This paper explores the ways in which the idol industry portrays male and female bodies through the comparison of idol groups and the dominant ways in which they are marketed to the public. A key difference is the absence or presence of agency. Whereas boy group content may market towards the female gaze, their content is crafted by a largely male creative staff or the idols themselves, affording the idols agency over their choices or placing them in power holding positions. Contrasted, girl groups are marketed towards the male gaze, by a largely male creative staff and with less idols participating. The most dominant feature of their content is the women’s lack of agency, be it in lyrics, body movements or public interaction. Thus, it is important to highlight the need for women to gain agency over their occupation as many of their male counterparts are afforded. There are positive examples of women with agency in their creative processes, but girl group idols typically do not have the chance to portray lived female experiences or stories.
This discrimination happens when the market is feminized, and employers feel they can justify their actions with incorrect arguments such as that women’s labor is casual and thus not as serious as man’s. This labor market is divided based on the gender roles Korean society assigns to either sex, giving men more freedom to operate in society whereas women are restricted to systemic patriarchal standards. In the idol industry, this appears through the infantilization of women in order to appeal to the male gaze. To de-age them to an age when they are sexually available and attractive makes them a desirable commodity to consumers. This is evident when girl group idols age or experience other life events as they exit the workforce. Contrasted, male idols are expected to continue their career, even as they age. This paper seeks to shed light on the discrimination that exists in a market currently emerging in the world outside Korea and the Korean diaspora, highlighting the need for a conversation in feminist academia.
Crafted for the Male Gaze: Gender Discrimination in the K-Pop Industry.
Journal of International Women's Studies, 22(7), 3-18.
Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol22/iss7/2