especially the part about equality. What I look for most is dramas are beautifully written partnerships where the male and female lead grow together because of each other. ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

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I admit to clicking because of Han Ye-ri. Hehe.

But I do agree with you. I never really thought about it but thinking back on the dramas I watched back in the days, they're more about male leads and female leads were usually just there as love interest. I'm happy that the times are changing and we're seeing more female (actual) leads.

Thank you for pointing that out about Boon-yi. I've always thought of her as strong and wise but there are so many comments about her being weak and useless. Like, are we watching different dramas? Boon-yi embodied the people, the normal folks, weak against power yet still stand back up through the years. It takes lots of strength to be Boon-yi and make the decisions she's made. I would say all the ladies in Dragons were strong characters. Cheok Sa-gwang is a given, then there's Yeon-hee and even Cho Young. Makes me want to rewatch Dragons again so maybe I should stop here. Heh.

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Yaaas! I came for Kim Myung-min and stayed for Han Ye-ri. She is a freaking show stealer both in films and dramas.
I couldn't have asked for anyone more perfect to play Cheok Sa Gwang. She made me care and root for her although her character was only supposed to be part of the show for a few episodes. They ended up keeping her till the final episode.

Han Ye-ri majored in traditional Korean dancing. She is the only actress I'd say can top Honey Lee (Rebel) whom I also love in traditional dance.
She was so elegant with her movements, style and speed of her sword just like when she was dancing for the king.

Cheok Sa Gwang was a fictional character but she was linked to a real Goryeo hero named Cheok Joon Gyeong. The best warrior of Goryeo during the early 11th century.

Thank you so much @redfox <3.
My taste haven't changed much when it comes to the women in dramas thanks to an early encounter in sageuks with writer Jung Ha-yeon. His female characters are so well written and realistic.
I can fangirl over the oppas but my heart will always cheer for the female characters. Most of the time it's not just the lead female but the scene stealers with limited screen time.

I'm currently watching "Secret Forest" and both of the main female characters are rocking it in their own ways.

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Han Ye Ri and Lee Hanui - what can we do to see both of them in sageuk? They are from the same agency, so there might possibility for this? ?

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That would be super awesome!

I didn't know Han Ye-ri was going to be in SFD and I was shocked when I finally recognized her.
They just threw her in there as the king's love interest which kind of came out of nowhere but she managed to make it believable with her undying loyalty even after he was gone.

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Thank you, @redfox, for a fun and thoughtful piece on feminism and kdramas! I love my strong women characters because I am one, with a love for romance, of course. I feel that it is all about equality and you can be a romantic and a feminist. I like my chivalrous heroes, but you can be chivalrous and hold the door for me as long as I can do it for you too. I like the girl saving the guy sometimes. And ninjas, I love ninjas, you can never have too many ninjas.

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This article is perfect. I have no other words to describe it. Thank you for your text, that's exactly how I feel about female and male dynamics in dramas.

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Yass Han Yeri is my queen.

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Yes, this post speaks to me on a fundamental level. The women you've mentioned are some of my forever favourite female characters. All the women in Six Flying Dragons were amazing frankly, but my favourites were definitely Cheok Sa-kwang and Boon-yi. I also loved Jin-ju and Ga-ok in Warrior Baek Dong-soo. I even loved Hwa-gun recently. I feel like I've gotten past the point where I just swoon over the male lead being all cool and charming, I want to be able to understand my heroine and connect with her journey and her emotions. I do find that it's really easy for me to do this lately. I know that being a Kim Eun-sook seems contradictory to the purpose of this post and probably everything I said above, but I feel like it all depends on how you look at it. I am not a fan of all her male leads, in fact I think the only one I outright loved were Kim Shin and Yoo Si-jin, but I find that she writes her women in a way that I can connect with. I may not always agree with the choices they make but I always understand why they make those choices at the points in their lives that they are. And isn't that what feminism is about? The right for women to choose their lives even if I don't agree with their choices.

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These days, I watch everything where the women are portrayed as strong, badass, kind, either single, divorced, happily married, involved in romance, womance, as good school girl or not so good with studying, as tomboy, as feminine...
Because, yes, we can be everything we want.
GIRL POWER!!!

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When I have to constantly yell "Oh come on!" at a wimpy female lead, it's time for the OFF button.

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Thanks, redfox, for a lovely essay.

My first forays into Kdramaland were sageuks, and I discovered the joys of swordfights. Like you, I'm a fan of Teacher, Jang Hyuk, and Kang Dong-won -- all guys who do their own stunts. Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered Ha Ji-won in DUELIST. Eventually I got around to watching her in DAMO, too. I love it when she kicks butt.

