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The Controversy about Toenjangnyo (Vanity Woman)

The Controversy about Toenjangnyo (Vanity Woman)

By Lee Ji-Eun
Cho Ryeo-Jin
Ryu Seo-Hyun
The Post Reporter

  Part 1. Who is Toenjangnyo?

  Rebecca Bloomwood can't resist shopping.  Her primary concern is to shop for the trendiest clothes, cosmetics, accessories and so on.  She feels happy when shopping.  The only trouble with her is that she can't actually afford it.  Because this 25-year-old woman receives a quite low salary as a writer for a business magazine.  Rebecca is a main character in a  best-selling book about Shopaholics. The people like Rebecca are called Toenjangnyo in Korea.
  Toenjangnyo are the female university students who purchase luxurious products and drink Starbucks coffee even though they don't have enough money.  They also include single women who long for a New Yorker's life-style and yearn to date with rich guys. Toenjang  in Korean means soy bean paste and nyo is a suffix, meaning woman.  However, no one knows the exact origin of the word.  The only certain thing is that the word has a negative connotation. 
  There have been many recent negative newspaper articles about Toenjangnyo.  Moreover, on-line quarrels between males and females over the subject are common and intense.  There is even a Bringing-up-Toenjangnyo game on the Internet, causing some experts to express their concern about female consumerism.
  So, what is Toenjangnyo really all about?

  Part 2.
  1. Different Propensity to Consume

  A. Change in Consuming Patterns
  Today, the two main consuming groups are poles apart.  "They are value oriented and are divided into the highest value and the lowest one.  Because women dominate the highest value market, men feel relatively deprived.  For this reason men reproach women, so that Toenjangnyo of negative connotation is created.  I think this is an transient phenomenon caused by a bi-polar situation between men and women," said Song Mi-Ran, an expert in Consumer and Advertising Psychology of Chung-Ang Graduate School.
  "These days, the value of a product is transferred to the person who acquires it, regardless of quality or quantity, because it is supposed that it corresponds to his/her own value.  This is the Toenjangnyo mentality," she added.
  Nam In-Sook, the author of Everything of a women's life can be changed in her twenties, said, "These days, marketers sell not only a product but its image, too.  Undoubtedly, consumers already know about this.  That is, the day has come when a brand includes a product and an image."  People have created different forms of life through this product-image association.  Therefore, the means of expressing one's ego has changed, causing people to become too concerned about outward appearance.  It is natural for consumption to be linked with consumption for appearance.

  B. Misunderstanding between Vanity and Investment
  "Vanity spending is different from a reasonable way of using money.  Frugality does not mean just not buying expensive goods.  But most Koreans regard thrift as an economic, rational and wise way of life.  Vanity spending is not just shopping excessively but it also induces a false image.  On the other hand, if an investment makes you think that your taste is met and satisfied, it will be good.  I think we have to make a clear distinction between the two ways of life," said Nam.

  2. Conflict between Men and Women

  Most women think that the word Toenjangnyo stems from demeaning comments that men made on women.  Some men do believe that Toenjangnyo is the most representative characteristic of Korean women and that women need to be aware of this.
  Some male and female university students expressed their opinions about Toenjangnyo.

  Ajou University
  Sophomore in Dept. of E-business
  Sim Jae-Yeo (Male)
  I can easily find Toenjangnyo's characteristics in some of my girlfriends.  Their habits like shopping or taking photos in the cafeteria seem understandable to us.
  In modern society, the two sexes do not have perfect equality.  But equality has been improving, and women's position has become higher than ever.  Nevertheless, some women enjoy manipulating men for their money.  Most men including me complain about these kinds of women.  This way of complaining has turned into Toenjangnyo.
  Of course, a problem is with a woman's daily life as a consumer.  We may not only scold Toenjangnyo's lavishness but we also have to correct the equality between the two sexes.

  Cheong-Ju National University of Education
  Freshman in Dept. of English Education
  Kim Ji-Eun. (Female)
  Toenjangnyo is a male stereotype of looking at women.  I think a problem lies in the way that men and women think of the other.  Men are absolutely different from women both sexually and mentally, and they always believe that only they are right. 
  There's a 'friend or foe' dichotomy. This is the real problem.  Men classify women into just two groups- Toenjangnyo and obedient women.  They should stop thinking like this and stop finding faults with women without trying to understand the current situation women are in.

