By Cho Nam-Joo (translated by Jamie Chang)
It feels so painfully relatable and universal. I know for sure women around the world would relate to this, regardless of where this book is set geographically. The author, Cho Nam-Joo sheds light on how deeply entrenched a patriarchal system is in a South Korean society, through the eyes of Kim Jiyoung.
It is a short novella that tackles different stages of Kim Jiyoung’s life. As a child, her brother would be served dinner first, while her and her sister wait for the leftovers. As a school-going girl, she experiences unwanted and aggressive attention from a fellow male student. As an adult, her male colleagues are given preference for job promotion even when she is more capable than them. As a married woman, she is expected to sacrifice her career to take care of her baby and household.
It also shed light on men who are nice and empathise with women, but who are still a part of the problem. For example, Kim Jiyoung’s husband. Marginally better than other men in the book, he comes across as kind and caring. He seems to empathise with his wife and understands how the society treats women. However, he is the product of society’s social conditioning, which means he carries the selfish gene. Though he doesn’t say anything, his silence speaks volume about his lack of support for his wife’s career. Kim Jiyoung eventually rationalises it by saying that it is better for her to stay at home, post maternity. She makes the decision without any resentment or neglect. She has been socially conditioned to accept that this is the way it is for women. The term sacrifice is moulded in the minds of women when they get married and have children. It starts at an early age in the home, where a young girl sees her brothers being given preference by parents and grandparents. This is the way it is and that becomes the norm. This is not just related to South Korea, but all around the world.
There’s no denying that this work of fiction is grounded in reality. The author includes statistics and facts about socio-economic conditions in South Korea in the footnotes, to help readers understand how these impact the society, especially women.
This book seriously comes highly recommended.