"Look, it's a fight between women!" <Street Woman Fighter>, which aired in August last year, became a trending topic for the broadcasting industry. About 60 female dancers appearing in the program showed strong solidarity among themselves while competing fiercely. The story of female dancers, who had not been highlighted so far, made viewers laugh and cry. Recently, content dealing with women's stories like SWF has been receiving constant attention. Female narratives and female characters in the media that challenge gender stereotypes and negative framing have gained popularity by providing a fresh perspective to the public. Now is the heyday of female narrative content.
The path that female narratives walked on
Currently, various women's images are available in the media, but until just a few years ago, the way women were portrayed in the media was limited. In the early and mid-2000s, the so-called "Cinderella Story," in which a rich male main character loves and saves a poor but pretty female main character, was the mainstream portrayal. However, this trend has changed since the feminism reboot in 2015. As the public's perception of misogyny has expanded, uncomfortable elements have been recognized in existing content. In addition, the public began to look for content dealing with real women's stories instead of the existing narratives. Kim Eunyoung, a researcher at Ewha Womans University's Communication Media Research Institute, said, "After the 'Gangnam Station Incident' and the 'MeToo Movement,' many women raised their voices and wanted to hear their own stories, opposing existing content that excluded women's stories."1) The public, whose awareness of feminism has been raised, questioned the limited female image. Therefore, content that delicately deals with women's stories, such as the film <Kim Ji-young, Born 1982>, has attracted attention. And, independent female characters became popular, sparking the "girl crush" craze. In the end, it can be seen that the change in public perception created the basis for the development of new female content.
In addition, the increase in female producers and expansion of their activities further embodied female narrative content. According to the "2020 Broadcasting Industry Survey Report" published by the Korea Communications Commission, 822 female producers accounted for 33% out of the 2,472 producers of the three terrestrial broadcasting companies. It can be seen that the number of female producers in 2012 was 531, a significant increase compared to only 22% of the total. Female directors are increasing in male-centered broadcasting, expanding their position. In addition, content produced by female directors has recently received favorable reviews. Producer Lee Eunkyu of KBS platformed the voices of women last year by producing <Documentary The National Team> telling the stories of female sports players and <Documentary News Room> showcasing the reality of female journalists in the press office. These documentaries were praised for capturing gender issues that were difficult to deal with in conservative public broadcasting. In response, she said, "I deliberately tried to make all the main staff women. I wanted to see what the results were like when only women gathered and worked together."2) She believed that she could deliver the content better with the effects that she could create because she had a female production crew. Due to the efforts of these female directors, the public is now able to watch women's lives more easily on the screen.
The women we've been waiting for
As women's social status grows, media content showing ambitious women is also growing. OTT Wave's drama <I'm Going to Cheong Wa Dae Now That This Has Happened>, focuses on what happens to a woman who has become the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Another major character is a female politician who shows outstanding ability as a senior member of the opposition party. The two show themselves doing anything to get ahead in politics. Most female characters have been treated as someone's wife or secretary in previous political stories, so this drama gave a new feeling. Meanwhile, there is also a story of a woman who achieves her dreams in difficult times. Naver's webtoon <Jeongnyeoni>, which has been serialized since 2019, depicts the growth of the Women's Troupe in the 1950s. In an era where the patriarchal order was prevalent, female characters, including the main character Yoon Jeongnyeon, express their desires openly. Moreover, they compete fairly, recognize each other's skills, and grow together. Seo Yire, the author of <Jeongnyeoni>, said, "Our society believes that gender is absolute and cannot be changed by dividing it into two. It is considered strange if men and women perform their respective roles and deviate from the range."3) She encouraged women to reveal and realize their desires as a person without being trapped in the framework of gender. As in the above two examples, the appearance of a female character who achieves what she wants serves to question the rigid social structure and encourage women of the present era.
In addition, content that focuses on lesbians continues to be produced. Previously, only male homosexuality was shown, and female homosexuality could not be easily found in broadcasts. However, in <Mine>, which aired in May last year, female homosexuality was the main topic. Jeong Seohyun, the main character, has romantic feelings for Choi Sooji, whom she had liked as a child. She suffered a lot of conflicts and trials as a lesbian. But eventually, she was directed as a person who kept her identity. <Mine> received favorable reviews not only for setting up these characters but also for portraying lesbianism. In the drama, her love was expressed as just a beautiful romance, and it showed that lesbianism is just another form of love without any differences. Also, there is a short film called <Good Mother> about a mother with a homosexual daughter. This film differs from other queer films in that it contains the thoughts and actions of parents. The portrayal of a middle-aged woman trying to understand her daughter but agonizing over the fact that she refuses to adhere to what society thinks is normal was true to life. In addition, it clearly describes the hateful gaze toward queers, capturing the reality of a society that has not yet improved. In this way, the representation of female homosexuals in the media not only allows the public to break down social prejudice against homosexuality but also has the effect of spreading the stories of minorities.
