Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

This little gem of a book has been on my GoodReads want to read list for quite a while now, and I just so happened to be strolling past one of those free for all libraries that lovely suburban people construct outside their houses in Vancouver. 

I was there to donate a book, and there it was, its beautiful yellow shimmering cover staring me in the face, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982. I’d hit the jackpot that morning. Booyah!

Set in Seoul, between the years 1982 and 2016, this was the perfect little COVID read at just over 150 pages. Not too intense, and just what I needed after some of the heavy reading I'd been doing lately. 

With over one million copies sold, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 follows one woman's psychological deterioration in the face of the ingrained prejudices against women in Korea. It took me on an emotional (but not too emotional) journey and gave me an honest look at life in the South East in the face of rigid misogyny. 

Author Cho Nam-Joo highlights the priorities given to males over females within the household, and the preferential and special treatments men receive in their professions. While females in the family are considered second rate and males are the prized possessions of the family. 

Cho Nam-Joo

The book discusses the legal population guidelines and birth control policies that went on throughout the 1980s and 90s. 

It's not mentioned, but these policies were so extreme that sex-selective abortion was common practice in Korea in the mid 1980s to early 1990s, where selective female abortions where commonplace as male children were preferred. 

It was a time in Korea when the family’s wealth was dependent upon the success of the male, with society believing it was up to him to bring honor and prosperity to the family.

Courtesy of UN Population Fund

I found myself drawn into to Jiyoung’s story, often feeling sorry for her, especially as her father faulted her for not being cautious enough, not being ‘ladylike’ enough, and not avoiding dangerous situations when she was being harassed by the males around her. 

The book highlights the 2001 formation of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. The organization's objective is the improvement of women's status through the enhancement of women's rights, and the prevention of violence against women and children. 

I love that Jiyoung’s Mother seems to live vicariously through her, fighting in her corner, doing for her the things she only dreams she could have done when she were younger. The underlying theme in this book is that Mother wears the pants, is in charge, and makes the smart decisions, the ones that better the future of the family. And the father places his trust in her because although he won't admit it, he knows she is right. 

Kim Jiyoung’s story is original and authentic, and like any novel I've read that's been translated from another language, such as Convenience Store Woman and Klara and the Sun, the prose is crisp and succinct.

The book also touches lightly on the cosmetic surgery culture in Korea, with a male (of course) telling Jiyoung “you have a nice jawline and attractive nose - just get your eyelids done and you’re golden”. 

Courtesy of NPR

Koreans feel an immense pressure to be beautiful, and feel discriminated against when looking a certain way. It's actually the norm for parents to gift their children some form of surgery when they graduate college or when they become adults. No wonder Korea is often referred to as the cosmetic surgery capital of the world. If you want to know more about the pressures to be beautiful in this country, I recommend reading If I Had Your Face by Francis Cha

Last but certainly not least, the book highlights the Gender Wage Gap in Korea. Bloomberg reported in 2020 that South Korean woman took home 32.5% less income than men last year - the widest pay gap among 37 members in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. 

Courtesy of Huffington Post

Why do we value the work of males over females? This is an ongoing and pressing issue, not only in South Korea, not only in Asian countries, but also right here in Western Countries, right here in our home. 

Overall this book was captivating and authentic.

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