Feminism in Kpop Takes Three Steps Forward!

This is a fascinating time for women in Kpop. Because even while girl groups are vying for the award for sexiest beach-dance; even while Goo Hara is admitting that her style concept for her new album is to “pick outfits that guys would want their girlfriends to wear”; even while Stellar is doing their very best to tease us with their metaphorical vaginas (presumably their actual ones will be banned from broadcast); even through all of this, there are some real positives for women in Kpop this week. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look!

Clara Cleared of Blackmail Charges

In the ongoing saga between Clara and the CEO of Polaris Entertainment, Lee Kyu Tae, Clara has been cleared of all blackmail charges. And, in an incredible reversal, the prosecution is now charging Lee Kyu Tae for threatening Clara! Whatever your opinion of Clara, this is huge. Charging Clara with blackmail would have worsened an already bad culture of victim-blaming. It would have set a dangerous precedent for all women in Kpop (possibly all women in Korea) that feel sexually threatened, harassed, or humiliated. Unable to safely expose their attackers, women all over Korea would have been left with no recourse of police or legal action. Happily, that is not what happened here! Hopefully this message is heard loud and clear by all parties. Sexual harassment is not okay, and there are legal systems in place to protect us. That’s a big deal!

GOT7 Promotes Positive Self-Image for Women

It’s easy to be cynical about the image-obsessed world of Kpop. How many music videos have we seen that objectify both men and women, that treat humans as sex symbols, and that promote image as the most important quality a person can have? But here’s GOT7 giving us a release that goes against everything we are used to. “Stay just the way you are…don’t you change a thing,” they croon in “Just Right.” Wait. Really?

And note that this concept has nothing to do with romance. These aren’t creepy miniature men perving on some woman. This is a young girl playing with her dolls, and finding a reason for self-confidence and self-worth in doing so. That distinction is so important here. It’s one thing for a romantic interest to tell someone they look beautiful. That kind of affirmation is cheap. But it’s something completely different to instill a positive self-image in children from a young age. The video isn’t perfect: Jr. steals a Barbie (could there be any worse symbol for positive self-image?), and Jackson licks his lips suggestively. And no, GOT7 isn’t going to fix image issues in Kpop all by themselves. But we have sit up and take notice of a group that is attempting to do something positive rather than sticking to the status quo!

Jonghyun Hosts a Honest Dialog about Misogyny

This one requires a bit of background. Only July 11, Jonghyun of SHINee began addressing accusations of him being a misogynist. The hubbub started after a conversation on Jonghyun’s radio show, Blue Night Radio, with Nine of Dear Cloud. It’s very difficult to give an accurate picture of what was said without reading the whole transcript (head over to Omona They Didn’t for a great recap). But here’s a small piece of it.

Jonghyun: That, how should I say, um.. they’re a blessed existence, women.

Nine: Gasp! Do you think so?

Jonghyun: I think that way.

Nine: How come?

Jonghyun: What I mean is, the existence that gives the greatest inspiration to all artists..

Nine: Ah, muses!

Jonghyun: I think that existence is women.

Nine: Ooh.. that’s interesting.

Jonghyun: To artists, considerably.. they make all poets write poetry, and all artists paint pictures,—

Nine: Wow that’s cool, to hear it that way.

Jonghyun: —and make all singers sing songs.

These statements were taken by many to represent a misogynistic view of women as nothing more than muses, or objects, rather than as equal creators of art. Netizens being netizens, a story like this would usually turn into a black mark on Jonghyun’s name. Not so from our perspective.

It turns out that Jonghyun reached out to a fan privately via Twitter (through direct messages to @quilliticy) to ask for clarification on why his comments were being misconstrued. What followed was a long and honest conversation about the representation of women, the possibly gendered and misogynistic term “muse,” and whether or not consumption is equated with hatred.

So what does it all mean? Well, it means that one of the leading men in Kpop takes gender dynamics very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that he is willing to risk further outrage or even embarrassment by holding an honest dialog (the conversation with @quilliticy was published with his consent). Most artists would be warned away from talking to fans for fear of making matters worse. In fact, we’re positive that SM probably warned him against this. Although we think that Jonghyun took a somewhat defensive posture, it’s hard to fault him for this. The accusations are serious, and very public.

But it’s the honest dialog that has us so impressed. Kpop is known for it’s binary modes of response, reaction and over-reaction, not for subtlety and clear-headed conversation. Let’s get something straight. Jonghyun is still a part of Kpop. And Kpop is still a very gender-biased world. One conversation can’t change that. But this dialog is exactly the kind of thing that can begin to wake up fans, netizens, artists, and labels.

Zander Stachniak is a southern-born, Chicago-based writer who first discovered Kpop through ShoutCast Radio. His biases are f(x) and Block B.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Share This Page

Listen to the Podcast