Women Get Brighter in the Media
Women Get Brighter in the Media
  • Cho Ju Yunji, Kim Lee Kyunghee
  • 승인 2008.11.09 17:43
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In psychology, communication theory and sociology, media influence refers to the theories about the ways the mass media affect how their audiences think and behave.  The overall studies prove its great influence to be never ignored.  Once it was used to express ideology or insist the opposite in many forms including books, television, movies but its role has been varied recently.
Women, at some point, had also been tried to express what they wanted to say through many forms of media.  With some historical characters in media, you may be able to notice the difference of women’s character through the ages. 

Girls, Get Out of the Flame - Victorian Age (19th century)

-The Ruler Was a Woman, the Woman Was Property
From 1837 to 1901, the most powerful country in the world, England, had a special sovereign, Queen Victoria.  In that era, industry and science flourished, and culture and art were actively developed.  But compared to this renaissance, the social classes were stiffened.  Especially women were still locked in the flame named Patriarchy.  In those days, men considered all women as one of two types: angel or witch.  The silent, devoted, doting and virginal women were estimated as angels, but the women who went against these standards were estimated as witches.  But in the Victorian age there were so many witches.  These women breathed in literature.  You can learn about two ‘witches’ of the Victorian age from now on.

『Et dukkehjem /The Doll’s House』(by Henrik Ibsen)
-Story Line of 『The Doll’s House』
Norah, the wife of lawyer Helma, was a mother of three children and loved by her husband, Hel.  On Christmas Eve, he became the president of a bank.  But at the bank, there was a man who was a usurer; in the past, Norah had borrowed money from him because her husband was sick.  In those days, she had used her late father’s name as the name of her debtor.  Helma wanted to fire that usurer, but he threatened Norah with a loan case.  When the truth reached Helma’s ear, he was so angry that he yelled to his wife that she had betrayed him.  Then Norah realized that Helma considered her just a cute doll.  When the case was solved, her husband wanted to reunite with Norah, but she wanted to be a person, not someone’s wife or mother, so she went out of the door.

-Why Did Norah Go Out of the Door?
In “The Doll’s House”, we get a shock at the point when Norah goes outside.  Actually many people guessed that Norah would be reconciled with her husband, but she did not do that.  That point is the reason why this comedy is so famous around the world.  She claimed that the married life is not a man and wife’s space but it is the husband’s and his playroom’s space.  That means conjugal relations also had a hierarchy.  Norah realized that she had been her father’s doll when she was a child, and she also was her husband’s doll when she was married.  She yelled at her husband;
-“You didn’t know me well.  And today at dinner, now you know who I am. … It is 8 years ago that we got married.  But do you know that this is the first time that we have had a serious conversation as husband and wife?”

Her husband Helma blamed her because she deserted a women’s holy duty.  But Norah thought that she was a human being before a wife or a mother, and now her most important goal was to educate herself in being human.  She did not compromise the actuality; she did not want to be someone’s mistress.  That is the reason why Norah went out the door.  Also it is the reason why people have remembered the name of Norah for two centuries.

『Jane Eyre』(by Charlotte Bronte)
-Story Line of 『Jane Eyre』
Jane Eyre was born a poor pastor’s daughter, and soon she became an orphan.  She was raised by her bad aunt, so she had a defiant character.  After graduating from school, she became a governess.  At her work place, she fell in love with Rochester, her employer and the lord of Thernfield.  But on their wedding day, Jane realized that Rochester had a wife who was insane, so she left the residence.  While wondering through a deserted island, she met Saint John.  By virtue of him, Jane escaped hunger.  Then she realized an amazing fact; Saint John was her cousin.  She lived with him for a time, but while she prayed to God, she heard auditory hallucinations which sounded like Rochester’s voice.  She ran back to Thernfield, but the house was gone because of a fire accident, and Rochester became blind.  However, as Jane confirmed his mind, she married him.

-Governess in the Victorian Age
In the 19th century, England was facing a new era of changing from an agrarian society to an industrial society.  During this era, many men went to a work place rather than started a family, and a new social class named the proletariat (worker class) evolved.  Society changed, and subsistence wages were increased by geometric progression.  These changes made English men not want to marry any girl.  In those days, the majority of women improved their social standing through marriage, so there were now many redundant women in England.  These women had to go to work to get their bread, and the most outstanding job among many was that of a governess.  Being a governess was an activity, and an intelligent job of moderation; at the same time it wasn’t out of frame of femininity, so many Victorian women preferred to be a governess. But the reality was different from the governess of the imagination.  Clearly, a governess was a progressive job in those days, but many English men still demanded women to be a good angel or a chaste St. Maria.  Therefore, it can be said that although English society was changed, the ideology of English society was not changed.

-Jane Eyre Was the ‘James Dean’ in 19th England
Jane Eyre was absolutely against the standard of ideal women in the Victorian age.  She wanted to be a defiant girl rather than Miss Saint who is loved by the people around her. 
- I was a discord in Gateshead Hall; I was like nobody there; I had nothing in harmony with Mrs. Reed or her children, or her chosen vassalage.  If they did not love me, in fact, as little did I love them. (In the 「Jane Eyre」)
As you can see in these paragraphs, Jane was a liberal girl unlike other girls; she wanted to act by herself, and if she didn’t want to do something, then she really didn’t do it.  Also, in the novel, Jane constantly desired ‘liberty.’ This also appeared in the scene where Jane got a proposal from Rochester:
- I will not be your English C line Varens.  I shall continue to act as Ada’s governess; by that besides.  I'll furnish my own wardrobe out of that money, and you shall give me nothing but-... Your regard, and if I give you mine in return, that debt will be quit.(In the 「Jane Eyre」) 

What did Chalotte Bronte, the writer of Jane Eyre, want to say through Jane?  It is also found in Jane’s voice:
-Women are supposed to be very calm generally; but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; … It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.(In the 「Jane Eyre」) 

-No More Typical Cinderella Story - 20th century


From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, heroines in musicals were all pretty, young, and sang lively songs.  The pattern of those stories was almost always the same as the old fairytale, Cinderella – the hero and heroine overcome the difficulty caused by different social status and live a happy life in the end.  ‘The Gaiety Girl’ was no an exception.  This musical was made into a series, but each story commonly included a poor woman who accidentally falls in love with a higher class man.



