Like and feminine language differences in favor of a

Like in many –if not all –Asian cultures, Korean women are expected to
conduct themselves in a way in which society believes to be appropriate,
usually speaking with a submissive and respectful tone. Through the use of language, men can illustrate
their feelings of not wanting to accept women working as a legitimate
professional activity and dismiss women in general. However, as times change and the spread of feminism becomes stronger and
wider, Korean women are starting to challenge that stereotype by defying
stereotypes and taking on a more assertive tone when they speak.

Korean culture in particular appears to be rapidly casting aside
masculine and feminine language differences in favor of a much more balanced
language. While this trend tends to contradict earlier claims which maintained
numerous significant gender differences in language, more recent research
better explains the observations made which indicate that elements of masculine
and feminine language are used by both males and females (Cameron 1998).

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Korean also has a general absence of gender-specific pronouns, grammar,
and vocabulary, therefore freeing it from many of the problems that tend to
arise from the “he / she” labels by using gender neutral equivalents. However,
vocabulary reflecting male dominance is still found, usually containing words and
phrases that hold negative connotations for women. Korean also has a complex
hierarchical politeness system, making relative age, social position, and
closeness important (and often troublesome) variables which can greatly affect
the language forms that are used. Although Korean society has undergone
extremely rapid change over recent decades, a misuse of honorifics by men toward
women can still be found –again, in the case where a woman holds a position
superior to a man. Somewhat ironically, despite an
emphasis on respect toward superiors, men still refuse to take orders from
women and most will only truly accept a male boss. They might implicitly or
even explicitly demonstrate their distaste, not necessarily through words but
by actions –for example, ignoring or neglecting orders given to them by a

Several studies
have been done which have investigated differences in using Korean between men
and women. Wang (1999) concluded that there were no significant gender
differences between young Koreans when disagreeing, however, Wang did note that
women had a tendency to somehow include themselves in their arguments (e.g.

using “I / we” and other personalizing topics), and a more recent study found
that in expressing gratitude, Korean women are more likely to use intensifying markers
than men, implying that Korean men are expected to restrain from expressing emotions
and/or from emphasizing gratitude. This follows an image that men are strong,
in control of their emotions and have an unflappable personality. A common
factor in both of these articles is the greater expressiveness and
personalizing of women in their speech over the more emotionally distanced men.

This is in agreement with Bak (1983), who also highlights 5 politeness and
expressiveness as two aspects in which Korean and English similarly note gender
differences. However, a concluding remark from Bak notes that younger Koreans
are moving toward balance and becoming less formal through equal usage of
low-level informal speech forms (panmal)
and relatively intimate titles –e.g. hyung
and unni.

There are
three models used to describe the “relationship” between the two sexes when
they converse with one another: the deficit model, the dominance model, and the
cultural difference model. In the deficit model, women are disadvantaged
speakers and their speech is a deviation because of early sex role
socialization Referring to
oneself as the husband’s wife, it is possible to explain in terms of the
deficit model, where men uses the name to provide himself with an individual
identity, but females use less identifying terms of her relationship to others
–typically as “mother” or “wife.” The dominance
model is as its name suggests; in a conversation, women are powerless and they
develop a submissive mode of communication while the male half has more “social
privilege” which is most commonly shown –in conversation –through interruption.

In the cultural difference model, there are different conversation “goals” and
styles which manifests in speech strategies employed by both men and women. An
example of this would be the softer tone that woman uses in order to minimize conflict
and increase the cooperation in their interactions with others –specifically
men. Some individuals have an ability to learn new strategies so a person’s
experience of different social roles and settings may lead to the acquisition
of speech goals and styles that cannot be easily labeled as “male” or “female.”

