Kim Yeo-sa (Mrs. Kim)

Have you heard about Kim Yeo-sa? In the previous post I mentioned about biased views about ajummas (e.g. The Third Gender) I mentioned how ajummas are treated generally in Korea. Kim Yeo-sa is another representative example to show how people have prejudice against ajummas especially for ajumma drivers.


(Be Aware an Ajumma!!)

(image from


Kim Yeo-sa illustrates how ajumma drivers are satirically applied to Korean society. The most ajumma drivers were known and called collectively as Kim Yeo-sa. Kim is the most common surname in Korea and Yeo-sa means Madame in English so Kim Yeo-sa means Mrs. Kim. Various new media reports that Mrs. Kim caused car accidents due to her unskilled driving. However, one thing needs to be considered that there is dispute about the word Mrs. Kim. It is a (sexual) prejudice against female drivers as unskilled and inexperienced compared with male drivers. For example, there is not such a word, Mr. Kim for unskilled and inexperienced male drivers. Moreover, Mrs. Kim is only for middle-aged and married women, ajummas. (The word Mrs. Kim is not used for single and younger female drivers) And even other non ajumma female drivers call ajumma drivers as Mrs. Kim.

HJ Kim:

I’ve been driving for more than 15 years but I still feel scared and expect insults when I drive. I think they (men and non-ajummas) look down ajummas only because we are ajummas. 

RK Hwang:

They just ignored us because we are ajummas. And people don’t care whether we are well experienced drivers or not.

(Focus group Interview from my research)

Ajumma drivers were treated just as Mrs. Kim who are unskilled drivers whether these ajumma drivers are really good at driving or not. People just don’t care about their skills, rather they put ajumma drivers together and dismiss them as Mrs. Kim.

There is an episode about Mrs. Kim when non-ajumma drivers met unskilled Mrs. Kim on the road. They (non-ajumma drivers, mostly male drivers) yelled to Mrs. Kim “Go home and cook dinner instead!!!”

How rude they are!

However, you know ajummas, they are strong and superwomen. They seem undaunted by these biased views about Kim Yeo-sa. Their responses for this are,

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They accepted themselves as Mrs. Kim and they are now trying to improve their driving skills (if they’re unskilled or inexperienced drivers).

Of course some of Mrs. Kim and also Mr. Kim are nuisances on the road. However, we have to remember that all of ajumma drivers should not be considered as Mrs. Kim. Many of ajummas drivers are very good at driving and many of non ajumma drivers are not good at driving as well. Thus, we should have fair-minded about ajumma drivers.


The return of an ajumma


This photo is a campaign poster for the National Assembly that I’ve taken on Sunday. It says, “The return of an Ajumma”

I reckon ajummas are normally recognised as superwomen who care their family, friends and neighbors. And they know how to enjoy their lives in their own ways as well.

I’m not interested in this party and the election rather I’m posting this photo only because she uses the ‘ajumma’ and their identity for the campaign. That’s it. And this poster tells how ajummas are recognised among people in Korea in a positive way.

“The return of an ajumma”

Well, they didn’t return to us. They are always with us.

Sorry, I’m not an ajumma


In several years ago, I worked as a casual lecturer at university in Seoul. At that time, I was preparing for applying PhD and some required documents for the applications (i.e. research proposal) were stored in my laptop. The document folder for research proposal was named ‘ajumma’ and it was on my laptop. One day, after the class two students came to me and hesitated for a moment. Few seconds later, they finally asked, “Are you an ajumma?”

I said “No, why?”

“Then why you have so many ajumma folders on your laptop?”

I replied “No, I’m not, I’m not an ajumma (laugh)”


They thought I was an ajumma for sure because there are so many folders named as ‘ajumma’.



During my field research in Seoul, South Korea, I participated in the ‘ajumma day'( on 31st May. I suffered from chronic back pain so I walked very slowly at that time so I almost missed the elevator. (I planned to catch the next elevator because I didn’t want to run or walk faster)

Suddenly, a caretaker for that building saw me and he tried to hold an elevator for me. The elevator was jam packed with ajummas and all of them includes a kind caretaker were waiting for me. (Oh no)

And he yelled at me, “Ajumma!! I hold an elevator for you so walk slowly!!”

