~녀 뉴스 or Nyo News, the Female Files

* Note: In Korean  ~ (nyo) is affixed to words to indicate ‘girl.’

            Recently there have been a number of popular news stories, herein referred to as Nyo News or ~ 뉴스 which scandalize the behavior of young women and girls and give their “scandals” titles like “Cup Noodle Girl” regardless of the age of the woman in question. Several of the stories take place on public transportation. The stories go viral on YouTube, as gossip items, in news or blogs, or via SNS. Often they are accompanied by calls to search out the identity of the woman, in order to shame her or her family. Recently these stories have included, but are not limited to:

Dog-poo Girl (2005) - made infamous for her dog defecating on public transportation.
Cup Noodle Girl (2012) - criticized for eating a cup of instant noodles on the subway.
Hair Ripping Girl (2012) - infamous for ripping at the hair of a politician. 
Coffee Bill Girl (2012) - known for criticizing her date because she paid for their coffee.
Bus Girl (2012) – supposedly demands an apology from a bus driver.
Pregnant Adulteress (2012) – revealed by her lover, who disclosed her Kakao chat messages in detail.
Naked Subway Girl (2012) – known for streaking through the subways, a woman in her 40s.
Poop Girl (2012) – caught defecating on the subway.
Beer & Soju Girl (2012) – attacked for drinking alcohol on the subway.
Smoking Girl (2012) – knocked for smoking on public transportation.
Hot Soup Girl (2012) – castigated for accidentally spilling soup on a child.
Swearing Girl (2012) – bashed for swearing at fellow passengers on public transportation.
Breast Girl (2012) – judged for wearing a bikini and writing a political message across her breasts.

The Korea Gender Café thanks Koreabang for tracking many of these popular stories and translating them from Korean to English here. Koreabang has also put forth a few hypotheses as to what is causing netizens to harshly criticize these females:[1]
Maybe the netizen has his reasons. The typical (or maybe stereotypical) angry netizen is an unemployed young man. He is afforded little respect by society, and does his best to satisfy his need to be heard by making aggressive comments about those he does not like. His prime targets are those he is jealous of – i.e. successful men, hence the insane Tablo witch-hunt – and women, who show little interest in him. The fact that young Korean women are now generally well-educated and finally able to get good jobs makes his life even harder, since it gives him extra competition, and means they don’t have to take any crap from him either.
Or maybe not. Who knows? There are some who claim that all these Ladygate stories are deliberately catapulted to the front pages by the government merely as a distraction from more sour news. This may be the case, but it doesn’t stop the fact that, when the whole world was talking about the Nuclear Security Summit (the largest collection of world leaders since the formation of the United Nations) back in March, Koreans were all trying to make sense of Beer Girl.
The below comments are about “beanpaste girls” not giving up their seat to old people on the Seoul metro. Is the relative hostility towards them a passive aggressive reaction to the rising empowerment of women in Korea? Maybe. But it’s probably more likely to be a bunch of bitter netizens, hiding away from natural sunlight and angrily shouting at the world outside. One need only browse through a few YouTube comments to remind oneself this isn’t a culture-specific phenomenon, as demonstrated so eloquently in this clip.

            A few days ago an article in Segye Ilbo cited experts that argue that the online misogyny represented by Nyo News pieces is because of the transition of women’s rights. However, perhaps these stories are not so new, even more ancient that the 2005 Dog Poo Girl, perhaps we could trace their lineage even throughout Korea’s confrontation with industrialization and modernization. In fact, past presidents have used discursive criticism of women to distract from policy failures even as far back as Park Chung Hee. Thus, the Korea Gender Café hopes to contribute a bit more historical analysis to the discussion. These stories and the presumably male netizens that fuel them may find a new platform in the internet age, but their criticism and language has been around for far longer. Koreabang offers a very contemporary analysis of a trend of gendered media and social criticism that can be traced back several decades, throughout Korea’s modernization period, and possibly further back.

There are popular terms using nyo/ that have been in use for some time, such as:
처녀 meaning virgin
노처녀 meaning an older unmarried woman or an old maid (a woman over 30).
창녀 being a rude word for prostitute
meaning bitch
미친년 meaning crazy bitch
걸레 which roughly means slut and comes from the word mop, implying the woman is ‘unclean.’
된장녀 or Beanpaste Girl, referring to a woman who saves money for expensive bags or designer clothing by eating only beanpaste stew.[2]

These Nyo News stories follow in a long line of news pieces that criticize women’s behavior in a rhetorical regulation of gender roles. For example, in the 1990s popular news stories centered on the 과소비 (kwasobi) or excesses of women. Laura Nelson[3] describes the particularly gendered shift from a national promotion of patriotic frugality to the critique of excessive consumption through the kwasobi ch’ubang campaigns. As some families began to live in neighborhoods like Kangnam, in high rise homes, amidst changes in household eating, status cars, and women participated in revenue seeking projects outside the official workforce, women were urged to be virtuous consumer patriot mothers for the benefit of the nation. Nelson points out sexual assault, robbery and violent crimes that targeted women for various ‘wanton behavior’ such as participating in luxurious lifestyles, or for purchasing property and renting out apartments for profit. In addition, the government and media depicted women as villains in ad campaigns and editorials depicting kwasobi as antithetical to womanly virtue. According to Nelson,

