Is the hair-grab the new wrist-grab?

How’s that for a sensational title ūüėČ ? I do apologise. I suck at writing titles (just browse my past posts), and this was really the best I could come up with. The answer to that question is no, it’s not. But when I saw the hair-grab move in¬†The Master’s Sun which¬†debuted last week, it struck me that is is in some ways like the dreaded wrist-grab.

Let’s rewind a little bit. So here I was happily tucking into Gong Hyo Jin and So Ji Sub working their magic. Literally, sparks were flying the first time they meet on a rainy night. The next day,¬†Gong Hyo Jin’s (playing a ghost whisperer) character Gong Shil is trying to meet someone to convey a message from a ghost she sees.¬†Just as she approaches him, So Ji Sub’s character Joong Won spots her and tries to stop her by doing this:¬†Master's Sun hair grabbing scene Ep 1¬†She flinches, then smiles shyly at him. He lets go and tells his security guards to kick her out. And I’m like, ugh.

I was not prepared for such manhandling of the woman lead so early. It was barely 30 minutes into the first episode of the show.¬†Since this is K-drama, I expect a certain number of wrist-grabs, but aren’t wrist-grabs and such supposed to come a little later? You know, when the man is already struck by jealousy, and is so frustrated that he just needs to impress upon his woman how much he lurves her by physically grabbing her and dragging her off against her will?

Master's Sun Gong Hyo Jin Ep 1

Erm hello, human being here. Let me go.

Rumblings of discontent immediately erupted on the show’s Soompi forum thread. The scene sparked a lively discussion on what constitutes violent or abusive behaviour in dramas, what it means for the dynamics of the characters, and what should and what shouldn’t be taken seriously in entertainment. There have been some appeals to contextualise the act in view of Joong Won’s asshat character who is trying to rid himself of a¬†crazy woman exhibiting stalker-like behaviour, and that Gong Shil is so desperate to rid herself of her ability to see ghosts that all she wants is to get close, hence her silence in being hair-grabbed.

My view is that the whys don’t matter since it has no bearing on the story (one assumes it’s just to show how much of an asshat he is), and coming up with whys comes across as justifying bad behaviour. What’s disturbing is that the manhandling was played for comedic effect which glosses over the act of disrespect that it is. Would his character have done that if Gong Shil were a man? I don’t think so, and not because a man is likely to not have hair long enough to grab hold of. It’s likely that he would’ve thought twice before putting his hands on a strange guy like that or risk getting his ass kicked. A woman is less physically threatening and therefore easily dispatched. Grabbing her hair is an expression of Joong Won’s domination over her, and he’s inflicting physical pain while he does it. From a directorial standpoint, was it even¬†necessary?

Wrist-grabs are similar displays, but played for romantic effect instead. We are expected to swoon at a man’s ‘assertiveness’. And since this is rom-com territory, this kind of behaviour is rarely called out for the (not so) subtle sexism that it is within the narrative itself. Quite the opposite–he is rewarded for it by gaining the love of the woman. We’re lucky if the guy registers a change of heart in the process, let alone apologises for any crap he’s pulled on her.

One reason why the hair-grab raised a few hackles I think was that it also raised the question of if Joong Won is already capable of this¬†when Gong Shil is practically a stranger, what else is he going to do to her when they become more intimate? We’ve been down this road enough to know that it will¬†likely get worse before it gets better. How much more is Gong Shil going to have to put up with? How much are we¬†going to have to put up with?

Me Tarzan, you Jane (Credit:kdramawristgrabs.tumblr.com)

Me Tarzan, you Jane (Credit:kdramawristgrabs.tumblr.com)

The fact is, if this was a wrist-grab, I wouldn’t be writing a post about it. I confess I’ve become somewhat desensitised to the wrist-grab. I swat it aside with a sigh when I notice it, in the same way I sigh when I read about another dumb remark made by a politician or another case of theft in the news, and then turn the page. So this new iteration of the wrist-grab made me sit up abit.

Watching K-dramas as a feminist often requires you to file away the many disturbing things you come across while simultaneously enjoying the many pay-offs that dramas can bring. It’s challenging, but I would argue that enjoyment of any form of entertainment should done with a critical eye. ¬†To dismiss dramas as just silly entertainment and therefore shouldn’t be taken seriously (i.e. check your brain at the door) strikes me as a little naive.¬†Unquestioning consumption of pop culture is dangerous in this day and age where the warped demands of the marketplace and harmful social norms are packaged and embedded so seamlessly together with the product.