I loved Seo Hyun-jin's turn as Seolnan in THE KING'S DAUGHTER, SU BAEK HYANG as she transformed from a naive country bumpkin into a highly-principled badass with brains. Her dogged progress through basic training revealed her to be a better soldier than the many men who washed out. Her no-nonsense interactions with her brothers-in-arms were amiable and loyal. And when the Crown Prince finally realized he was falling for her, she still retained the use of her gray matter. Okay, there was some noble idiocy, but it was for the good of the kingdom. Her name meant "Protector of Paekche," and she fully lived up to it. ;-)

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Let me rephrase that. Like you, I'm a fan of Teacher. And also Jang Hyuk, and Kang Dong-won -- all guys who do their own stunts. [I don't know if you're a fan of the others. ;-) ]

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Love, love, love this post. <3
I couldn't agree more. I only started watching dramas last year, and the only difference between what your journey and mine, is that I strong female characters attracted me from the start. I can't bear to watch a drama with the weak female lead, because I just feel so frustrated and so bad for her. But bring in a sassy, sharp, or strong woman, and I can root for her all the way. Romances with such female leads are a 'catnip' for me :) I like the male lead more in such cases, and obsessively follow the show to it's (usually) happy ending.

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Yes for more good female characters in kdramaland!

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Great post!

I don't know if I'd call myself a feminist per se, but don't particularly like it when anyone's a pushover, be it male or female, in a drama. I will always enjoy a badass character. I think it's only because the females in dramas are less likely to be badass that we enjoy it so much. In real life, I know tons of badass women, as it should be!

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i'm in for six flying dragon still ??

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When comes to badass woman....all I can think of is Ha Ji Won.
Damo and Empress Ki!!!
Having said that, Korea should learn a thing or two about writing badass female characters from China. They wrote plenty of interesting yet smart and full of sass heroines.

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Ha Ji Won was totally badass in Empress Ki! That last conversation she had with the soon-to-be-executed queen was just WOW!

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Indeed! China has many strong female characters (although mostly in historical/wuxia dramas) which are portrayed as strong (physically and mentally), capable and determined as any male character; which I don't find too easily in K-Drama.

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I came to the post because of the picture of Han Ye Ri, too ?

I think it's interesting to have this talk about female characters and what is a strong female character, I like that you mentioned that it's not only her character having a sword that makes her strong.

But I also think that many kdrama writers confuse a "strong female character" for "female character who can beat up people or wear boys clothes". Since you mentioned Lee Jun Ki, if you look at Joseon Gunman, the female lead who cross dresses is supposed to be the 'strong' and smart character who cries at the drop of a hat but it's the second female lead who is truly strong even though she stays in girl clothes throughout, because you really get to feel what she went through and how strong her character is. The same happens on Moon Lovers, Kang Hanna is a very feminine princess but a strong character through the force of her will, she makes things happen even when she is not supposed to be a character we support.

I don't know if I explained it properly but basically it's that strong female characters are about more than just using male qualities (physical strength/fighting/cross dressing in male clothes), even someone like Aera in Fight My Way is strong but doesn't need to be in any way like a guy to do it.

(I really like Fight My Way, both female leads are strong in their own ways even though Seol Hee is super feminine and pink, she has her own journey as a character and finds her own strength)

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I agree. It's more like a female character who could fight for her own agency, who could set things into motion and decided what and how they wanted their path to be. Unfortunately in K-dramas, they tend to get the interpretation wrong and in most cases, some female characters appeared to be promising at the start of the show but always deflated along the journey which is so frustrating.

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That is very true. I totally agree, just that this time my ecamples might have been a certain type. But I töö like the type that is strong as in resilient and headstrong, who doesnt let any FUCKING Autocorrect I give up. Damn it.

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LOL!

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Lovely piece @redfox Your journey mirrored mine. I love strong female characters. They do not have to be the like the very basic definition of strong wherein they go and kick butts (which is awesome too), but they can be strong in other aspects.

As for romantic pair, equality is what I want in my drama OTP. They do not have to be strong on the same aspects. In fact, it is sometimes nicer to see the OTP complementing each other with their differences. I love my pair to be each other's support when the other is in need. A pair who gives each other space is important too. When one lets the other do what the s/he wants while the other cheers from the sidelines, that's one of the many marks of a great OTP.

