For my 20th birthday, my best friend gifted me, Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982. This novel, written by Cho Nam-Joo, details fiction based in reality and is partly based on Cho’s own experience of being a South Korean woman in South Korea. Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982 has become a powerful symbol of woman power, one that is desperately needed in the country of origin, where misogyny and patriarchal tendencies lurk in the underbelly and continue to be passed down through generations.
The story follows the life of Kim Ji-Young, a student, colleague, wife, mother and daughter. After a particularly harrowing interaction with her in-laws the titular character , Kim, begins to take on the personalities of multiple women she has encountered, as a response to the discrimination and misogyny she has had to face throughout her life, hereby giving a voice to women who were too afraid to speak up. Kim has had enough and refuses to remain silent anymore.
The book is written in third-person, as a therapist listens and jots down Kim Ji-Young’s life story. It details her mother’s, her sister’s and her own lived experience through school, work, home and country, where she continuously has had to make-do with the patriarchal rules enforced upon her. For example, Kim’s mother did not go to university, but was instead forced by her parents to go to work, so that her salary could go to her brother’s tertiary education fund. The narrative explores the concept and side-effects of birth control, maternity leave and how women are often punished for men’s mistakes.
Most of these experiences are not unique to South Korea and Kim Ji-Young’s story resonates with many women around the world. However, Cho Nam-Joo brings a South Korean issue to light, one which has spread like an epidemic within South Korea; Many cameras have been found in women’s public and corporate bathroom stalls, that film women without their knowledge or consent. This footage is then shared among men and or sold. Even if the perpetrators are caught, they get off with a light sentencing, while the women have their reputation ruined. There have been many protests and demonstrations, however, not much has changed and women still have to check twice as to whether they are being filmed in a restroom for a man’s pleasure and gain.
Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982 is truly a revolutionary piece of literature. For male readers, it highlights and offers a unique female insight into the constant battle women have with hegemonic and toxic masculinity. For women, it breaks down the remaining prejudices and internalised misogyny that women still unconsciously carry around inside them. With this novel, Cho Nam-Joo tells its women readers; ‘Do not apologise, it is not your fault’- something women do not get to hear enough.
cover art - Kim Ji-young, nacida en 1982 de Cho Nam-joo