Female Artists in the Leaning Playground
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Female Artists in the Leaning Playground
  • Kim Park Yeonhoo
  • 승인 2024.05.01 08:50
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PHOTO FROM THE JAKARTA POST

 

Noonsong recently heard about female artists who are active in various fields. She has noticed the recent popularity of women in the culture and arts industries, including Lee Min-jin's novel <Pachinko> and female actors in TV series such as <Extraordinary Attorney Woo> and <The Glory>. However, she came across a news article about the difficulties faced by women in the culture and arts industry and was curious about what they were facing.

 

Darkness in the limelight

In the past, Korean women have historically been denied access to formal education. Traditional gender roles confined women to domestic duties, leaving no time or space for them to pursue creative endeavors outside the home. This lack of education limited the opportunities for women to pursue careers in culture and arts. Nonetheless, there have been female artists who worked without compromising their beliefs. Na Hye-seok, the first Korean female Western-style artist, worked as a writer, poet, and sculptor under a difficult social atmosphere. In overcoming the situation, women continued to be active in the field of culture and arts, setting a model for modern female artists. According to the Popular Culture and Arts Industry Survey of 2021, released by the Korea Creative Content Agency in December 2021, about 53.5 percent of popular culture and arts workers are male and 46.5 percent female, with the largest number of female workers being actors, singers, and broadcasters. This means that the gender ratio between men and women in the culture and arts industry is becoming more balanced. In February 2022, Yoon Yeo-jeong of the film <Minari>, Jung Ho-yeon of the drama <Squid Game>, and Min Hee-jin, the CEO of the entertainment management company ADOR were included in U.S. Variety magazine's "Most Influential Women in Global Pop Culture." This shows that women who have been active in Korea in the past, when the social climate made it difficult for them to carry out proper cultural and artistic activities, have continued to do so to this day and are making an impact not only in Korea but also abroad. As such, the roles of female artists have come under the spotlight.
Despite the advancement of opportunities for women in the arts, they still face challenges. In 2018, the MeToo movement in the culture and arts industry highlighted the issue of gender hierarchy, exposing the inequality within Korea. In the theater industry, the MeToo movement began with accusations against theater director Lee Yoon-taek, and several female victims spoke up. He was accused of sexually assaulting eight actresses on 23 occasions from July 2010 to December 2016 and was sentenced to seven years in prison by the Supreme Court in 2019. Since then, the MeToo movement has spread beyond the theater industry to the culture and arts industry as a whole. The MeToo movement in the culture and arts industry has revealed that women are often left out in the cold when it comes to inequality issues such as sexual harassment, sexual violence, and hierarchical violence in the creative process and workplace. Stemming from traditional gender norms in Korean society, gender-based stereotypes in the arts have prevented women from realizing their full creative potential.

 

PHOTO FROM MONEYTODAY
Actress Yoon Yeo-jung, model and actress Jeong Ho-yeon, and representative of ADORE Min Hee-jin

 

