In many dramas, it's much worse. The male lead often belittles the female lead for her stupidity, pushing on her forehead with his finger and saying things like "Do you just smash things with this rock?" or "I'm surprised you can even chew food with this useless lump." (I don't know if those are actual kdrama insults, but they sound like real kdrama insults. You're welcome to use them in any upcoming dramas, provided that Lee Min Ho is the one saying these lines.)
|If a man did this to me, I would break his finger off. And then do some calculus out of spite.|
Now, I'm not saying that every woman has to be a rocket scientist, but these shows seem to consistently assume that the only thing women can do well is being "nice." That's why they need big, smart men to help them escape their own stupidity. In essence, saying that women are always stupid and incompetent infantilizes them.
For those of you kdrama viewers who get tired of girls pounding their fists on their heads and blinking absent-mindedly, I've put together a list (in no particular order) of some competent kdrama female leads who have some brains behind all that beauty. If you don't mind the she-can't-tie-her-own-shoes-but-she's-so-cute lead, then you're welcome to ignore this list and go watch Playful Kiss or You Are Beautiful on repeat.
Note: This list is all about brains. Some of these leads have other weaknesses that we didn't love, but many of them are all-around awesome.
1. Kim Yoon Hee (Sungkyunkwan Scandal)
I actually started watching Sungkyunkwan Scandal because I really, really needed a show with a female lead who was smart enough to hold her own against the male characters. Kim Yoon Hee to the rescue! In terms of gender-bending dramas, she's the anti-Go Mi Nam. I'm pretty sure you would never catch Yoon Hee accidentally gluing her fingers together, even if she time traveled and had never seen glue before. But she goes way beyond this bare minimum of brain power; she's a brilliant scholar who refuses to give up on knowledge just because she's a girl.
|I want this to be her theme song.|
2. Hwang Tae Hee (Queen of Reversals)
Hwang Tae Hee doesn't even have niceness going for her, so maybe she has to be smart by default. Even her enemies can't deny that she's the best of the best at her job, but their constant sabotage is no match for her sharp wits.
|I suspect that she derives special brain powers from her helmet hair.|
3. Sam Soon (My Lovely Sam Soon/ My Name Is Kim Sam Soon)
Sam Soon might not have book smarts, but she has something more important: food smarts. This is the perfect example of finding strengths outside of traditional education. I'm okay with female leads who aren't nuclear physicists if they are pastry geniuses instead. To be honest, if I had to decide whether I could have a PhD or become a world-class patisseur, I would probably choose blood orange cream filling every single time. Drool.
|This scene is kind of a waste of delicious cake, but the fact that she |
combines her baking prowess with the guts to shove cake into a man's face is pretty commendable.
4. Noh Eun Seol (Protect the Boss)
What I love about Protect the Boss is that neither lead is really living up to his or her potential until they join forces. Noh Eun Seol readily admits that she spent more time hitting bullies than hitting the books in her school days, but that doesn't make her stupid. She is creative and innovative and finds ways to help her boss tap into his own smart ideas. In a position that chews through Ivy League graduates faster than you can say "all that student debt for nothing," Eun Seol shows her competence by thinking outside of the box and winning everyone's approval.
Bonus points for beating up a man who tried to sexually harass her in the first episode. Extra bonus points for telling the rich chaebol that kissing her without permission is also harassment.
|I can't tell if she is punching or cheering, but in either case, she will be victorious!|
5. Gong Ah Jung (Lie to Me)
Lie to Me was the first drama I ever saw where the female lead didn't start out starving in a gutter or hiding from loan sharks. Unless an unexpected swarm of bees shows up to trash a major international event, Gong Ah Jung is an excellent public servant. She takes her position so seriously that when the government tries to fire her, she basically says, "Nope, sorry, I'm actually awesome at my job."
|Yoon Eun Hye's best "I love working a desk job for the government!" face|
6. Seo Yi Soo (A Gentleman's Dignity)I already mentioned how I sort of bonded with Yi Soo in my review of this series, but I want to praise her skills again here. She might be somewhat frozen-faced around her love interests, but in her regular life, she is a personable educator who is able to reach even the most difficult of students. She's not just a teacher; she's a really good teacher, and that's not something to dismiss.
|Why yes, that IS an entire classroom of teenage boys applauding during a lesson.|
What's next? A unicorn dancing with a leprechaun?
7. Jang Hye Sung (I Hear Your Voice)
Jang Hye Sung comes with a bit of a caveat. She's smart and good at her job, but only when she wants to be. She isn't always passionate about doing a good job, but when she is, she can work a case like a champ.
8. Ma Hye Ri (Prosecutor Princess)
I know what you're thinking. Ma Hye Ri on a list of positive female depictions? Impossible! I know a lot of people saw Hye Ri as a whiny child throughout most of Prosecutor Princess, but I'd like to make a case in her behalf (Get it? Make a case? Because she's a prosecutor? I'll stop now.). In the first episode, we find out that Hye Ri aced her exams without studying and then graduated at the top of her law class with ease. Even if she's self-absorbed and useless at first, no one can deny that the woman has some brains under that hideous mop of hair. Once she stops focusing on herself, she actually turns out to be a pretty strong prosecutor, too.
|I don't think it's any coincidence that the level of crazy perm in Ma Hye Ri's hair |
has an inverse relationship with the quality of her work.
9. Yoo Jung In (Vampire Prosecutor)
Okay, if you really want to see a female prosecutor done right, look no further than Yoo Jung In. Unlike the previous two entries, she comes to the job full of passion and a drive to succeed. When she gets left out of the boys' club for being female and a non-vampire, she doesn't mope or dress up as a boy. She just does her own sleuthing (without the help of cheater vampire powers, might I add) and solves crimes on her own. Also, she beats up gangsters. Also also, she interrogates people like a boss. Also also also, I LOVE HER.
|"Let's see who wins"? It's you, Yoo Jung In. You win. At everything.|
10. Kim Na Na (City Hunter)
Last but not least is City Hunter's Kim Na Na. This is Park Min Young's second entry on this list, but it's for quite a different role. This time, she's a talented, driven bodyguard with goals to make it to the Blue House. Not only does she have brains, but she can also best Lee Min Ho at judo. For more about how awesome she is, see Coco's review of the series.
So who did we miss? What other series should we check out for other smart, capable women? What characteristics do you love in kdrama female leads?