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Aegyo (/ˈɡɪ/; Korean애교; Hanja愛嬌) in Korean is a normalized gendered performance that involves a cute display of affection often expressed through a cute voice, changes to speech, facial expressions, or gestures.[1][2][3] A similar expression is Gyotae (/ɡɪˈt/; Korean교태; Hanja嬌態). Aegyo literally means behaving in a flirtatious, coquettish manner and it is commonly expected for both male and female K-pop idols and is also expected or demanded from exclusively younger females in Korean society in way which reinforces or reflects Korea's traditional gender roles.[3][4] However, it is not uncommon for everyday people to behave in such a way, and is widely used as an expression of affection towards loved ones, family, and friends, and also as a hyper-sexualized form of seduction.[3] Aegyo can also display closeness with others, which can possibly bring people together. The word is often translated as "cuteness" in English,[citation needed] and can be compared to the Chinese concept of sājiāo (撒嬌),or the Japanese concepts of kawaii and amae.[3]

In Popular Culture and the Korean Wave (Hallyu)[edit]

Aegyo plays a huge role in South Korean popular culture, especially in idol girl groups. The higher-registered girl voice popular in girl groups in Korea has been dominant since the first successful female k-pop group S.E.S. emerged in 1997. This style has grown in popularity since then. A famous example of that exaggerated cuteness is the Girls' Generation music video for "Gee", which features much use of hands pointing at, touching, and framing the face when showing the girls in turn. One of their many song and dance videos, many of Gee's dance moves are based on aegyo. Aegyo as a personal trait of Girls' Generation member Sunny was described as "cuteness that calls for a punch", not as an actual complaint, but as a recognition of the degree to which aegyo can be taken.

Although more common among female idol groups, male groups often perform aegyo as part of their fanservice. The maknae, or youngest member of a group, is often (but not exclusively) the one encouraged to perform aegyo. Another member may get a better response from fans, or be better suited due to physical or emotional characteristics. For some performers, aegyo is merely an extension of their own normal behavior, encouraged by the groups' producers.

As performers evolve from "youth" to "young adult" images, the aegyo in their performances often evolves, becoming an almost-nostalgic homage to the performers' earlier stage image. They will "put on the character" briefly for fun and to satisfy fan expectation, in the same way they will sing their earliest hits. Some traces of aegyo will continue as persistent traits.

A pro-forma version of aegyo may become tradition for certain circumstances, such as when idols perform the "Gwiyomi" song, with actions made popular by the South Korean rapper Jung Ilhoon of BtoB.

Puzar argues that aegyo in popular culture affects how young South Korean women act, especially in romantic relationships. Using cute hand gestures and expressions in photos, for example, are commonly seen behaviors in many young women in South Korea.[5]

In Everyday Life[edit]

This "performed winsomeness" has a significant presence in Korean everyday life even in the 21st century. It is learned by most Koreans from an early age especially by women. Although it in some ways learned and transferred through popular media there are more importantly significant inter-familial and inter-peer transfer and reproduction cycles through which individuals learn and reproduce this behavior. Women are expected in alignment with Koreas traditional gender roles to perform these actions in certain settings. Aegyo can also be seen as related to adult hyper feminine behaviors and is additionally used as a form of private and personal seduction and is sometimes hyper sexualized. Puzar and Hong relate aegyo to a similar Japanese practice amae and contextualize this behavior in terms of an androcentric patriarchy. They define the similar phenomena of amae as "[when] Women with amae tendencies will depend on others such as parents, husbands, older siblings and even on their superiors at work, seeking attention and protection. Their dependency is often exchanged for the nuanced submission. As the word originally depicts emotions felt by a young child toward his or her mother, a woman partaking in the social relation of amae is conceptually relegated to a position of an immature child of the society, dependent on care-takers" and draws significant parallels of this behavior with Korean concept of aegyo.

