Recently, Joy, a member of the group Red Velvet, has been embroiled in an absurd controversy over a T-shirt worn under a suit jacket. Some netizens even left malicious comments requesting the artist to leave her group. The t-shirt in issue is what Korean netizens call a "feminist T-shirt."
This t-shirt has the phrase "We should all be feminists" and many celebrities both in Korea and overseas were seen wearing the shirt. Korean netizens did not raise an issue when actresses such as Jung Yumi and Kim Hye Soo were seen wearing the same shirt. However, the story changed when a girl idol member was seen wearing the shirt. This is due to the unusual standard for female idols that currently exist in Korea.
Joy posted various photos of her wearing this t-shirt on August 19th. As soon as these photos were released, Joy was heavily criticized by many netizens. Some netizens left comments saying, "Joy is being selfish wearing a shirt like that.", and "She's being inconsiderate wearing a shirt and boasting she's a feminist."
The t-shirt Joy wore is a shirt designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri, the first female creative director of Dior. This phrase, which is controversial in Korea, is the title of the book "We Should All Be Feminists" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie is a Nigerian-born writer who was chosen as one of the 100 influential people by Time magazine. The writer states, "Feminism is not just for women, but for both women and men," asking for solidarity from men. The book was also selected as a must-read for youth education in Sweden.
Creative director Chiuri stated that she is advocating a design that empowers young women. She stated, "When Dior's white T-shirt with the phrase 'We should all be feminists' hit the runway, that's exactly what I wanted to say. Fashion can be a powerful tool for delivering messages, and we can send messages to audiences around the world."
Not only Dior but also other luxury brands are interested in fashion and feminism. According to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, the global luxury industry has actively embraced feminism since 2015. CHANEL, a luxury brand, is also at the forefront. Following the brand founder Gabrielle Chanel, who spent her life trying to liberate women, Chanel's late creative director Karl Lagerfeld presented feminist messages such as "Women First" and "History is Her Story" through a collection in the spring of 2015. Recently, he launched a makeup line for "Boy de Chanel," a man who puts on make-up, which has destroyed gender stereotypes.
Just as mentioned previously, Joy wasn't the only celebrity to wear the Dior t-shirt in Korea as many actresses wore the same shirt. Also, numerous overseas' celebrities including singer Rihanna, rapper A$AP Rocky, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, and Kendall Jenner wore them.
Not only that, but even male idol members also wore shirts with feminism phrases. BTS member Jimin and Jin wore shirts with the phrases, "Gender equality" and "Radical feminist", which were the crewneck sweaters from ACNE Studios. A member from NU'EST also wore a t-shirt with the phrase "A girl is a gun" on tv broadcast.
These clothing with the feminist phrases can be worn by anyone however, the controversy only heightened when Joy wore it. Some netizens stated, "We don’t understand why a girl group with a large male fan base would wear a feminist t-shirt.”
Similar controversies continued to rise among female idols not only Joy. Fellow Red Velvet member Irene also was involved in a feminist controversy when she was seen reading the book "Kim Ji Young, Born in 1982", which was seen as a feminist book written by Cho Nam Joo. Also, when Naeun from April was seen having a cell phone case that said "Girls can do anything" on her social media, some netizens criticized the artist of being a feminist. Just as these cases, many female idol group members were under scrutiny and criticism when being related to feminism in the slightest way.
It seems that the strict standard being applied to female idols is because the girl idols are linked to the idea that they are a consumer product. They are often expected to hold a certain image - a soft-spoken, and beautiful individuals. Therefore, female idols are often criticized if they are seen as having a loud voice or strong opinions even if it does not relate to feminism.
Hopefully, as the generations pass and Kpop continues to spread globally, the ideologies and the strict standards on the female idol group members can be lifted and the girl idols can freely express themselves in Korea.