PRESSURES ON SOUTH KOREAN WOMEN
Reporting from Seoul, Blaine Harden wrote in the Washington Post: “In a full-page newspaper advertisement headlined "I Am a Bad Woman," Hwang Myoung-eun explained the trauma of being a working mom in South Korea. "I may be a good employee, but to my family I am a failure," wrote Hwang, a marketing executive and mother of a 6-year-old son. "In their eyes, I am a bad daughter-in-law, bad wife and bad mother." The highly unusual ad gave voice to the resentment and repressed anger that are common to working women across South Korea. [Source: Blaine Harden, Washington Post, March 1, 2010]
“In a country where people work more and sleep less than anywhere else in the developed world, women are often elbowed away from rewards in their professional lives. If they have a job, they make 38 percent less money than men, the largest gender gap in the developed world. If they become pregnant, they are pressured at work not to take legally guaranteed maternity leave. Thanks to gender equality in education, the professional skills and career aspirations of women in South Korea have soared over the past two decades. But those gains are colliding with a corporate culture that often marginalizes mothers at the workplace — or ejects them altogether.
“Women who do combine work and family find themselves squeezed between too little time and too much guilt: for neglecting the education of children in a nation obsessed with education, for shirking family obligations as dictated by assertive mothers-in-law, and for failing to attend to the care and feeding of overworked and resentful husbands. As Hwang complained in two mournful newspaper advertisements she bought last fall in Seoul newspapers: "We work harder than anyone to manage housekeeping and earn wages, so why are we branded as selfish, irresponsible women?"
“Most South Korean corporations do little to accommodate working mothers — or working fathers, experts say. South Korean law allows a full year of subsidized parental leave, but intense peer pressure at work means that working mothers usually take little time off, according to government surveys. Only about 35,000 parents in this country of 49 million people took advantage of child-care leave subsidies last year. "The longer leave they take, the less the likelihood of getting their old job back, even though that is illegal," said Yoo Gye-sook, an associate professor of family studies at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. "Flextime is frowned on by human-resources managers. They feel that company discipline might erode."
New Woman Image in Korean Dramas
The Asahi Shimbun reported: “Behind the South Korean drama boom is the empathy of working women. All such works are centered on ambitious heroines who are strong enough to protect the men they love while living in their own style. Another characteristic of those series is that devious aspects of female characters as well as their good personalities are faithfully depicted. The heroines get the better of masculine men who do not want young females to participate in business operations. They also actively communicate with other women in local communities to obtain important information though doing so appears to be an exhausting task. [Source: Asahi Shimbun, July 5, 2020]
“The male protagonists respect the heroines’ autonomy and try to protect them so that their free-wheeling lifestyles will not be hampered. Yone Yamashita, a professor of South Korean culture and women’s studies at Bunkyo University, offered an explanation. “One trend of recent South Korean drama series is that the ways of women living in a down-to-earth manner are presented via the stories,” said Yamashita. “Their creators make the titles with that in mind.” This is in contrast to the way of melodramatic “Winter Sonata,” which captured the hearts of those middle-aged or older in the past.
“In the latest boom, many of people posting their drama reviews on social networking sites are those in their 20s to 40s. Of these, working women who feel “exhilarated at the sight of decisive heroines,” in particular, positively view South Korean works. Those titles were marketed as an award was introduced in 1999 in South Korea to honor creations that contribute to gender equality. Working mothers, single-parent's families, gender inequality in households and other social issues, along with love affairs, are portrayed in many such stories. “The dramas show a society a step ahead of the reality, and characters appear in them who break down walls that women frequently face,” said Yamashita. “Viewers can easily relate to problems that overlap their own, so the programs are supported by a wide range of viewers even in Japan.”
More Korean Women Put off Marriage and Childbirth
Blaine Harden wrote in the Washington Post: “To lower stress as they climb corporate ladders, women in South Korea are postponing marriage and motherhood. The number of unmarried women in their 20s and 30s is surging. For three years running, South Korea has had the world's lowest birthrate, according to the U.N. World Health Organization. [Source: Blaine Harden, Washington Post, March 1, 2010]
“The no-husband, no-baby trend has become a demographic epidemic in East Asia. Among the 10 countries or territories with the world's lowest fertility rates, six are in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a 2008 CIA ranking. From Japan to Singapore, the percentage of women who remain single into their mid-30s is rising at historically unprecedented rates. In South Korea, the percentage of unmarried women ages 30 to 34 nearly doubled in the past five years, rising to 19 percent from 10.5 percent. "Women in their late 20s are just not willing to make the sacrifice of having children, juggling family responsibilities and working," Yoo said.
