Title : Kim Jiyoung Born 1982
Author : Cho Nam Joo
Translator : Jamie Chang
Genre : Asian Literature ; Feminist Fiction ; Contemporary fiction
Pages : 162
Who is Kim Jiyoung?
Kim Jiyoung is a girl born to a mother whose in-laws wanted a boy. Kim Jiyoung is a sister made to share a room while her brother gets one of his own.
Kim Jiyoung is a female preyed upon by male teachers at school. Kim Jiyoung is a daughter whose father blames her when she is harassed late at night.
Kim Jiyoung is a good student who doesn’t get put forward for internships. Kim Jiyoung is a model employee but gets overlooked for promotion. Kim Jiyoung is a wife who gives up her career and independence for a life of domesticity.
Kim Jiyoung has started acting strangely.
Kim Jiyoung is depressed.
Kim Jiyoung is mad.
Kim Jiyoung is her own woman.
Kim Jiyoung is every woman.
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is the life story of one young woman born at the end of the twentieth century and raises questions about endemic misogyny and institutional oppression that are relevant to us all. Riveting, original and uncompromising, this is the most important book to have emerged from South Korea since Han Kang’s The Vegetarian.
“Girls don’t need special treatment – they just want the same responsibilities and opportunities. Instead of choosing the lunch menu, they want to run for president.”
What does it mean to be a woman born in the late 20th Century in South Korea? This book is about Kim Jiyoung, a woman in South Korea in her 30s. She is every woman.
This book is the voice of every woman who has faced micro-aggressions created due to patriarchal society. It talks about how society is structured in a way where women take on the role of the “Other Sex”. The book is written in the most honest sense and it is audacious in its own way as it discusses the female experience that is predominant in most countries with patriarchal backgrounds.
The plot of the book is, it explores the life of Kim Jiyoung from birth to adolescence and adulthood. It is essentially written from the notes/point of view of a male psychologist. The book starts with Kim Jiyoung starting to exhibit some strange behaviour. Jiyoung starts imitating every single woman in her life, from her mother to her co-workers, to a college friend who has passed away. From here onwards we get a blow-by-blow narration of Jiyoung’s life through the psychologist.
The way it has been written, exploring the details of her life from the time she is born to her mid-thirties, broadens the experience to every age group of women. It starts off from her school days as she observes how boys are given an advantage at school and at home. For instance, being male automatically entitles you first for lunch in school, whereas the girls are left to wait for the boys to pick their food and then finally allowed to take their pick and are then scolded for not completing their food on time. At home, it’s the distinct difference between her brother’s treatment and her own, where she and her sister are made to share a room and her brother is entitled to a room of his own in a lower-middle-class family. Not only are her experiences highlighted, but it is also the women around her who really made a mark in my mind. My favourite character is her mother, who is stuck in the middle of time. From a past where women had no autonomy in their actions and to the present where women are being told by the world to dream big and work towards those dreams and aspirations. Her own experiences serve to show how she was conditioned to accept that she is the lesser sex in her early childhood, where she barely got a chance for a decent education whereas her brothers did. What is striking to me is how she aborted her 3rd daughter, influenced by her family’s pressure to bear male children, but still she goes on to stick a huge map of the world in her daughters’ room. This was a reminder to her daughters that the world is big and Seoul or South Korea is a dot. Dream big and beyond boundaries, on the map, or those set by society. I think it shows she yearns for her daughters to not go through the same fate she once went through.
Since she became a full-time housewife, she often noticed that there was a polarised attitude regarding domestic labour. Some demeaned it as ‘bumming around at home’, while others glorified it as ‘work that sustains life’, but none tried to calculate its monetary value. Probably because the moment you put a price on something, someone has to pay.”
Special mention to all the male characters. They are written from Jiyoung’s experiences; therefore, they play problematic roles in her life. Her father, a part of the older generation is set in his ways. The way he blames Jiyoung when she is harassed by a man on a bus shows how his mentality is towards women that it’s always the girl’s fault. Her husband though trying to be supportive of Jiyoung is a product of a patriarchal society who expects his wife to finally make the sacrifices needed to live a life that is acceptable to his family. He makes her have a baby and finally quit her job, as his parents want them to have children. This was even after Jiyoung explicitly mentions how she does not want to have children. It was so heart-breaking to be an observer to her absolute defeat, after years of studying, gaining experience, and working towards her goals.
You said don’t just think about what I’ll be giving up. I’m putting my youth, health, job, colleagues, social networks, career plans and future on the line. No wonder all I can think about are the things I’m giving up. But what about you? What do you lose by gaining a child?”
This book was very relatable while reading as the experiences faced by many of the women portrayed in the book is very similar to the women around me. I can see how every thought Jiyoung has while she wades through life is something I’m pretty sure all women have thought at some point. While reading this book, I was reminded by Taylor Swift’s “The Man” as she explores how her life would have been so much easier if she was a man.
Also, side note: I think the experiences men go through should also be explored in a way that speaks about the amount of toxic masculinity that prevails in society along with the pressure of being a man in the 2020s.
I feel this is a great book meant for both men and women. It’s meant for women to reconsider the choices they have made and whether they were really their choices. This book led to many women divorcing or breaking up with their significant others in South Korea. It’s meant for men to stop thinking patriarchy is a part of the past and that feminism is the norm. Please try to listen to the stories of women around you and you would come to realize the effects of patriarchy in their day-to-day lives.
Also for those who are late to the party, I would like to clarify what I mean by feminism. Here I do not mean for men to be treated as the lower sex or to give more preference for women in society. It just means to treat and respect women at a human level and to understand the importance of the role of the other sex. So, this is not meant to participate in male-bashing or to indulge in smear campaigns but it’s more about equality in every sense from day-to-day activities to bigger roles at the workplace.
My rating for this book would be 5 out of 5 stars
I picked up this book because one of my favourite idols Kim Nam Joon who recommended this book to all his female fans and for which received a lot of flake from the Korean Media and society. It really made me wonder what the book was about and also it was recommended by a lot of fellow reviewers online which made me excited to read this book.
Leaving you with my favorite quote from the book.
“The world had changed a great deal, but the little rules, contracts, and customs had not, which meant the world hadn’t actually changed at all.
Do laws and institutions change values, or do values drive laws and institutions?”
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Until we meet again my Bookish people!