“The call for a return to virtue was common in the anti-kwasobi discourse, although often, as in the editorial above, the exact nature of that virtue was left unspecified. Its opposite, though, was clearly wantonness. Kwasobi culture was blamed for what was reported to be a growing “crime psychology.” On the one hand, the visible disparity between rich and poor was seen as provocative of crimes of revenge. In one highly publicized incident, a jobless man kidnapped a woman in the parking lot of the Hyundai department store in Samsong-dong in Kangnam; when he was caught, he explained that he had committed the crime “out of disgust for the luxurious lives of the rich” (Korea Herald, 3 November 1991).”[4]

Tracing the trend further back, under Park Chung Hee women were criticized for supposedly abandoning their elders to flock to nuclear family arrangements in the city. Thinking about Korean women laborers in the 1970s, what work weren’t they willing to do for their families? Government policy and family sacrificial behavior mobilized women to meet the challenges of national economic development. Jeon Sun-ok (전순옥, 2004)[5] describes the hardships suffered by the assistant sewing machine operators. In addition to very low salaries and long working hours, these women also had high expenses for rent, bus transportation and food. Therefore, they only had 30-40% of their salary available to send to their families each month. However, they often shared this money into a collective loan system so that once each year a woman might send about 6,000 won to her family.
            Why did some daughters continue to face such burdens during the industrialization period while sons attended school or received other favorable treatment? Perhaps the lingering attitudes of son-preference, agricultural, and gender inequality shaped women’s experience in the 1970s. The nature of the work that Korean woman did under the industrial push also represents tension between traditional and modern modes of family production. The movement of daughters and women out of the family home and into cities represented a break from the past, yet there was continuity in the expectation that daughters and women sacrifice for the good of the family. Government policy also propagated these attitudes, on the one hand pushing for changing attitudes toward women, in particular with regard to gender-preference in birth and school attendance, but society continued to expect daughters to sacrifice for the family and the good of nation building.[6] Although some gains had been made in gender equality, family life continued to emphasize the labor of women for the benefit of family.
Although Park Chung Hee would launch family planning campaigns, establish manufacturing industries, and attempt to revitalize the agricultural industries, in reality these policies were carried out through the hard labor and sacrifice of women, in particular. As low-paid labor, women were utilized by industrializing society in order to participate in global trade, economic development and to build the foundation for Korea’s future. As free labor in the home, women continued to carry the dual burden of public and private work, family care, and possibly setting aside savings for the advancement of men in the family (such as educational costs). As citizens, early reforms under Park Chung Hee may have encouraged women’s rights, but later his attitude would shift alongside conservative social backlash, possibly creating greater burdens and expectations for women’s labor at home and in society.
Eventually, women came to be scapegoats as the failures of Park Chung Hee’s policies became more evident, particularly in the emptying rural zones and in the lack of provisions for elder care. Rather than shifting state policy of urban industrialization or providing provision for elder care, women became an easy scapegoat for Park Chung Hee and the media, and women were popularly criticized in the media for abandoning their elders in the countryside.[7]

These stories share in common a social structure which demands that women conform to new state urgencies by shifting behavior to meet the demands of modernization and industrial economic growth, but at the same time women became a scapegoat for social criticism over changing values and the rhetoric re-entrenched the subordinate position of women while masking the greater responsibility they were required to take on for the good of the nation or their family. Throughout women are required to compete ever harder in the global marketplace, at school, at home and in the workplace, but must do so in ways that do not threaten gender roles or the nostalgic social imagination of a pretended past.

배경: 한국사회와 여성책임

1970년대 한국여성들이 가족의 생활에 위하여 어떤 일을 하지않되겠다 예를 들으면 농사일했던 여자가 학교다닌 남동생과 가족의 생계를 유지하려고 서울로 산업일하기 됬다 (전순옥, 198). 이유는 농사일에서 생긴 가족 수입의 손실을 메꾸어보기 위함이다 (전순옥, 198).” 더구나 노조비를 공제되지 않인해 노조원이 없는 공산에서 일해서 아마 힘든 일하고 건강에게 좋은 일해야 했다

박정희의 핵가족의 특성과 여성평등
박정희의 행정부가 처음에 여성평등을 증대시키려고 딸도 학교 다니고 사회에서 일도 해야 하는 캠패인영화를 방송했습니다. 아파트 사는 생활이 시작되고 시집살이대신단촐한 살림, 간편한 생활양식을 빌미로 시부모의 그늘을 벗어나 되었습니다 (김혜경, 182-3). 이미 70년대 후반으로 가면 핵가족을 지향하는 의식은 농촌을 포함하고 1978 농협중앙회가 전국 40 마을 1천호의 농가를 대상으로 조사한 결과, 농가의 46.4% 핵가족제도를 바라고실제로 영농, 생활비관리, 자녀교육, 가사결정권도 조부모층이 결정하는 농가는 10% 미만이며, 부부중심으로 결정하는 농가는 79-80% 나타났습니다 (김혜경, 193).” 다른 한편으로 소가족 생활은 맞벌이 부부 여성들의 고통이 증가된 것으로 있으며부재하지 않고 집을 지키는 중류층 여자들이 겪는우울증 (김혜경, 195)이고 현대 여성들에게 집안일과 보육해야 하는 책임이 계속 됬습니다. 

