Title : Kim JiYoung, Born 1982
Author: Cho Nam-Joo
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd (GB)
As an Asian woman, it is undeniable that we have a certain social standard that we were brought up with. There were a lot of restrictions put onto women, while men get to go loose.
This is what was emphasised in Cho Nam-Joo’s “Kim JiYoung, Born 1982”. The book explores one of the world’s biggest problem — institutional oppression towards women. The million-copy international bestseller talks about how there was a strong misogynistic culture in late 20th century Korea that is still prevalent in today’s developing society.
Exploring the pages, the stories that Cho delivers through lead protagonist Kim JiYoung’s experiences, gave readers a strong insight towards the backward culture in Korea. Asian readers may relate to each experience deeply as up till today it is still strongly embedded within the community. Especially coming from the elders, where they believe there are still limitations to what a woman can and cannot do.
The novel starts with JiYoung’s mental illness, where she portrays to her husband different characteristic from the women surrounding the book. From being her mother to their schoolmate and close friend. With the different portrayals, JiYoung showed her confused husband what is wrong with the community that they lived in.
“Jiyoung became different people from time to time. Some of them were living, others were dead, all of the women she knew. No matter how you looked at it, it wasn’t a joke or a prank. Truly, flawlessly, completely, she became that person.”
From a young girl, JiYoung often saw the unfairness her mother would received from her mother-in-law/ JiYoung’s paternal grandmother. While her father goes to work, her mother did house chores, making sure there’s food in the household, taking care of her mother-in-law and three children, and at the same time working a side job to earn extra. Yet, everything that she did was deemed not as worthy as what her father did.
As the storyline developed, JiYoung went through schools and then universities, then revolved around her trying to get a job. After landing a permanent job, she experienced numerous experiences and situations that showed her how society is unfair to females.
However, as modernity took place, better opportunities were given to the women of Korean society. It is something that we could see now in real life too, as feminist fights for their rights, and government evolved policies to tuned into the current concerns. Cho spotlights the Korean financial crisis of 1997, after which increases in wage inequality and barriers to social mobility contributed to a sense of despair, fuelling misogynistic sentiments.
It comes to an era where women rise to be equal to their counterparts. And this gradually changes the perception of the younger generations that ‘yes women can do what men can do’. In the book, JiYoung tells her part of being able to attend the university of her choice. Meanwhile, back in the days, her mother was not able to attend as she had to worked hard in factories to support her brothers’ pursuit in education.
What is notable about the book written by Cho is that she writes the stories alongside details and data of statistics concerning the women in Korea. “The gender pay gap in Korea is the highest among the OECD countries. According to 2014 data, women working in Korea earn only 63 percent of what men earn; the OECD average percentage is 84. Korea was also ranked as the worst country in which to be a working woman, receiving the lowest scores among the nations surveyed on the glass-ceiling index by the British magazine The Economist.”
A great wake up call towards the community, the book not only direct the mistreatment and unfairness but also it serves as a wake-up call for women to believe in themselves.
Many women, especially those in Asian societies tend to frown upon themselves.
This was because women let themselves be governed by the set of ‘rules’ and specific ‘beliefs’ that dictates how a woman should live and behave, where they automatically chose to carry the burden regardless because that was how they were taught.
“It’s not your job, JiYoung. I’ve noticed this about new employees over the years. The women take on all the cumbersome, minor tasks without being asked, while guys never do. Doesn’t matter if they’re new or the youngest — they never do anything they’re not told to do. But why do women simply take things upon themselves?”
As the book reveals, women continuously burden themselves with ‘womanly jobs’ and they cannot help themselves from doing so. It has been so strongly embedded since a young age that this is how a woman should conduct themselves. But who made this rule? That women should sit properly, should wear skirts at a certain length, that women should stay home and watch the household as the men go to work?
JiYoung’s metamorphosis wasn’t brought on by any single incident. The seeds of her discontent were planted before she was born; she and her sister exist only because her parents kept having children (and one sex-selective abortion) until they finally produced a son. While the son gets the best of everything, Jiyoung and her sister are treated as failed rough drafts.
This is a very angry book, a fiercely put, strong book about how women have been treated differently. This is a recommended book that details about how Korean (and Asian) societies put limitations against women and it chronicles the everyday struggle of women against endemic sexism.
Being the first Korean novel in nearly a decade to sell more than one million copies, the has become both a touchstone for a conversation around feminism and gender and a lightning rod for anti-feminists who view the book as inciting misandry. The book also became bestsellers in China, Taiwan and Japan, has been translated into 18 languages, and adapted for film.