“Collapsing birthrates are alarming East Asian governments, which in coming years will face a demographic crunch as the proportion of pensioners rises and the number of working-age adults declines. South Korea, which has projected a population decline beginning in 2018, is scrambling to encourage childbirth with incentives including low-interest home loans for families with three or more children.
“But for South Korean women, choosing to have children usually means falling off the career track. There is a 30 percent employment gap here between men and women, the fourth-largest gap in the world, after Turkey, Mexico and Greece. Even if women choose to stay on the job, they have no guarantees of career advancement. U.N. statistics show that gender empowerment, as measured by women holding management and professional jobs, is falling.
"This means that despite Korean women having good health and excellent education, they still have a much greater chance of becoming a politician or even a middle manager or computer programmer in countries like Kyrgyzstan, the Dominican Republic, Botswana or Nicaragua," said James Turnbull, whose blog, "The Grand Narrative," tracks sex discrimination and the role of women in South Korea.
Lack of Childcare and Overtime Kills Women's Careers In South Korea,
Christine Kim of Reuters wrote: “Ahn Ji-sun was looking forward to going back to work after she had her second child. But she had no one to babysit the kids. Guilt made her stay home and give up a flourishing career as an event supervisor in Seoul. Three years later, the 38-year-old is still torn between the demands of home and unfulfilled ambition, and may have to switch careers to find a suitable job. "If there had been some place where my children could have been taken care of ... I would still be working," she said. [Source: Christine Kim, Reuters, Jan 27, 2015]
“A shortage of dependable childcare is derailing the careers of hundreds of thousands of women in South Korea, where management ranks are dominated by men and a patriarchal society idealizes stay-at-home moms. Government data as of April last year shows 22.4 percent of all married women aged 15 to 54 in South Korea quit their jobs due to marriage, childbirth or childcare. "We have succeeded in recruiting women to the workforce, but retaining them is difficult," Kim Hee-jung, minister of family and gender equality, said in an interview.
“The government has been urging Korea Inc, dominated by family-run conglomerates, to get mothers back into the workforce, but few companies are willing to take the time or money to employ women with career gaps, Kim said. "We need for them to realize that keeping women in the workplace is investing in our future," she said. The gender equality ministry has sought to strengthen existing policies, such as increasing the number of childcare helpers provided at a low cost by the government as well as centers to mentor mothers who wish to go back to work.
The biggest hurdle for career mothers looking to scale the corporate ladder appears to be unreliable childcare. A daycare center worker was caught on camera earlier this month knocking a toddler to the floor, spurring calls for closer monitoring of schools and childcare facilities. Some parents have kept their children at home as subsequent footage of more incidents of daycare abuse emerged. Waiting lists of more than a year plague state-run centers that are cheaper and better maintained than private ones, with official data in September showing as many as 98,000 children were in line for a place in government centers that account for 5 percent of the country's daycare facilities.
Kim Young-ock, a research fellow at the Korean Women's Development Institute, said increased government spending on childcare has yielded little, with a work culture that often extends beyond regular hours. "Overtime work abounds and there are company dinners ... there is no understanding if your child is sick," she said.
Work intrusions continue to interfere with family life for women. A South Korean maker of steam-cleaning products is among the few companies in Seoul trying to cut them some slack. At Haan Corp, employees are forbidden from working overtime on Wednesdays, a policy to compel staff in a notoriously workaholic country to spend more time with their families. Employees are encouraged to work flexible hours, and mothers returning after childbirth qualify for an above-average rating at work, helping them catch up with their male counterparts. "Our company tries to support its working parents so that they can work outside the office if needed and avoid being blamed for poor performance," said founder Romi Haan.