I looked around and I realised that ‘ajumma’ was me. Yes, that ajumma was me…I was an ajumma…he reckon…

Thanks for his kindness, I could catch that elevator but I felt awkward. I know I research about ajummas and I really admire them in many ways but when I was called as an ajumma by someone, I felt strange. I reckon maybe I still have prejudice about ajummas? I still think being recognised as an ajumma is unwelcome thing? Why did I feel strange?


The third gender

Ajummarous elements are prevalent but stereotyped view about ajummas somewhat disdained ajummas. This perspective on an ajumma that judges ajummas by their characteristic appearances can cause a slated and biased view.

In a popular Korean joke, there are three different genders-men, women and ajumma. Ajumma is categorised as the third gender-neither male nor female. Analogically, we can assume that the general awareness of Korean society about the collectiveness of ajummas’ existence and the distinct characteristics of ajummas are not very positive. In other words, ajumma is recognised as not a woman, rather just ajumma itself.


For next post, I will give you examples that explain how ajummas are treated in Korea (with biased views about them).

Ajumma is strong!

Whenever I go to the market, I can observe the lives of various types of people. While I am staying in Melbourne or Seoul, going to the market on Saturday is a part of weekly routine for me. Now I more often go to the market since I’ve started doing my PhD research project about ajummas. In the market, I can meet so many types of ajummas who are yelling loudly to sell vegetables or haggling over the price of fruits between seller ajummas and customer ajummas. In addition, it is amazing that snack stall ajummas could remember every order without bills or calculators in the market! And there are strong ajummas who carry heavy shopping baskets for their family.

For last several years and even now, ajummas made contributions to Korean economic development. These ajummas in Korea, they are strong enough to support their family and Korean society.

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Ajummas are superwomen

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There are many characteristics that define ajummas but their appearance is the one most easily identified. For example, if single women or men wear ajummorous outfits or have ajummorous hairstyles, their friends will say to them “you look like an ajumma!” However, while people categorise others as ajummas there is no exact or official definition for ajummas or ajummorous characteristics. Categorisation is based on pre-conceived views learnt through society and shared and reinforced continuously.

While appearance is the most obvious characteristic by which people are identified as ajummas, I would like to tell you that being an ajumma is not limited to appearance but includes other characteristics.

Firstly, ajummas are superwomen.

They are wives and mothers who take their roles very seriously and put great effort into supporting their children and husbands. They consider themselves the pillar supporting their family’s happiness and success. However do not imagine that self-sacrifice is their only pleasure. They know how to enjoy their lives.

In this way I consider them superwomen.



Are you ‘ajummarous’?

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(original image from and I re-edited this image in Keynote)

In most cases, ajummarous women are judged by their appearance.

ajumma hair, fashion and make up style

behaviours (way of talking, loud voice, sitting with their legs apart in the subway, being meddlesome)

Especially, they are being meddlesome. So if you are in the subway and sitting in the cafe or restaurants, ajummas keep talking to you and even asking some personal questions as well. Whenever I travel on the subway in Seoul, I heard ajummas’ conversations. Interestingly, these ajummas never met with each other before, rather they just met on the subway. Their conversations were about everything, such as cooking, children, weather, culture, politics, etc. It might be strange if strangers talk to you on the subway. However, this is their ways of communication which is very ajummarous ways of communication that exists only in Korea.

With one of these ajummarous elements (of course there are more ajummarous elements than I mentioned above), any women can be called or recognised as an ajumma in Korea.

Here are some photos that help you understand what ajummarous elements which define ajummas in general.


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Who is an ajumma?

There is no exact definition for an ajumma but there are several general characteristics that help to define an ajumma.

1.Age range (mid-30s to late-60s)
5.Women (must be)

These  characteristics will help you to recognise ajummas however ajummas must be considered in the context of Korean culture and society to be fully understood.

I will explain more about ‘ajummarous elements’ in my next post.


Why ajummas?

The ajumma is one of the most misunderstood categories in Korean culture. Roughly translated as a woman that is married and middle-aged, the ajumma is one of the most stigmatized demographics in Korea today. This thesis seeks to undercover some of the complex ways in which we might redefine the ajumma as a woman that has played a pivotal role in Korean culture post IMF bailout in 1997. Through exploring ajummas as new media users, this thesis not only seeks to debunk the stereotypes around the category but also to provide a more nuanced study of gendered new media practice beyond the young-new media “digital natives” conflation in one of the countries lauded for new media innovation, Korea. This thesis deploys an interdisciplinary model of the research that combines academic practices (e.g. a dissertation) and creative practices (e.g. Digital Ppal-let-ter video project).