Written by Amy Britton
In the middle of the #MeToo movement, Cho Namjoo released the feminist novel, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982. The novel follows the story of Kim Jiyoung, an average Korean woman, who lives an incredibly ordinary life. Cho tackles the issue of misogyny in Korea and many of the experiences that women all over the world have had to face on a daily basis. Despite taking on an extremely heavy load of political topics, Cho manages to capture the anger that women have had to suppress for centuries. This novel is an essential read for all genders.
Cho’s novel was relevant upon its release and continues to be to this day. She explores issues such as harassment in school, the unrealistic expectations placed on women and the lack of opportunities for women with children. With the recent uncovering of a prostitution network run by a famous Kpop star and song writer, Kim Jiyoung’s story still resonantes with the situation for Korean women today – even if often hidden by the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry. One of the most pertinent parts of the novel is the discovery of spycams in the women’s toilets of Jiyoung’s past workplace. The recent trials faced by members of the Telegram group chats famously coined the ‘Nth Room’ illustrate the horrific circumstances that many, often underaged, women are subjected to. Victim blaming is also highlighted by Cho as she tries to show us that women are not overly emotional or overreacting to insignificant problems, we have only been led to believe this by sexism that is deeply entrenched in society.
Cho has thought carefully about every decision that she made whilst forming this book, even down to single words that come together to create hard-hitting sentences. The name Kim Jiyoung is the Korean version of ‘Jane Doe’, highlighting how this is not just her problem, it is all of Korea’s problem. Kim Jiyoung is every woman who has and inevitably will be subjected to some form of sexism in their lifetime. This makes this novel a difficult but significant read due to the universal nature of Jiyoung’s experiences. Cho injects statistical evidence throughout the fictional novel to amplify the realness of how sexism affects every woman, no matter what their background is.
Cho’s blunt writing style and lack of any embellishments allows for an honest conversation to be opened up about, not only the problems facing Korean society, but also women across the world. Jiyoung is made to seem almost nonchalant about many of the experiences she goes through, due to how normalised they have been. Being followed home by men, politeness misunderstood as flirting and having to change our attitude in order to please men are only a few of the issues that Cho emphasises as being normalised in our society.
Another part of the novel that stood out to me was Jiyoung’s life after having a child, which was drawn from Cho’s own experience. Jiyoung is forced to give up her job, social life and interests to be able to raise her child. By the end of the novel, Jiyoung has lost everything that made her Jiyoung. Jiyoung solely becomes a mother. With her husband at work most of the time, Jiyoung works tirelessly to support both him and their child. It is heartbreaking to realise that this path is walked by so many wives, including my own mother. It broke me realising what my mother had to leave behind in order to have children due to the fact that her workplace would not allow her to work part time after her pregnancy. Jiyoung, like my mother, struggles to find work that is not menial, since companies that are dominated by male bosses are unwilling to adapt to a mother’s needs. Women’s opportunities, especially mothers’, are limited by this unwillingness. Women are seen as unreliable and incapable of upholding a professional career due to their expectation to have children.
Overall, Cho Namjoo has been able to express everything that I have wanted to say about misogyny but so much more eloquently than I ever could. Cho perfectly captures sadness, anger and disappointment through the character of Kim Jiyoung. The multitude of critical quotations that I have underlined will stay with me forever and have acted as a means of catharsis. No matter how you identify, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is an essential read for any ally of the feminist movement.
Featured images courtesy of Unsplash. No changes have been made to these images.