“No Marriage” Movement Among Single Korean Women
Beh Lih Yi of Reuters wrote: “No dating, no sex, no marriage and no babies: two South Korean YouTubers who vow to stay single have caused uproar in the east Asian nation as it battles the world's lowest fertility rate. The duo have gained celebrity status for their SOLOdarity channel - with some 37,000 followers in its first year - where they have compared marriage to slavery for women and criticised the tradition of fathers giving away brides as offensive. "Marriage is the root cause of patriarchy in South Korea," said Jung Se-young, co-host of the channel's talk show, which is popular with young women who do not want to wed and become saddled with childcare and domestic chores like their mothers. [Source: Beh Lih Yi, Reuters. January 20, 2020]
“The pair's "No Marriage" movement has tapped into burgeoning feminism in South Korea, which saw tens of thousands of women protest in 2018 against a epidemic of voyeurism or "spycam porn" - where victims are secretly filmed urinating or mid-sex. Deemed radical by their critics, the two women in their 30s have faced online bullying for their campaign, sometimes dubbed a "womb protest", as women's growing rejection of marriage and motherhood splits South Korean society.
“On SOLOdarity, Jung and her co-host Baeck Ha-na, an accountant, dish out advice to women on why they should stay single, as well as touching on other feminist topics that challenge South Korean women's traditional backseat role. "It is about boycotting marriage, men, sex and relationships," Jung, a teacher, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview in the capital Seoul. Both women said their previous relationships brought them down and they had changed their appearance to please boyfriends - Jung said she even underwent minor plastic surgery.
South Korea’s Demographic Crisis Versus Its Single Women
Beh Lih Yi of Reuters wrote: “Marriage and childbirth are increasingly divisive topics in South Korea, where United Nations data shows the average woman has just 1.1 children, creating a demographic crisis which threatens to shrink its rapidly ageing population and economy. To reverse this worrying trend, the government has rolled out a slew of costly measures to boost gender equality among its 51 million people, including improving parental leave policies and offering fertility treatment to couples and single women. Single mothers are allowed to register their children using their surname under new measures to reduce the stigma often faced by unmarried women. [Source: Beh Lih Yi, Reuters. January 20, 2020]
“Jung and Baeck believe marriage entrenches old-fashioned gender roles, with South Korean women spending four times longer on unpaid care - cleaning, cooking and looking after children or elderly parents - than their husbands, according to U.N. data. "The current government's initiatives are not designed for women - it is for men," said Jung. "They need women who can have babies, so the policy will repeat this vicious cycle."
“Single young women are calling for greater equality in the workplace. South Korea's gender wage gap is the highest among advanced countries at 35 percent in 2017 - more than double the average for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. "With the wage gap, women feel they can't support themselves when they get old, which is why they naturally want to find a man who they can live with and depend on," Jung said.
“Like elsewhere in Asia, the pressure to marry someone of the opposite sex to continue the family blood line is strong in South Korea but recent surveys suggest sentiment is changing. Fewer South Korean women believe they need to marry, with the number falling to 44 percent in 2018 from 62 percent in 2008, government figures showed, while the number of people living alone rose sharply, accounting for about one-third of households. Feminism is also gathering pace in other areas. A growing band of young women have given up makeup and cut their hair short to rebel against long-held ideals of beauty in a country with one of the highest rates of plastic surgery per capita.
South Korean Men Call the Trend 'Female Supremacy'
Beh Lih Yi of Reuters wrote: “On the streets of Seoul, men urged South Korean women not to spurn marriage and motherhood, despite the cost of parenting. "It's good to get married but it is not a must. There is a lot of financial burden that comes with marriage," said student Kim Jae-hwan, 23, outside one of a rising number of 'solo dining' restaurants that have sprung up in the capital. "Women's rights have become an issue recently because some of them are too radical, they are not seeking gender equality but female supremacy." [Source: Beh Lih Yi, Reuters. January 20, 2020]
Another male student, Shin In-soo, 18, said marriage was an individual choice, but women's rejection of it was not helping to solve South Korea's demographic crisis. "Considering the low birth rates and other problems in our society, it will be better for people to marry and have babies," he said, in the Hongdae area in downtown Seoul that is famous for its student night life and karaoke bars.
“The two YouTube stars brushed off such criticism, saying women were just reclaiming control over their lives. "If this does affect society, then perhaps the government will look at what women really need," said Baeck, who sports a short haircut. "The more I dated, the more I felt like I was losing a part of myself." Other 'No Marriage' supporters said they simply did not want to be treated as objects whose sole purpose was to reproduce."When you get married, it is like you are working for two families and you are made to feel like a baby machine," said Baek Soo-yeon, a 29-year-old who works in a technology firm. "It is my body, my choice."