Korean women often use aegyo as a method of navigating and requesting favors in Korea's strict patriarchy while not directly challenging or disrupting it. aegyo is thus related to both traditional and non-traditional ideas of patriarchy and societal norms. In a workplace environment aegyo is seen as a way of attracting the male gaze and thereby a method of advancement in the workplace. The primary use of aegyo in a workplace setting therefore is by females towards males in superior positions of authority (bosses), field research indicates the opposite cannot be seen as likely. This use of aegyo is especially common in male dominated workplace environments and generally seen as something that benefits an individual's professional life but only for females. Aegyo in multiple interactions with korean interviewees was seen as something that was encouraged, if not expected of female employees with one interviewee going as far to say that "this is what my workplace wants from female workers."

An additional insight is that in an indicative digital questionnaire only about 4% of respondents said that they would feel comfortable having Aegyo performed by their superior while 40% said they would feel comfortable receiving aegyo from their subordinates.

Overall aegyo is a deeply gender based behavior that women are the primary users of. In everyday life women are requested or even demanded to be cute and to reinforce their submissive positionality in this way. Puzar and Hong conclude that "aegyo is almost certainly a strong contributing element to the discursive organisation of the ‘ideal Korean woman’, repeatedly reinforced by narratives and images produced and reproduced throughout everyday lives and mediatic representations." Puzar and Hong additionally conclude that aegyo is essentially in the end how Korean women navigate what "amounts to societal oppression" and stress how aegyo is essentially reflection of an unequal power distribution in Korean Society.[3]

Paradoxically Spontaneous Female Agency[edit]

In some or many cases men expect this behavior to be "innate" or spontaneous. This means that men expect women to naturally be cute and submissive and think or imagine that this behavior is natural of women instead of a result of cultural pressures. Generally, men only welcome this behavior when it is viewed as natural. In other words women are not only expected to perform this behavior they are expected to perform it in such a way that it seems natural or can be imagined as innate by the man essentially meaning that men expect or believe that this highly infantilized and submissive woman is a "natural" state or behavior.[3]


Aegyo is not limited to simply "acting cute," and includes several changes to speech, such as affrication, stopping, and /j/ insertion.[1] Aegyo is essentially baby talk, with these changes to speech meant to mimic children.[1] For example, replacing yo () at the end of a phrase with yeo (여) or yong ().

Relation to gender roles and sexism[edit]

Aegyo is also essentially a manifestation of patriarchy and gender roles in everyday life. South Korean women are often pressured or sometimes even lightly requested to perform Aegyo in certain settings with women being the primary individuals engaging in such behavior. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology describes Aegyo as a "layered phenomenon standing in productive relations with other ideas and concepts typical of Korean remaining hierarchical (patriarchal and gerontocratic) societal organisation."[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Jang, Hayeun (January 1, 2021). "How cute do I sound to you?: gender and age effects in the use and evaluation of Korean baby-talk register, Aegyo". Language Sciences. 83: 101289. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2020.101289. ISSN 0388-0001. S2CID 225741798.
  2. ^ Jung, Sun (November 1, 2010). Korean Masculinities and Transcultural Consumption: Yonsama, Rain, Oldboy, K-Pop Idols. Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 978-988-8028-66-5.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Puzar, Aljosa; Hong, Yewon (August 8, 2018). "Korean Cuties: Understanding Performed Winsomeness ( Aegyo ) in South Korea". The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology. 19 (4): 333–349. doi:10.1080/14442213.2018.1477826. ISSN 1444-2213. S2CID 149853883.
  4. ^ Utz, Christian; Lau, Frederick (2013). Vocal Music and Contemporary Identities: Unlimited Voices in East Asia and the West. Routledge. p. 279. ISBN 978-0-415-50224-5.
  5. ^ Puzar, Aljosa. "Asian Dolls and the Western Gaze: Notes on the Female Dollification in South Korea," Asian Women 27.2 (2011): 81–111.