Heroine fiction produced during the latter half of the Joseon Dynasty questioned the status and role of women, which were determined by the strict Medieval rules that forbade women from freely coming in contact with men outside their immediate familie ...
Heroine fiction produced during the latter half of the Joseon Dynasty questioned the status and role of women, which were determined by the strict Medieval rules that forbade women from freely coming in contact with men outside their immediate families. While the specific ways in which they each question gender norms and arrive at conclusions are different, works that belong to the category of heroine fiction basically address in depth the issues of equality and differences between the sexes and gender identity.
In most cases, the protagonists of heroine fiction prove that women are just as socially capable as men are by cross-dressing and successfully performing male roles. In other words, they argue for gender equality based on identical abilities. The equality thus pursued by heroine fiction, however, is realized on different levels in each specific work. "Bang-han-rim-jeon" (방한림전) is noteworthy because, among works that belong to heroine fiction, it shows a figure who pursues "equality" to the extreme.
However, the majority of works in the heroine fiction category stress differences between the sexes by partly affirming gender equality and ultimately affirming gender differences. This, of course, may be seen as reproduction of the existing, patriarchal discourse of difference. The awareness of women exhibited by heroine fiction thus has both significance and limitations, which makes the works that belong to this category transitional and complex. Characters such as Lady Bak in the "Bak-ssi-bu-in-jeon" (박씨부인전) and Yeong Hye-bing in the "Bang-han-rim-jeon" , on the other hand, embody early aspects of the feminist discourse of difference. Moreover, the Tale of Academician Bang masterfully depicts the interdependence of equality and difference between the sexes through Bang Gwan-ju, who calls for equality, and Yeong, who emphasizes difference.
In addition, heroine fiction questioned the fixed concept of gender identity that was prevalent in a Confucian Medieval society. It also literarily questioned the fluidity and changeability of gender boundaries by portraying the inner landscape of cross-dressing female protagonists.
Heroine fiction from the latter half of the Joseon Dynasty is considerably significant because it called attention to problems faced by women in a patriarchal society by raising questions regarding issues such as equality, difference, and gender identity independently of Western influence and literarily depicted problems universal to the history of women worldwide in the particular context of Korean society.
Keywords: heroine fiction, difference, equality, cross-dressing, gender identity, patriarchy