Behind the glitz

There is a risk of sexual crime in the difficulties faced by women in the culture and arts field. Sexual crimes in this industry, which were revealed by the MeToo movement in 2018, persist. According to a report on the number of reports and consultations on sexual violence against artists, collected each year by the Korea Arts Welfare Foundation from 2018 to November 2022, the number of cases has been steadily increasing with 31, 40, 51, 68, and 47 cases respectively, showing an overall increase until 2021. In other words, the culture and arts industry have a male-centered culture and a structure in which power is concentrated in a small number of people, which means that those in power are using their influence to commit power-type sex crimes. In particular, the hierarchical consciousness of the perpetrators promotes such power-disproportionate sexual violence and constantly leads to sexual violence. In the case of the theater industry, a representative of Korean WomenLink said, "In a culture that is tolerant of sexual violence, the perpetrators used their influence and authority in the theater industry to commit sexual violence."1) The women who were victims of sexual violence were at a disadvantage compared to the perpetrators in terms of age, acting experience, and influence, and the perpetrators committed sexual crimes using the victim's situation. Cases of committing sexual crimes against female artists by exploiting these structural characteristics that exist in the culture and arts industry continue.
Women in the arts and culture industry face not only sexual harassment but also financial difficulties. According to the Analysis of Inequalities in the Entry Structure of Female Artists in the 20s and 30s and Direction for Improvement report released by the Arts Council of Korea in December 2021, male artists earned an average of 15.5 million won, while female artists earned an average of 9.2 million won over the one-year period. This shows that the average income of female artists is about 60 percent of male artists. This difference in average income suggests that women are undervalued and not adequately compensated for their work in the arts. In addition, there are situations where women in the arts take career breaks even after they are hired. Yoo Jung-min, a theater actress and playwright, says, "I was earning 2.7 million won a year in a theater company and was just starting to build my career and do something with it when I had a baby. In the theater field, women take a career break of three to 10 years when they have children."2) This indicates the difficulties women in the arts face in balancing work and childcare due to the atmosphere of this industry. In addition, female artists are often unable to return to work immediately after giving birth, and the lack of jobs available to them means that they face significant financial burdens. Many support projects for artists require them to complete a portfolio before receiving support. It seems that the government's support programs for women artists need to be modified to reflect the realities of the income gap and career breaks.
It has also been pointed out that there is a lack of independent spaces for women artists who are facing such difficulties. The Seoul Woman Craft Center's The Arium, was established in 2017 to provide a space for female craft start-ups and to support their work to increase their participation in entrepreneurship and economic activities. Of the 53 companies that The Arium houses, sixteen of them had received a one-year contract extension and were expected to continue operating next year. However, the Seoul Metropolitan City cut all funding for the center and announced closure in December 2023. The tenants have been told to vacate by February 2024. Hong Sun-ok, a female artist who worked at the center said, "In the middle of winter, we have a lot to worry about with our ceramic work because of the temperature and humidity, and we are cautious about moving our kilns. We have to find a new office space while still making and delivering the promised ceramics."3) The sudden eviction notice from the Seoul Metropolitan Government has left her and other women artists struggling to make ends meet. The city has not provided any alternatives to the artists of the centers that will be affected by this decision, making it difficult to compensate for the damage to them. In addition to this situation, the Arts Childcare Center, which has been operating for 10 years since 2014, closed its doors for the last time on December 31, 2023, due to a total budget cut in 2024. The Arts Childcare Center has contributed to solving the problem of career breaks for female artists after childbirth and has played a major role in relieving the burden of childcare by allowing artists to leave their children at no cost while they continue to create art. With the budgets of these artist support plans being cut, there is no sign that the government has actively taken measures against them. Under these circumstances, it seems that the difficulties female artists face in art are expected to increase.

 

PHOTO FROM THE WONEN'S NEWS
The Korean WomenLink holds a press conference on sexual assault in theatre
PHOTO FROM THE HANKYOREH
A female artist sells her work at The Seoul Woman Craft Center's The Arium

 

The attempts for an equal position

The cultural industry itself has recognized the irrational and unequal creative labor process that has been practiced and has been engaged in various activities to change the inequality structure. One of the positive changes has been the expansion of creative opportunities for women directors in the theater. More plays in which women are the main characters of the narrative, and female characters who deviate from traditional female stereotypes are being portrayed on stage are being staged. The musical <Marie Curie> in 2020, which depicts the story of Marie Curie, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, brought women's solidarity to the forefront. The performance, which was first performed in a small theater, became a hot topic of conversation as it moved to a medium-sized theater in about four months in recognition of its popularity. Moreover, gender-free casting, in which there is no distinction of roles between genders, is also appearing. In the case of the musical <Damien>, which premiered in January 2023, actors of different genders from the original setting played the characters without following the established gender division. Kim Gun-pyo, a professor of the department of theater and film at Daekyung University, said, "Until now, female actors have not been given big roles because most plays are set in a world where male characters lead the story. Gender-free casting is a phenomenon that naturally incorporates the needs of the times, where women's roles are increasing in all fields."4) This indicates that gender-free casting is not only an attempt to break the bias toward male-centered narratives and the resulting gender imbalance but also a sign of the times that reflects the "gender sensitivity" of current audiences, with the emergence of writers and directors who cast and write scripts. Gender-free casting also allows female actors to play more diverse and three-dimensional roles than those traditionally given to them. As such, opportunities for women in the culture and arts industry are increasing.
As part of the expansion of opportunities, the presence of female executives in the cultural sector is more prominent these days. In April 2023, Kang Sue-jin, a ballerina, served her fourth consecutive term as artistic director of the National Ballet, or a woman was appointed as director of the National Museum of Korea, and there are many female museum directors. While it is true that the number of women in senior positions in the culture and arts sector has increased compared to the past, there are also calls for more to be done. In the case of the Arts Council, which was founded to support projects and activities to promote the culture and arts, there has been criticism that it has overlooked gender considerations when appointing non-executive members. In 2019, the Arts Council sought to fill eight vacancies on its non-executive board. A total of 33 organizations nominated 20 of the 59 publicly nominated candidates to a nominations committee, which consisted of 12 male members and eight female members. Of them, not a single female member was selected for the non-executive board. This brought criticism about the effectiveness of the Framework Act on Gender Equality, which was enacted to realize the ideology of gender equality in all areas of politics, economy, society, and culture. In response, the Arts Council said that the number of women who applied was low and that some women did not meet the criteria. Refuting this, Kim Eun-joo, director of the Korea Women's Political Research Institute, said, "First and foremost, the Basic Law on Gender Equality must be observed. The demand that the female quota be kept below 40 percent is to give opportunities to working women who are talented but have not been able to perform to their fullest extent due to lack of opportunities."5) While opportunities for women in senior positions in the culture and arts sector are improving, they are still limited. It seems that the government needs to provide women with the same opportunities as men to be able to enter the professional workforce under the Gender Equality Act.

