Although I am totally aware of the fact that these perceptions are not unique to Korea, they are pretty common in both Korean dramas and real life.
Pretty, stupid woman
Unfortunately, women face with lots of prejudices in almost all aspects of life, and this does not pertain only to Korea. If a woman is pretty or fashionista or dollish, she is often stigmatized as a stupid, shallow person. It seems that it is pretty hard to imagine a woman can be both beautiful and successful at the same time. And if you have a successful career as a pretty woman, people tend to think that it is not because you have worked hard, overcome many difficulties and deserved it, but you are at that position due to favoritism. While people make a fuss over this issue, they also expect that you must present yourself in the best possible way in business life, especially given the fact that today is the marketing age. In Korea where fashion is a significant part of life, being a white-collar worker might be a bit more though, as you always need to be well-groomed, stylish, and well-shaped no matter if you are a man or a woman. It is a known fact not only in Korea, but all over the world that in the job interviews, the physical appearance and clothing also are important factors for the employers who tend to hire a good-looking candidate.
In plain terms, it is considered that if you are pretty and care about your appearance, there is no time left to study or work for a promising career. But still, being good-looking is a requirement of business life. Well, have you ever thought this way? A woman who can handle being well-groomed and successful at the same time might be smarter than you, as she knows how to use the time well. And as you know, prejudices are made to be overcome.
Mother-in-laws in K-dramas are legendary. Seriously. They are super traumatizing, scary, and definitely brides’ worst nightmare. How can even a human being find something to nag all the time? How do they insult so professionally that you cannot get if she’s just said something good or bad? How do they make you feel like a trash with a single glance? Still, am I the only one thinking that they are just too irritating to be hated? Additionally, there is always a reasonable cause for her bitchy attitudes such as an unhappy marriage, cheating husband or her own evil mother-in-law (omg, it’s a vicious circle!) So, it has never been that difficult for me to empathize with them. Or maybe it is just because I mostly love the main male characters so much that I just accept their mummies the way they are. In brief, evil mother-in-laws are acceptable as long as they do not mess with our love story.
Self-sacrificing, loyal woman
Love is like magic, and it requires great effort not to be spoiled. There is nothing more natural than a woman in love fights for her man. Still, needles to say, these efforts should be mutual. I mean if the man just sits there and watches how his woman suffers for ‘their’ love, this is not called ‘self sacrifice’ or ‘loyalty’, but a mere foolishness. I agree love is stupidity in a sense, but I almost lost it while watching Playful Kiss (and its original Japanese version Itazura na Kiss). It contains teeny-weeny spoilers from now on– The girl loves the guy so much that she does not care about his cockiness, humiliations, mocking and apathy, and she just keeps loving him more. Although he also has some feelings towards her, instead of showing his affection, he prefers watching from the distance how the girl works hard to win his heart. After a while, the girl decides to become a nurse not primarily because she likes the profession and eager to help the patients, but because she wants to help his doctor wannabe hubby!–
There might be no perfect love story on earth, but it is not even close to perfection. And for me, it is pretty dangerous to portray Oh Ha-ni’s (or Kotoko’s) efforts as a normal behavior for a self-sacrificing and loyal woman showing her pure love. In a relationship, both sides should take pains, but if only one side endeavors, and deprives herself or himself, there is certainly something wrong.
It does not matter if a woman enjoys being single and has no intention of getting married and having babies because it is regarded as a must to marry when she comes to her thirties. Firstly, the family pressure begins, and questions about her estimated wedding date increase. Often comparing her daughter with others, the mother goes crazy every time she hears a wedding news from her friends. She declares mobilization to find a proper groom-to-be for her daughter, and even visits those famous dating agencies where people are categorized according to income, occupation, education, family history and so forth. However, while all these are happening, no one asks our “old maid” what she really wants to do with her life.
Of course it is very sweet to share the rest of your life with the person you love, but does it really mean that marrying has to be your number one priority in life? Is it a task imposed by the society or is it your choice of your own free will? Is getting married a success or something to show off while being single is something to be mocked, even to be insulted? The world could be a better place if everyone was granted the chance to make their own choices about their own lives.
Who would not want to live well without working too much? Which woman would not want to buy whatever she wants without thinking the price tags? Who would not want to wear the most elegant dresses and shoes made by designers? Or what about a short trip to Paris to grab some croissants just for breakfast, to Rome for some pizza for lunch, to Vienna for Schnitzel for dinner, and to Barcelona for a glass of (nope, make it a bottle for me…) Sangria? In K-dramas, some women are extremely ambitious to achieve this dreamlike life, and the magical formula is finding a rich man who can save her from her miserable life, and let her fairytale begin. Well, I must admit it sounds extremely tempting, but I am bored to death watching pathetic women to steal their rich princes’ hearts. It is just humiliating, and I just cannot stand it, sorry.