Korean Women Fight for Their Right to Wear Glasses and Miniskirts and Go Braless
The Park Chung Hee government of the 1960s and 70s banned miniskirts. Kang Hyun-kyung wrote in the Korea Times: In 1973, the Park government introduced the Minor Offenses Act that mandated limits on men's hair length and women's miniskirt length. Police who caught men with long hair took them to a police station to have their hair cut against their will. While there was no specific definition of long hair, the Minor Offenses Act stipulated that men who have hair "long enough to make it harder for others to distinguish whether they were men or women" were subject to the measure. In 1973 alone, some 12,000 men were taken to police stations for violations of the act. The same law also banned women from wearing skirts that ended 17 centimeters or higher above their knees. If found, the women were taken to a police station and required to change into a "modest" costume. [Source: Kang Hyun-kyung, Korea Times, February 22, 2019]
In 2006, hot pants and miniskirts were legalized in South Korea. Reuters reported: “The country is in the final stages of revising an indecency law that prohibits people from wearing revealing outfits and was once enforced by ruler-wielding police during authoritarian governments in the 1970s, officials said. "The law for excessive exposure does not match our current society," said Kim Jae-kwang, an official with the Korea Legislation Research Institute. Under authoritarian rule, police could arrest or fine women for their fashion choices. They also took scissors to men whose hair they felt was too long and tossed people in jail for unauthorized dancing. The rules stayed on the books as South Korea moved to an open democracy in the late 1980s, but were no longer enforced...and police have long given up on measuring the distance from knees to hemlines. [Source: Reuters, November 3, 2006]
But then a new law was passed in 2013 banning miniskirts in Seoul. CNN reported: “Under the decree, approved by the new government during President Park Geun-hye's first Cabinet meeting people deemed to be "overexposed" in public will be subject to a fine of 50,000 KRW (US$45). When the new legislation was announced, many residents assumed it meant restrictions on revealing outfits that are prevalent on the streets of Seoul and other South Korean cities. The so-called "no pants" look has become a fashion staple, with women ditching pants and skirts for leggings, stocking or barely-there microshorts. [Source: Frances Cha, CNN, March 21, 2013]
Opposition political figures have criticized the amendment, branding the law an infringement on freedom of expression. "Why does the state interfere with how citizens dress?" tweeted Democratic United Party member Ki Sik Kim, according to the Donga Ilbo newspaper. "This amendment is for cases like public nudity and public indecency," Inspector Ko Jun-ho of the National Police Agency told CNN. "Any reports that we will be regulating what people are wearing are completely false."
In 2020, Beh Lih Yi of Reuters wrote: “South Korean women have called for their freedom to dress as they choose after a newsreader caused an uproar for appearing on air without a bra. “Yim Hyun-ju came under criticism after she appeared on air on a TV programme braless this month and took to social media to share her experience with a hashtag #nobra. It came as a small but growing number of women in South Korea choose not to wear a bra in public in a bid to reject traditional social norms and to push for gender equality. "It's all about breaking out of the box," said Yim, who has worked for one of South Korea's biggest broadcasters, the MBC, since 2013. "Many things that we considered as natural in the past was a repression of women's rights," the 35-year-old told Reuters. [Source: Beh Lih Yi, Reuters, February 25, 2020]
“Yim made headlines in 2018 after she broke taboos on local TV by going on air wearing glasses - an issue that also sparked outcry in Japan in 2019 after some firms were found imposing similar bans on female staff wearing glasses. "Wearing glasses and not wearing a bra are all about choice," said Yim, who was on a show about new challenges that featured three men wearing bras and three women - including Yim - who went braless for a day. “One of South Korea's best-known K-pop stars, Sulli, was vocal about not wearing a bra in public, sparking headlines. She took her own life in October 2019 after cyber bullying. Police said she had being suffering from severe depression.
Korean Best Seller About a Young Mother Driven to Insanity
Cho Nam-Joo’s novel “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982” sold more than a million copies and perhaps the best example of the new feminist wave in South Korea. Euny Hong, New York Times,“I hated reading “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982,” the debut novel by Cho Nam-Joo, which is the opposite of saying that I hated the book itself. The story of a young stay-at-home mother driven to a psychotic break, it laid bare my own Korean childhood — and, let’s face it, my Western adulthood too — forcing me to confront traumatic experiences that I’d tried to chalk up as nothing out of the ordinary. But then, my experiences are ordinary, as ordinary as the everyday horrors suffered by the book’s protagonist, Jiyoung. This novel is about the banality of the evil that is systemic misogyny. [Source: Euny Hong, New York Times, April 14, 2020]
“Upon its publication in South Korea in 2016, the book, which sold more than a million copies, had an “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” effect, propelling a feminist wave. It’s easy to see why. The novel begins with Jiyoung having a dissociative episode. One day she wakes up not as herself but, to her husband’s horror and confusion, as her mother — speaking and acting just as her mother would. Another day she claims to be a schoolmate who died in childbirth the previous year. As her psychiatrist later puts it: “Jiyoung became different people from time to time. Some of them were living, others were dead, all of them women she knew. No matter how you looked at it, it wasn’t a joke or prank. Truly, flawlessly, completely, she became that person.”