  Dongguk University
  Freshman in Dept. English Lang. & Lit.
  Kim Seong-Woo (Male)
  I don't think that men have a right to criticize Toenjangnyo because their luxurious lifestyle is their own choice.  Of course, if they don't have enough money to spend on expensive coffee and clothes, it will be a problem.  But we should distinguish between the people exercising a reasonable right from those who just enjoy vanity spending.  For those who can afford to buy famous brands, it is their individual life and own right.

  Hong-ik University
  Sophomore in Dept. of Civil Engineering
  Cho Hoon-Sik (Male)
  I don't agree with Kim, Seong-Woo.  If they are rich enough to buy luxury, they should share part of their wealth with the poor.

  Dongguk University
  Freshman in Dept. of English Lang. & Lit.
  Kwon Se-Jin (Female)
  In my opinion, the term Toenjangnyo comes from the narrow mind that men have on women.  All women are not full of vainglory.  This prejudice and misconception toward women is ascribed to the contradiction between the different consumption patterns of the two sexes.
  Still, there is an idea that women are inferior to men, although the position of women has improved substantially over the years.  If a man makes an error, it can be recognized as his own problem.  But if it is a woman's fault, all women's ability is called into question.  Furthermore, this issue is brought up by the negative Macho opinion toward the ability of women.

  Hong-ik University
  Sophomore in Dept. of Computer Engineering
  Park Yong-Min (Male)
  Extravagance is not only limited to female students.  Males can be extravagant, too.  The reason why Toenjangnyo is disliked by men is that they think she is waiting for a prince to satisfy her every want and need.  But the men detesting Toenjangnyo are incompetent ones who cannot satisfy her vanity.  I think this debate can be solved by changing the view these men have on women.

  Chung Chae-Gi, a professor at Kangwon Tourism College, says that men always have been irrational about women.  "Their irrationality is reasonable.  Why?  Men feel deprived because of the hoju controversy.  A father or hoju was the sole representative of the family in the past society of Korea. Thus, most women were subordinate to men and at a legal disadvantage.  This is the reason why women rallied against the hoju system in the last decade.  At last this system was done away with.  But men have no way of expressing their resistance to this sociological upheaval.  They created Toenjangynyo as a reaction to a changing society."
  Most female and some male students agree that a real problem lies with males.  "Essentially, most men may have an inferiority complex about women," Prof. Chung said.
  "Toenjangnyo is a by-product of the traditional conflict between men and women.  Both sides are in a confrontational and at the same time symbiotic relationship," he added.

  3. Internet Hasugu culture

  Hasugu means 'drain' in Korean.  The amount of internet information flows fast like hasugu.  That's why internet culture is called 'hasugu culture'.
  The distinctive character of the Internet is that each member of the society is free to express his own view.  That's why Toenjangnyo spreads so quickly.  Many netizens started to analyze her, and since then Toenjangnyo's daily life has been discussed on the internet everyday.
  The chairperson of the Korea Internet Safety Commission, Kang Ji-Won, says that Toenjangnyo was created and hyped on-line.  Then, how was this serious conflict between the sexes created?  He explained:  "There is no moderator of internet debate.  Nor does the debate proceed logically because everybody just gives their own opinion.  Therefore, the point of a certain issue keeps changing according to each person's point of view.  Most netizens voice very emotional and sensational opinions."  He calls this phenomenon 'Agora culture'.  At an agora many people insist on their opinion without making a valid point.
  The Internet debate has two sides.  The first one is that the internet discussion creates a lot of ideas.  In this way, Toenjangnyo is a new idea.  On the other hand, it can be a very aggressive and impulsive debate.  "We should be more rational than emotional.  'Witch-hunting', for good example, is triggered by a lack of reasoning," said Mr. Kang.
  "The internet reflects on a nation's mentality. I think we should make a comparative study of our level of internet debate with those of other countries'.  Then Korean netizens will see the comparatively low level of their internet culture. This is the best way to create a better internet culture."

  4. A Psychological View of Toenjangnyo Debate

  A. A Psychological Analysis of Toenjangnyo
  Toenjangnyo implies discrimination.  "It is similar to 'social outcast' in psychology.  People sometimes have a contempt for those who have a different opinion from them.  It is an expression of collective action we see when people reject the others' consumption style," said Kim Hai-Sook, a Professor in the Dept. of Psychology at Ajou University.  Many people think as follows: I don't have much money, so I drink machine coffee, but why do you drink the high-priced Starbucks coffee?  But some people do think that the quality of Starbucks' coffee is worth the money it costs.

