By Hyemin Lee
For this project, I wanted to evaluate whether a cyberspace for Girls’ Generation fans, Soshified, can be a feminist of color space or not. Girls’ Generation is considered a leader of Korean popular culture with their attractive appearances. At first, I assumed Soshified would be dominated by male fans. However, exploring the site, I also encountered as many female fans as male fans. Finding that Girls’ Generation also appeals to women, I was interested in exploring why women can be attracted to a girl group that appears to be demeaning to women’s social norms and image.
In order to move forward with my research, I posted a couple threads that discuss fans’ ethnicity and girl groups in the K-Pop industry in light of feminism. From my observation as a member of Soshified, I concluded that the site is a safe place to open up a discussion about sensitive topics, such as race and gender. My first post was about ethnicity, which got closed down by a manager of the forum. The manager explained that there was an existing post, asking about fans’ ethnic backgrounds and different ways of discovering about Girls’ Generation. Right after my first post got closed, I posted another, more direct post about feminism in relation to K-Pop girl groups who are often sexually presented in media. Using my avatar, I addressed my question as a concern about how a feminist point of view might see K-Pop girl groups as representing unequal, sexualized norms. I wished to collect results that are as objective as possible, so I directed my question to girl groups in general rather than Girls’ Generation specifically. Here is my question in the post:
So I’m taking a class, learning about feminism this semester. And during the class, we started talking about K-Pop girl groups in general and how they are sexually used to fulfill men’s fantasies, especially as Asian women. I tried defending myself as a K-Pop fan but it made me think a lot about how images of K-Pop girl groups could be negatively powerful. How familiar are you all with feminism and what do you think of feminists discussing K-Pop girl groups as an example or topic?
Within a couple of hours, 7 different users of Soshified had commented on my post. Most of the commentators had negative reactions to the post and did not comment on feminist views. The majority of the comments mentioned that the labels, which different girl groups are signed to, affect the image of girl groups. Thus, it may be disturbing to some people. However, commentators did not express any concern about the possible disturbance. Rather, they said girl groups’ sexualized images are just the way the K-Pop industry goes around. There was also a commentator that talked about a couple of groups other than Girls’ Generation that represent themselves more boyishly. The commentator, who claims to be female, explicitly said that she does not like the image of boyish girl groups singing about how women can live without men. Consequently, she likes Girls’ Generation and other girl groups that are prettier and cuter, singing about fulfilling the dreams of boys.
One comment that stood out to me the most talked about how the sexualization of K-Pop girl groups is difficult to be judged in the view of feminism. This commentator, who claims to be female, said that any kind of representation can be sexual to the opposite sex and what appears to be sexual varies individually. Moreover, she said whether it is a label or an artist, it is an individual’s decision to make in which ways he or she represents himself or herself. She also added that her logic applies not only to K-Pop girl groups but also to American artists.
Overall, this ethnographic study shows the basic reaction of female K-Pop girl group fans on feminist analyses of K-Pop girl groups. Besides the fact that female fans acknowledge the sexualization of K-Pop girl groups, the fans also got highly defensive that anyone, in this case feminists or a person with feminist views, may judge such sexualization. Although I predicted that female fans like K-Pop girl groups because of girl groups’ desirably sexualized image, it was still shocking as a researcher to find out how defensive the fans could get. As a conclusion, female fans of sexualized K-Pop girl groups agree that girl groups are portrayed and represent themselves sexually. However, female fans seem to support such sexualization of female figures in media rather than to reform the wrongful image of women.