She Is Straight Gangster: Challenging Gender Roles in Korean Dramas
Dr. Crystal S. Anderson
Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities
January 8-13, 2012
Korean television dramas (Kdramas), particularly those that are historically based, represent sprawling stories that blend history with culture. Often consisting of high production values and unfolding over 50+ episodes, these Kdramas reconstruct historical narratives and legendary stories. They also infuse a contemporary sensibility by drawing on nontraditional notions of gender, heroism, cunning and valor. While such Kdramas are broadcast to Korean audiences, non-Korean, English-speaking audiences from around the world also view these dramas via Internet sites such as Drama Fever and Crunchyroll.com. These global audiences construct alternative femininities related to the female characters that challenge traditional notions of gender. Using qualitative methods and discourse analysis, I argue that global audiences construct female characters in ways that challenge traditional notions of gender. In the 2009 critically-acclaimed and popular Kdrama, Queen Seondeok, Korean women are represented as aggressive major power brokers in national politics, rather than passive bystanders, even as they occupy more traditional historical roles for women. They also exert power over men who are characterized as more powerful both politically and martially, using cunning rather than their feminine wiles. Finally, women also engage each other in ways that showcase their intellectual talents. Such constructions by global audiences allow for more diverse notions of gender in popular culture.