How K-pop Male Stars Redefine Gender Roles

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We have previously talked about the tendency of gender-bending in K-pop and how that actually limits its spread, due to dogmatized gender roles around the world. However, a recent article in The Guardian triggered my interest to examine this phenomenon from another point of view: redefining gender roles in a society obsessed with gender.

The article explains how the gender segregation in the toy market came about, that there are toys specifically marketed towards boys and girls only, with distinct colors: pink is for girls, blue is for boys. As it turns out, there is no such thing as “color by gender”.

This all began really recently in the 1970s, that toy and clothing factories started marketing color specific items towards children. The simple reason is commercial: if you have a daughter and a son, don’t just pass down an item from the older to the younger – buy a new one, in the color supposedly “suitable” for the gender of the child. Pink came to be associated with feminine characters, while blue with masculine, though originally blue was a “girly” color, because of religious connotations.

However, this became such a success that nowadays boys who wear pink or like toys marketed towards girls are seriously mocked, ridiculed and punished by peers and adults alike, simply because of the homophobic nature of society. Somehow people started to believe that boys who like pink are bound to grow up to be gay and if they are forced to play with “boys’ toys” and wear “boys’ colors”, then they won’t (which is really a simplistic perception of homosexuality).

K-pop male stars are famous for bending gender limits, not only by wearing colors associated with women, but also wearing “female” items of clothing. Some, like G-Dragon or Lee Hong-gi, for example are unashamed fans of male skirts and the latter proudly sports all types of nail art, even polishing his toes.

G-Dragon sporting a man-skirt for an endorsement

G-Dragon sporting a man-skirt for an endorsement (Photo source: J.estina via Pengpeng.com)

Now, when I showed Hong-gi’s nail art stuff to some of my friends (women), they were taken aback and all sounded extremely prejudicial: “this is not how a man should look like.” Really? Why? “Because nail art is for women”. Who says so? Your nail art advertisement in the store, on TV and on the internet, where nail polish is exclusively marketed towards women? You’d be surprised to know that originally, a couple thousand years ago, men of Babylonia indicated social status by painting their nails.

Hong-gi gives a blow to gender colors with his nail art. (Photo credit: Asiae)

Hong-gi gives a blow to gender colors with his nail art. (Photo credit: Asiae)

It’s the same with man-skirts, that women and men alike immediately jump to gender conclusions when they see a man wearing a skirt (on top of tight trousers): “he must be gay”, “only women wear skirts, why would a real man want to wear one?”. I would turn the question around: why would women want to wear trousers? It’s a male item! Isn’t it? Even in the 1920s and 30s women who dared to sport trousers were frowned upon. They were supposed to appear gentle and fragile and feminine – in a skirt! Hadn’t it been for brave women who dared to defy socially enforced gender roles, I would probably still have to wear a skirt in the 21st century, when I hate skirts. Am I boyish because of that? Am I a lesbian, because I dislike skirts? No, I’m just not comfortable in them.

K-pop stars and their “feminine” sides are part of the marketing, too, let’s not be naive. Since a significant part of the fandom consists of girls, the buying power is with women. You can’t make girls buy leather jackets designed for men. You can’t make fangirls buy trousers only their granddads would approve of. SHINee‘s slim, colorful pants with floral patterns? They look good on women, too! Jaejoong‘s delicate leather jacket? Something even my mom would approve of for her own wardrobe. Yes, K-pop gender-bending is also largely about marketing, just like the toy shops’ strategy to divide by color.

SHINee’s floral pants in “Dream Girl“. I have a similarly designed one myself.

What’s the difference, then, you might ask? It’s a commercial act on both sides. Can we really bash the toy factories for creating the gender wall between boys and girls, when the wall benders themselves are doing the opposite out of a commercial interest? Probably no. Still, K-pop stars might just help young people realize that it does not matter, should not matter, what color you wear or if your clothing fits your gender or not. You can express yourself in any ways you want, by wearing whatever color and design you feel comfortable in, and we should live in a society where it doesn’t matter if you like pink or blue, skirts or pants.

Of course, some of the K-pop stars don’t just do this whole gender-defiance because of commercial interests. People like G-Dragon or Hong-gi, I am sure, feel comfortable with who they are and what they genuinely like, whether it’s leggings or pink nails. In my eyes they are pioneers, just like those women who did not give in to society and wore pants when they were not allowed to. Since they are famous and influential, they project that personal freedom, creativity, your personal choice of showing who you are, is much more important than some gender rules created by whichever parts of a society.

And the best part is: their likes, dislikes, color or clothing preferences have nothing to do with their gender – or their sexuality. Nor do yours.

I’m from Hungary. Recently got the K-pop fever when I stumbled upon Bigbang’s Secret Garden parody. Have been writing stories ever since I learned to pen out letters of the alphabet, and wrote a lot of articles for my high school journal as a teen. Have written articles for Hungarian music magazines and I am also an avid blogger on Asian culture. I love learning languages, currently trying to make my way through Korean.

  • Genise Gregory

    I think this might be one of the reasons I love G-Dragon. He seemingly doesn’t care what other people think of him and I love that about him. Plus I just.. do like him :D

  • Sungmin!

    Don’t forget about super junior member Sungmin! His favorite color is pink. And he’s not afraid to show it. But that doesn’t mean he is not like other guys, he is amazing at wushu.

  • waly1215

    Color is just a color. who cares~~~ But some people might be prejudicial. Even people around me. When they saw a man wearing a pink shirt, they’ll like “wth is that” “he looks sooo girly”. Like who are you to judge him, when u don’t even knew him. Duuhhhhhh