Range of Jobs Widens for Female Characters in Popular Shows
By Park Chung-a
An increasing number of Korean women are choosing to pursue careers, regardless of their marriage plans. Heroines of popular television dramas are reflecting this societal change.
These days, the most popular careers for women on dramas seems to be in the culinary field. In MBC's "My Name is Kim Sam-soon
", the main character Sam-soon is a pastry chef, while Eun-jae of "Only You
" on SBS is the owner of a small Italian restaurant. One of the two protagonists of the MBC weekend drama "Ode To Love" is a cook and a waitress. MBC's "Jewel in the Palace ("Dae Jang Geum
")", last year's major hit drama here and in China, tells the success story of a legendary royal cook who overcame social discrimination in the male-dominated society of the Choson Kingdom.
The most popular daily drama, MBC's "Be Strong, Geum-Soon!
", features a young widow in her 20s working as an outgoing hairdresser. The SBS special drama "Fashion '70s", also with high viewer ratings in the same timeslot, portrays the passion of female fashion designers who pioneered Korea's fashion industry in the 1970s.
According to Kim Soo-young, a TV producer, dramas tend to prefer conventionally feminine jobs.
"Jobs like chef or fashion designer are favored by producers since they are exciting and easy for women in their 30s and 40s, the dramas' main targets, to identify with", she said.
However, many other dramas have begun to feature more unique and unconventional professions.
In KBS weekend drama "Goodbye Sadness", heroine Seo-young appears as a "mystery shopper". She evaluates the store's service, cleanliness and product quality while pretending to be a customer.
In the SBS drama "Single Again", heroine Kum-joo plays the role of tour conductor. She organizes every detail, including lodging and plane tickets, keeps personal records of the tourists and accompanies them on their trip to ensure a pleasant vacation.
In KBS drama "Precious Family
", which ended with great success, protagonist Song-sil acted as a "prosumer", a combination of the words producer and consumer. She directly participates in the production process by making suggestions and pointing out what improvements should be made regarding the product. She tastes food samples, such as ham and sausage, in department stores and carefully evaluates their taste, packaging and consumers' preferences. Song-sil, who could not pursue a career because of her autistic son, regains her confidence by working.
"The world is changing at a fast speed and professions are becoming more diversified. If the dramas only feature conventional or professional jobs, many ordinary viewers would get bored. Viewers want to see various professions through dramas", TV critic Lee Kyong-soon said.
The prevalence of career women in dramas and the diversification of jobs for women started in the early 1990s with the success of the MBC drama "Jealousy". Featuring the heroine as a tourist office employee, it launched the era of "trendy dramas" in Korea, a term used for dramas that target the younger generation by showing the most up-to-date trends.
"In the early 1990s, in order to effectively express the liberal and open-minded characteristics of heroines, new and rare jobs such as designers, copy writers and tourist office workers started to appear. These jobs expressed the uniqueness and consumer culture of the younger generation at that time", Lee said.
In the late 1990s, when the economic crisis hit Korea hard and it went under the guidance of the International Monetary Fund, the jobs of female characters in trendy dramas changed.
According to Lee, as prestige and wealth became important to survive in a much more competitive society, women with ambition started to dominate TV. Including the TV anchor featured in MBC's "All About Eve
" and lawyer in SBS's "Law Firm"
, professional jobs such as doctors, marketing managers and journalists started to appear.
"Aggressive and ambitious characters started to become more realistic and common since last year, focusing on the daily lives of women as it became increasingly difficult to get a job in the real world". TV critic Bae Kuk-nam said.
Last year, in MBC's "The Cat in the Rooftop Room", and SBS' "Something Happened in Bali
" and "Lovers in Paris
", female characters barely advanced into permanent jobs after having part-time jobs. In KBS' "Full House
", the heroine debuted as a screenwriter after being unemployed for a long time. MBC's "Super Rookie
", which ended in May, also featured the story of a female contract worker who finally got a permanent job.