The female narrative showing 'Womance' is also a subject that the public is enthusiastic about. Womance is a word created by combining woman and romance, which refers to an intimate and deep friendship between women. In the past, as in the movie <Friend>, strong friendship and loyalty between men remained exclusive to male characters in the media. Recently, however, content dealing with friendships between women has been produced. Especially <Street Woman Fighter> was able to attract the public's attention. SWF is Mnet's survival entertainment program that shows dance competitions among female dancers. They advised each other when they had a hard time and applauded each other's efforts. These scenes impressed many viewers. In a similar context, <The Girls Who Hit the Goal>, which shows women's solidarity and sportsmanship through soccer, is also gaining huge popularity. Female celebrities who are new to soccer in this program are shown playing while overcoming their lack of skills. They also cooperate and form strong relationships. Comedian Kim Minkyung, one of the cast members, said, "It's so good that we can show women's desire, passion, and sincerity in sports that men play a lot."4) She responded positively to being able to show new aspects of women in the male-centered field. In the end, 'Womance' presents both women interacting and their solidarity in society.
Media that displays the distorted female image
However, there is also content that distorts the female image. On September 11 last year, there was a controversy over the way a female intern reporter was portrayed on 'SNL Korea.' The problematic situation was in a feature that reproduced the newsroom. The anchor and intern reporter were talking about a government policy when the anchor asked an unexpected question, and the intern reporter stuttered in embarrassment. In addition, she cried and left because she could not handle the situation. There were mixed opinions among netizens whether the intern reporters' behavior was a caricature of a young woman or simply imitating a newbie in society. Regarding this issue, Kwon Soontaek, the secretary-general of the Citizens' Solidarity for Media Reform, said, "It seems that voices of criticism have emerged as stereotypes about women who try to solve problems with tears or emotions without thinking rationally have accumulated repeatedly."5) She said that certain scenes used to mock women in existing comedy shows were criticized for being used as gag elements again. In addition, there was controversy over a webtoon scene that sexually caricatures women. In the webtoon <Returning King> of Gian 84, the scene where the female main character Bong Jieun succeeded in getting a full-time job as a result of having sexual intercourse with her male boss was criticized. This scene was described as the act of putting a large clam on the stomach and breaking it. As the criticism increased, he later posted an apology on his personal SNS. These cases appear to have been criticized for expressing 'women' in the wrong way through widespread media content.
In addition, some content strengthens stereotypical gender roles. An example is the use of the title of mother or aunt for a person who is good at housework and cooking in TV entertainment. Singer Key's daily life was revealed on MBC's entertainment show <I Live Alone> on May 22. He was shown making and eating food with ingredients found at home. In this scene, the subtitles calling him "Aunt Key" appeared several times on the screen. The hosts in the studio also referred to him as an aunt. After the broadcast, there was criticism about calling someone an aunt just because they are good at housekeeping. It is pointed out that referring to a frugal person as an aunt can strengthen prejudice against the role of women. In the SBS entertainment show <My Little Old Boy>, there was a content that strengthened prejudice. A female cast member saw a single man cutting up food ingredients and said, "Men are just like children without women." In response, the popular culture critic Jeong Deokhyun said, "In the process of evaluating the behavior of the performers in the observation camera, discriminatory comments from a patriarchal perspective are added."6) Such comments are conveyed to the public through broadcasting and become the subject of reproducing gender stereotypes.
As for such insufficient female narrative content, there has been much talk about future directions, in particular, that it is important to represent women who have not yet been shown. Among them, disabled women and migrant women are not often portrayed in the media. In the case of women with disabilities, it is more often depicted that they rely on non-disabled people instead of continuing their lives independently. In response, activist Jin Eunsun of the Disabled Women's Success Inspection said, "I saw an error in a scene from the drama <Jiri Mountain>. Seo Yigang, the main character, suffered a major injury and became paralyzed, but in the last episode, she miraculously walks again. This was a scene that showed culture is centered on the 'normality' of Korean society."7) She mentioned that the narrative of overcoming disability eventually emphasizes the imperfections of the disabled. Migrant women are also limited to certain roles. Like the Filipino daughter-in-law and the Bangladeshi wife, migrant women are often seen only as family members. Also, the media often highlights the difficulty of living in other places. It seems important to focus on aiming for a more realistic aspect, not just depicting the dramatic part of the story. In addition, reflecting more specific and diverse characteristics when developing a female character will greatly contribute to the development of the female narrative.
Their lives are our voices
As time goes by, women's voices are growing louder. The trends of such an era are reflected in the women in the media. They are overcoming their limits, gaining solidarity with each other, and talking about their lives. However, in some content, distorted images of women are planted in the minds of the public, which can be a problem. There is also a limitation in that female narratives cannot represent all women yet. Therefore, producers will need to pay attention to more diverse women's stories. In addition, it will be an important task to maintain gender sensitivity and try to create better content. If these problems improve, it can be expected that women's narratives will continue to build an unrivaled genre.
1) Kim Eunyoung, "The Success Story of Female Narrative Contents in 2021", Women's news, December 28, 2021
2) Jang Sein, "Why Did the Camera Head to KBS at the End of the "Gagwoman" and "The National Team"?", PD Journal, November 26, 2021
3) Oh Heena, "Seo Yire, "Don't Lock Yourself Up, Reveal Your Desires,"" Edaily, October 21, 2021
4) One Sena, ""Kim Minkyung, "Women's Voice Is Going to Get Louder," The Fact, December 28, 2021
5) Jang Sein, "Intern Reporter of SNL Korea, Who Caught the Wrong Satire Rudder," PD Journal, September 24, 2021
6) Lim Jaewoo, ""Only 1 out of 12 Passed..." Test "Gender Sensitivity" on Entertainment Shows."", Hankyoreh, February 10, 2021
7) Park Juyeon, "<Mine>, <Goaltaenyeo> to <Gugyeongi> and <SWF>… Women's Narrative Progress", Ilda, January 16, 2022