Pop Culture & Gender: Why Baekma?

Guest post by the band Baekma. KGC readers will know by now that I (Chelle) dislike the term Baekma,so I asked the band why they choose it and how they are using it to call attention to gender issues. Find the band on Facebook and listen to their music here

“What’s the name of your band?”  “Baekma.”  “Huh?” “BAEKMA!” 

The name we chose for our band warrants many types of responses.  Foreigners or Korean women must think we like galloping beautiful ponies when we explain the definition. Korean men, however, are left with looks of surprise, shock or comical amusement. These men almost always ask, “Do you know what that means?” as if we weren’t privy to their dirty little secret. Well, we do know what it means and we chose it to shock you, on purpose.

The phrase literally translates to ‘white horse’ taken from Chinese.  A Korean male friend informed me that it began a few decades ago as slang used to refer to the only Western women one could find in Korea, Russian prostitutes working the streets of Itaewon.  It evolved over time to mean any Western woman.  If this is the true origin, it’s no wonder that the word implies sex. Mumbled drunkenly among chingus when a wayguk woman passes them on the street at 4 am, or mentioned when a buddy returns from a vacation abroad, this word is tossed around between Korean men with curiosity: “What’s it like to ride the Baekma?” “Did you ride a Baekma on your trip to Europe?”

After Korean men realize we are aware of the negative connotations behind our name, we get responses like, “Why would you name your band that?” or “That’s so sexual!”
First off, I suppose we WANTED to be controversial and expose the stereotypes surrounding Western women. We started as an all-girl Western band, coming together after mixed experiences playing in bands with all boys. Besides feeling like we had more to prove since we were women in the music scene, we wanted to confront and challenge the idea that Western women are easy to get into bed or are only valuable in a sexual way. Just because a woman is in charge of her own sexuality, doesn’t mean she is promiscuous or dirty. Just because she has a nice set of legs or arms, doesn’t mean her wish in life is to use them to please a man. Just because she prefers to decide how she wants to look or act regardless of how a man says she should, doesn’t mean she is less beautiful. It’s easy to get disheartened in Korea if you do not fall into the limited impossible standard of beauty. We believe women shouldn’t be seen as less talented, less driven, less intelligent, or weaker than a man because cowardly men prefer it. It’s easy to get disheartened in Korea if you are not used to or do not fall into the very narrow ideal of feminine beauty within this culture. This standard is impossible to uphold without expensive treatments, surgery and/or hours wasted on grooming. Also, many men seem to be holding on the antiquated idea that women’s role in life is to serve them. Sam Hammington, whether speaking from his own mind, or instructed by a producer, said on the Global episode of Happy Together in 2013 that he married a Korean woman because “Korean women are really good to men,” implying that Western women are NOT because they “have their own lives”, “are never affectionate” and “never act cute”. In one quick comment, he reduced Korean women’s existence and demonized the concept of independent women in charge of their own lives. We know that Korean women are tired of their stereotypes and expectations as much as we are. We channeled our frustrations of living in this hyper-sexualized and misogynist society into our music.

There hasn’t really been anyone providing a voice for the foreign women community within the indie rock scene in Seoul. We feel we have a unique perspective on gender issues as we compare progress here and abroad. We hope our voices can support the movement towards gender equality and freedom of women to choose what they want to become not only in Korea, but also worldwide.

So we are BaekMas. We are not offended by that word. We are Baekmas. We act and dress how we want. We say what we feel and believe in. We write songs about the shitty stuff we see happening to people around us that’s sometimes based on gender. We sing about how we want the world to be. We will probably disagree with you. We may even piss you off. We may or may not sleep with you. But we will definitely make sweet love to your ear holes with our synth dance pop rock.

Find information on Baekma's upcoming podcast here.

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