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Date Posted: 15:41:44 08/15/08 Fri
Gongjupyung. Translated directly from Korean, or means "princess disease." Perhaps a slightly more complete translation would be "princess complex." But here we're not talking about the fabled "Jewish American Princess" or WASP girls coming out into society. In the case of Koreans, gongjupyung is a social marker of the state of gender relations unique unto itself.
One of the main things about gongjupyung often ignored by armchair intellectuals of the Korean persuasion is the extent to which it this disease is almost a direct measure of the inherently uneven balance between the genders in Korea. The fetish of the gongju - the "princess" - affects most heterosexual men in Korea to some degree. Not only that, it would be remiss of me not to note that there can be no princess without a prince, as gender roles for females depend on a complementary one for the male. There is then, necessarily such a thing as wangjapyung, a "prince complex," and it is no coincidence that they exist side by side, feeding off one another in a symbiotic relationship.
So what is gongjupyung specifically, then? Well, like many other subjective and contested terms, it is somewhat hard to define, but "you know it when you see it," as Ed Meese once said when asked to define "obscenity." Of course, such subjective definitions are inadequate for making law, but it will do for the purposes of armchair theorizing.
For me, gongjupyung is recognizable when my stomach turns at certain displays of feminine entitlement to be treated like royalty, or at the very least, better than everyone else. Most often, the afflicted have an overactive sense of self, defined by what they believe to be their desirability to men. I would venture to say that these nouveau princesses believe themselves to the yangban reincarnate, a new social elite of beauty and femininity. If this were the case, then perhaps the gongjupyung class would be worthy of our peasant envy or even jealousy; however, unlike the true yangban class of days gone by, nowadays everyone seems to believe they are part of the elite, much how every family with means in Korea seems to claim yangban roots in the family. My response to both is a sleepy "Yeah, right." You and everybody else.
The mere fact that everyone seems to think they are better than the rest of us cheapens their claim to a higher station in life. If everybody seems to be too good for everyone else, then who is left among the ranks of the fashionless and unattractive, unwashed masses? If it were only the "beautiful people" who always seem to think they're better than everyone else, then it would be a natural relationship between the BP and non-BP, like it was in high school. No, this is something worse. Too many people subscribe to notions of gendered grandeur for this to be as naturally annoying as that. Gongjupyung is something altogether different.
I've been theorizing a lot. Let me give you something concrete to chew on.
The Blue Monkey was a place near Yonsei University where young hip-hoppers and rapsters came to hear some decent spinning of the turntables. It was one of the few real chill and dressed-down spots in Seoul, and it was no coincidence that hip-hop music and attitude defined the atmosphere. Not only did you have university kids from around the city, but it drew a large number of expats, some of whom were even Black. Although this may not seem like much, after living in Korea for two years, this sort of thing tends to impress. A group of us had a table, which is really just a place to hold your drinks, unlike many dance clubs in Korea, where it is a place to hold your drinks for a few hundred dollars. We had all been dancing for a good while, when I went back to the table to grab my OB or whatever beer I was drinking that night. As I walked over to the table, I looked and saw a woman sitting at our table, and I found myself becoming quite angry.
Now the anger was not coming from the fact that she was sitting at our table; they were all free and open to anyone. I mean even if there were obviously several drinks on the table, most of which were only half-drunk, she still technically had the right to cop a squat wherever she pleased. No, what made me angry was the fact that I knew deep in my soul, based on my experience with gongjupyung, exactly what was going to happen, but was powerless to stop it. But I was intent on getting my drink from my table, and I wasn't going to let anyone stop me. I thought that perhaps this one time, it would be different.
As I purposely avoided eye contact and made a beeline directly for the glass of beer I could reasonably guess to be mine, she looked up from her apparent disdain she held for all those dancing and having fun that no, she did not want to talk to me. She waved her hands in front of her, clicked her tongue in disapproval, and made a point of looking in the other direction. This all in the single motion of reaching for my beer at my table.
