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Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo.

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Title: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982.
Author: Cho Nam-Joo (translated by Jamie Chang).
Genre: Fiction, parenthood, feminism, mental health, social criticism.
Country: South Korea.
Language: Korean.
Publication Date: 2016.
Summary: Kim Jiyoung is a girl born to a mother whose in-laws wanted a boy. Kim Jiyoung is a daughter whose father blames her when she is harassed late at night. Kim Jiyoung is a model employee but gets overlooked for promotion. Kim Jiyoung is a wife who gives up her career and independence for a life of domesticity. Kim Jiyoung is depressed. Kim Jiyoung is acting out. Kim Jiyoung is insane. Kim Jiyoung is sent by her husband to an psychiatrist. This is his clinical assessment.

My rating: 7.5/10.
My review:


♥ Jiyoung was starting to feel like a stranger to Daehyun. After all this time – the stories they shared, as countless as raindrops, the caresses as soft and gentle as snowflakes, and the beautiful daughter who took after them both – his wife of three years, whom he married after two years of passionate romance, felt like someone else.

♥ When Kim Jiyoung was in elementary school, her mother was reading a one-line comment her homeroom teacher had made on her journal assignment and said, "I wanted to be a teacher, too."

Jiyoung burst into laughter. She found the idea outrageous because she'd thought until then that mothers could only be mothers.

♥ The five girls called to the teachers' office, who were habitually late for school, started coming to school before everyone and slept all though the morning classes. It seemed they were up to something, but they weren't causing trouble of note, so the teachers left them alone. And then it happened. Like enemies running into each other on a bridge, the bully came across the flasher in an alley early in the morning, and the four hiding behind her pounced on him with clotheslines and belts, tied him up and dragged him to a nearby police station. No one knows what happened at the police station or to the flasher. But the flasher was gone for good, although the five girls were suspended. For one week, they weren't allowed to attend classes; they wrote letters of apology in the Student Discipline room next to the teachers' office, cleaned up the school field and toilets, and never talked about what happened.

Sometimes, teachers would give them noogies as they walked by. "You girls should be ashamed of yourselves. Tsk, what a disgrace for our school."

♥ As soon as a large pot of ramen and four bowls were placed on the dining table, the younger brother filled his bowl to the brim.

"Hey! Leave some for the rest of us!" Eunyoung gave him a noogie. "And Mother should serve herself first, not you."

Eunyoung filled her mother's bowl with noodles, soup and an egg, and took half of her brother's noodles. The mother then gave her noodles to her son.

"Mum!" Eunyoung screamed. "Just eat! From next time on, we're gonna make ramen in individual pots and all stick to our own portion!"

"Since when do you care so much about me? Why are you so worked up about ramen? And who'll wash all those pots? You?"

"Yes, me. I do a lot of washing and cleaning around here. I put away laundry when it's dry, and Jiyoung helps out, too. There's only one person under this roof who never lifts a finger."

Eunyoung glared at her brother, and the mother stroked his head.

"He's still a baby."

"No, he's not! I've been taking care of Jiyoung's bags, school supplies and homework since I was ten. When we were his age, we mopped the floor, hung laundry, and made ramen and fried the eggs for ourselves."

"He's the youngest."

"You mean he's the son!"

Eunyoung slammed down her chopsticks and stormed off into her room. The mother sighed at the closed door with a conflicted expression on her face, and Jiyoung worried about the noodles getting soft but didn't dare eat.

"If Grandma were alive, she would have ripped into Eunyoung. A girl hitting a man's head!" The youngest slurped his ramen and grumbled.

..Uncomfortable and anxious, Jiyoung lay awake next to her sister that night and calmly went over the things that had happened. She thought about menstruation and ramen. About ramen and sons. Sons and daughters. Sons and daughters and chores.

♥ As Jiyoung lay on hers stomach on the floor to do homework, she clutched her cramping lower abdomen and repeated to herself, "I don't understand. Half the population in the world goes through this every month. If a pharmaceutical company were to develop an effective pill specifically for menstrual cramps, not the "pain medication" that makes you sick, they would make a fortune." Her sister filled a plastic bottle with hot water, wrapped it in a towel and passed it to her.

"You're right. In a world where doctors can cure cancer and do heart transplants, there isn't a single pill to treat menstrual cramps." Her sister pointed at her own stomach. "The world wants our uterus to be drug-free. Like sacred grounds in a virgin forest."

Jiyoung hugged the bottle to her stomach and cackled despite the pain.

♥ Jiyoung's situation was better compared to that of other girls who had part-time jobs in addition to school and cram school. Employers harassed them for "being inappropriately dressed" or "not having the right attitude", and held their wages ransom. Customers thought the right to harass young women came with their purchase. The girls stowed away repulsive, frightening experiences with males deep in their hearts without even realising it.

♥ But that night, Jiyoung got an earful from her father. "Why is your cram school so far away? Why do you talk to strangers? Why is your skirt so short?" Jiyoung grew up being told to be cautious, to dress conservatively, to be "ladylike". That it's your job to avoid dangerous places, times of day and people. It's your fault for not noticing and not avoiding.

♥ Growing up, the sisters were never once told by their parents to meet a nice man and marry well, to grow up to be a good mother and a good cook. They'd done quite a lot of chores around the house since they were young, but they thought of it as helping out their busy parents and taking care of themselves, not learning how to be good women. When they were a bit older, the lectures they received from their parents fell under two main themes: a) habits and attitude (sit up straight, keep your desk organised, don't read in the dark, pack your schoolbags ahead of time, be polite to your elders); b) study hard.

