TW/CW: Mentions of gender discrimination and assault
If you also think you haven’t been the victim of gender prejudice, this book could help you see the truth
I’ve always thought that I’ve never experienced misogyny. I’ve never felt like men had better chances than me or that they treated me without respect. I had male and female friends and I felt appreciated around them. But now I know I was wrong. The sexist behaviour of teachers, classmates, and strangers on the street seemed normal to me. “Boys are like that” – that’s what people used to say, so I believed it.
Since I’m independent and living on my own, I started noticing the underlying misogyny in our daily life. My experiences as a woman in society are nothing special, it’s ordinary. Every woman experiences misogyny at least once in her lifetime.
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 , by Cho Nam-Joo, grabbed my attention at the right moment, when I felt hopeless in a world designed for men.
“Don’t you have a washing machine for laundry and vacuum cleaner for cleaning? Women these days – what have you got to whine about?” (Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, page 136)
The book tells the story of an ordinary young woman living in Korea, who struggles to manage family, career and faces misogyny in every part of her life.
When we meet Jiyoung for the first time she is in a dissociative state. One day she acts and talks like her mother, the other day she says she is her college friend, who had died during childbirth. At first, her husband Daehyun thinks she is pranking him until she acts like that in front of his parents at the holiday dinner. Scared and confused, Daehyun asks his wife to see a therapist, to which she happily consents.
From that point on the reader follows Jiyoung through her life, from her birth in 1982 till her adulthood. Even before she was born, Jiyoung faced gender discrimination when her mum apologised to her mother-in-law for having a girl. She and her sister were ranked below their younger brother, who always got the perfect pieces of tofu, dumplings, and patties, while the girls had to eat the ones that fell apart. The brother always had the best socks, underwear, and school bags, while the girls had to take what was left.
In elementary school, Jiyoung’s deskmate started to hit her, but instead of punishing him, the teacher said to her: “He likes you. […] Boys are like that”. In middle school, the girls had to follow a strict dress code to not distract the boys. When Jiyoung met her husband’s family for the first time, they talked about why Jiyoung couldn’t get pregnant and what they were doing to get pregnant. When she was pregnant, Jiyoung had to quit her job. Since people at the park called her a “mum-roach”, a stay-at-home mum who is living off her husband’s paycheck, she would never be the same.
“Companies find smart women taxing. Like now – you’re being very taxing, you know?” (Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, page 84)
Reading about Jiyoung’s experiences was shocking and it made me angry. Especially, because I can relate to her more than I want to admit, even though I’m 18 years younger. Jiyoung’s story is that of every woman. I have been inappropriately touched by men while being at the club. Men have catcalled me on the streets. Boys looked under my skirt in school. People have asked me when I’ll get married and have children, something my boyfriend does not have to hear. It still happens, and that makes me feel unprotected and even worthless as a woman. The shocking aspect of the novel is that it shows us how women are deprived of basic experiences, or needs, on a daily basis, not only in rare situations. The author backs that up with many statistics and newspaper articles, which makes the book even more powerful. Jiyoung is born in Korea, a country with a high gender inequality rate, but her experiences still apply to any woman, regardless of where she comes from.
Reading about Jiyoung’s struggle to find a job, and how employers chose unqualified men over qualified women, how it’s harder for women to get a pay rise, angered me – and rightly so. This is something I’ve been thinking about for the last few months. I’m still a student, but I’ll work in a mostly male industry. Will I face the same difficulties as Jiyoung? I always tried to repress those thoughts to ease my mind. But Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 made me realise this problem is real and that I will have to face it one day.
It is hard to say that I enjoyed that book, as it showed me even more that women are not equal to men. Misogyny and gender bias are deeply rooted in our society, that we sometimes forget to question them. The book helped me to notice that, and I’m sure that it will help many other women and men. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is my reading highlight of this year so far. And maybe it will become yours.
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