Simone de Beauvoir once said, “One is not born, but rather, becomes a woman.”
The French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist, and social theorist knew well what it was like to be a woman in her era, amidst groups of men chanting about philosophy. Her existence in her field too was shadowed by her lover, Jean-Paul Satre. She was known as Satre’s lover instead of Simone de Beauvoir.
But I’m not writing about Jean-Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir. Instead, it’s about Kim Ji-young: Born 1982.
Written by Cho Nam-joo and published in 2016, the book was turned into a film in 2019.
Both the book and film explore what it was like to be born in 1982 in Korea — in a world where patriarchy is still thick as blood. Fast forward to 2021, women are still considered a burden to society while men are celebrated and glorified.
The protagonist Kim Ji Young understood her circumstances well by observing her mother, Oh Misook, and her environment. Ji Young’s mother, for instance, had to give up on being a teacher and work really hard to support her brothers’ education. She succeeded; her brothers became successful and rich courtesy of Misook’s struggle of juggling two to three jobs at once while raising her kids.
Similar to her mother, Ji Young harbours a dream too. She wishes to become independent by being able to work and earn her own money. But the cycle of life repeats itself when she gets married and has a kid. The book depicts the struggles of motherhood poignantly.
That said, the book also reveals important issues that are rarely talked about in South Korean society. One of the issues that gripped me was the flasher. Instead of punishing the flasher, the school punished the schoolgirls who apprehended the pervert.
The theme of the book also centers around the burden of womanhood. In order to maneuver a patriarchal paradigm, both the book sheds light on the fact that many South Korean women feel it’s better to have a son as the first child.
Another theme is the unfair treatment of women who’re often blamed for sexual assault cases while the perpetrators — who’re men — get away scot-free. It’s relatable to what many Asian women face on almost a daily basis. Women are often blamed for their dressing, being too nice or kind when they reveal that they were sexually harassed.
It’s often the woman’s fault.
While the novel highlights issues faced by women in South Korea, it also poses larger questions about women’s limited role in societies around the world. The novel also poses deep philosophical questions on sacrificing one’s dreams for motherhood and if it’s truly necessary.
Now, I’m not saying that being a full-time mother is a waste. On the contrary, it’s rewarding. But what happens to women who have big dreams? Do women have to stop searching themself when they get married? What is marriage? Is it a contract where a man owns a woman? Can women truly lead a fulfilled life once they get married?
These are pertinent questions that I found myself asking after reading Cho Nam-joo’s Kim Ji-young: Born 1982 and watching the film later.
Though Kim Ji Young represents many women, the film, on the other hand, is equally painful as well. But it’s real. The things that women have to go through are real and nothing can fix it if society still remains the same.
Kim Ji Young represents women who had to give up on their dreams. Women who had to stop searching for their being and women who had to fulfill someone else’s being and needs.