Korea’s entertainment industry has become extremely popular abroad and conveys the image of a modern and attractive country. Watch any K-Pop video and you see plenty of skin and sexyness; but look into Korean culture as a whole, and you witness the dominance of traditional values. Does the way women are depicted in Korean popular culture tell us something about gender politics in Korean society? How persistent are traditional gender roles? Does the entertainment industry empower women or does it merely represent the reality of gender patterns in Korea’s conservative society? To answer these questions and more, we sat down with media specialist James Turnbull in Busan.
James Turnbull studied at the University of Auckland and has lived in Korea since 2000. He is the ‘mastermind’ behind The Grand Narrative, arguably one of the most authoritative blogs on Korean feminism, gender issues and pop culture. He recently coauthored “Girls’ Generation? Gender, (Dis)Empowerment, and K-pop” for The Korean Pop Culture Reader (Duke University Press). James Turnbull is also a regular public speaker and university lecturer in South Korea.
The vast majority of young women I’ve met feel more empowered than ever. The problem is definitely institutional lag and reluctance to change – for example, the notion that childcare is just a woman’s job. Childcare or having children is fundamentally at odds with Korean workplace culture. There’s no other way to put it.
The interview was conducted on November 21st in Busan.