The image of marriage in K-dramas

Nowadays the focus of modern k-dramas has changed as more and more we see female characters (leads or second characters) in their thirties or forties. This actually shows that the writers are using the dramas in order to point out the difficult situation modern Korean women are facing: the struggles in the marriage, divorce, raising a child, work… By doing so, the dramas are trying to change the perception of women and their status.

Striking is that in Encounter and Romance is a Bonus Book, we see divorced women indicating that divorce has become a normality. Not just both female leads are divorced but also the PR manager Kim Sun Joo (Encounter) and Seo Young Ah (Romance is a Bonus Book). While infidelity was the reason for the three divorces, in SYA’s case it is different. The latter felt neglected and not protected by her husband. The latter not only preferred avoiding trouble, he also didn’t pay attention to her at all, since he was reading, while she was looking at the shoes.

Now if we focus on our two female leads, we will notice a huge difference. Unlike CSH, Kang Dan Yi’s life worsened due to the divorce. While CSH felt free for the first time and she managed to get a job (CEO of Donghwa Hotel) as her alimony, KDY, who had given up her career for her husband and family, was left with nothing. Her husband claimed that he was broke hence he never gave her any alimony. KDY was not just abandoned, she
was struggling financially too, since she couldn’t find a job. In the end, she became homeless. Marriage had a huge impact on her life: she chose to give up on her career and to focus on her family. After her divorce, she tried to find a job like she used to have. However she was not successful, since she had to fight against younger graduated women. Her status as housewife represents a huge hindrance in her come back. People see this as if she had done nothing important, as if she had been lazy all the time. KDY worked hard as a housewife but her work is not recognized by society. I could mention another k-drama “Terius behind me”, whose female main lead Go Ae Rin was in a similar situation. She had to raise two kids while trying to find a job after her husband’s sudden death. Go Ae Rin as a housewife didn’t feel acknowledged by her husband hence their marriage was facing a crisis.

Terius behind me: episode 1 Go Ae Rin with her husband

GAR was hurt and struggling as well. With these three examples, we can clearly see that the women’s situation hasn’t changed a lot: being a housewife is not rewarding, becoming dependent of a husband isn’t good either. Just like KDY, GAR tried to find a job but her status as housewife and mother became a hindrance. Yet, besides there is a new type of married woman: Kim Sun Joo

Encounter episode 6: Kim Sun Joo announcing her divorce to her friend Nam.
Romance is a Bonus Book: Seo Young Ah as the marketing manager is helping Kang Dan Yi

and Seo Young Ah are the perfect example. Both women have a family, yet they kept working… they never wanted to give up on their career. However both end up divorced for different reasons. Nevertheless unlike KDY and GAR, both women are not struggling financially and have not really lost their confidence. The divorce has affected them but they are still able to live normally and have no real identity crisis. For KDY, GAR and CSH, this is different. The three female leads have all something in common: loss of identity.

Encounter episode 7
Romance is a Bonus Book: episode 3

As you can read, both women lost their name therefore they lost their identity. In KDY’s case, we hear how she was called all these years (“Honey, Mummy, Madame”), while Cha Soo Hyun was always presented as the daughter or the ex-daughter-in-law. Striking is that the moment Cha Soo Hyun decided to do what she wants in her life, she started using her name again. Today is the first day, when she uses herself her own name. For KDY, it is similar. She also felt good being called by her name. Both women lost their identity and name as they were perceived for their function, usefulness. KDY was the one who helped her husband and daughter, CSH was useful for her father, mother and Taegyeong Group. It seems that the status as housewife and married woman is no longer a dream and reference. The reality is that housewives are isolated. In “Terius behind me”, GAR had friends but they were all housewives. KDY had only Cha Eun Ho as friend. CSH had no friend too.

Yet, in Romance is a Bonus Book we also see the other side of the coin: remaining single is not good either. Ko Yoo Sun ran away just before getting married as she was afraid of losing her job, her career and even her identity. However, now she regrets it as she is alone.

Romance is a Bonus Book: episode 8. Koo Yoo sun reveals her secret and past.

To conclude, in the actual k-dramas we see that a marriage can lead to misery and that being a housewife is linked to struggle, loss of identity and can lead to tragedy. The fairy tale with the marriage as happy ending is proven wrong. Reality is that housewives are too dependent on their husband’s income and their own worth is not acknowledged by society and even by the husband. In “Terius behind me”, her husband asked her to find a part-time job so that she would lose her weight and earn some money. As you can see, even her husband felt their situation burdensome… he was put so much under pressure as his whole family was relying on his income. On the other hand, remaining single is not a solution either as the result is loneliness. That’s why the traditional perception of marriage has changed. Being married and having a child doesn’t mean that a woman has to give up her job and career. Then Seo Young Ah’s husband made a mistake: he took his wife for granted. He thought, their love for each other would be enough and he was wrong. Love and respect are essential which is revealed in the three k-dramas I used as example. Moreover, we also see more and more that the image of men has changed either: the man should help his wife at home and raise the children as well. “Terius behind me” was the perfect example: Terius became really close to the twins and did a good job as taking care of the children. This is no longer the job of the wife. Nowadays men are expected to do house chores and raise the children. Cha Eun Ho and Terius correspond to this new image of men.

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