The Problematic 'Helpless Woman' Trope
We love a good sappy romance. We love to watch love in action. We want to watch women relax and be taken care of by their partners but not at the expense of harmful female stereotypes. International media has slowly but surely started to fill our screens with more diverse representations of women and it is time for Korean dramas to fully join the wagon.
To give you great context for the message we’re trying to pass across in this post, kindly participate in this small test by responding in the comments section.
Type “Sis” if you watched ‘Boys Over Flowers’.
Type “SIS” if you’ve ever gone back to re-watch that show and couldn’t stand it?
Type “SISSS” if the way the female lead’s role was written got on your nerves?
If you typed at least once, you already know where we’re going with this. If you haven’t seen BOF, we will explain.
‘Boys Over Flowers’ is the story of a poor but bright girl (Geum Jan Di) who gets transferred to a high school for rich and affluent kids. She gets involved with 4 rich boys (the F4 group) and falls in love with their leader, Goo Joon Pyo, the son of the biggest conglomerate in the country. He falls in love with her. They begin a rocky relationship and deal with many trials and tribulations to stay together.
It’s the typical ‘prince marrying the poor girl’ story. We were all obsessed with the male leads, especially Goo Joon Pyo who is played by Lee Min Ho.
Why is this important you might ask? It is important because it is one the best examples of the ‘cute, silly, clumsy, incompetent, helpless’ girl trope that K-drama script writers refused to let go of, for so long. In BOF, Geum Jan Di navigates through several pitiful situations that could either have been avoided or non-existent all together. She is placed in a significantly “less-than” state compared to her male lead whose only flaw, a very toxic one we must add, is his temper.
Geum Jan Di represents a host of many female characters in many Korean dramas like “Playful Kiss” (don’t get us started with this one), “The Heirs” “Full House” and even “Goblin”. They are written as helpless, clumsy and sometimes childish. If they are not clumsy and childish, they would be poor and struggling with either mental or financial difficulties. They basically hardly have their lives together. They are written to be rescued by their male lead all the time.
This “helpless woman” character is usually written for the purpose of making the male lead look more assertive and “manly”. He spends most of his time swooping in and rescuing her from unrealistic situations. This character is sometimes also “soft and submissive” which perpetuates the idea that Asian women are docile and submissive.
It is a harmful trope that has been given more time on our screens than it deserves. It encourages the idea that men are heroes who are going to save you from your problems, which we all know is not true. It fuels the “docile woman” fantasy that many men have. And mostly, it does not depict the real diversity of women.
To the credit of the Korean drama industry, we are beginning to see more assertive and self aware female characters. Dramas like “Hotel Del Luna”, “It’s okay to not be okay”, “Crash Landing on You” and “Tale of Nine Tailed” feature assertive, brave, sometimes wealthy female leads who do not fit the “helpless woman” trope in varying degrees. We hope to see more very normal characters as well because the average woman is sometimes clumsy, sometimes assertive, sometimes helpless and sometimes a self reliant badass.