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I think my experience was a bit different because I was initially all about the sageuks and gender benders focused on heroic female characters (e.g., Jewel in the Palace, Queen Seon Duk, Dong Yi, Ja Myung Go, Damo, Hwang Jin Yi, Empress Ki, Painter in the Wind, Sungkyunkwan Scandal, etc.). It took me a while to branch out and accept other types of shows because I so often found the female characters appalling.

These days, I turn to Chinese series for my female-centered period drama fix, while I've become increasingly fond of male-centered Korean dramas set in contemporary settings, such as LAST, Misaeng, Police Squad 38, Secret Forest, Tunnel, etc. In most of these, the women are actually smart and likable, too, but there is still a shortage of cool heroines in Korean dramas overall.

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OMG THIS.

Western media is so terrible for women, especially older women, that I was attracted to Kdrama because it's so much better. In western media, it's wall-to-wall dudes, and the few ladies are all 25 (or trying hard to look like it), white, rich or at least upper middle class, and really limited in terms of the kinds of stories they get.

Enter Kdrama, which has it's own misogyny, but also, lots and lots of women. Rich, poor, stupid, smart, old, middle-aged, young, tough, weak, everything, just everything.

So I've entirely stopped watching American TV with dudes as the main character. I just can't take it. But because of how much more comfortable I feel with the women writers of kdrama, I trust them more, even if they let me down sometimes. So I can let myself enjoy the Misaengs and Liar Games and Awls, etc. Because at any given time, there's a 30 percent weekend drama with like 10 women of various ages doing their thing (hey, Jang Bori is Here!) Sure, wrist-grabs suck, but you know, at least they haven't literally erased a vast swath of the population. They could do better, but with women writing the scripts, they're already so much further along than the rest of us.

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I completely agree with you! Ever since I've always been very fond of female leads with strong personality than those who's just a damsel in distress all the time, I mean like you said I still like scenes wherein the male lead gets to save the girl and be her Superman but it gets tiring if it happens all throughout the show.

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right now the female character I adore the most is byeon hyeyoung (LEE yuri ) in Father is strange. Love her character , she raised all the ryt points which most female want to raise in today's era.
Love that drama...great work.
Love from India

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More independent female characters yes to that :) ! I still like "damsel in distress" situation, I can't help swooning ?. But I truly appreciate strong female characters that fight / take challenge for themselves like in Angry Mom or Twenty Again and lately Hye Young in Father is Strange ?

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Bae Doo Na in FoS <3
Baek Jin Hee in Missing 9 <3
Ko Hyun Jung in anything <3

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Female empowerment gives freedom to men.

The thing is men dont know what to do with it. Hence the problem stays on.

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When we give freedom to men that means they have no "role" so to speak....Unfortunately those tropes about women being "weak and helpless" work because men want "to be needed" of course we can be independent etc but that means they feel "useless" at least an alpha male will and when they do the relationship will fail while they look or a woman who "needs" them so to speak...there's a balance between being too independent etc...its just the way the genders were created and that's even why women's and men's physiques are different to support their inherent roles and we as women secretly fall for those scenes because deep down we "want" a man to swoop in and take care of us, we crave it...

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When we give freedom to men that means they have no "role" so to speak....Unfortunately those tropes about women being "weak and helpless" work because men want "to be needed" of course we can be independent etc but that means they feel "useless" at least an alpha male will and when they do the relationship will fail while they look or a woman who "needs" them so to speak...there's a balance between being too independent etc...its just the way the genders were created and that's even why women's and men's physiques are different to support their inherent roles and we as women secretly fall for those scenes because deep down we "want" a man to swoop in and take care of us, we crave it...
that's why IRL all women who seem too independent are always alone and those who seem "weak" are always married or within a relationship and if an independent woman happens to be in a relationship it will not be with an Alpha male...it just cant work

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Write a comment...park shin hye in doctors crush also did a wonderful job. She was a strong female character that does things on her and never relied on the male lead for help

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YES!!!!! More often than not I get very frustrated at shows when a female character fails to have any sort of agent - nothing's going to happen if you don't DO anything! It makes me happy that there are lots of beanies out here who are on the same front - more strong independent women who don't necessarily need a man!

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Thanks for this @redfox
I share your view as well.

May I also add that I also really appreciate the badass "older" female characters as well...

Kim Mi-kyung (the real superwoman ajumma!)

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Court Lady Choi (FAITH) and Mama Hwang (OH HAE-YOUNG AGAIN) are two of my all-time favorite characters that Kim Mi-kyung brought to life. ;-)

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Same!

