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The invisible gender inequality toward women, how does women fight for their rights in South Korea.

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Gender equality is a topic that is commonly discussed in modern society. Although almost every region states that women should have equal rights with men, there is still some invisible gender inequality that exists especially in some Asian countries. This paper will analyze some K-pop (Korean pop music) singers’ cases using Benjamin’s theories of mass media to highlight weaknesses in earlier understandings of gender relations.


In March 2019, Korean society was shocked by the case of a K-pop sex scandal. Jung Joon-young, who is a famous K-pop star had secretly filmed himself having sex with women and then shared these videos with his friends in chatrooms without any consent. The news wasfirst reported by theSeoul Broadcasting System (SBS), which is one of the mostauthoritative broadcasting companies in South Korea(“Jung Joon-young: K-pop Star Quits” 2019). He was arrested by South Korea police shortly after and wasaccused of being part of an online group chat that shared sexually explicit videos of women without their knowledge or consent. After a few days, South Korea police alleged that K-pop idol and Big Bang star Seungri (who had also been charged with supplying prostitutes to potential business investors), rock band F.T. Island member Choi Jong-hoon, and boy band HIGHLIGHT member Yong Junhyungwere also in Jung’s group chat, and shared, watched or joked about those sex videos (Jeong and Robinson,2019).The scandal of Jung Joon-young caused a great disturbance, South Koreanpolice found that Jung has illegally filmed and share 13 videos of 10 victims in 23 group chats.

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Women in South Korea were angered by Jung’s cases, but this was not the first time that they felt offended by the sex video problem. In October 2018, a famoussinger and actress Goo Hara alleged that her ex-boyfriend hadthreatened to upload footage of his and Hara’s sexual relations on the web after they broke up. “When Hara discovered that ‘C’ was in possession of video footage containing such content, she sought ‘C’ out and got down on her knees, begging him not to spread the footage online, reported ‘Dispatch’. The media outlet stated that Hara on her knees was captured via CCTV, in the clip below.”(Beansss, 2018) Thanks tocelebrities’ prominence in the media, the Jung Joon-young and Goo Hara casesspread quickly to almost the whole world. Both cases generated intense focus and heated discussion, causing many people to start paying attention to gender discrimination in South Korean.

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Celebrities’ private lives attract public interest more than their achievements, as discussed by Madere,2018. Celebrities perform productive social functions because they elaborate the definition of the individual. Turner writes how “celebrity is one of the fundamental mechanisms for constructing and maintaining the discursive linkages between consumer capitalism, democracy, and individualism” (2014). Turning to the K-pop stars’ cases, their celebrity attracts public focus on gender inequality, and transforms this problem into a social discussion.


Many people are discussing why gender inequality is still such a big problem in South Korea. Some scholars suggested that Confucian tradition could be an influential factor that makes South Korea society segregated in terms of sex. According to Kim Heisook (2019), under the Confucian values that Korea traditionally followed, a women’s primary role is to be a mother who is supposed to perpetuate the traditional family clan by giving birth to sons. Many Korean men thought that feminism was Western propaganda that shouldbeblamedforwomen’s neglect of family values, insisting that women need to remainoldmothers,submissivedaughters,andobedientdaughters-in-law.


The Confucian values in Korean tradition have similarity with Perkins Gilman’s argument (1898). She suggeststhat women are sociallydependent on men within this social structure. Men are socially of greater importance to the economic prosperity of the community than women.This paper will mainly use Gilman’s theory to discuss the two sex related cases introduced above. The essay will challenge her statement of women’s dependence. In addition, as these cases are mostly spread and discussed through the mass media, the essay will also use Benjamin’s argumentto analyze how mass media works to govern mass societies.



The gender inequality problem in South Korea is a reflection of Perkins Gilman’s social dependence theory. According to Gilman (1898), women are socially dependent on men within social structuresbecause men are more involved in economic life than women. She believes thatremoving men from an economy would paralyze it more than removing its women because labor performed by women today could be performed by men relatively easily. However, some of the labor performed by men could not be performed by women “without generations of effort and adaptation” (Gilman, 1898). For example, men could cook, clean and sew as well as women, but women cannot, without great effort, handle complex machinery or oversee vast transportation systems. What women have is only due to what men obtain in the first place, writes Gilman: “The comfort, the luxury, the necessities of life itself, which the woman receives, are obtained by the husband, and given her by him.” This means, for example, a millionaire’s wife wears pearls only because she buys them with the money the man makes. A woman’s situation, therefore, reflects her husband’s or father’s. Women who try to make it on their own often face significant barriers.However, women also play a part in enabling men’s production of wealth. Women free the man’s time to focus on earning money outside the home by taking care of household affairs. If we were to look at marriage as a business relationship, the women receive wealth and security and gives love, care and affection in return. Therefore, women are socially and economically dependent on men.