핵가족와 여성비판
우리 농촌의 전통적인 가족형태인 대가족제도가 흔들린다 토론되었습니다. 실제로 영농, 생활비관리 자녀교육, 가사 결정권도 조부모층이 결정하는 농가는 10% 미만이며, 부부중심으로 결정하는 농가는 78-80% 나타났습니다 (김혜경, 193).
조선일보에 따르면 도시화 핵가족화가 여성들의 여가를 증가시켰기 때문에 계바람, 춤바람, 치마바람과 주부도박단이라는 문제로 지칭했던 주부들을 낳았습니다 (김혜경, 195). “박정희는 1공화국과 2공화국 시기에 서구의 가치와 제도를 무분별하게 모방한 것이 문제이며, 이것이 근대화의 장애물이 될수 있다고 보았습니다. 결과 박정희체제는 민족주의를 기틀로 하여, 전통에 대한 강조와 서구문화에 대한 비판을 수행했습니다. 특히 70년대로 넘어가면서 전통사상과 윤리에 대한 관심이 정교화 되었으며, 그것은 4공화국의 유신헌법 (1971)으로써 구체화되었습니다 (김혜경, 177).” 그러나 나는 사회 가치가 계속 남녀차별을 바탕으로 근대화가 진행되었기 때문이지 문제를 일으키는 주부들이 근본적인 원인은  아니라고 생각합니다. 김혜경에 의하면여성의 사회참여는 서구적인 여권신장의 흐름을 틈탄 가정역할 소홀로 지적되거나, 시부모봉양을 기피하려는 이기적인 태도로 비판되었다 했습니다 (김혜경, 199). 하지만 남성들이 같은 일을 하면 문제로 지칭하지 않습니다. "남녀동등권을 주장하고 있으나 이러한 남녀동등에 대한 권리투쟁은 여성의 남성화, 중성이라는 괴물을 낳게 했다""인간성의 근원이 모성애로써 남성을 길러주는 협동자로서의 기본자세" 바로 70년대의 슬기로운 여성상이라고 계몽"됬다고 했습니다 (김혜경, 200).

기능주의와 구조주의 토론과 한국사회
한국사회를 공부할때 기능주의와  구조주의자들의 토론을 평가하면서 근대화된 사회구조가 설립되어도자연적인기능주의론 입장이 완전히 포기되지는 않습니다. 그래서 우리는 사회체제를 설립할때 정부가 사회문제 (: 친자관계과 효도의 변화) 해결하려고 사회복지나 다른 구조주의적인 방법을 만들기 꺼린 경험에서  사회는 쉽게자연적인기능주의로 여성들의 책임방치를 비판하고 규탄하곤 합니다다.  생각에는 박정희 체제의자연성 이데올로기  근대화가 모순적으로 언급되도 사회문제가 일어나면 사회복지제도를 설립하는 대신 희생양이 필요하거나 자유주의 대신 복종을 강요할때 여성책임과 전통문화를 의미를 쉽게 조작할 있습니다.  

Cited articles / 자료
~Nelson, Laura C. Measured Excess: Status, Gender, and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea. Columbia University Press, New York, NY. 2000.
~전순옥 (2004), 『끝나지 않은 시다의 노래』, 한겨레신문사, 5, 6.
~김혜경(2009), “박정희 체제하 ‘핵가족’ 담론의 변화과정과 이원구조 연구: [조선일보] 중심으로”,『사회와 역사』 82.
~유경순 엮음(2011), 『나, 여성노동자』 1, 그린비. 조분순, 박육남.

[3] Nelson, Laura C. Measured Excess: Status, Gender, and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea. Columbia University Press, New York, NY. 2000.
[4] Nelson, Laura C. Measured Excess: Status, Gender, and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea. Columbia University Press, New York, NY. 2000, P. 125.
[5] 전순옥 (2004), 『끝나지 않은 시다의 노래』, 한겨레신문사, 5, 6.
[6]유경순 엮음(2011), 『나, 여성노동자』 1, 그린비. 조분순, 박육남. (박육남, 302)
[7] (김혜경, 195)


  1. This sometimes is created because of the male dominated society. And those are the things created by some specific conditions.
    The main thing needed for this is the time. Men and women should be educated about the gender and ways to handle it.
    This society needs change and this is possible with knowledge about equality.

    Am totally for this movement.

  2. Thanks Jeeban1985 for your comment. Maybe it will take time, but on the other hand I really agree with your statement that we need more education for men and women about gender issues.

    Hope to hear from you again soon~