“Bean Paste Stew Girl:” A literal translation of the Korean term ‘된장녀.’ The idea is that there are certain women who would rather spend 3,000 won (a bit less than $3 American dollars) on a cheap cafeteria meal of bean paste stew all month long, living pretty minimally and frugally at home, and otherwise saving her money, but then buying an $800 Louis Vuitton purse.
What’s interesting in this image is the fact that the woman isn’t jobless or mooching off of others usually, but rather the criticism seems to lie in her apparently warped priorities, her vanity, her lack of a clear idea of what’s “really important.” Even the term itself is a point of controversy, as many women think of it as extremely sexist that such a word is being used as a kind of social disciplining, pointing at certain behavior or certain girls as “bad.”
On the one hand, you have a woman making money, enjoying sexual freedom, being finicky about her dating partners, buying her own stuff. It’s Destiny Child’s “Independent Woman” all rolled up in a term. On the other, however, is an image that seems to frighten many men here, especially in a society that has always kept women tied to very strict and limited social roles, and sexual freedom, unapologetic consumerism, and being a woman who doesn’t have to depend on a man is a scary prospect in Korea.”
I take the point about women having consumer power, which as we all know is the only power that really speaks, but I don’t see working hard to earn money and then somehow feeling compelled to spend that money on status symbols and appearance-based services and items as particularly empowering, myself. And I don’t really see the connection between conspicuous consumption and sexual empowerment, independence or a lack of limited social roles.
It’s also a pretty limited version of what an independent woman looks like. If paying more than a month’s worth of salary for a bag because it has a certain name on it and will impress people (who traditionally carry handbags, or are expected to spend their time and energy decorating themselves, according to traditional gender roles, by the way?) is the standard, then I’d have to admit to feeling a bit lost in the conversation, to be honest. By all means, a woman should have the right to do what she wants with the money she earns and not have to answer for it, but I am having a hard time seeing 된장녀 as a bastion of feminism, myself.