[2017 Year in Review] The year of the girl gang
by Guest Beanie
Because This Life Is Our First
Coincidentally, 2017 marks a decade since I discovered both Dramabeans and Korean dramas. I was drawn to the quirkiness of the plots (A girl masquerades as boy to work in a pretty-boy coffee shop… what?!), the intensity of the love squares, and the surprising earnestness and heart of even the most outrageous dramas (looking at you, Come Back, Ajusshi!).
That being said, back in 2007 I’m not sure that any of the K-dramas I watched would pass the infamous Bechdel test. The test sets a pretty low bar. Essentially, to pass the Bechdel test, a drama would need to have two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. This is admittedly an imperfect measure and TV shows can still be progressive and have great female characters without passing it. Nonetheless, through the years I’ve found that K-dramas have lacked a strong portrayal of female friendship. The female lead would usually have a plucky best friend, but these characters were often afterthoughts or seriously underdeveloped.
But 2017 has been a pleasant reversal of this trend with dramas like Age of Youth 2 and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-ju celebrating the ties that bring girls together. It was clear from these dramas that friendship between girls can be messy and complicated, especially when it intersects with first loves and heartbreaks. Both of these dramas also showed that you can’t get through either of those things without your besties to back you up, whether it’s to interrogate boyfriends or comfort you with song when he goes to the army. Your girl gang lifts you up (sometimes literally) but keeps you grounded and sane as you navigate the insanity that are your twenties.
Age of Youth 2
What was so great about the 2017 girl gangs though, was that they didn’t just showcase the friendship of our twenties, but of our thirties and forties as well. With the proliferation of #squadgoals and Instragram-only girl gangs, we forget about the girl gangs that get us through the challenges of aging—be it secret babies, decreasing alcohol tolerance, or contract marriages. Because This Life Is Our First had one of the most wonderful and realistic depictions of female friendships. We all know people in our girl gangs who have an affection/frustration dynamic like the one between Su-ji and Ho-rang, and we all know a sensitive dreamer like Ji-Ho who reminds us of the things that matter.
Most importantly, this drama highlighted the stability that a girl gang can bring as your world falls apart or changes at the end of your twenties, be it letting you stay over after you end your seven-year relationship or encouraging you to maybe make your fake marriage to your landlord a real thing. Even though our main ladies had each changed from high school and university, their friendship, like a home, was something they could return to. Like home, their friendship was a place where they could recover, process, and laugh-cry (as was often the case with this drama).
The friendship between our three leading ladies also fit really nicely with the theme of female empowerment throughout the drama. I cheered when Su-ji took down her sexist coworker like the revenging angel she is, and was proud as Ji-Ho decided to take legal action against her assaulter. The progressiveness of this drama on the female empowerment front wasn’t only these individual takedowns of the patriarchy, but also the non-antagonistic dynamic between all of the women in the drama. Too often women in dramas are rivals or enemies. The true progressiveness of this drama was that women help other women.
Buam-dong Revenge Club
Sometimes, though, your middle-aged girl squad might not be the same as your friends in your youth. Sometimes your teenage girl gang disintegrates as friendships ebb and flow. Instead, you might find yourself a new gang of ladies to help you take revenge on the men who did you wrong. Buam-dong Revenge Club quickly became one of my favorite K-dramas of all time, not because of the club’s hilarious revenge antics, but because of the way that these middle-aged misfits (and high-schooler Soo-gyum) each gained a newfound lease on life because of their friendship with each other.
The wonderfully naïve and adorable Jung-hye discovered a love for ramyun, as well as a backbone, while Mi-sook and Do-hee became more and more unwilling to put up with the shenanigans of the corrupt men and women in their lives. This strength that all three women gained came from laughing, drinking, and crying together. By showing their most vulnerable selves to their girl gang, these three women were able to build new armor to take on a world that would have them shut up, sit down, and stay in the kitchen. Who needs super-strength when your girl gang has your back and is willing to do anything for you? (I should mention that “anything” also included an incident with the sexist school principal involving glue, a chair, and laxatives.)
We love them and we sometimes hate them, but our girl gang is the family we choose, for better or worse. And so, I think it’s safe to say that my 2017 in Korean dramas has been the year of the girl gang, and I am 500 percent here for it.
Buam-dong Revenge Club
- [2017 Year in Review] My queue in 2017: Where dramas go to die
- [2017 Year in Review] If underdogs ruled the world
- [2017 Year in Review] Part 1: The Bean Count
- [Theme of the Month] Tell us about your year in dramas
- 2016 Year in Review, Part 7: Editors’ Picks
- 2016 Year in Review, Part 3: A drama for every day of the year (girlfriday’s review)
- 2016 Year in Review, Part 2: The doctor is in (javabeans’ review)
- 2016 Year in Review, Part 1: The Bean Count