Sexism in Pop Culture Essay

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K-pop is a genre of music that originated in South Korea. While its earliest form dates back to the 90s, with Seo Taiji and the Boys, this industry doubled its growth rate in the mid-2000s in the Korean and international markets as well. During these years the concept of idols grew with the genre itself and became a representative of it. Many different groups such as H.O.T., TVXQ, and BoA were created at the time and started the tradition of K-pop idols. This genre was considered as “South Korea’s Greatest Export” (Time Magazine 2012) and as “Asia’s foremost trendsetter” (The Economist 2014). In 2016 the industry was valued at US$4.7 billion according to the Korea Creative Content Agency, whereas today due to worldwide famous boy groups such as BTS, it is one of the hot topics when it comes to entertainment, but not only. This cultural ambassador of Korea is growing rapidly in terms of its popularity; however, its content is extremely controversial and debated especially when it comes to female idols.

Sexism and Objectifying of Female Idols

Women who are part of the industry are continuously objectified and sexualized by their agencies. They have been always introduced as cute and innocent dolls instead of human beings and also they are shown as submissive to their lovers in their songs to exhibit male dominance. In their performances or music videos, they are consistently presented in very little clothing to help with the promotion of their albums so the respective company can gain a greater profit.

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---- “…female idols are seen in either skin-tight clothing or barely these shorts accompanied by body waves or self-stroking while talking about their pounding heart from a first infatuation”… (Gabrielle 2013, 1)

As their costumes, choreography, and lines are not up to them to decide, many of these female idols have expressed their discomfort including famous K-pop girl group members such as Red Velvet’s Irene, Blackpink’s Lisa, Momoland’s Nancy, etc. These girls have even been caught by the fans trying to cover certain parts of their bodies or even lowering their dresses during the performances.

Failing behind

Some scholars have pointed out that apart from male pleasure and high sales these ladies “are objectified as normative commodities under corporate govern-mentality” (Kim 2011, 342).

The sexism in K-pop can simply be a reflection of the patriarchal and sexist culture of South Korea. Although it is one of the most well-known countries in the world, with a great infrastructure, strong education system, and a “tiger economy”, this country is falling behind when it comes to gender equality and women’s rights and dignity. According to the Global Gender Gap Index 2018, The Republic of Korea was ranked 115 out of 145 countries and it is a very low rank for such a powerful state. This country has also the largest gender wage gap among rich countries. According to Economist’s “Glass-ceiling Index” Korea has ranked the lowest of all OECD countries (The Economist 2015). Even when it comes to serious crimes, sexual assault is one of the most frequent ones (OSAC 2018) and occurrences of such activities are unfortunately very much alive in the K-pop industry.

Sexual Assault Scandals

10 years ago Jang Ja-Yeon, an actress and K-pop singer committed suicide at her home in Seoul, leaving a seven-page letter in which she claimed that she had been a victim of sexual abuse and exploitation. Jang Ja-Yeon wrote that her agency had forced her to have sex with 31 influential men, including politicians, businessmen, newspaper executives, and entertainment figures. This raised a huge question for the companies which at the time were massively using their idols, mainly women, as pleasing objects. Unfortunately, though, the industry has not changed much since then. In January 2019 The Burning Sun scandal erupted. The Burning Sun is a nightclub in Seoul where many illegal activities involving idols have happened. The scandal revealed that many K-pop girl group members were drugged, raped, and filmed without their consent inside the club. Some of these young ladies had been sent by their companies or their sunbeams to the club without knowing the reason why. The police never made the names public to protect what was left of their reputation.

Reality Check

In the constitution of South Korea, Article 10 clearly states that: “All citizens shall be assured of human dignity…” and Article 11 (1) states that “All citizens shall be equal before the law, and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic, social or cultural life on account of sex, religion or social status.” However, when it comes to practice none of the articles are respected in Korea. The right to human dignity is restricted to these young girls who are used as objects with no emotions. They are used as sex slaves under the agencies and even the right to choose for themselves is denied to them. They are treated unfairly and unequally. They are sexualized and played as puppets for the interest of the companies. They are discriminated against, humiliated, and hurt up to the point of severe depression for the sake of their dreams.


The issues of gender inequality and violation of women’s rights and dignity are huge problems that have strongly grasped Korean society. The fact that women are not even treated as living beings is very disturbing. K-pop is just a genre of music when you look at it firstly, simply catchy songs that people hear in their daily lives. But in its depths, K-pop is a whole system, a structure of producing young slaves that will work for these money-making companies according to their rules. And those who suffer greatly from it are the female idols. Those girls are used as objects to please men’s desires and as machines for producing income. Those girls’ dignity is shattered and the way they are being treated is animalistic. The Korean entertainment industry is rotted to the core and this situation continues up to nowadays it is very saddening to learn that this economically powerful Asian country still has severe difficulty in putting into practice crucial matters such as gender equality, fair treatment of women, and protection of their right and their dignity as citizens of South Korea.

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Sexism in Pop Culture Essay. (2024, February 23). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from
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