Thursday, October 28, 2021

K-Drama: Taking on the Patriarchy

The K-Drama, One Spring Night, takes on the patriarchy, triggered by something nearly incomprehensible to me: a taboo against a single father. As we all know the trope in Western movies of sympathy for single dads -- Hugh Grant in About a Boy for starters -- the idea that this would lead to profound social ostracism is hard to conceptualize from my life experience. A little bit like the distance I now feel about Lydia Bennett's elopement with the infamous Mr. Wickham, though I did understand it as a teenager in the time before the sexual revolution.

OK, so it's hard to grasp, but I can accept a premise. A woman meets this man and falls for him and his son, as anyone would -- they are that delightful. She decides to face the censure and marry them. First she has to break-up with her boyfriend -- no biggie, right? But there again the story veers into territory that is way outside of my experience. The boyfriend says, "You can't make that decision. I have to save you from the error of your ways." He recruits his father and her father to help him, carrying on for many episodes about setting the wedding date. 

At this point, the seven key women in the K-Drama begin to show up for our girl, to help her resist the demands of the patriarchy. It is complicated, because the male oppressors are also the dads, boyfriends, friends, and at least one -- the ex-boyfriend's dad -- is an interesting character. There is also a lot of support from other men who, like the love interest, are younger and not inside the power structure. 

While the outcome is never seriously in doubt -- there is too much joy in the relationship -- breaking through the patriarchy is not trivial. South Korea emerged into capitalism very recently, so the old feudal Confucian systems of fealty has a greater hold there than in other places. Our heroine is fighting against cobwebs of the past. Her younger sister, who has studied in Paris, is the untrammeled voice of the new: defend your true feelings, she says, thus echoing Hamlet. The chaos of capitalism cannot be contained in the trappings of the old system. Just as I lost track of Lydia Bennett as the culture shifted, people will lose track of the old ideas. "Young people have it so easy these days," old-timers will say, not even really understanding how the old rules evaporated. And these days, people start to be old-timers at about 25 when they don't understand the technology anymore. 

It is important to consider here the "why" -- why is it so terrible for a man to be raising a child? I think that in itself is an act that takes on the patriarchy, because childrearing is a woman's role. And if we reject gender-defined roles, what next? You know -- people will reject gender, a fear that is inflaming the rightwing in the US. There was a great photo in The New York Times this morning of a teen band that is on the verge of making it big.  The caption said, "One narrative has characterized the band as 'just a group of five white guys,' [band member] Bassin said, 'I'm not white and Gus isn't a guy.'"

Members of the band, Geese, from left: Max Bassin, Gus Green, Dominic DiGesu, Foster Hudson and Cameron White. Photo by OK McCausland for the Times.

This train of thought clicked with a piece from the American Medical Association about the experience of abuse among medical students in the US, which was associated with burn-out and regret for the career choice. Medicine, when I was in school, was a very "Polite White" affair, run by white men in shiny loafers. A few were openly racist, misogynistic and homophobic. Most stuck by the genteel work-arounds. I protested not being selected for the medical honor society, AOA, even though I was awarded the Franklin C. McLean Award as top minority medical student in the US. The answer was that I didn't get honors in medicine, and it was medical school, or had I not understood that? I did and do understand what he was saying: If you're Black, get back.

The great joy of One Spring Night is in the creation of a new family, in which the child is the first to say, "We're family." More power to them all for taking on the patriarchy!

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