Researchers have shown a wide range of opinions regarding gender
differences in turn-taking. While early studies show that men who constantly
interrupt women (an example of the dominance model) have been strongly
criticized, due to methodology and interpretation, such instances have not
necessarily been denied, even though it may be difficult to prove (Lakoff 2003,
Holmes & Meyerhoff). However, unique to Korean conversations are “verbal
unit boundaries,” which invite the listener(s) to collaboratively respond
before sentences are completed (Kim 1997). This rapid changing of turns is not
seen as competitive interrupting, but rather as the speaker offering the
listener(s) a chance to collaborate, aligning this form of turn taking with
traditionally feminine language. Generally, all four participants were observed
to interrupt, overlap, and provide acknowledgement while listening. The
relationships of the participants meant that the conversation generally
oscillated between couples, meaning that each couple would “work together”
during a turn, with the spouse of the main speaker providing support by adding
extra information and assisting in communicating certain points. Despite the
fact that gender imbalances do still exist in Korea, the sample reflects recent
trends in Korean society of gender increasingly becoming less of a defining
factor in social status and relationships. However, the lack of gender specific
words (“he / she” pronouns) makes it difficult to compare many gender issues of
Western languages to Korean, which has its own issues of inequality relating
more to age, social status, and context.

Since the middle of the 70’s, the relationship between language and gender
has been a major focus within the women’s movement. Sexist or ‘man-made’
language affected and originated from a traditional patriarchal society and its
socio-political attitude, ignoring women as subordinated beings from their
birth, providing justification men’s predominance over women. This kind of
thinking is accepted as social value and naturally expressed in language.

The expressions that women tend to get upset about are usually ones that
attempt to “tame” them to the male-centered social system. This is generally
regarded as standard, and –consequentially –if one deviates from such
standards, they will be immediately criticized because those expressions are
consciously internalized and formalized.

“Limiting women’s role and area” implies that women should keep within
the traditional boundary of their lives. “Doing housework is a woman’s job,”
is a good example, as are such expressions as: “this is what a female should
do,” “all a woman needs to do is housework,” and “why do
you still work when you’re even married?” Such phrases are often used and
aim to dismiss and/or deride. Even though there are some expressions limiting
men’s boundary, for women they are used to limit their social roles and working
areas. Such types of expressions tend to emphasize a woman’s inferiority
complex, debasing women as “unfortunate people,” expressions that reflect women
in a lower state than men, negative expressions about appearance, and so on. After
the system of employing both sexes with equal conditions, many companies turned
out to debase women’s ability more often. “If a crow-tit tries to walk
like a stork, it will break its legs. Tailor your ambitions to the measure of
your abilities” is a Korean proverb basically stating that women (crow tit)
cannot be equal as/to men (stork). A common statement housewives claim to hear
is: “what did you do when you were home?” or “stupid,” which is
usually used when the husband has a higher academic degree than that of his
wife. But when the husband and wife possess the same degree or if the wife has
a better skill of speech, the husband will criticize her by saying: “I
don’t like a clever woman.” So naturally, when a woman gets out of the
boundary made for them, they become the target of –sometimes extreme –criticism.

Another issue involves expressions that denounce women as “bad luck.” Calling
a someone “bad luck” is a huge slur toward any person, regardless of their
gender, but that does not mean it is unheard of, and it happens, especially to
women. Even though it is said to have decreased greatly, expressions such as:
“today’s such an unlucky day because the first call this morning was from
a female,” is still in use. Taking it one step further, there are now a
lot of sayings –made by men –that count all women as one to rule over, with
phrases such as: “how dare does a woman …” and “how dare she
… to a man.”

describing women with a lower personality than men are related to the beliefs
in the expressions that degrade women as a bad luck. However, these expressions
are more widely applied to housewives. The idea that a husband tries to keep
his wife behind himself leads to complain his wife by saying, “Don’t try
to play the same role.” Also, such an expression was said to be by her
mother-in-law. Although the mother-in-law is also a female, since she is a
woman who gave birth to the husband, there is a different kind of superiority
and so she behaves herself as a man like the husband.

expressions about appearance are usually spoken out loud. However, standards on
women’s appearances haven’t changed a bit and even became slowly getting worse.

“Why don’t you wear make-up?” is one phrase that is used if a woman
does not wear make-up and in a paradoxical situation, there are also many
negative expressions about women who wear too much make-up. Moreover, there are
more criticism on ones’ physical appearance such as: “hey, stop eating,
you pig!” and “what did you do while other kids were growing

The effects of sexually discriminatory language –while maybe not “vast”
in the sense of numbers –is deep and even greatly affects a person’s
psychological state. First, the women humble themselves. Languages that were
used to lower women are repeated and reinforced, therefore the women take it in
and think of themselves as “a lacking criminal.” Second, they
ideologically think about being a “docile, obeying woman.” When they
stay quietly behind their husbands, they are seen as good women, therefore,
they try to become ‘docile, obeying woman’ to become other women’s role model.

