Been having some conflicting ideas and need to pick your brains. What are your thoughts on aegyo and/or sajiao?
- how do you define aegyo and/or sajiao?
- is there a difference between aegyo and sajiao?
- how do they reflect notions of masculinity and femininity in Korean/Chinese culture?
- can men use aegyo and/or sajiao? under what conditions is it acceptable?
- can aegyo and/or sajiao coexist with feminist ideals?
- does using aegyo and/or sajiao with non-Korean/non-Chinese men reinforce stereotypes of Asian/Asian American women being submissive, passive, and helpless?
- is aegyo and/or sajiao necessarily bad?
Figured I might as well re-blog for commentary instead of trying to fit my answer into Tumblr’s limited reply box.
- both aegyo & sajiao are meant to make someone appear cute & endearing
- aegyo to me is more evolved/developed than sajiao; aegyo is more diverse and has its own trends and memes of the moment whereas sajiao is more a specific way of talking
- for both, cute = acting childlike, self-effacing, vulnerable/deserving of “protection”
- yes, men can do aegyo/sajiao, though I think the acceptability is limited to significant others, older siblings, or before the start of official adulthood - but age plays a large role regardless of gender, imo
re: co-existing with feminist ideals… I’m going to say yes. And disclaimer, I’m totally guilty of sajiao, even as an adult. I joke that I watched too many Taiwanese dramas while growing up so now my default way of speaking Mandarin skews toward sajiao (think of it as a Chinese Valley girl accent), but it feels natural to me, and I have to consciously will myself to stop.
I sajiao all the time to my parents (the amount of times I say “别气愤我了!!”…) and I did it a lot to my ex-boyfriend, who was Taiwanese. He was okay with it in private, mildly embarrassed when I slipped into it in public like in Chinese restaurants, etc, and very uncomfortable when I did it to his mom (but his mom loved it, so… know how to pick your battles). I definitely do think there’s some reinforcement of gender roles and stereotypes, but I see aegyo/sajiao the same as shaving your legs - yes, you’re buying into a patriarchal paradigm, but women can decide for themselves whether the social capital gained from it is worth the trouble or not.
I don’t have a good localisation for this. Uhhh it lies somewhere between “being coquettish” and “whining, but in a cutesy way”. It’s all unexplored territory for me. I can’t do it and utterly fail to see the point. That said if you can and it works for you, do it all you want, no skin off my back, why should I care? XD I think as long as you don’t say things that are anti-feminist, you can sajiao all you want. Personally I don’t see the point, but then I’m more Christina Yang than … you know, I can’t even name one, which should tell you something. Uncute all the way.
I understand aegyo as an aesthetic (like kawaii) but sajiao as… an approach to interpersonal relations? I’m hobbled by the fact that only one of these words is in a language I speak and understand the nuances of.
I don’t like the performative aspects of aegyo/kawaii, because I find them alienating — I have to assume I’m not the intended audience, nor do I identify with the performer, and it all seems very studiously parametrized and artful (I’m puzzled, for instance, by commentators who get a genuine sense of warmth off SNSD music videos). The visual and sonic trappings of girly cuteness I have nothing against, can sometimes quite like. I don’t see any part of this aesthetic as coding inconsequentialness, at least not more than any other music video aesthetic.
As for sajiao, it’s pretty foreign to my upbringing. XD If the term came up at all my dim sense is that it was in early childhood, associated only with early childhood, and defined as manipulative, if mild, misbehaviour — I would have been told that “some children sajiao in order to get their parents to buy them things, it’s good that you’re the type of child who doesn’t;” or (mockingly) “oh, she knows how to sajiao, does she!” But then, I’m an after-80, which in mainland Chinese terms is v. different from an after-90. In a Communist paradigm sajiao isn’t only infantilizing and anti-feminist, it’s anti-revolutionary. The spoilt bourgeois Lotties of the world engage in it, not the independent-minded proletarian Tianas.
Anyway; like most women I’ve engaged in the odd bit of eyelash-batting, playing the hapless lady driver before the traffic cop if nothing else, so I’m not going to judge. But again, insofar as sajiao is results-driven, there is literally no one in my life on which it would work or would ever have worked, even though I was an adorable looking child; and children abandon interpersonal strategies that don’t work very quickly.
Unlike most of the people in this thread, I have the opposite language issue: aegyo (애교) is a concept I intuitively understand but have never heard of sajiao.
Thoughts on aegyo:
- Don’t know if it helps my Chinese friends or not, but the 漢字 for 애교 = 愛嬌
- Naver translates it into English as “act charming” but the Korean definition is a lot more precise: “behaving in a manner to appear cute to others.” There’s a certain voice I associate with 애교: high pitched and slightly nasal, with a lisp, and the extreme form of Seoul dialect.
- I think there’s a broad definition of 애교, which is just “being cute” in general, whether it be to family or friends or strangers, and that definitely does not have to be gender-specific. 남자들도 애교 떠는 것 분명히 봤다. Though it is always a gendered term, even when someone who identifies as male is doing it. The narrow definition of 애교 is specifically female and targeted to a male audience. Usually in practice one’s romantic partner.
