Ethnography of Soshified

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.

4 Comments on “Ethnography of Soshified”

  1. The comment about the branding of Girl’s Generation is particularly interesting and it’s really clear how these girls are being used as a marketing tool to perpetuate the corporate music industry. The band name in itself ‘Girl’s Generation’ is really scary because it implies that this generation of females is represented by women who ultimately cater to men in various ways (aesthetically, sexually, commercially). Even the band members who take on more ‘boyish’ roles seems gimicky–sort of like the Spice Girls each had a manufactured identity meant to rope in more fans. Again, like the Spice Girls and their coined phrase ‘Girl Power,’ Girl’s Generation distorts this idea of what it truly means to be a ‘feminist.’

  2. I feel like this conversation with the users on Soshified could have been more indepth, because as a K-popfan girl I understand how these conversations can immediately call for negative responses, especially when you are seeking clearer and stronger ideas than just “Don’t talk bad about SNSD!!”, which I gather was the majority of your findings. Had the discussion been more simplistic, like asking if the girls in SNSD, in spite of their sexualization, carry themselves as respectable agents of their own sexuality and if that comes across in the appearances they make on television, I think would have been a better way of approaching the subject. However, that depends on how old the users were, because I’m also assuming these were teenagers that you were working with?

  3. I really loved the sentences, “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”. This struck a cord with me because I just had a discussion about Lana Del Rey and her queering of American pride and presentation is now nationwide. But there is truth to the users comments about the greater industry. I feel as if these girls are further reinforced within socialized narratives of gender.

  4. Okay, high sexualised? I’m sorry, what about Girls Generation has been high sexualised?

    I could argue that their lyrics are often meant to be cutesy and “when will I find my boy” and stuff like that. But they sing about boys to the same extent that men sing about girls. SNSD also happen to sing about their families (Dear Mom, Indestructible, Flyers), each other (Forever, Girls) and sometimes even the god damn economy (Ha ha ha). They frequently feature in dramas and CFs as women of substance, be it detectives, celebrities, CEOs, journalists. They have concepts that range from your typical girl next door types (2007-2010, disregarding Genie, Hoot and RDR which discounts basically half of their comeback stages) to powerful women (The Boyes), to trendy (IGAB) to power again (Mr Mr).

    Not to mention their most popular Japanese single, Papparazzi, mentioned men only in passing, and was about living life as a highly sort after icon.

    This article is full of blatant misrepresentations of an otherwise very empowered girl group. All the members have attended university, with the most recent graduate being Seohyun, the youngest. They all have extreme talent and diverse abilities outside of idoldom (save for perhaps Hyoyeon, who is a dancing machine and makes for an incredible on screen personality).

    Clearly, whoever wrote this article doing so with an agenda they set out to prove. No, female representation in KPOP in NOT perfect, and yes, gender equality in South Korea is FAR from ideal.

    But you know what’s not going to get you anywhere in delving into this topic? Literally stripping down a group of talented, diverse, intelligent idols that are on top of the Korean music industry, and reduce them to sex objects for male pleasure so that you can shoe horn whatever opinions you see are relevant in regards to your feelings towards them.

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