Why Couldn’t People Be Satisfied with Happy Endings?
Musicals such as ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘South Pacific’ reveal the ideology of the late 19th~ early 20th centuries.  The young heroines marry middle-aged men who already have children and willingly raise them as their own.  This was taken for granted because women’s roles as mothers were emphasized and playwrights considered maternity as the most important part for women. However, as people experienced the Vietnam War, the flow of feminism began to recognize the changed status of women and was no longer satisfied with traditional happy endings.

With this tendency, the stories of musical were radically changed.  They revealed the senses of jealousy, loneliness and hostility inside women.  For example, in the musical ‘Company’ (1970), three ladies who like Robert keep condemning his girl friends in the name of worry.  In ‘Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ (1979), Mrs. Lovett is a cruel woman who eliminates every obstacle in order to protect her goal, her love.  She knew the beggar woman was Sweeney’s wife (Lucy) but in order not to lose Sweeney, she lied to him that Lucy was dead.

Maury Yeston’s musical ‘Nine’ (1982) mainly deals with conflicts among women.  In ‘Nine,’ except for the only male character Guido, there are many women around him who are just fans, and who are ambitiously seeking power over the government.  Compared to the past images of women who accomplished their life goals after so-called good marriages, these new musicals clearly showed new images of women who possessed totally different goals in their mind and raised their voices.

-I Love You But I Love Me More – 21st century

These days, the media keeps emphasizing that the status of women is different from that of before.  The term ‘alpha girls’ made headlines when Harvard University Professor Dan Kindlon of the U.S. wrote a book about talented women with self-confidence and outstanding leadership skills.  ‘Alpha,’ the first letter of the Greek alphabet, means ‘the best’ or ‘the first.’  As many female students are performing better at school than their male counterparts these days, the parents of male students in Seoul even have recently been transferring their sons away from co-ed high schools in a bid to improve their sons’ perceived academic performance.  A similar phenomenon is taking place in society.   Several studies have shown that more women now occupy jobs in special fields like medicine and the legal profession.  Experts say that today’s alpha girls are different from those minority women who succeeded in society by competing with males 10 or 20 years ago.  The majority of those women achieved success through incredible tenacity.  In contrast, alpha girls today make the best of being female and act more as leaders.

These changes have clearly begun to appear on television.  

『Cashmere Mafia』
-Story Line of『Cashmere Mafia』
Four ambitious, sexy women who have been best friends since business school; Mia, Zoe, Juliet and Caitlin, try to have it all.  They aren't just powerful and intelligent as singular executive sensations in a man's world; they've bonded into a formidable unit,   a female 'boys' club' - to support and counsel each other through good times and bad.

Set in glamorous New York City, where titans of media, finance, advertising and publishing reside, these driven women, who daily share their relatable and relevant problems dealing with both the boardroom and bedroom, combine their smarts, wit and humor to deal with personal and professional misfortunes and stunning triumphs.  Whether it's coping with rocky marriages, fending off scheming colleagues or just trying to find themselves in the midst of chaotic lives, these compelling women use their valuable friendship to keep centered.

-The Way These Women Deal with Difficulties
There are four successful women in this drama.  It is usual for viewers to see them in a hurry, on the phone talking about their business.  Unlike career women in other dramas who perfectly deal with both childcare and business, each woman faces so many difficulties in order just to live as a successful woman.  Mia Mason, a bright woman in the publishing field, had to compete for the position of publisher with her fiancé.  She won it at the cost of breaking off the marriage engagement.

MIA: Jack, what’s going on?
JACK: I’m sorry, I thought I would win.  You’d be disappointed, but it’s reversed and I can’t see my place in it.
MIA: I don’t understand why you are doing this.
JACK: The truth is I want someone to come home to.

Instead of sticking to her fiancé, she grabbed the best chance for her to exert her talent.  In fact, she puts values on love, but it is not her priority.  Rather than being merely a good wife, she proves her talent in a so-called man’s arena.

While observing these works, you may perceive two facts; one is that the women who appeared in these stories are outstanding women compared to those of their era.  The other is that they are outstanding women since they didn’t behave as what the society ask for.  Two centuries ago, standards like patriarchy, mother, housewife still breathed in society, and these are ideologies which still manipulates present society.  YGJ, a professor at Sookmyung Women’s University, said, “The reason why the standards, known as ideologies, is still strong is that, in old times, biological construction detrmined who does what, and it was connected to the power structure.  The power structure made standards of women.  So, ideologies begin with the history of human beings.  It is very solid and old, so it is difficult to destroy it.”  However, he added, “But for a long period, many cultural codes and media have said that it must be destroyed.  You know that people meet society through culture, and politics, in other words power structure, meets culture through society.  When the power structure is changed, the ideologies will also be changed.  People know that a cultural code changed the world through Realist Literature (the working class got voting rights), so through these media, people have to consider other people, not only women but also other classes of people, in order to change the world.”

For a long time, literature has represented people’s real life.  Then it returned people’s society, and changed people’s society.  The most powerful ideology, the patriarchal ideology, is like that.  People still follow patriarchal, and many art forms have criticized it over two centuries.  Now it is the turn of change.  Many art forms now await your action.

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