Korea's Joseon Dynasty was not so great for women.
Despite a history of female shamans, smart-as-a-whip queens
, and matrilineal families, Korea turned to Neoconfucianism around 1400 and stuck with a "separate spheres for men and women" rhetoric backed by laws for almost 500 years. Needless to say, the spheres for women were secluded, subservient, and reproductive.
This historical period seems to be a popular setting for dramas in general, possibly because it was just plain long. The drama I watched was Sungkyunkwan Scandal
This is Kim Yoon Hee. Her brother is too sick to work, and she's a huge (illicit, see Neoconfucianism) nerd, so she dresses as a boy to work as a scribe, then gets embroiled in the university entrance exams and is admitted to a residential program, which was Not The Plan. She gets through this by being absurdly dashing: early on, she gets a reputation as a total stud due to courtesan-related hijinks and swaggers while everyone calls her "Big Shot" for the rest of the series.
This is Moral Rectitude. (Sure, he has a name, but that's not what we called him.) If anything needs judging, he will judge it. Sometimes his own seriousness makes him sad. As he is a rich boy, he has a fat, bawdy servant à la Shakespeare.
These guys are BFFs: the rebellious genius (who is TOTALLY NOT BFFs WITH ANYBODY) and the foppish mastermind (basically a junior Yendi). Both are great.
Because you have likely seen television before, you may be asking: does everyone
fall in love with Yoon Hee? Well, yes, pretty much. And they tend to figure out she's a girl (though one should not assume that the loving set and the clued set are identical; sigh in advance over the inevitable OMG AM I GAY crap, but be aware that it goes somewhere hilarious), but they react very differently to this horrifying information. You should watch the show despite the harem aspects, though, because all the main student characters are ridiculous and adorable -- and because of Cho Seon.
Cho Seon is the gisaeng in charge. She gets the best outfits and the best hair and the best clients, and she is a tremendous badass in multiple ways I will not spoil. She is strong, brave, and true in a role that didn't have to be any of that. Absolutely worth watching the show for all by herself.
This drama also gave us a Confucian-scholar harumph that we have gotten considerable use from around the house.
So that was the light-hearted, subverted view of the Joseon Dynasty. The characters are generally on the side of "who cares about this foolish restriction by sex anyway?" We see the danger a few times: her mother's constant and realistic fears, the older men's knowledge that they will have
to get Yoon Hee killed if it ever comes out. The thrust of the show, though, is uniformly progressive and plays up the positive aspects of that, sometimes to excess as in the unbelievably happy epilogue.
That's not true at all of Analogue: A Hate Story
. The developer, Christine Love, has done other interesting things, like don't take it personally, babe
, which is why I was on her mailing list. Analogue's interface is great, with command line, multiple choice answers, and file system navigation all integral to gameplay. (Maybe the initial reasoning for the interface is a little contrived, but I was willing to roll with it.) The subject matter? Disturbing as hell.
You meet a perky AI in a school uniform and find out through her that the dead generation ship you're investigating was living some bastard's fantasy of Joseon-style Neoconfucianism in space. An emperor-captain, noblewomen not allowed to leave their homes, commoners so strictly stratified that we never even see them.
Women aren't supposed to know how to write, but everyone knows they can and there are even traditions which take it as a given; they're just meant to minimize it, not save their correspondence even though it's only electronic text. They do save things, though, and it's largely their archives you're mining to figure out what happened to everyone. Women aren't even supposed to use their personal names for anything, though again they do, and how they do becomes important.
Eventually you'll probably interact with another AI as well, who is much more a product of the era. You can choose to tell her anything you want to about your sex and marital status, as long as your answers are strictly binary; she assumes utter heterosexuality all by herself. She'll react to you very differently based on your answers. She has her own interpretations of the Joseon-style attitudes ranging from affectionate disregard to internalized acceptance. Her judgmental snark is great despite being inevitably myopic.
There's time travel of the saddest kind: a sick person on a one-way trip into a future that is less advanced than where she started, in all kinds of ways.
And it all goes horribly wrong. You know that going in, but not how, and not why you'll empathize with it.
I found it very compelling and didn't stop playing until I'd found all the content. (And all the endings, one of which has to be hacked in a way that's not possible to do without breaking the fourth wall to bits -- I tried all the plausible ones first! -- but winds up very satisfying.) Terrible abuse, though; if you want to know more details I can tell you privately.
I recommend both of these for completely different reasons, but I also recommend them in combination. There's a lot to consider about public and private personae, gender roles, and class in both.