Glass ceiling

Time and time again I remind myself that everything around us is a manifestation of our mind as it is  our mind that is telling us what to believe in. Our mind plays tricks on us. As I navigate myself through the patriarchal landscape, I  find myself not winning if I do not make compromises to meet certain social expectations and it can be unsettling when I know that I cannot change the mindset of others due to deep-rooted upbringing and social conditioning.

Despite technology advancement and modern progress, the world is still constantly battling with bigotry, sexism, racism, gender inequality and all kinds of prejudices. I have recently read Marie Antoinette’s World, click the historical non-fiction written by Will Bashor. As one reviewer click on France Book Tours wrote in her review,  ‘While Marie Antoinette was very much not the Queen she should have been, the attacks on her as a woman are still a difficult read and a sign that we have not come very far as a society in understanding that women having power is not in and of itself something to be feared and derided.’


 Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 a novel by Korean script writer, Cho Nam Joo  has created a female character that resonates with not just any  Korean woman but many women around the world. The story is narrated from the perspective of the psychiatrist who has been treating  Jiyoung  based on her and her  husband Jung Daehyun’s accounts. In the story, Jiyoung suffers post-natal and childcare depression. 

Jiyoung  was born on 1 April 1982 into a typical patriarchal family in Seoul. Her mother apologises to her mother-in-law for having a girl as she  already gave birth to her elder sister, Eunyoung two years earlier.

‘ Jiyoung’s earliest childhood memory is of sneaking her brother’s formula. She must have been six or seven then. It was just formula, but it was tasty she would sit by her mother when she was making it for her brother, lick her finger, and pick up the little bits that spilled on the floor. Her mother would sometimes lean Jiyoung’s head back, tell her to open wide, and pour a spoonful of that rich, sweet, nutty powder in her mouth.’

But  her grandmother who lives with them does not allow her to eat the brother’s formula. She admonishes Jiyoung by smacking her on her back so hard that the milk powder will explode from her mouth and nose if she is ever caught getting a spoonful of it. Throughout her childhood and adolescence and even after graduating and securing a job, she faces deep-rooted gender discrimination at every stage . After getting married to  Jung Daehyun, for the first celebration of his father’s birthday, family elders who are among the guests ask if they have ‘good news’ and they are not convinced when told that they are not planning to have children as yet. These relatives will not have it, they are convinced that the problem is her ‘She’s too old…. She’s too skinny … Her hands are cold…. She must have bad circulation ….The zit on her chin is a sign of an unhealthy uterus….’ They tell Daehyun’s mother to get her herbal medicine for fertility. Such conversations are unbearable. Jiyoung is upset by lack of input from Daehyun when his family treats her like she has big physical issue when it is not the case. Her feelings are dismissed by Daehyun as an overreaction and when he apologises for what has happened, she meekly accepts his apology as if she has done something wrong. He tells her that the only way to stop the family from nagging and bugging them about having a child will be to have the child since they will eventually have one child, they might as well have a child to avoid the lectures since they are not getting any younger and having a child is the  natural next  step after marriage . But she feels that the way Daehyun has said it, he has made it sound like “ Let’s try the Norwegian mackerel.” or, “ Let’s do a puzzle of Klimt’s the Kiss.” Having a child is not a  decision as casual as how her husband makes it out to sound like to her. Though she agonises and thinks about the things that she will have to give up, they have a child. After deliberating, they conclude that  one of them will be a stay-at-home parent and Jiyoung will be that parent even though her work appears to bring in more income and more stable. It is more common for husbands to work and wives to raise the children and run the home. ‘ 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 childcare, or  the education of their young children.’

Jiyoung quits her job  a few weeks before her due date and gives birth to a baby girl, Jiwon.  She has enjoyed working at the marketing agency and while working at the marketing agency, she had always wanted to be a news reporter. Though one-year-old Jiwon has started going to daycare, as much as she  wants to, she finds it unrealistic to consider attending journalism classes which are held in the evening. 

Daehyun first detects his wife’s  abnormal behaviour when she speaks and sounds like her mother.  Gradually she  begins to assume  the mannerism of different people  as she becomes different people from time to time, some are living, others are dead. Perhaps the event that has triggered her madness was when she was called a mum-roach. One afternoon, Jiyoung  had picked up Jiwon from daycare and on their way home, the baby had fallen asleep  in her pushchair.  Jiyoung stopped by the park and enjoyed coffee in the park for the first time in a long while.Some male office workers were  drinking coffee on the next bench. She couldn’t help feeling envious looking at them, then she overheard the guys  saying :

I wish I could live off my husband’s paycheque …bum around and get coffee …mum-roaches got it real cushy …no way I’m marrying a Korean woman.’

Jiyoung is mortified and realises that she cannot win even when she has been playing by the rules. Jiyoung’s story  is relatable and it tugs at the heart of women around the world. 

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 was published in 2016 and it has since been translated from Korean language into more than a dozen languages.  The book has been translated into English by Jamie Chang. The book has also been made into a Korean film . 


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