“We eventually learn about the event that triggered Jiyoung’s descent into madness. On her last day as a woman in her right mind, she is sitting by herself on a park bench when a group of young office workers mock her for having the audacity to drink a cup of coffee in the middle of the day on her husband’s dime. They call her a “mum-roach” — a pejorative expression for an entitled woman of leisure.... Jiyoung, like Gregor Samsa” in Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” “feels so overwhelmed by social expectations that there is no room for her in her own body; her only option is to become something — or someone — else. Of course, Jiyoung’s metamorphosis wasn’t brought on by any single incident. The seeds of her discontent were planted before she was born; she and her sister exist only because her parents kept having children (and one sex-selective abortion) until they finally produced a son. While the son gets the best of everything, Jiyoung and her sister are treated as failed rough drafts.
“Jiyoung’s life doesn’t get easier in adulthood. At her job at a marketing agency, she finds she can’t even order food without mockery. When lunching with colleagues, she orders an inexpensive dish — soybean paste with rice — prompting a male client to call her a doenjangnyeo, literally a “bean paste woman.” This snide colloquialism refers to an uppity young woman who eats the cheapest possible meals in order to save up for Prada handbags and the like. Even when she marries, quits her job and succeeds in producing a son, Jiyoung feels overwhelming social pressure to be a sufficiently loving mother, which she likens to “religious dogma.” Her husband is supportive, but this almost makes it worse: He wants to help, but can do nothing. The husband’s helplessness is a deft touch on Cho’s part, and makes an important point: If even a man can’t fight a man’s world, what’s a woman in Jiyoung’s position to do?
“Like “The Metamorphosis,” Cho’s novel is written in an unemotional, almost clinical style; by the end we realize it’s a case history narrated by Jiyoung’s male psychiatrist. It even includes footnotes to actual studies on gender inequality in South Korea. At first, the footnotes were distracting. Then I realized their purpose was to suggest the degree to which the travails of Jiyoung, a fictional character, are grounded in fact. It’s South Korea’s dirty little secret that, despite its prosperity, technological advances and coolness factor, when it comes to gender equality, it’s no Finland. As the novel points out, the Korean hoju system, in which children were registered exclusively under the patriarchal line, was not abolished until 2008. The consequences of this practice were serious: An illegitimate child was a legal nonentity, like an unbaptized child under old-school Catholic dogma.
“Of course, it’s not just in Korea that such problems occur, which may be why “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982” has been translated into more than a dozen languages and has become an international sensation. In South Korea, the book’s release led to a powerful backlash. When the K-pop singer Irene, a member of a band called Red Velvet, said in a March 2018 interview that she’d read the book, irate male netizens took to social media to announce they were burning her photo. Perhaps the novel’s international exposure will force South Korea to have another reckoning with what it plans to do about its biggest elephant in the room. I expect threats just for writing this review.
Book: “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982” by Cho Nam-Joo, Translated by Jamie Chang (Liveright, 2020)
Main Character of “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982”
Alexandra Alter wrote in the New York Times: “Kim Jiyoung, the exceptionally average protagonist of Cho Nam-Joo’s novel, is 33, living on the outskirts of Seoul with her husband and infant daughter. She is exhausted by the monotony of cooking, cleaning and child-rearing, and vaguely resentful that she gave up her job at a marketing agency. [Source: Alexandra Alter, New York Times, April 8, 2020]
“There’s nothing especially dramatic about her story, which is precisely Cho’s point. Translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang, Cho’s clinical prose is bolstered with figures and footnotes to illustrate how ordinary Jiyoung’s experience is. “In 2014, around the time Kim Jiyoung left the company, one in five married women in Korea quit their job because of marriage, pregnancy, childbirth and child care, or the education of young children,” she writes, adding exact percentages of working women by age group, with a footnote from a 2015 study published in South Korea’s Health and Social Welfare Review.