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Feminism doesn’t mean that girls rule and men drool. It means they stand on equal levels. It is just as much about men’s rights as about women’s.

*claps* You are absolutely right @redfox!
And thank you for writing this wonderful piece... Though I didn't start like you did (not an action loving girl) I am right there with you in wanting kick- ass heroines! I think that is why we usually meet in comment threads of same shows :)

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I loved this article. I only begin watching Kdramas/Movies in April 2016 while on bed rest recovering from extensive surgery as the result of an accident. And, as a more mature woman ( while enjoying all the dramas I watched) how women are portrayed, too often, as needing to be "rescued" dismayed me. As a woman, I know how capable we are of taking care of ourselves as well as those we care about. I attributed my "issues" with how too many females in Kdramas are portrayed to my having a western culture orientation. And now, you write this and I am so happy to see that Asians women are also wanting how they are portrayed on screen to change. You named several Actresses whom you felt portrayed strong and intelligent females and I already know about one of them: Lee Bo Young. I really like her roles and am trying to view all of her work. Please keep up the great work; Dramabean is one of my favorite sites.

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I was waiting to read something written by you, redfox, and you definitely didn't disappoint! Thanks for such a well-written piece.

I have always looked to dramas (especially adaptations of Chinese kungfu novels) for examples of strong female protagonists. In kungfu sagas, like in Korean sageuks, female characters are often skilful wielders of the sword, as well as other forms of martial arts. And when fantastical elements are included, they can also be capable of superhuman powers, or other black magic. It is a landscape littered with strong women who manage to have it all: beauty, brains and bravado. They manage to be so physically strong, yet (at least those depicted on screen) still remain lithe and slender, not appearing at all butch or over-muscled. (Never becoming, say, that Terminator lady.) They lead armies, seduce kings, mastermind the downfall of nations...and basically march to more of a femme fatale tune, than any dumbed-down Candy beat.

I've...sort of lost my train of thought, but I think my point was that I deliberately look for these kinds of 'legendary' women in sageuks and period pieces...and that I found your examples very fitting. : )

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I agree in that over the years I've started to appreciate empowered heroines over weak traditional heroines that needed saving. I especially liked that in SW DoBongSoon the main guy was caring and gentle, rather than the aggressive "manly man" type. Same for WLF Kim Bok Ju.

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I initially loved SWDBS for the way the male lead was totally gaga over her physical strength. He was not just interested or intrigued he thought she was sexy which was super cool. However as the series progressed I was totally disappointed with her career arc. That was again rich boy solve girls problem. It was very unprofessional and a rehash of the guy saves girl trope in a subtle way.
WLF Kim Bok Ju was wonderful and did not disappoint. The relationship was lovely.

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I was honestly going to eye roll through this because so much of feminism is so misrepresented and it's like you said "women rule men drool" kind of attitude. But I really appreciate that you took a mature and well versed understanding of this issue and how it can be portrayed in dramas. I think k-dramas are getting better at this and giving us a lot more strong females which does not also downplay the male roles as well.

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One of the trends I am loving about dramas lately is how they are becoming more women-centric. A lot of dramas in the past, even if they were rom-coms or romances, the dramas tended to center more on the men. I like that dramas are starting to be more about the friendships between the women. I'm getting tired of the rom-coms where the secondary woman is a manipulative bitch whose only identity is her love of the main guy and her hate of the main girl. I love when the secondary girl is a friend and companion to the main character who has her own romance and story that is separate from the main girl. High Society, Fight My Way, Goblin, all did this and I loved them for it. Great article, which I agree with completely.

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Thank you for postiga my store GODDAMN AUTOCORRECT I cant any more a woman ma be strong but autocorrect is strong et. STRONG ET. STRONGER. I might have concentrated on certain type this time but I know strong ladestunud - LADIES, YOU DAMN TWIT! ometi... COME in many sharks. SHAPES! Darth to smartphones. DEATH. not Darth

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omg, LOL LOL LOL LOL!!!!!!!!

this is as funny as someone's "W" not typing or turning into those "V"s....

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and HEY....

the thumbs down disappeared! oh, not that i was going to hit it...
; )

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Dang! I was reminded of the Vampire Keyboard, too!

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Oh redfox, your essay is a WOW ?! My first kdrama female love is Kim Sam Soon, who wielded a pastry knife and a sharp tongue and she did pretty well!

