[Changing Tastes] How I became a feminist through dramas
by Guest Beanie
Six Flying Dragons
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.
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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- Theme of the Month: How have your K-drama tastes changed over time?
- What’s your dramaland catnip? Tell us your stories!
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