In “Kim Jiyoung,” small disappointments and minor outrages trail Jiyoung for her entire life. When she is a child, her parents spoil her younger brother, while she and her sister have to share everything; at her all girls’ high school, male teachers grope and harass their students under the guise of examining their uniforms.
“In her first job, Jiyoung and her female colleagues are passed over for choice assignments that are given to less competent but higher paid men. When Jiyoung gets married and decides to start a family, she and her husband quickly determine that she should be the one to stay home since he makes more money, an outcome that was a foregone conclusion. “The fact that Jiyoung saw this coming did not make her feel any less depressed,” Cho writes.
Cho Nam-Joo: Author of “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982”
Cho Nam-Joo, author of “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982”, is a former television writer. Alexandra Alter wrote in the New York Times: “Cho wrote “Kim Jiyoung” in 2015, finishing a draft in just a few months. At the time, misogynistic trolls were becoming a greater presence online. False rumors proliferated on the internet that a South Korean woman had contributed to spreading the MERS virus in Hong Kong after refusing to be quarantined. Derogatory slang targeting housewives, like the term “mum-roach,” was becoming more prevalent. “I wanted to write about the everyday and common but nonetheless undeserved experience of women around me, about the despair, exhaustion and fear that we feel for no reason other than that we’re women,” Cho said in an email through a translator. “I also wanted this story to not just be a work of fiction, but a very likely true-to-life biography of someone out there.” [Source: Alexandra Alter, New York Times, April 8, 2020]
“Like her heroine, Cho experienced pervasive sexism throughout her life, she said. Born in Seoul in 1978, she studied sociology at Ewha Womans University, the nation’s top women’s college, then spent nearly a decade writing for current events TV programs. She quit to raise her child but found it difficult to restart her career — a biographical detail that informed her novel. She began gathering articles and sociological data and decided to write a fictional biography of an average Korean woman, following her from birth to the present.
“Even though her book, “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982,” is fiction, Cho grounded it in statistics so that its message wouldn’t be dismissed as a made-up account of one woman’s experience, she said. “I wanted to write about issues that women could not speak about before, because they were taken for granted,” Cho said last month during a Skype interview from her home in Seoul, where the streets in her neighborhood were empty because of the coronavirus outbreak. “I wanted to make this into a public debate.”
Impact of “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982”
Alexandra Alter wrote in the New York Times: “When “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982,” was published in Korea in 2016, it was received as a cultural call to arms. Celebrated and criticized in almost equal measure, the novel ignited a nationwide conversation about gender inequality. K-pop stars like Sooyoung of Girls’ Generation and RM of BTS praised it, delivering a major publicity boost. In 2017, a member of South Korea’s National Assembly bought copies of “Kim Jiyoung” for the entire legislative body. A politician with the left-wing Justice Party gave a copy to President Moon Jae-in with a note imploring him to look after women like Kim Jiyoung. When Seoul passed a new budget with additional money for child care, the city’s mayor promised that there would be “no more sorrow for Kim Jiyoung.” [Source: Alexandra Alter, New York Times, April 8, 2020]
“Like Bong Joon Ho’s Academy Award-winning film “Parasite,” which unleashed a debate about class disparities in South Korea, Cho’s novel was treated as a social treatise as much as a work of art. It sold more 1.3 million copies in the country and was adapted into a feature film. Translation rights sold in around 20 countries, and the book took off in China, Taiwan and Japan. The English-language version, which comes out in the United States on Tuesday, has drawn praise from novelists such as Elif Batuman and Ling Ma, who wrote in a blurb that “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982” “possesses the urgency and immediacy of the scariest horror thriller — except that this is not technically horror, but something closer to reportage.”
“Along with praise, the novel generated a backlash among men who opposed Cho’s feminist message. After the pop star Irene, a member of the group Red Velvet, said she was reading it, angry male fans posted videos of themselves burning photos of the singer. A crowdfunding effort began to support a parody book titled “Kim Ji-hun Born in 1990,” about a young Korean man who faces reverse discrimination for being male. Cho never expected it to drive such extreme reactions. Now that it has become a blockbuster, she has been gratified by the responses from readers who saw their experiences reflected in Kim Jiyoung’s story. “My novel made people speak out,” she said. “The novel became more complete thanks to the readers themselves.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.
Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in July 2021