Your Viewing Guide to the Most Feminist K-Drama Ever

TW: Sexual violence.

I once promised myself that I would NEVER watch another Asian drama, regardless of its country of origin. I’d seen enough when visiting relatives overseas and when flipping through the international channels here in the U.S. They’re all the same, I thought – implausible storylines and absurdly ridiculous plot twists, too much angsty music, too much tearful pining after unrequited love interests, too many of my weeks wasted while waiting for the requiting ones to finally get together, too many too-perfectly cloned male leads, and so on.

So no one was more shocked than yours truly when I got sucked into two most excellent Korean dramas last year – Search:WWW during the summer and Hotel Del Luna in autumn. Then I found a third, a web series from South Korean studio giant TVN called It’s OK to Be Sensitive! It had all the elements of a typical K-drama that I used to despise but now mostly embraced. But what really made it a winner in my book was that it was so clearly feminist in purpose, themes, and stories, that it just had to be the most feminist K-drama ever – a remarkable production in strongly patriarchal South Korea.

In fact, I found its feminist educational content to be so valuable that I started blogging through the show’s two seasons – the solid first one and the outstanding second one. But, as it so often happens to bloggers of non-monetized blogs, I ran out of time and steam. What was supposed to have been a set of 16 posts to take us through selected webisodes ended up just being five.

The 16 posts were supposed to be for the United Nations’ annual 16 Days of Activism.

Well, half a year later, I’m finally returning to the series! This time I have no illusions that I’ll even get to the second season, much less go all the way through it. I’d love to, but I’ve got a math teaching job to find and a state education exam to study for. I can at least re-introduce the first season and spotlight its last two episodes, which run under 10 minutes each, like all the other ones so far. Plot twists, angst, pining, requiting and the whole bit, coming right at ya!

But before I go there, I want to talk about why I’m circling back to It’s OK at this juncture. First, though I’m now an “ex-activist,” my heart will always be activist to the core. You’ll never get me to shut up about women’s and girls’ rights! It’s my sacred calling, regardless of whether it’s my actual job or not. And second, there’s an absolute ton of pain that’s been expressed lately on social media by L.A. and O.C. high school and college women, mostly Asian American that I’ve seen, but not exclusively. I first noticed the conversations a few weeks ago, when I saw some tweets describing incidents at Arcadia High School. Women from schools in Fullerton and Long Beach have spoken out online since then, also bravely telling their stories of sexual harassment, assault, and rape.

For some of these women, their experiences with sexual violence are recent. For others, it happened several years ago. But they are all seeking justice, especially from school districts and the criminal justice system, while also hoping to encourage others who have suffered in similar ways.

Now, I certainly won’t pretend that a Korean web drama is going to bring healing to survivors. Rather, I’m again highlighting It’s OK because the arts can be so instrumental in getting people to discuss real-life issues, leading to greater understanding and empathy between real people. So many guys especially don’t have any idea what women and girls endure, daily taking a number of precautions to protect themselves and contending frequently with men who feel entitled to ogle and touch them. It’s particularly important, I believe, for men to step up in support of women and to speak up when they see or hear other men behaving badly.

Just a few of the unsettling facts.

I’m also not ignoring the fact that many men themselves experience sexual harassment, assault, and rape. One out of every six American boys experiences sexual violence; in adulthood, one out of every 71 American men experiences rape or attempted rape. Men and boys who go through such horrific incidents are most definitely not alone. Tragically, they often feel an additional stigma about reporting what’s happened to them, fearing that discussing it will make them appear less manly.

Yet these horrific things happen to women and girls so frequently that it’s appropriate sometimes to focus specifically on violence against women and girls. According to the CDC, 19 percent of American women will experience rape in their lifetimes, and 44 percent will experience some other form of sexual violence. And who’s responsible? 90 percent of attacks on women come from men. This underscores the desperate need for men to take ownership of this issue and to police their male peers. That’s why guys need to step up to support women and speak up when other guys are acting like jackasses.

Now, with respect to our web series, if you don’t understand Korean, never fear! I don’t either; I’m totally dependent on English subtitles. And some webisodes from It’s OK‘s first season are kind of choppy when it comes to their translations. But IMO, if you stay with it, the payoff is well worth your while! To catch you up to speed, here are links to my first five previous posts about It’s OK; each post has links to the related episodes, so you can watch them and get the recaps and commentary on the same pages. Start right here:

  1. It’s OK to Be Sensitive! (An F.A.D. Series for 16 Days of Activism)
What fireworks await our sheroes and heroes?

2. Boys Will Be Boys, Especially If They All Go Along to Get Along

They’re saying whaaaaaat???

3. He Reeeeeally Wants to Make a Sex Tape. She Reeeeeally Doesn’t. (PLEASE NOTE: This webisode involves two adults and whether they both consent to making such a video. For people under the age of 18, the situation is completely different. It is illegal to produce, possess, or send images or videos of a sexual nature of people under the age of 18. DON’T DO IT!)

Moment of truth.

4. Working While Female May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Can’t a woman work in peace?

5. #ConsentIsSexy in Korean, Too

Now what do you want to do?

In my next post, I’ll finish season one’s last two webisodes! In the meantime, watch these with friends and talk amongst yourselves!