Christina Yolo asked me about my thoughts on the Korean concept of “aegyo” (애교).
Aegyo refers to a cutesy display of affection, particularly in facial expressions, gestures, and voice. It includes speaking with a baby voice, particularly with certain words, such as “오빠” (or “big brother”, a term often used by Korean women to refer to their older boyfriends). Other expressions of aegyo include pouting, making a heart gesture with one’s hands, or miming dimples with one’s fingers.
Just look for pictures online, and you’ll see what I mean.
Now, even though my parents are from Korea, I was born in the US, and I am not connected to Korean culture. I don’t know much about aegyo or how it is expressed. And I don’t have a problem with people whose ordinary behavior can be considered cute. If being cute is part of how they like to express themselves, they should do that. But I find affectations of aegyo pretty strange. I don’t like it when women pretend to talk with a baby voice or act clingy to make themselves more attractive to a guy. I also wonder if an emphasis on cuteness encourages the infantilization and disempowerment of women in Korea.
That’s not to say cuteness and strength can’t abide together. My mom has certain traits that lend her to being described as cute. But she is also a strong and accomplished woman. When she came to the US with my father, she could hardly speak any English. But through her hard work and perseverance, she was able to find a job as a pharmacist, a position that requires advanced technical knowledge. Here’s a sample line from Pharmacy Times, which my mom reads for Continuing Education:
“ENTRESTO contains 2 medications, valsartan, which inhibits the effects of angiotensin II, and sacubitril, a neprilysin inhibitor, which increases levels of natriuretic peptides that are normally degraded by neprilysin.”
I don’t understand what that means, and I’m a native English speaker. Yet my mom does. Amazing.
Beyond just her professional accomplishments, my mom is also an insightful and confident person. In the past, some of my mom’s coworkers tried to take advantage of her, or push her around. They think, “Eh, Minnie won’t put up a fight.”But my mom stood her ground, and said, “Don’t think that you can walk all over me! What you are doing is unfair!” Then they backed down. I was so proud of my mom for doing that.
Christina asked me about aegyo in the context of trying to figure out what kind of girl I would like (she is pretty intent on helping me find a girlfriend). So I’ll say that cuteness is nice, if it’s part of how a woman naturally expresses herself, but I don’t want her to act cutesy just to get my attention. But for me, more important than cuteness are traits like intelligence, confidence, compassion, and graciousness.

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