My Husband, Oh Jak-doo: Gender issues

Husband is very much a reflection of current sentiment in Korean society now, as I read with interest on the number of women who have volunteered to speak up on the mental and physical abuses they face at home and in the workplace. Just last week, I read an article in the papers that claims a survey of Korean (or Seoul, to be precise) women said they had (about 80%) ever suffered in silence some form of sexual or physical abuse by their other half.

Really tears down any cotton candy fantasy about your inner-marshmallow-outer-psychopath chaebol archetype which Krom-coms are so fond of portraying. Sorry gals, it’s all psychos, no marshmallows. And Husband, though mostly lighthearted, and not totally veering off the rom-com formula, hints strongly at the gender inequality women in Korea are currently facing.

As Seung-joo shows us, it takes a lot for a woman to be considered not “less than” men in every aspect of their lives. Even if it means driving like a mad bull on the road, and screaming profanities at other male drivers who cut her path. Or being constantly on your toes and having no obvious family commitments in the workplace to “prove” you are a dedicated worker.

And the moment a woman shows any crack — in Seung-joo’s case, her PTSD and ensuing anxiety disorders — it is game over for her. Whereas for a man, there appears to be less benchmarks, which deem you to be “successful”. And Jak-doo is the classic antithesis. Even though he is a country bumpkin lost in Seoul, back home, he is The Apple of Everybody’s Eye. Seriously, he does nothing but hunt for herbs. (his secret trade of making gayangeums…is unknown to most)

Sadly, Seung-joo with all her successes and her shouldering the burden of taking care of her entire family, is taken for granted. By society, who sees that “since she is unmarried, she is beholden to take care of her own”, to even her mother, who views her as nothing but an ATM for her and her son. I am rather appalled at Seung-joo’s mother who clearly favours Seung-tae over her elder daughter. I get the sense she blames Seung-joo for “robbing” her family’s sole breadwinner (aka the dad?) and so, Seung-joo must take up the slack. But that doesn’t equate to having to pay for her wayward and useless brother’s bottomless spending and “investments”. Ironically, Mum on one hand relies on Seung-joo for her expenses, but on the other hand, despises her for being independent and an “old maid” at that. Even if it means tying her up with a balding son-in-law (sorry, balding BUT rich), Seung-joo HAS to get married.

Which leads to the other issue which Husband talks about — the role of married women. While the singles, like Seung-joo, gets stink eyes for being single, the married, working women are expected to take on both the domestic and career roles (the men don’t get the first piece). And married, stay home wives are expected to behave like docile servants, they are encouraged not to meet up with their friends, and if they do, there are curfews, etc. Not the same for married men — who still are “licensed” to stay out after work for drinks, etc.

While Husband does not really turn the stereotypes around, it does flash it out quite plainly for even the most clueless viewers to know something is imbalanced in Korean society.

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2 thoughts on “My Husband, Oh Jak-doo: Gender issues

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  1. I think your comments hit the nail on the head as to why I find Korean dramas interesting. I’m fortunate enough to live in a part of the world where we take people for who they are and celebrate successes regardless of who it is. However, that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of injustice happening and class distinction wannabes – because there certainly is. It’s just we can deal with these issues when they become apparent.

    One of the most important things for me is that my wife can be with her friends and family and be involved with the community as she sees fit. She enjoys life and to balance things out, our kids like to give me tee-shirts with Disney’s Grumpy on them (for instance one says I’m bringing the grumpy back).

    I think I like Husband so much because of the relationship that our lead pair has. Both give to each other in their own way. And anyone who is married know it’s the little things that resonate the loudest.

    1. Yup. In fact I find it very ironic that for Seung-joo who is so staunchly single to behave towards jak-doo like a wife who has been married to him for years (re: last episode scene where she gets all riled up cos her “softie hubby” let’s a hit and run guy off the hook), and she gets all ready and claws out to seek justice for him.

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