Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Patriarchy, Abuse and Gender Roles in Asian Dramas

WARNING: This article contains sensitive content
Note: Also, I'm aware that some of these dramas have good aspects as well, but I'm going to focus only on patriarchy, abuse and gender roles. I'm also aware that what I'm talking about here is not restricted to Asian culture only, so there is no need to get insulted if it so happens.

Asian dramas in general are very entertaining, however, there is a dark side to almost everything, and that includes Asian dramas and some of the values and relationship models that have been promoted by them and media. This topic is not related to the Asian entertainment industry alone, its roots are deeper and they lie in Asian culture, history and gender issues.

Patriarchy: a social system in which power is held by men, through cultural norms and customs that favour men and withhold opportunity from women.

This system is still dominant in Asia, and you can see it because most husbands are the ones who make the most important decisions and the males' opinions are more values than the females'.

When it comes to gender roles, I have noticed that females in Asian dramas usually fall in one of these two categories - an "angel" or a "bitch." This is actually not restricted to Asian countries only, but we will focus only on them. A woman is portrayed either as a completely submissive, dumb or pathetic creature or she is an impolite, noisy and aggressive bitch. There are of course the exceptions, but not many of them. It is the fact that in Asian culture (and I'm talking about China, Japan, North and South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand) women have always been portrayed as submissive to men and those who are older than 30 are considered to be "hags," especially if they haven't married until the late 20s and gave birth to children. If you are familiar with history, then you know that meek and gentle women used to be more praised than those who would go against men and society. Even though the situation has got better throughout the years, and the Asian society now is filled with intelligent and capable females who are not afraid to speak for themselves, there are still the traits of old discriminating prejudices and views, and they can be seen in the media and entertainment industry. Violence is disguised as "romance" and I'm not talking about one or two dramas, some of these characteristics are repeated in almost every drama.

Physical Abuse

The main scenarios that I'm looking at are:
  • A guy forcefully kissing/touching a girl or vice versa.
  • Parents or employees slapping/hitting their children/employers or vice versa.
  • People invading others' personal space and making decisions without their consent.
It is considered shameful and embarrassing for a woman to be sexually active or at least interested in passion. Women are degraded to objects that should be controlled by men and shocked when someone they like kisses them or touches them, and it is even more shameful if they want or touch someone first. Those women that show signs of attraction are usually portrayed as villains.

There are many scenes in which a guy forcefully kisses/touches a girl, and sometimes she even stays still and endures, because he is physically stronger than her and she cannot fight back. In the drama Coffee Prince (which I finished recently), which is considered a remarkable gender bender drama, the main character almost rapes the main female protagonist and leaves her crying all her herself. Secret Garden which is liked by almost everyone, the main guy tries to touch and kiss the main girl on many occasions without her consent.

Another drama that comes to mind is the classic Boys Over Flowers and all of its adaptions. Besides the fact that the girl is looked down upon because of her financial status, she also gets kidnapped, drugged and 'changed' in the mean time. Imagine yourself walking up in an unfamiliar place, dressed up with make up on? Yes, you would freak out and run for the hills. But of course, this (and many other scenes) are justified as cute on the guy's behalf.

Another example is rarer but not uncommon - a gender role reversal drama in which the female is the one who abuses the male. The new drama Oh My Ghost is a great example, because it depicts a shy and mousy girl who gets possessed by a sexually driven female ghost. They end up sharing the male guy throughout the drama. I was glad that there would be a drama in which a female would show the initiative, however, it turned typical. The guy keeps pushing away the main girl (while she is possessed) which makes the girl even more agitated. The first and second scenes can be funny, but when he ends up running away from her and yelling "No!," you realize that he is being really abused (and that is portrayed as funny and cute). Once again, an Asian drama condemns a female character for having sexual needs and not being afraid to show them, and the poor guy gets abused along the way.

There are also many scenes in various Asian dramas in which there are no lips movements during kisses, and women are usually shocked and that is supposed to show how 'pure' and 'inexperienced' they are (or they should be?). Why is an inexperienced woman more valued than a woman who knows what or whom she wants? Because the society in general does not tolerate strong women who know what they want - be it in terms of career, personal choices or relationships.

Then we have some really hardcore abuse, including rapes. The best examples would be Sealed with a Kiss and Le Jun Kai. These dramas have high ratings and they have positive comments. But what kinds of message are they sending out there to their audience and people? That it is okay to take out your anger, frustrations and revenge on someone completely innocent? To beat, use, humiliate and rape them? And even worse, the women should just endure it and say that it is 'brutal love?'

Sealed with a Kiss shows that in one scene, he breaks her wrist in one of many scenes of beating an harassing her, and in another scene, he almost strangles her in a hospital where she is admitted for having a miscarriage. In Le Jun Kai, just two of many scenes shows how he humiliates, pushes, beats, rapes and strangles her throughout this romantic drama.

Now it is time to talk a look at the abuse and discrimination at work and in a family, especially the way parents/cousins and employers treat their family and employees. Family is very valued in Asian culture, however, it is too much when your parents can dictate every second of your life and your employers slap you and beat you. That is actually wrong on many levels, but not unusual in Asian dramas.

For example, in Reply 1997, after the daughter doe something that she should not have (goes to another city to watch her favourite band without her parents' consent), her father almost shaves off her hair completely. Cutting one's hair forcefully is considered a rape. Imagine having your silky, long hair cut by someone in order to punish you. In Marriage, Not Dating, the main girl gets slapped and cut by her future mother-in-law and then she almost slaps her again. She frighteningly backs away, as if she has been hit many times until then. It is 'normal' for them to get hit, slapped and abused by their parents and elders, not to mention that they must follow their every order.

When it comes to disgusting employers, the winner is the boss from Falling for Innocence. He slaps the main female character so hard that she gets hurled across the floor. The boss never apologized to her, nobody helped her and she just meekly accepted the slap, even later on returned to the job post.

Something similar happens in Misaeng, in which the capable and hard-working female gets yelled at, humiliated and the boss even throws a coffee and a stack of papers at her. In Angry Mom, the boss even sexually abuses his secretary by smacking her ass and yelling at her. In one scene, which she is massaging his leg like a slave, he kicks her with that leg. She does nothing and just accepts the situation.

Verbal Abuse

All of the mentioned examples above contain verbal abuse too, but now I'm going to focus on characters that primarily use verbal abuse without much/any physical force.

The best example would be the adaption of Itazura na Kiss. There are many adaptions for this, but they all have something in common - a naive, stupid and pathetic girl who falls in love with an emotionally cold, abusive and intelligent guy. The girl makes him the priority of her life, going to the same university because he goes there and rejecting all normal suitors who respect her because of him. He humiliates and verbally abuses her all of the time and even later on, they get married. He even mocks her with other people in front of her and openly laughs into her face. He gets the most sadistic when he realizes she may walk away and that he would lose his plaything. Worst of all, she never realizes that she is his slave and she stupidly declares herself in love with him while idolizing him. I will present some of the quotes from various adaptions so you can get the picture:
  • "Your stupidity overwhelms and annoys me."
  • "I hate stupid women like you."
  • "A girl like you, even if I met you a hundred times, I would still ignore you."
  • "Don't worry, I have no intention of having a relationship with you."
  • "Living with an idiot like you day after day, I'll become stupid too!"
  • "A person like you, what do you have in that head of yours?"

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