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  • P-ISSN1229-0076
  • E-ISSN2773-9351

Female Masculinity and Cultural Symbolism: A History of Yeoseong gukgeuk, the All-Female Cast Theatrical Genre

The Review of Korean Studies, (P)1229-0076; (E)2773-9351
2021, v.24 no.2, pp.107-144
https://doi.org/10.25024/review.2021.24.2.005
하주용 (University of Hartford)
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Abstract

Female Masculinity, as discussed by Judith Halberstam (1998), comments on the cultural anxiety at the prospect of manly women and asserts that “heroic masculinity” is dependent on the subordination of alternative masculinity, masculinity mapped on other than male bodies. Although there are musical traditions in which men take on female roles, such Japanese kabuki and Chinese jingju, the opposite presentation, women taking on male roles, is much less common with the exception of “pants roles” in Western opera. In Korean cultural history the female shaman, mudang, often took on a male persona, and in the masked dance, talchum, males play female roles. At the beginning of the early 20th century, gisaeng, the female entertainers, began to perform changgeuk, an operatic version of pansori, which had a tradition of male performers up to that time. By post-colonial Korea in the late 1940s, another version of changgeuk was created by women with only female singers. This all-female theatrical cast genre is known as yeoseong gukgeuk. The legacy of gisaeng, already dismantled in the 1930s, was re-interpreted and yeoseong gukgeuk developed, gaining enormous popularity among mostly female audience members. Seeing women in male roles and through this “alternative masculinity” lifted Korean women out of their own oppression. In this article I examine how the construct of gender roles in musical performance in Korea in the 1950s was re-interpreted by female performers, thus disrupting social and cultural heroic masculinity. The performers presented an idealistic reality, along with sexual fantasies, that were appealing to a female audience. This paper concludes that yeoseong gukgeuk emerged at a specific time in Korean history for a limited period and addressed issues of masculinity before mass media gained control of sexual images and their promotion.

keywords
yeoseong gukgeuk changgeuk gisaeng theatrical genre gender theory sexuality female masculinity feminism pansori

The Review of Korean Studies