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“Kim Jiyoung, born 1982” is Powerfully Ordinary 

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

Trigger warning: descriptions of sexual harassment. 

“I’ve noticed this about new employees over the years. The women take on all the cumbersome, minor tasks without being asked, while guys never do. Doesn’t matter if they’re new or the youngest—they never do anything they’re not told to do. But why do women simply take things upon themselves?” – Cho Namjoo, “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982”

Around a year after having her daughter, Kim Jiyoung begins exhibiting strange symptoms: mimicking the other women in her life. Daehyun, her husband, figures these imitations are party tricks or side effects of stress. Either way, he’s amused by the impressions until Jiyoung is seemingly possessed by a mutual college friend who passed a few years earlier, reminiscing over a confession Daehyun never shared with Jiyoung. She continues impersonating different women from there like she’s no longer the only person in her body. The last straw for Daehyun is when Jiyoung’s erratic behavior disrupts a Chuseok celebration with his family. Possessed by her mother, Jiyoung angrily confronts Daehyun’s father about never celebrating Chuseok with her family. Daehyun leaves with Jiyoung and their daughter to quell the situation but finally gives in to seeking professional help for his wife.

Jiyoung takes charge of the narrative and chronicles her life to explore the origins of her mental deterioration. It follows a typical path: childhood and adolescence in grade school, university, starting her career, getting married, then quitting her job to raise her daughter. Her life has no plot twists that could suddenly trigger a mental breakdown. However, Korean society is heavily patriarchal, so an amalgamation of misogyny, ranging from small disappointments to outright dehumanization trails Jiyoung’s life. She struggles to balance being a good daughter, employee, wife, and mother —  a myriad of conflicting expectations.

“Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982” often reads like a research study. This feeling comes from the mix of statistics relevant to Kim Jiyoung’s life at different stages in her story. The author, Cho Namjoo, inserted evidence like this so the book wouldn’t be dismissed as one woman’s fictional account. It also asserted that Jiyoung’s experiences are shared among Korean women, eventually becoming a catalyst for the #MeToo and Escape the Corset movements erupting in South Korea. 

I could relate to several of Jiyoung’s experiences, and at some points, I had to put the book down to simply contemplate. How did this happen? Who allowed it to happen? Questions such as these circulated when I reached a part that reminded me of something from my own life. More importantly, reflecting helped me realize some incidents were further rooted in misogyny than I initially thought. 

Another thing that I appreciated in the book was the aspect of resistance. The main goal of the book is to highlight all the ways Korean women are harassed and set up for failure in society, but Jiyoung also witnesses moments of retaliation and meets people who radicalize her further. For instance, a group of girls in her class devised a plan to ambush a local pervert who lingered near the all-girls classrooms and flashed them. The flasher was never seen again, but the girls were punished for resorting to violence when the school never took action against the actual perpetrator. Still, the girls never regretted their actions. Moments like these displayed the power of collective action against what may seem to be a fruitless cause. If enough people band together, their voices will be amplified for change. It instilled hope. 

Overall, “Kim Jiyoung, born 1982” is a short read, but every word counts. It’s straightforward, yet thought-provoking. If you’re looking to start reading feminist literature, especially to expand your thinking across borders, this book is a great place to start. 

Saumya Johri is an undergrad studying Social Relations and Policy at Michigan State University. Along with her passion for writing, she also loves reading, art, music, and thai tea boba.