VOICING THE UNHEARD: GENDERED PRACTICES, DISCOURSES, AND STRUGGLES OF GUGAK MUSICIANS IN SOUTH KOREA
Witzleben, John L.
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This dissertation investigates how individual musicians’ experiences and gender identity are shaped by interacting with cultural ideals of gender roles in different levels of South Korean society and the ways in which they interact with gendered performances of music. In the last few years, gender has been a popular topic not only in academia but also in everyday conversations in South Korea. Traditional gender norms have been challenged, and various types of masculinities and femininities have emerged. As different ideas of gender roles coexist in society, gugak (literally “national music”) musicians, too, face challenges in the middle of social transition. This study aims to deliver the often unheard voices of two groups of musicians: male gayageum (Korean zither) players playing a “women’s instrument” and female fusion gugak musicians playing “cheap” music. Based on in-depth interviews and my eighteen years’ involvement in the gugak field, I examine how both groups of musicians negotiate conflicts as they face contrasting gender norms and values between the gugak community and South Korean society at large. In this process, their performance becomes the prime site where their ideas of masculinity and femininity are put on display. By playing particular instruments and styles of music, defying negative discourses on them, and demonstrating their competence, I argue that performances and narratives of the musicians ultimately complicate the hegemonic views of masculinity and femininity. By revealing untold stories of the often unheard groups of musicians, this dissertation sheds light on studies concerning what has been excluded from scholarly discussions, which will provide a more comprehensive picture of individual actors and communities in society. This work also contributes to studies on the complex interplay between individual actors, diverse ideas of gender, and performance.