I couldn't believe that little display, even after years of life there. Really - that took quite a bit of gan, as Koreans say. Had that really happened? She obviously wasn't having fun, no was hitting on her that I could see, or even imagine, and I had gone out of my way to avoid making any indications that could be even mistaken for interest. I had been the victim of gongjupyung-induced behavior, and I was going out of my way not to provoke it. But this took the cake. She was blocking access to my drink by lingering at my table. This only added insult to injury.
To be clear, this incident was not a frustrating one in itself. It has to be considered in the context of the larger epidemic of gongjupyung one encounters in everyday life. I generally don't approach young women on the street to ask for directions, which I tend to need a lot when visiting other cities in Korea. Invariably, if she is of college age, the reaction will speak volumes about her overdeveloped sense of being an untouchable among the unwashed masses:
"Oh!" she will exclaim, in reaction to me asking "Excuse me, would you know where to catch the cross-town bus?" in the politest Korean possible. Actually, I usually don't even get that far. Usually she will act quite flustered, sometimes even fanning herself. If she is with a friend, they will often look at each other and giggle. But it's not a nervous or awkward giggle, which I am also used to, but the laugh one gets when the nerd actually arrogates himself to speak to the popular cheerleader girl in high school. But again, the latter situation is inimical to high school or to the beautiful people living among the unwashed, but a man dressed in a blazer standing in a busy street in midday Seoul does not warrant such a reaction, methinks. Often, it has been the case that such people simply snicker and walk away.
Maybe it was me. But after observing the pattern repeat itself over and over, and not only with me, I began to doubt it. I've watched women in coffee shops attending to their makeup for two hours or more, while my friends and I met, ate, drank, and got up to leave. I've seen scores of women disapprovingly turn back orders which were under par, or demand seats to be cleaned which didn't appear too dirty. After overhearing endless conversations about hair, makeup, clothes, and how much these things didn't look good on other women, it can really bring out the feminist in even the dopiest of men. After a while, you just feel like your head is going to explode. And this is only one part of the picture. There is a whole other annoying gender thing that makes for a deadly-sickening one-two punch to the gut of any feminist sensibilities one might have.
Naesoong, when combined with gongjupyung, can double most people over and leave you down for the count. The distinction is subtle, but really palpable and sickeningly real after a while. Naesoong can be thought of as a display of feigned feminine weakness or innocence, usually - and importantly - displayed before a man. You can imagine how naesoong and gongjupyung work hand in hand. Just watch the naesoong fly when anyone spills a glass at a coffee house table, and wait for the petulant cries "On no!" or "What do we do?" I am not making any of this up. You would think you would hear "What do we do?" after hearing a tornado warning or finding out your partner just gave you syphilis, not after spilling a glass of Pocari Sweat. But you hear it all the time.
Some people call this kind of behavior similar to a display of aegyo, which means something akin to whining or complaining in a babyish way, like when a fully-grown woman twists her shoulders back and forth while making squealing noises through a fully-formed pout in order to make a man comply with her wishes. The sad thing is that it works, more often than not.
Which brings me to the men and their role in all this, since none of these womanly "charms" can work without willing collective participants. So for all the worried expressions of shock or surprise at insignificant social offenses, the plaintive, infantile squeals of displeasure, and especially for the overly inflated and indulged measure of self-worth in relation to any and every other female in close proximity, there is the reaction of the wangja.
Men suffer from a closely-related social disease that is wanjapyung, or the "prince complex." Persons afflicted with the disease can often be identified by their ever-present, visible assertions of manhood, control, and apparent power. Were I to don loose-fitting black dress pants, a tight-fittiing white shirt, step into an expensive sports car, swagger with an affected gangsta lean into my favorite hangout, and then proceed to promptly make an unnecessary call from my cell phone, I might be understood to be one of the afflicted. Both extremes of the types seem to be attracted to each other, and are often seen together. Makes sense, no?
Translated over for Korean-Americans.
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