The social culture of South Korea is basically androcentric. We can use both the Confucian traditions that Kim (2019) highlights and Gilman’s theory of women’s dependence to explain the reasons. Confucian values influenced Korean society throughout history.A good mother is defined by society as listening to her husband, giving birth of children, and taking good care of the family. Following her husband’s order is an important rule for a woman. Therefore, a significant number of women get married and then become housewives. They do not have job and need their husbands to support the family and her daily costs. This is what Gilman suggested:women are caretakers of the house and family, while men are seen as the breadwinners in tradition. It is women’s duty to the house work and give birth of babies to pay back for her husband’s economic support either for the family or her personally use. Employment makes men feel they are superior to the women, as they are the only people who provide financial support for their families. Using Gilman’s argument to look at Jung Joon-young and Goo Hara’s cases, suggests that women are always the victims in sexual videos. The men filmed these sex videos without the consent of the women, and use this to threaten the women, or share the videos with other men and discuss her. They treated women as their accessories that they can treat lightly.


Benjamin (1969) suggests that the art is mechanically reproduced in the mass media. Original art such as music, writing, painting is uploaded to computers, television, and phones, and shared across media streams. When this happens, the uniqueness of the art diminishes as the artist no longer has control of the context in which the art is presented. These mechanical processes separate art from its ‘aura’, or its uniqueness that defines an original work of art crafted by the hand of an artist. Before, there was one copy of an artwork. Now, a work can be printed, shared online, and essentially reproduced in many forms and disseminated to the mass media.


Mechanical reproduction make art serve a greater purpose than before, and the celebrity effect attracts public focus. In many Korean dramas women’s roles are housewives. They stay at home to care for the babies and do housework. Men often play the role as a head of their family. Some female actresses and singers retired when they married because they want to be spend more time on their family and being a “good mother or wife” at home. The media advocate the signal that what women’s priority role is being a good mother who caring the family, do housework and support her husband. And the celebrities’ actions stimulate the rule that women need dependent on her husband. These two combined make women stay at home being a house wife become a social norm in South Korea, which enhance males feeling superior to women because they have employment and provide financial support to their family.


When we looking back to Jung and Goo’s cases, because these people are famous singers in South Korea, their reputation attract public starts realize and focusing on the gender inequality problem in their society. Many South Korean women noticed the mother image in TV series advocate androcentric that men should be the breadwinner and women should stay at home to be a housewife, and stimulate the gender inequality in an imperceptible way. Many South Korean women comparing Jung and Goo’s cases and noticed that there becomes a ridiculous social fact in which women are being secretly filmed during sex, and as a result fear those videos being spread. They have been filmed kneeling and being beaten. However, even if they apologize they are also viewed by the public as bad girl; even though men are the ones committing rape and filming sex videos, even shooting sex videos of their girlfriends and sharing with other men to feel proud. This is objectifying women, which treating women as a commodity or an object without regard to their personality or dignity.



The Jung-Joon young and Goo Hara’s cases informed us the existed gender inequality in society. Women were being defined as domestic workers who dependent on men’s wealth and status. Women are sexually abused and most of their sex videos are shared in the chartrooms without their consents. It is against the law to share confidential information to the public without the consent of that person.  When celebrities such as Goo Hara demonstrate to the public inequality against women, it will be easy for the society to continue showing gender inequality. Celebrities are public figure who is followed by many people and they have a lot impacts on the society.


The tradition in the South Korea present confusion when addressing the issue of gender equality since traditions expects women to stay at home giving births to sons. Women should be always submissive and obedient to men as they continue playing their role of taking care and giving births. The tradition regard women as better people who should make decision on behave of the women. They are socially important as compared to women and women should depend on women on their basic needs. Social dependence theory of Perkins Gilman is reflected in the South Korea and it represents a problem in gender equality. Men are taken as superior in building economy and making the social structure in the society. Most of the success activities were started by men and then complete the remaining process. Women depend on men as this can be illustrated in the institution of marriage where women give love and care and men provide wealth and security. Mass media represent women as people who are weak and some of the people copy what they see in the television or online platforms. Gender inequality continue to exist in South Korea because of society shows portray women as dependent on men, mothers who should stay at home taking care of the children and have less impact on the economy.




Jeong, Sophie, Matthew Robinson. “K-pop star Jung Joon-young arrested in sex video scandal.” CNN, March 22, 2019



Herman, Tamar. (2019, March 14). “Yong Junhyung Leaves K-pop Group HIGHLIGHT & Admits Knowledge of Sex Crimes Scandal.” Billoard, March 14, 2019https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/k-town/8502483/yong-junhyung-leaves-k-pop-group-highlight-sex-scandal


“Jung Joon-young: K-pop star quits over secret sex videos.”BBC, March 13, 2019


Beansss. “Dispatch’ reveals ex-boyfriend threatened to upload video of his and Hara’s sexual relations.”



Madere, C. M. (Ed.). (2018). Celebrity media effects: The persuasive power of the stars. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com

Created from ubc on 2019-04-07 23:39:39


Kim, H. (2009). Feminist Philosophy in Korea: Subjectivity of Korean Women. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 34(2), 247-251. doi:10.1086/590977


Turner, Graeme. (2014). Understanding Celebrity. London: SAGE Publications, Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781473957855


Walter Benjamin (1969) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.New York: Schocken Books


Charlotte Perkins Stetson (1898) Women and Economics: A study of the economic relation between men and women as a factor in social evolution. Boston, Small, Maynard & Company

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