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This question was inspired by @topomorto's recent question, If a wife works and her husband stays at home, are 집사람 and 바깥분 still appropriate for “wife” and “husband” respectively? and my answer saying '바깥양반' is used to mean 'husband' in a more honorific way than '바깥분 (사람)'.

I understand '양반 (兩班)' has multiple meanings as follows:

  1. Ruling class or noble person in Koryo and Chosun dynasty. 고려ㆍ조선 시대에, 지배층을 이루던 신분.

  2. A gentle and polite person. 점잖고 예의 바른 사람.

  3. A word used to indicate one's own husband to others. 자기 남편을 남에게 이르는 말.

  4. A word used to call a man in a casual and (sometimes) disrespectful way. 남자를 범상히 또는 홀하게 이르는 말.

Has the word '양반' ever been used to indicate or mean a woman in Korean? If not, what is the reason that Koreans don't use it for women?

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    The first and second meaning of 양반 is its original meanings, and the meaning 3 and 4 were added in late 19th century. After two big wars against Japan and China, caste system of Chosun dynasty started to be destructed. People in lower caste started to buy other's genealogy record. In the beginning of the dynasty, less than 10 per cent of people were in 양반 class. However, at the gate of fall, almost everyone were in upper classes. From then, Koreans started to use the word 양반 as a – jungyh0218 Aug 30 '16 at 12:43
  • humble term. Originally it was a sexist word, because there was no degrading meaning in 양반 at first. However, in 21st century, 바깥양반 does not have honorific meaning. Rather, sometimes it is used to call someone's husband in disrespectful way. – jungyh0218 Aug 30 '16 at 12:53
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    @jungyh0218 Thanks for your comment. I agree with your first comment, but I am not sure if I can agree with your saying "바깥양반 does not have honorific meaning. Rather, sometimes it is used to call someone's husband in disrespectful way." Can you show me a conversation or two where it is used in disrespectful way? – user7 Aug 30 '16 at 13:55
  • According to Korean Wikipedia, the meaning of the word is this. 주로 상대방 여자의 남편을 약간 높이거나 거리낌 없이 부르는 말. 때로는 자신의 남편을 농담 삼아 일컫기도 한다. There are many other honorific expression to express husband in Korean. 바깥양반 can still be used to speak politely but in many cases, it is not anymore. – jungyh0218 Aug 31 '16 at 0:45
  • 부군 is a perfect example of polite word. it can only be used when someone calls other's husband. 부군께서는 건강하십니까? 부군께 잘 말씀드리겠습니다. In contrast, 바깥양반 is rather neutral. Both '바깥양반께 안부 전해드리십시오.' and '이 놈의 바깥양반 때문에 몹시 속상해' are OK. – jungyh0218 Aug 31 '16 at 0:49
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Literally speaking, 양반 (兩班) just refers to the two branches of administration that existed in the 고려 and 조선 dynasties. (Civil administration, [문반, 文班] and Martial administration [무반, 武班]). I have seen the term 양반 used to even refer in general to a upper social class, gender irrespective.

The term itself is not explicitly meant to refer to only men. But intrinsically, in its usage, it was only used on men when in the individual titular form. My thought is that it would be strange (now or ever) to use 양반 to refer to an individual woman in the sense of "Look at that 양반" or whatnot. It is even a bit odd these days to use it on a man under age 80 or so.

When I lived in Korea, I knew a man (in his 70s) who referred to me as a 양반. He used it as a term of respect, since I was a private teacher to his grandson. But most of the time presently, 양반 is used in almost a demeaning sense now. It would be like calling someone "your highness" in a sarcastic and servile tone.

Whether the term is actually sexist, that is a tough call to make. What is sexist to one may not be sexist to another. After all, most of society in the 16th, 17th, 18th Centuries was "sexist." In our modern society of equality, rights, feminism, etc., pretty much anything could be sexist when we need it to be.

Long story short, 양반 is a term that intrinsically is only used individually on men, but can refer generally to a social class that included women in its associations.

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