Metrosexuality Movement In South Korea. Research Paper


South Korea's culture is largely influenced by Confucian ideals, which viewed males and females as two separate domains. "Within the home, the father held authority: the wife and children were expected to do as he commanded(…). At the same time they accorded women's honor and power as mother and mother-in-law within their family (Tudor )". Thus, South Korea is a patriarchal society that believes in the Seonbi masculinity, which stated that men were to stay away from doing household chores. Instead, they were to focus on cultivating the mind by reading, protecting the country, and working to provide for their family. Still holding true to their Confucian ideas, such as being a collective society that values group dynamics and togetherness, South Korea is also seen deconstructing the above accepted Confucian gender ideals and are embracing a hybrid masculinity known as soft masculinity. This product results from the transcultural interbreeding of South Korean masculinity Seonbi( virtuous scholar) and Japan's bishonen( pretty boy) masculinity. Thus, Korean-dramas' use of soft masculinity is viewed as SouthKorea's first step towards attempting to accommodate the globalized metrosexuality movement.

Individuals who are metrosexual are conscious of their image and spend time investing in their appearance. The first prime example of Korean- society going against confusion ideals is the portrayal of male protagonists in k-dramas as kkonminam. Which translates to flower (kkot) boy (mi-nam)- 'flower boy.' These men are known for representing soft masculinity; they pay close attention to their looks by using beauty products, gel/style their hair, and gentle and emotional, which are unlike the idealized male characteristics. The phase kkonminam traces back to the ancient Shilla Dynasty's military elites, known as the hwarangs or flowering knights. Hwarangs were trained in the arts and were known as the Shilla Dynasty's idols, and their purpose was to protect the country from invaders. However, in the 20th century, General Wang Geon unified the Korean peninsula under his rule, and the term hwarang shifted from referring to military elites. It instead became a derogatory term to describe hwarangs use of makeup to enhance their features as such behavior went against the built Neo-confusion ideals that strongly believed in hegemonic masculinity practices. 

The main driving force of soft masculinity arises from the admiration of the Hallyu actors such as Bae-Yong-Joon from Winter Sonata, Lee-Min Ho from Boys Over Flowers, and Kim Soo Hyun from My Love from the Star. These dramas were known for being a huge success in spreading Hallyu to other parts of the world. Winter Sonata was especially popular in Japan. According to Youna Kim, an Associate Professor of Global communications, "Winter Sonata proved to be so popular that its lead actor was nicknamed by the Japanese as Yonsama(royalty). This tragic love story features beautiful winter scenery and pure love between a young woman and her boyfriend suffering from amnesia. The hero's unconditional love for a woman's emotional needs- captivated many Japanese women in their 30s to 50s ( Youna Kim)". Bae Yong Joon's popularity represented an icon of the transnational flow of culture between SouthKorean and Japan. His feminized character and ability to understand women appealed to Japanese audiences, which resulted in the Japanese consumption of Korean culture, which furthered Hallyu's spread in Japan.   

Another Drama that is known for representing soft masculinity is Boys Over Flowers. This drama tells the story of a girl( Geum-Jandi) from a lower-class family who falls in love with Goo-Jun-Pyo, a handsome boy from a chaebol family known as the Shinhwa group. Geum Jandi saves a student who attends Shinhwa high school, and she is offered a scholarship to study at the prestigious school. There she meets the F4 (flower four), who are also handsome boys from elite families. They rule the school and terrorize other students. The two characters that will be analyzed are Goo Jun-pyo and Ji-hoo, who are members of the F4. Jun-Pyo is the leader of the F4, and he is also the heir of the conglomerate Shinhwa group. Jun-Pyo is a great example of soft masculinity. Throughout the episode, he is depicted as a fashionable individual who cares about his appearance. He dresses in elegant and luxurious clothing with hints of feminine taste, such as wearing pastel colors and floral prints. On the other hand, he is also shown engaging in masculine activities such as participating in car racing matches, shooting guns with the F4, and playing rugby. Similarly, Ji-Hoo, another F4 member who is also a strong representative of soft masculinity. While with the F4, he engages in masculine activities; however, when with Jandi, he is more feminine and tends to take care of her. In addition, physically, Ji-hoo is more feminine as he has bright dyed hair, wears light pastel colors, and wears earrings. In comparison, Jun-Pyo is physically more masculine as he is often shirtless and doesn't have any piercings. Regardless of their differences, they are both viewed as a new form of masculinity that embraces both masculine and feminine traits. 