  B. The View of Developmental Psychology
  In a consumer-oriented society, the word 'consumption' is the same as the word 'identity'.  This duality has a strong influence on female students.  Why has this phenomenon appeared?  "There is an interesting research on this question.  A doctor in the Graduate School of Konkuk University tested 37 females who had mental disorders.  He asked them to shop for 4 weeks.  It turned out to be an effective treatment for their mental disorders.  Not only did their depression decrease, but they also even became full of energy!  Females have ceaselessly tried to enhance their value by improving on their appearance.  This mentality finally completes one's identity these days.  Hence the invention of Toenjangnyo may be a kind of evolutionary product," said Prof. Lee Sang-Bin in his thesis, "Delicate Women."
  C. The View of Social Psychology
  “Hey, Mr. Kim.  How old is your car?”
  “2 years old.  It's time to buy a new one.”
  “Right.  I bought a BMW yesterday.  I got tired of my low-level EQUUS.”
  This dialogue is common among middle-aged men and quite similar to the Toenjangnyo syndrome.  But why is the criticism directed at young women?  "This is because there is a negative opinion towards the older generation. The young have no income yet waste much money.  Now we are moving from Toenjangnyo to Toenjangajumma - ajumma is a suffix, meaning married woman.  There is a different perception about female consumption rather than a generation gap," stressed Prof. Kim.

  Part 3. A Survey on Toenjangnyo
  A netizen's sarcastic cartoon, 'The days of Toenjangnyo' caught the attention of the mass media, which only took their one-sided view.  The mass media were indifferent to the opinion of university students.  So the Post conducted its own survey, choosing 200 Donggukians, 100 males and 100 females, to examine their opinion about Toenjangnyo.

  Survey 1: Male students
  1. Do you know about Toenjangnyo? (Yes 88%, No 12%)

  2. If yes: What do you think of Toenjangnyo?
  a. They are too egoistic and snobbish. (22%)
  b. I just dislike them. (30%)
  c. Though I'm not a Toenjangnyo, I'm sympathetic with them. (19%)
  d. I can't understand why people criticize the other's lifestyle. (17%)
  e. I don't care. (12%)

  3-1. If you chose a, b or e; What is your definition of Toenjangnyo?
  a. A woman who spends money lavishly. (66%)
  b. A woman who flatters a man so that he will frequently buy her something expensive. (11%)
  c. A woman who often goes to Starbucks or walks around with takeout coffee. (5%)
  d. A woman who believes that she actually is a New Yorker. (18%)

3-2. If you chose c or d; What is your definition of Toenjangnyo?
  a. The new type of woman who is self-centered and egoistic. (0%)
  b. A woman who quickly adapts herself to the newest western lifestyle and trends. (6%)
  c. An independent woman living in a man's world. (28%)
  d. A woman who tries to express her identity through shopping. (66%)

  4-1. Do you think that Toenjangnyo really exists?  (Yes 90%, No 10%)

4-2. If yes; How many Toenjangnyos do you think are around?
  a. There are so many. (16%)
  b. Just many. (52%)
  c. Not many. (20%)
  d. Rare. (12%)

  5. What do you think of the Bringing-up Toenjangnyo game?
  a. It demeans women a lot. (70%)
  b. It portrays Toenjangnyo correctly. (30%)

  6. What is the most important point of this dispute?
  a. Difference in attitudes toward western culture. (9%)
  b. Different perceptions on why women like to consume. (47%)
  c. It is sexist opposition to Toenjangnyo. (7%)
  d. Mass media give a very biased view of Toenjangnyo. (26%)
  e. It's witch-hunting allowed by Internet anonymity. (11%)

  Survey 2 : Female students
  1. (Yes 94%, No 6%)
  2. a. (7%) b. (7%) c. (18%) d. (59%) e. (9%)
a.(68%) b. (9%) c. (0%) d. (23%)
a. (4%) b. (12%) c. (6%) d. (78%)
  4-1. (Yes 95%   No 5%)
  4-2.   a. (19%) b. (60%) c. (14%) d. (7%)
  5. a. (90%) b. (10%)
  6. a. (3%) b. (55%) c. (9%) d. (24%) e. (9%)

Part 4. Conclusion
  The real identity and concept of Toenjangnyo is vague.  This is just one phenomenon.  So we don't have to think that this is a confrontation between men and women.
  However, we should remember this: Toenjangnyo's behavior is just what they like to do.  We should understand this and do not blame her for their own unique lifestyle. To be truly modern, the society should accommodate various types of people.

Lee Ji-Eun  yukiilo@dongguk.edu

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