Translated by Jamie Chang
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo is a story chronicling a woman’s desperate attempt at escaping endemic sexism. Kim’s life & her struggle mirror several women of our previous generations, and unfortunately, this generation too. Kim is every little girl who has had to adjust, be more responsible, do chores that her brother of the same age isn’t required to do. She’s every woman starting her career exposed to objectifying, reduced to only menial jobs, whereas men her age, are promoted & considered naturally more competent. She’s every woman who has had to sacrifice her career to raise a child, giving up on her individuality & forced into a life stripped of meaning.
Kim is a 33-year-old woman who has started behaving differently. She’s taken on the identity of women in her past life, blurting out words considered inappropriate for family gatherings. She’s taken to a psychiatrist who then lays bare Kim’s journey in a linear fashion.
As the novel progresses, we learn of Jiyoung’s descent into dissociative order. Right from her childhood where boys being mean to her was explained as their likeness towards her to applying for jobs only to be repeatedly rejected to facing workplace sexism. It’s a book that opens up layers and layers of systemic misogyny exposing the hypocrisy and injustice women are expected to endure. Kim’s husband, albeit cognizant of his wife’s predicament, is complicit. He merely refuses to acknowledge his own privilege, shrugging off any attempt at reversing the gender roles. In fact, he easily fits into them. The subtle nuances in the novel explain the ongoing battle women continue to face, the suffocation and uneasiness slowly crawling in on you as you trace Kim’s road to complete madness.
Cho Nam-Joo’s brilliant narrative rooted in fiction but peppered with substantial facts (as footnotes) unmasks South-Korea’s gender disparity despite technological advances and developments. For instance, the Huju system where the children were strictly registered under the patriarchal lineage was abolished only in 2008 to female feticide, preference of the boy child to sacrificing one’s career to further that of their brother or husbands are still pretty much a ground reality.
This book, a culmination of fiction & reality, puts forward the triteness and nefariousness of gender discrimination that seems to share a common ground in every country, inciting collective rage and call to action.
Author: Cho Nam-Joo
Translation: Jamie Chang
Publisher: Sceptre Books
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