48 pages 1 hour read

Cho Nam-Joo, Transl. Jamie Chang

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982: A Novel

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2016

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Themes

Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination

From Jiyoung’s earliest school experiences, sexual harassment is an expression of gender discrimination. Harassment takes many forms in the novel, but it usually has two properties: It is covered by euphemism and blamed on the victim. In elementary school, harassment is a “prank”; in middle school, it’s “checking school uniforms”; in the workplace, it’s a “joke”. Such euphemisms give perpetrators a sense of innocence and make victims seem unreasonable for objecting. When they do object, they are likely to be blamed for encouraging the harassment. Between euphemism and victim-blaming, women are cornered into accepting harassment as a fact of life, but it takes a massive cumulative toll.

In a running motif, Jiyoung thinks of how she wishes she could respond to harassment in real time. But she is pressured into holding her tongue. Many of the men who harass her are in positions of power: interviewers, clients, and heads of companies. Objecting to their behavior could hurt her career. But not objecting has devastating emotional consequences. In one scene, she screams at a mirror in frustration over her treatment by a male interviewer, voicing the pent-up rage that festers in her as a harassment victim. The recipient of her rage is her reflection—herself.

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