Besides, contrary to what some might think, being a feminist and being a drama fan need not be mutually exclusive. Sometimes I just want to ogle the pretty faces and hot bods, or swoon and melt. But I can do that and be aware that what I’m watching can be extremely problematic at the same time. It’s multitasking. And it’s not like I can switch off my inner feminist. Most I can do is tell her to calm down and reach for the aspirin. And then blog about it ;).

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the next episodes of The Master’s Sun. I’ve got my aspirin ready.

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16 thoughts on “Is the hair-grab the new wrist-grab?

  1. I was also surprised at the hair grabbing scene….and it was not funny at all (if that’s what they aimed for)…
    Even the wrist grab is so annoying but this was definitely too much…

    The only thing that can be said is that it shows the nature of the hero…I hope the drama stays away from such portrayal…and redeems him soon….

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  2. Uhm, I so wanna be grabbed by hair now >.< LOL It's like Orange is the new Black (it's actually a show with the same title) hehehe. I don't care which part of body he grab, anything he grab just turning me on….. *wink wink*

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  3. I also found it disturbing. This is not a mutual consent sex play situation, the male character was physically restraining a female character by grabbing the person by the hair. What is this action saying? That he will fight dirty? Is it a domination move? He man-she woman? And she submitted, and really was she okay with this? I do not know what the scene was trying to say but it was not cool, from a feminist/humanist standpoint.

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    • Yes, so not cool indeed! The most disturbing thing for me is that it’s essentially pointless because it has no bearing on the story, which leads me to believe that the directors/writers used it purely for laughs. It’s pointlessness says a lot in and of itself.

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  4. Wow, what an interesting post DDee.
    Its so weird what you said because I find myself so desensitised by these totally sexist actions in Korean Dramas in a way that I didn’t even notice the hair grabbing until reading this.
    And yeah you are right, its so totally wrong, and I must admit the actual physical violence that the male leads often use in drama’s was originally incredibly disconcerting, though these days, unless it is particularly bad, I hardly even notice it anymore. Which isn’t exactly a good thing.

    Its so weird, because even the wrist grab has become a little swoony to me now, though there is a huge difference between dramas and real life of course and if a dude tried to drag me around by my wrist (or hair) in real life I would probably punch him in the face.

    Double standards huh.

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    • To be honest, I noticed the hair-grab but I wasn’t as bothered by it as some others were, and I as I thought about it more, it really is a new low for rom-com male leads. Hmm as for double standards, I don’t think of it as such. I think we recognise the wrist grab for what it is: a male fantasy of what constitutes romance, that’s repeatedly sold to us women. I just wish we could see the flip side of that more often though in fantasyland aka dramaland ūüėČ

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  5. On the bright side, at least Kdrama women sometimes physically abuse their men, like My Lovely Sam Soon. (Wait. Is that a bright side?)

    This is not making me excited to watch Master’s Sun :b

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  6. I was actually taken back by this when I watched it happen; it both disturbed me personally but the fact that Gong Shil plays it off as nothing to fret over I couldn’t help but giggle internally – kinda sounds gross in the sense when I put it that way – but hey; still… I don’t think, no scratch that. I don’t ever want to see that level of handling on anyone in a drama.

    Take note all you writers, that is uber unacceptable. I am not amused.

    Great post dear~

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    • Thanks for reading bimbobunny! I’m glad this show has gotten better by leaps and bounds. He did get worse, but he’s becoming a lot better too. Although some of the dynamics might still be troubling (no surprise there) but I’m enjoying this show so much more now.

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  7. I am wondering whether such wrist-grabbing really happens in Korean real life. I don’t think I ever see such things happen around me. Before I became a stalker to kdrama blog, I took such actions for granted and always wondered why the girls never tucked the boy’s hand if she doesn’t like being treated that way. Now I am amaze that such scene can represent authority of a man and considered sexist. But I still think that if a girl doesn’t want to acknowledge the boy’s showing off his dominance, she could just brush him. At least that is what I would do, unless Hyun Bin is the one who wrist-grabbed me.

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    • Well, I recall an episode of Eat Your Kimchi where Martina was saying that hosts outside clubs do grab women to ask them to come inside, that’s as far as I know! Hyun Bin eh? Yes, I understand. If Gong Yoo wrist grabbed me, I’d brush him off, then grab him right back! Hekeke

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      • Really? Like a man grab a woman that he doesn’t know to get her inside a club? Now that deserve a punch!! Hehehe… Yes, Hyun Bin, Gong Yo, Cha Seung Won, Lee Min Ho… I’d welcome them to wrist-grabbed me anytime. In the end, it’s not about the action, It’s a about who’s doing it. He!

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