Also, being a quiet and reticent person is seen as the best way instead of
expressing themselves. Third, lack of confidence in verbal expression can be
seen. In women’s expression, there are lots of repeated words. Also, they speak
in ambiguous ways such as “well and maybe.” Fourth, they maintain a
contradicting, double-faced attitude. Fifth, women fear to adapt to social
changes due to lack of confidence and limit themselves to home activities.

Sixth, when the women try to find out solutions to any problem, they would
resort to indirect ways first instead of direct ones.

Since society has been experiencing changes, the view of females in the
workplace has also begun to change. There is a growing recognition of the
necessity for women to be involved in society and for non-sexist education

While it has been asserted that the mass media still reinforces a fixed
idea of traditional gender roles rather than depicting the changing place of
women in society –a soap opera Men of the Public Bath House, women were seen
more often in the house than men and in settings outside the house and in the
workplace women appeared less than men –there is an increasing amount of self
sufficient, strong female characters who are not afraid to speak their minds, enter
confrontational situations and/or conversations with their male counterparts,
or are simple just “badass.”

In the recent –and incredibly successful –drama Goblin: The Great and Lonely God, there is a woman, Sunny, who
always speaks her mind and seems to even take a little pleasure in lecturing
her “boyfriend,” even making him feel guilty and basically having him wrapped
around her finger –but not quite in the somewhat manipulative sense that aegyo can carry. In conversations, Sunny
is the one who usually dominates, and in fact does most of the talking, while
also using confrontational words and tone. This goes against all three models
which explained how women will typically try to refrain from conflict and –in
some cases –aggression and tend to give way to their male counterparts in

Bong Soon from the Korean drama, Strong
Woman Do Bong Soon is not only
physically strong, but has just the right amount of sassy and sweet in her
personality, and is a character that challenges the idea of a damsel in

Another example is the character Jang Hye Sun from the drama I Hear Your Voice. Jang Hye Sun is
sharp-witted, and with a sharp tongue to match, that and being a lawyer also
seems to represent a woman who does not adhere to stereotypes and social
“rules.” Jo Kang Ja from Angry Mom
demonstrates how mothers are beings that are not to be messed with, which goes
against the image of a docile, domestic stereotypical housewife and mother. Jo
Kang Ja is a mom who poses as a high school
student in order to protect her bullied daughter. Not only does she change the
lives of those around her with her unwavering spirit and sense of justice, but
she also has a past that demonstrates just how amazing and strong she is. 

Not all drama’s have female characters whose good points are their
resilience and feisty personality. There are quite a few female characters in
drama that are can be ruthless, selfish, and simple have admirable traits such
as just having unwavering faith in others –Hae Soo from Scarlet Heart: Goryeo. These traits, while not necessarily “tough,”
are still characteristics that do not conform to the perceived definition of
how a woman should be. Especially strong female characters –like Gil Ra Im from
Secret Garden –are respected and
admired by audiences. One can argue that the increasing amount of such impressive
female characters is proof that Korean society is changing their opinions toward
women and even becoming more acceptable of women who do not adhere to
traditional stereotypes.

Non conforming female characters do not necessarily have to be the
titular character or even part of the main cast. In the beginning of Clash of the Families, when confronted
with a couple of pushy off duty soldiers, a woman not only tells them off but
also makes an unseemly gesture to emphasize her point. Even small actions –or
rather individuals with small roles –reflect how Korean women are changing
and becoming more “daring” in their speech.

Women –and everyone in general –develop more confidence in themselves
when they are “allowed” to speak their minds without restrictions, and that
permits them to their ambitions and become stronger in the face of adversity.

When women are controlled, their self confidence is damaged, which can lead to
depression which can result in numerous unpleasant outcomes –such as suicide.

Speech and language are major ways to raise one’s self confidence as it allows
them the ability to stand up for themselves, state their opinions, overcome
fear, and believe in themselves. It is important that people realize that
everyone is equal and entitled to be themselves, and as a result of speaking
without limitations, Korean women can achieve a sense of power and
individuality that can only be beneficial to them.