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Feminism should embrace any kind of women from any kind of background, culture, system of believe, or race, any kind of women who either she likes wrist grabbing, forced kiss, a heroine being saved by hero every single times!, Kim Eun-sook's kind of romance, badass heroine, candy type heroine, it doesn't really matter as long as we support each other to fullfill our best potential and grow as a person, a mother, a daughter, a wife, a single career woman, or what have you. Feminist who try to exclude other woman from feminism should just relearn what is a feminism is all about.

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Yes, I still have a lot to learn and I can be a bit exclusive. But as a person who has suffered MAJOR headaches because of dependant, materialist, non - selfi reliant female relatives I would say such people are not among the ones I admire. So it is hard for me to be all-including

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These women probabbly are ones who are needed to know feminism all about, we should embrace them and learn together, not leaving them behind. Because that won't solve any problem we have now. If any body won't take them, I will. ☺ I feel the prejudice as single, independend, career woman from these kind of women, but hey I'm strong enough to face them so no big deal. Ha, ha, ha.

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*who need

Oh there's a group of people who I think they should be included in feminist movement as well. Men.

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I did. Include them kinda

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I understand some issues with women being mistreated in dramas (never liked Boys Over Flowers for that reason, and it was hugely popular), but I don't understand the problem with the wrist grab. I always saw it as kind of cute when one of the leads got frustrated and tried to pull the other off to wherever they wanted to go. You could switch roles -- have the girl pull the guy -- and the scenario seems just as adorable. I think sometimes we can become oversensitive about these issues and can look for problems where they aren't; for instance, the wrist grab. To me it's a great excuse for skinship and happens whenever a person is comfortable with each other -- between family, even. My sister and I drag each other around everywhere; thinking back to such moments just makes me smile.

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I have also not really understood what the big deal about the wrist grab is. Maybe it's cultural. I don't mind the wrist grab as long as it doesn't look like someone is about to end up with a dislocated shoulder. If the guy is holding her wrist instead of her hand but isn't yanking her about, I don't see anything wrong with it.

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Also, on BOF I watched Meteor Garden and I freaked out when Daoming Si slapped Shancai. I was immediately turned off because of that.

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This is SO ME!! I used to love those dramas where the guy would swoop in and save the girl, but now I want me some fierce, independent, well-written women characters. I've finally gotten around to watching 6FD (on episode 46!), and Han Yeri is soo badass so I did an internal squeal when I saw that first screencap!

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omg yes. i agree with you on so many levels. when i first started watching dramas 10+ years ago, i was nothing but a lame tween fangurling over eye candy and romanticizing about a rom-com Cinderella story. Don't get me wrong, I still watch them now (LOLLLL)..... but as i am watching every step and decision our lovely heroine makes, it just mind boggles me how most of the time the writers portray our heroine as a strong willed female at the beginning but then does something later on that is just sooo unlike the character that i thought she was suppose to portray.

In terms of recent dramas, I have high hopes for our oldest daughter, Hae Young, in Father is Strange. She is someone who knows what she believes in and knows what she wants. I rarely watch long sitcoms but I am willing to take part in the long run for her!

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"Feminism doesn’t mean that girls rule and men drool. It means they stand on equal levels. It is just as much about men’s rights as about women’s. There shouldn’t be that much difference in their attitude and dreams since both are humans who only exist once on this Earth."
Well said redfox :)

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Yaaaas indeed! At some point, the mindless enjoyment turns into uneasy questions. "Yeah, wasn't that scene in Secret Garden kinda rape-y?" "Hmm, why was Ra-On's spunky character sacrificed for saguek conventions when MDBC didn't start out by following them?" My favourite feminista so far has been Jang Hye-Sung in I Hear Your Voice and her frenemy, Seo Do-Yeon. They are very much their own prickly yet progressing persons!

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Hi Beane. I really liked your article. I'm writing with the google translator. I am Argentina and I do not know much English. I tell you that I never liked to see women in that submissive and useless position. I like dramas with strong, independent women. But luckily lately it seems that we have become fashionable and have more prominence. I hope to continue like this, we are half of humanity. I love that men look, but I want women capable of shining alike. I love Kim Mi-kyung, I have not seen her in a drama for a while. Thanks for your post

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I wouldn't call Chuk Sa Gwang a femminist herroine. She is from a distincted family, but lowers herself to a concubine to be with the man she loves and later even servant. The thing she hates absolutely the most is killing, but does it for her man. When he dies, she goes even lower to raise his children, his with someone else, and when even those boys die, she sees no reason to go on living. There seems to be much hidden within her, but she sacrifices herself completely for her man, even her personality.

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