On the institutional side, policies have been put in place to support women artists. On September 25, 2022, the Act on the Guarantee of the Status and Rights of Artists came into force, which enabled the investigation and punishment for the violations of artists' rights and acts of sexual harassment and sexual violence. This is to secure the limitations that the existing the Arts and Welfare Act cannot remedy when artists are violated their rights, such as sexual violence. Some provisions allow the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) to directly request investigations into cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and to ask for administrative penalties and disciplinary action. However, despite these institutional measures, some perpetrators of sexual violence in the arts are making a comeback. Singers Lee Seung-hyun and Choi Jong-hoon, who were accused of gang-raping a drunk woman in 2018 are now working outside the country, and actor Oh Dal-soo, who also faced controversy for sexual assault, was cast in <Squid Game 2>, which is a popular Netflix series. In this situation, Hong Ye-won, director of Theater People's Action Against Sexual Violence said, "The MeToo movement has revealed a lot of sexual violence and exploitation in the theater, but I have not seen any cases where the perpetrators or their groups have made an effort to prevent recurrence or repair the damage of the past six years."6) This reveals the problem of the situation in which the perpetrators are currently being allowed to return to the cultural industry without punishment or showing remorse. It seems that responsible rehabilitation efforts are needed, including establishing a public body to discuss the issue of perpetrators' return to the theater.

PHOTO FROM NEWDAILY
Scene from the musical 'Damien' 2023

 

Absence of a protective system

Women artists have made a significant impact in recent years. However, they are facing challenges such as power-based sexual violence, wage discrimination, career interruptions, and the closure of independent spaces due to the male-dominated and hierarchical structure of the culture and arts industry. In response, there are attempts to improve more opportunities for women, but they are still limited by structural aspects. There is a need for an effective system that considers both the structure of the cultural sector and the situation of women.

 

1) Shin Da-in, "From Lee Yoon-Taek to Oh Young-Soo to Cho Min-ki...The History of 'Me Too' in the Theatre Industry", THE WOMEN'S NEWS, March 15, 2024

2) Lee Hye-in, "Four Female Artists Talk About Their 'Career Breaks'..."Lots of Night Work, Childcare gaps...I'm Not a Sinner"", The Kyunghyang Shinmun, January 9, 2020

3) Kim Song-i, "Entrepreneurial Dreams Dashed From the Beginning of the year...women Stuck With Eviction Notice From Seoul Women's Craft Center", The Kyunghyang Shinmun, December 28, 2023

4) Kim Soo-mi, "Damien, Salieri Played by Women... 'Gender-Free Casting' in Performance Industry Is on the Rise", The Segye Times, March 20, 2023

5) Lee Hyun-kyung, "More Women in Culture and arts...but Challenges Include Revisiting Standards", Newspim, January 2, 2020

6) Choi Ju-sung, ""Many Sexual Assaults in Theatre Revealed, but Efforts to Prevent Recurrence Are Lacking"", Yonhap News Agency, March 16, 2024


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