Kim-yeosa, or “Mrs. Kim,” is a widely known term in South Korea. It’s used to demean female drivers — often those of older generations — who are clumsy on the road. “There goes Mrs. Kim,” one might say, when a female driver doesn’t abide by traffic rules, gets involved in car accidents, or is unskilled at parking.
It’s a misogynistic stereotype, and one that the country’s biggest automobile company recently used to promote one of its newest brands.
“Controversies are only made by those who start them,” Myeong Ji-woong, a press officer at Hyundai, told Korea Exposé.
Judge for yourselves: In one ad, “Lady Care,” a young woman is driving the new car, but with apparent clumsiness. She uses the rear camera even when she’s driving (not just reversing), and prefers her car to be burgundy (a supposedly feminine color). “A leader in style and safety, “Lady Care” is for people like me,” says the female narrator, “who are tasteful but clumsy in driving.”
If “Lady Care” depicts an unskilled female driver — even though she’s younger and sexier than the usual image of Mrs. Kim — “Family Care,” another ad promoting the same brand, reinforces gender stereotypes, relegating the woman literally to the backseat. In this advertisement, a mother is looking after her child in the back of the car, while the man drives. “As I became a father, my wife left…from my side to the back seat,” the green and blue letters flash in the ad. “This [car] is for my wife and child, who will be sitting in the back.”
Hyundai Motor took down “Lady Care” from its YouTube channel and official website less than a week after publicizing the ads on Apr. 7. “The advertising firm focused too much on entertainment, slightly offending viewers,” said Myeong of Hyundai Motor. “Family Care” was still public, he said, because the ad wasn’t made with malicious intent.
Some online commenters took a similar stance, claiming that the controversy surrounding the ads were exaggerated. They argued that the ads were merely reflecting reality, not perpetuating stereotypes. Men and women have fundamentally different physiques and different reflexes, which apparently means women must lack the alertness needed to drive safely. This logic, used to downplay the controversy behind the Hyundai ads, is also commonly used to justify the derogatory term, Kim-yeosa.
Social landscapes are changing in South Korea. Since 1990, more women have been getting driver’s licenses, which may be a significant factor in the rising number of car accidents involving female drivers. According to Korea Road Traffic Authority, the number of female license holders rose tenfold between 1990 and 2014, while their male counterparts multiplied only twofold. Correspondingly, in 2013, car accidents caused by female drivers accounted for 16.9 percent of all accidents, compared to 2.2 percent in 1990.
“If the ad is objectively problematic, we will take it down,” Myeong said. “But if it’s a problem just for a small number of viewers, we will make a rational decision, because making those ads cost money. There’s no need for us to take a drastic measure where it’s not necessary.”