- 애교 is a gender norm: how many times have my parents told me to 애교 좀 부리면 더 좋겠다. Though it’s always presented as a matter of social lubrication, a means of managing how you are perceived by others. Better to 애교 떨다 than be 무뚝뚝하다. I wonder if that’s not what contributes to the general perception of falsity in 애교; that it’s fundamentally an inauthentic presentation because it is strategic.
- I have been privy to several conversations about 애교 among Korean-Americans, primarily 1.5-gen and tending towards immigration at later ages, as exhibited by the fact that all these conversations happened exclusively in Korean. The one I remember specifically involved an 언니 I know asking the men in the group whether they really preferred girlfriends who showed 애교. The men all answered no because they found it embarrassing. The woman who posed the question retorted, “Men always say that they don’t prefer girlfriends to show 애교, but when it comes down to it, they actually do.” Regardless of whether or not the men were answering truthfully or not, I think there is definitely this underlying connotation to 애교, that it always evokes an embarrassment squick, both on the part of person performing and the person audiencing. Think for example how often an awkward attempt at 애교 is used as a source of humor on variety shows. My take on the issue is that to actually pull off 애교 requires a level of self-assertiveness that is not in fact a traditional gender norm for Korean women. It requires you to openly admit that you want attention and that you want to be noticed. It’s telling that Kpop groups that I hear associated with the term 애교 (well, at least in English-speaking fandom) are also the same groups that I hear associated with words like “disrespectful” and “shameless” (well…at least in Korean-speaking fandom). This of course is not even touching upon the sexual undertones to the 애교 dynamic, which happens most frequently in heterosexual relationships.
- In short, 애교 is a gender norm for women, but it’s a relatively modern one. Insofar that it is a norm that sets expectations of “feminine behavior”, it could be called anti-feminist. But I think that’s a facile analysis. I would say it is problematic but I can also see how it can coexist with feminist ideals…it just depends on what those ideals are.
- As a tangent, re: feminist ideals, I had a conversation with my mother (now in her mid-60s), who was surprised that I considered her to be a feminist. When I asked her what her image of a feminist was, the first descriptor on her list was “a woman who wears make-up.” (Code for a woman who is explicitly sexual and confident about it.) Yeah, sorry, second-wave and third-wave definitions do not translate well here.
- I have met more Korean-American women (1-, 1.5- or 2-gen) who are not comfortable with 애교부리는 것 than those who are. Displays of 애교 are usually performed (어섹하게 = awkwardly) as a joke. Also, there’s a lot of negative judgment about women with too much 애교 — phrases like 닭살난다 (lit. “getting goosebumps” but idiomatically used to express disgust) or 느끼하다 (lit. “greasy” but in context tends to mean “nauseating”) get thrown about. Plus, sometimes when young girls show too much 애교, they are judged to be too precocious for their own good rather than behaving in an age-appropriate manner, which to me says 애교 is not as simple as just engaging in infantile behavior; there is a “maturity” associated with the form of “cuteness”. That being said, there is probably an effect of cultural fossilization at work there (cf. what I said above about 애교 being a relatively modern gender norm).
- I’m temperamentally unsuited to showing 애교. The closest I can get is when socializing with older Korean women. Somehow the 언니/동생 dynamic brings out what few dregs of cuteness I’m capable of mustering. But I can’t manage the voice in English at all. Once I tried as a joke to 애교부리다 for S. and collapsed laughing before I could get out a full sentence.
Additional perspectives! This is more interesting than ever because none of the terms under discussion seem to be fully commensurate. (Bing suggested 卖萌 as a better Chinese synonym for aegyo; it seems closer, but not quite it either. “sajiao” is 撒娇 btw, and Kristina suggested that it’s closer to the Japanese 甘える、which would also be my instinct — insofar as the Chinese usage is drifting toward unisex. And of course we all have this sense that these words mean different things to different generations… the judgements you mention exist in Chinese too, it’s exactly what my mom would say.)
I can only +1 this conversation, not having a cultural relationship with aegyo (and especially not sajiao) aside from what I’ve absorbed from following K-pop. (For what it’s worth, my mom made an awesome face when I told her that some Korean women call their boyfriends “oppa”.) But I guess this is as good a place as any to clear out these notes and discussion questions on aegyo from my drafts, many of which are addressed above:
- Aegyo is a cultural thing, BUT I feel like it’s valid for me not to like it/say that it makes me uncomfortable - as long as I can then examine why it makes me uncomfortable (is it because of me? is it because of what aegyo is for?)
- Aegyo makes me uncomfortable =/= aegyo must be stopped
- Discussions of aegyo often elide instances of male aegyo completely, even though they’re frequent in K-pop - why?
- Do women dislike aegyo more than men do? Do men dislike performing aegyo more than women do?
- Look at discussions of lolita fashion + sexuality + perception, because like aegyo, lolita is often perceived as sexual/infantilizing rather than empowering - how do we make it empowering?
- Is my discomfort with aegyo personal, because I’m used to infantilizing representations of East Asian women here? (Answer: Yeah, but not 100%.)
- The problem with aegyo is the same as the problem with fierce, or the problem with diva - not content, but delivery. Whether aegyo is irritating or endearing is a matter of preference; but the debate over whether it’s infantilizing or empowering is a theoretical one that ignores aegyo’s real-world, hard presence as a meme and cultural force. It’s not just a single representation of femininity - increasingly, it is the only femininity, and that is what makes it problematic, not its validity but its dominance.