Feminist Movements in South Korea: Background information when reading Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

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Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

A Novel

by Cho Nam-joo, Jamie Chang

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-joo, Jamie Chang X
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-joo, Jamie Chang
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2020, 176 pages
    Mar 2021, 176 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
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About this Book

Feminist Movements in South Korea

This article relates to Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Print Review

Film promotional image for Kim Jiyoung Born 1982South Korean society has long been profoundly patriarchal, with traditional expectations that designate men as breadwinners and women as homemakers remaining intact even as more women have entered the workforce. According to a 2017 report, Korea has the highest gender pay gap among all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations, with women earning just 63 percent of their male counterparts' salaries.

Naturally, several movements have developed in response to this glaring disparity in how men and women are treated in South Korea. It wasn't until 1987 that the first institutional feminist organization, Korea Women's Association United (KWAU), was formed to address questions of gender inequality, democracy, and labor, among others. But despite the fact that KWAU has been tackling issues of sexist legislation and the gender wage gap for decades, all of these problems persist.

In 2018, a series of large-scale demonstrations were organized to protest workplace sexual harassment. In 2012, there were 249 reported cases in the country; in 2018, the number was over eight times greater. A woman named Soo-Jin came forward about the precarious position she was put in when she reported her rapist to her company's HR department: she was given two options, to rescind her allegations and keep her job, or to insist that she was raped and be fired. When she dropped the charges, the company cut her pay by 10 percent, as retribution for filing a "false" report. Soo-Jin's story was picked up by the media, an investigation was launched, and protests began. This is frequently referred to as the "#MeToo moment of South Korea." However, there is still a strong stigma against the term "feminism," and some women prefer the less loaded term "equalist."

One of South Korea's more radical feminist movements, known as 4B, developed in 2019 and hinges on four tenets, or four "nos": no dating, no sex, no marriage and no child-rearing. With very little community support, Korean women are expected to care for their children, prepare dinner for their husbands, and care for their parents and in-laws; 4B was formed to push back against these unrealistic demands, encouraging women to position careers and personal fulfillment over marriage. 4B supposedly only has 4,000 members, so it's unlikely the group has ushered in widespread social change as yet, but even before its founding, the marriage rate in South Korea was noticeably plummeting. Two decades ago, the number of couples married was 434,900; in 2018 it was down to 257,600.

Contemporary Korean feminism (or equalism) is rarely discussed without a mention of Cho Nam-Joo's novel, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, which was published there in 2016. The book has sold over one million copies in its original language. A film adaptation was released in 2019 and reactions among men and women were glaringly divided. According to a movie-rating platform called Naver Movie, out of 40,000 ratings, the average rating by women was 9.51 out of 10, while the average rating by men was 2.71 out of 10. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is something of a movement unto itself. It served to both ignite and reignite tensions felt between male and female partners; several couples who saw the film together reportedly broke up afterward. Female celebrities—actresses and K-Pop singers—have received floods of hate on social media after admitting they read the book. Reactions to the book/movie illustrate the state of feminism in Korea—whether someone is viewing Jiyoung's story through a feminist, anti-feminist, or equalist lens, women's rights remain an incendiary political topic in a society where gender inequality is rampant.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 film promotional image, courtesy of IMDB

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Rachel Hullett

This "beyond the book article" relates to Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982. It originally ran in May 2020 and has been updated for the March 2021 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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