As a society, South Korea shys away from speaking about ideas that go against Confucian ideals, such as homosexuality. These examples above demonstrate SouthKorea's effort to create a version of their own version of masculinity in response to the globalized westernized ideas about gender. Many cultural critics have noted that a new phenomenon emerges when it comes to gender performance. The more males are hyper feminized; the more women are seen taking more masculine traits such as being independent. The following five-minute segment analysis from In episode 1, 42:30-47.56, will assess the extent to which k-dramas support this idea. Jun-Pyo is a wealthy boy who doesn't work to get money as he is the heir of Shinhwa group. He instead stays home, cares about his fashion, hangs out with his friends, and bullies other students at Shinhwa High school. On the other hand, Jandi is a hardworking girl who has multiple jobs and helps deliver for her family's laundromat. She understands the working-class struggle and despises rich children like Jun-Pyo, who believe that those who are below his status need to bow their heads and beg to be spared. Her character is unlike that of a Confucian woman; she is rough and fights for justice instead of being submissive to the lead male. Such characteristics are considered masculine, and thus we see a reversal of roles between Jun-Pyo and Jandi. Additionally, this drama uses two film techniques to further show the reversal of roles between the two. In this scene, a high angle shot is used to show the viewers that Jun-Pyo is vulnerable and powerless, and he is looking at Jandi from a low angle shot, which makes her look like she is powerful.   These examples demonstrate that gender performance has no correlation to one's biological gender. Episode 14 of Boys Over Flowers thus further supports the idea that both males and females possess both masculine and feminine traits and that different environments and responsibilities evoke such characteristics. In the Macao episode, Jun-Pyo is no longer a flower boy who plays and hangs out with his friends, but rather he seems a more mature heir who has to take care of Shinhwa's employees. Although Jun-Pyo's behavior is more masculine, he still maintains his flower boy identity by styling his hair with curls and wearing flower print scarves to accessorize his suits. 

In essence, the feminization of male characters as flower boys can be seen as the entertainment industry advocating for gender equality by defying the culturally accepted hegemonic masculinity ideals. Popular K-dramas such as Dae Jang Geum, Secret Garden, and Strong Woman Bong Soon portray women as strong characters. For instance, "Jewel in the Palace" encompasses the story of an orphaned girl Dae Jang Geum who was born and brought up as a low-class girl. She is a great example of a strong character going against Confucian ideals of behavior within Confucian Joseon. As by the Confucian values, women held little influence and were forbidden from learning how to read and write. This meant that they were to stay underneath men's shadows, and they were to be subservient to the male figures. Despite all that, Jang-Geum did not shy away from going against the set Confucian values; instead, she endures it all, and as a result, she becomes the first female royal physician.

Secret Garden's Ra Im is another example of a strong character going against Confucian ideals within modern Korea. Ra Im is a stuntwoman by profession and is seen engaging in activities that were considered masculine. Being tough, competitive, aggressive, and not showing any emotions were key characteristics of maleness in the Joseon era. Therefore women were expected to be gentle and take care of the household, and men mainly participated in activities that involved being violent and using swords to fit. This was because it was considered manly to protect and fight for the country. Therefore Ra Im's behavior in the Joseon dynasty would be considered not feminine, and it goes against societal norms. However, in present-day Korea, Ra Im's profession as a stunt woman portrays her as having the ability to protect herself without needing a man's help. 

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