The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
By Elannah Swarnes Matos
Seong Gi- hun, Squid Game’s main protagonist, finds himself in an awkward position after unwittingly gifting his kid daughter, Ga-yeong, a gun on her birthday in the middle of the first episode. He grasps for something to say. “I mean, when you finally get older, there’s not gonna be that kind of discrimination like we got now,” one translation has him say. In another, Gi- Hun tells his daughter, “Your future is a world where men and women are equal.”
South Korea, despite being a well-developed nation, still struggles with gender inequality. Among the problems Korean women face are the widest pay gap among advanced economies, hostile work environments, and misogynistic discrimination. In 2013, 86% of violent crime was committed against women.
And while it’s difficult to gauge exactly how many women participated, every crowded shot of over 400 people is speckled with a handful of women. All just as desperate to win the prize as their male counterparts.
Among the named female characters in the game are the uneducated Han Mi- nyeo, the orphan Ji- yeong, and the North Korean defector and fan favorite, Kang Sae- byeok. Sae- byeok later becomes the most significant woman in the main cast of four men. In the end, it’s only her against two men.
The sheer, overwhelming number of participants makes it very difficult to get an exact estimate, as there are sometimes over 400 people on screen at once, but the script makes it abundantly clear that women are less likely to survive at every level. Why?
Well, consider the killing frenzy from episode four. The surly, physically imposing gangster named Heo Deok- su realizes that the game does not punish violence outside the games and so begins attacking other players during the night. It’s a strategic move to get rid of the competition while their defenses are down. Yet, his very first victim is the young woman who loudly revealed him and his allies as food grifters. Deok-su’s actions are never punished and he already secured revenge against the man that had caused him to drop his bottle. Yet, he still takes out his anger on that young woman. It seems he takes women out as soon as they get in his way.
And on top of that, women are just easier targets. He knows he has the advantage of brute strength, a quality he clearly values above all else.“Only gather guys who look strong,” he tells his teammate before knowing what the next game would be. The game rewards his methods because the next game— tug-of-war— is indeed a game of strength.
Therefore, it’s not just the players that cause the skewed power dynamics in what’s meant to be an even playing field: it’s the game and the qualities the game forces its players to value. All the players are whittled away to only the set of skills or liabilities a person possesses. Meanwhile, the intrinsic value of human life remains forgotten.
And how do the women of Squid Game subvert their disadvantage? Each significant female character has her own survival strategy.
Han Mi- nyeo, for example, attaches herself to the biggest, strongest man. She offers Deok- su sexual favors and aids him in the dalgonna game in exchange for his protection. But as we see in the team selection before the tug-of-war game, Mi-nyeo’s services don’t guarantee his loyalty to her. He shoves her to the ground as soon as her begging gets on his last nerve, even though she was only asking for him to uphold his end of their agreement.
By contrast, Sae- byeok and Ji-young place a considerable amount of physical as well as emotional distance between themselves and the other players. The deeply misanthropic Sae-byeok avoids others out of a sense of mistrust. Ji-young simply refuses to form any bonds with people; nothing ventured, nothing lost is her motto when it comes to relationships.
But coming back to where we began at the scene of a humble father telling his progeny that things will be better for her. Gi- hun has high hopes for the future—for his daughter’s future. Men and women will be equal one day, but that time is not now, and the games show why: society cannot progress when everyone must compete to survive.