Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo – A Novel about Feminism in South Korea

Kim Jiyoung, born 1982

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo – A Novel about Feminism in South Korea

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Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 starts with a married woman visiting her in-laws. During the visit, she makes comments that are considered rude by the in-laws, and it is clear that Jiyoung is confused. Before rushing her out the door, her husband has to explain that she has not been herself lately. From what we see, it appears like she thinks she is her mother and is making statements about herself and her situation from her mother’s perspective. Then we find out that Jiyoung has developed psychosis and has started to completely take the identity of women she knows.

I really liked this book and could not put it down once I started to read it. It follows Kim Jiyoung from a young child to the present day and speaks to what it is like growing up as a woman in Korea. Her experiences are relatable to what women have faced, and are facing all over the world. Each situation is presented from her perspective, and includes what she thinks and feels in each situation. What makes the book such a great read and unique in my perspective, is how well she describes the irony and hypocrisy in each situation. It doesn’t matter if she does everything right and follows all the rules. In the end, she can not win. Most of the characters points and observations in the book are supported by facts and documentation you can read in the footnotes. Warning, that this review does contain spoilers, because I found it hard to discuss without using the specific examples in the book.

Do laws and institutions change values, or do values drive laws and institutions.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

Her Early Childhood Life

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 begins chronologically and we learn about her home life. When her brother was finally born he took priority over the daughters. The grandma reinforced this making sure the son always had the biggest portions of food and best picks of everything. The girls had to share a room with their grandma, and their brother slept in the parents room, so he could be close to them. The son was spoiled by his parents and not expected to do chores, while the girls were expected to do chores and do well in school. Their mother did sympathize with them, but felt the need to follow the lead of the older generations and what was expected of her.


At school the differences between the treatment of girls and boys was very clear. The boys teased and harassed the girls, and when brought to the attention of the teachers the only responses was “boys will be boys”. When she complained of a boy pulling her hair and being mean to her in class, the response was that he must like her. She points out that this of course makes no sense, if you like someone you should treat them nice.

The uniforms were another way the girls were singled out from the boys. The girls had to wear skirts and tights, even in the cold winter, while the boys were aloud to wear pants to keep warm. The same was done for shoes, while the boy got to wear running shoes girls were expected to wear dress shoes. At one point a teacher says that girls don’t run and play outside like the boys do. Jiyoung and her fellow students point out, how can we when we have to wear these clothes?

While girls were always told they were smarter, more disciple, and had more attention to detail then the male students, this was never reflected in the responsibilities given to the girls in school. In her school all the class prefects were boys, and the position was rarely given to girl students.

Her Career

After school finished, Jiyoung and a lot of women like her had excellent grades but it was almost impossible for a them to find a good, well paying jobs. She went to a large number of interview, but those making the decisions were always men, who never took the process seriously and always asked sexist and inappropriate questions. They didn’t intended to hire a women, and if they did it was never a high level position. Their reason was, that it was a waste to hire a woman because they will always leave to start a family.

It afforded her a sense of accomplishment when she completed tasks and climbed the ladder, and gave her a sense of reward knowing she was earning her own life with the money she earned. But that was all over now.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

Her Marriage

I did like Jiyoung’s husband in the novel. He didn’t treat her bad, and he tried to help her and be fair, but the whole system and society were against her. When they got married the only question everyone asked was when they would have children. No one asked what she wanted. If you decide not to have kids, it must mean that there is something medically wrong with you. In the end they decided to have kids just to stop the questions.


Society’s assumption and push for all married women to have children and paying them less for their work, fulfills the belief that all women will eventually leave their jobs. Jiyoung wants to have both a career and be a mother, and her husband tries to support that, but after doing the math and considering all options, her staying home is the best option. Why? Well because women are paid less and have lower level jobs, all under the assumption that they will leave the workplace for their children; so they end up being forced to leave the workplace because they are the ones who are paid less. There is nothing her husband can do, when it is all an endless cycle that continues to repeat.

And in the end what is her payment for following the only path that society allows? Being called a roach mom, someone who lives off her husbands money, like it was her choice, or what she wanted to do. It makes you angry to think about, no wonder she has a breakdown.

You said don’t just think about what I’ll be giving up. I’m putting my youth, health, job, colleagues, social networks, career plans, and future on the line. No wonder all I can think about are the things I am giving up. But what about you. What do you loose by gaining a child.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo


Kim Jiyoung, born 1982

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is a great book to read, because it really opened my eyes and explained the injustices women face. It didn’t just describe the injustices, but did an amazing job of picking them apart so you understand why they should make you so upset. The only thing I didn’t like was the abrupt ending. The book seemed so short, and I really wanted it to continue so I could learn more. I was hoping to see some revelation at the end, or someone would open their eyes and see the truth. But it just ends. This is the way the world is.

If you liked this Book…

I haven’t read Whisper Network, but it has great reviews. Four women are working at Truvic Inc. when the CEO dies and a man who has rumors circulating about the way he treats women is suspected to get the position. So the women decide to take a stand.

The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in a dystopian future where women are treated as commodity, with the sole purpose of baring children. All disguised behind religion and the survival of the human race, this classic by Margaret Atwood is a book everyone should read.

The Farm

Still on my list of books to read, in The Farm women are paid a big sum of money to stay in a luxury retreat, the only catch is that they are monitored at all times, and can not leave for nine months. All for a baby they can not keep.

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One thought on “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo – A Novel about Feminism in South Korea

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