Gone were the days when parents thought girls didn't have to get good grades or receive the same education as boys. It had long since been the norm for girls, like boys, to put on a uniform, carry a backpack and attend school. Girls thought about what they would like to do when they grew up, just as boys did; they planned their careers and competed to achieve their goals. This was a time of widespread social support for women's ambitions. In 1999, the year Kim Eunyoung turned twenty, new legislation against gender discrimination was introduced, and in 2001, the year Kim Jiyoung turned twenty, the Ministry of Gender Equality was formed. But in certain pivotal moments in women's lives, the "woman" stigma reared its head to obscure their vision, stay their hands and hold them back. The mixed signals were confusing and disconcerting.

♥ She knew better than anyone what it was like to give up on one's dreams for the sake of the family, having made that sacrifice herself. She hardly ever saw her brothers – a sacrifice made without truly understanding the consequences, or even having the choice to refuse, created regret and resentment that was as deep as it was slow to heal, and the bitterness broke up the family.

♥ He had the largest income and house. Everyone was jealous of his three children, his eldest a teacher, his second attending university in Seoul, and his youngest, a son. As Father stood tall and glowed with pride, Mother linked arms with him and laughed.

"The porridge shop was my idea, and I bought the apartment. And the children raised themselves. Yes, you've made it, but you didn't do it all by yourself, so be good to me and the kids."

♥ The guys referred to the girls as "flowers among weeds" and acted as if they worshipped them. No amount of refusal could deter them from carrying everything for the girls; the girls got to choose what to eat from the lunch and post-hike menus, and the girls always got the bigger, better rooms when they went on club trips, even if there was only one girl. But then they claimed it was the camaraderie among good-natured, strong men who can josh around together that kept the hiking club going strong. The president, vice-president and secretary of the club were all men, the club held joint meet-ups with women's university hiking clubs, and there turned out to be a boys-only mountain club alumni group. Seungyeon always said girls don't need special treatment – they just want the same responsibilities and opportunities. Instead of choosing the lunch menu, they want to run for president. Most guys just smiled and nodded, but one devoted member of the club – a guy in the ninth year of his PhD – would always repeat the same thing: "How many times do I have to tell you? It's too much work for women. You brighten up the club with your mere presence."

"I'm not here to support you," Seungyeon would say. "If the club needs brightening up, get a lamp. God, I'm sick and tired of this place, but I'm gonna keep fighting tooth and nail until the day a woman becomes president of the hiking club."

That did not happen before Seungyeon graduated, but Jiyoung later heard that a girl who had entered university exactly ten years after her had claimed that seat. Seungyeon's reaction was nonchalant: "You know what they say – time moves mountains and rivers."

♥ "Kim Jiyoung's completely done with him, I think."

Jiyoung heard someone mention her name. Didn't you have a thing for Kim Jiyoung... It was more than just a thing... Well, what are you waiting for, ask her out... We'll help you out, came the sound of several voices. She thought it was a dream, but as she grew lucid she gathered who these people were. It was the group of reserve forces returnees who'd been drinking in the living room earlier. She was wide awake now and a little warm, but she wouldn't crawl out of the blankets when she was inadvertently eavesdropping on an embarrassing conversation about herself.

"Ew. That's like chewing gum someone spat out," said a familiar voice.

It was an older member of the club who enjoyed drinking but didn't force others to do so, and often bought the younger members food, but avoided eating with them lest they felt uncomfortable. She'd always had a good opinion of his level-headed, practical way of handling things. Jiyoung couldn't believe her ears. She listened harder, but couldn't deny that it was him. He could have been drunk. Or perhaps he had said what he'd said to overcompensate for being found out about his feelings for her, and had to say something harsh to discourage the guys from playing matchmaker. She thought of many possibilities, none of which helped to make her feel less devastated. Even the usually reasonable, sane ones verbally degrade women – even the women they have feelings for. That's what I am: gum someone spat out.

Drenched in sweat and hardly able to breathe, Jiyoung remained hidden under the blanket.

♥ The female student filed a strongly worded complaint to her major adviser, asking for the recommendation criteria, and said she would go public with this matter unless she was given a legitimate reason for not being chosen as a candidate. The issue travelled up the chain of command all the way to the department head, throughout which she was given a string of unacceptable reasons: the company seemed to imply a preference for male students; it's recompense for the years they lost serving in the military; they are future heads of households. The most demoralising answer came from the department head himself: "Companies find smart women taxing. Like now – you're being very taxing, you know?"

What do you want from us? The dumb girls are too dumb, the smart girls are too smart, and the average girls are too unexceptionable?

The female student thought it was pointless to carry on with the complaint, and was hired though the company's open recruitment at the end of the year.

.."She passed the law exam last year. The college hung a banner, people were so excited. Did you see it? She was the first from our college in many years."

"Oh, yeah. I remember. I thought that was pretty cool."

"Ridiculous, isn't it? "Smart women are taxing," they say. And when she passes the law exam all on her own without any help from the college? They fly banners and toot horns! "Proud alumni!""

When companies posted open recruitment notices for the second half of the year, Jiyoung felt as though she was standing in a narrow alley clogged with a thick fog, which turned into rain and fell on her bare skin.

♥ Jiyoung continued to apply for work, lowering her standards in small increments, and in the depths of despair started going out with a guy. When she mentioned it discreetly to her sister, she peered at her for a moment and shook her head.

"In your state? How do your find the emotional energy? Good grief."

"Beats me," Jiyoung laughed. In a stressful situation where relationships often break up, she found someone she liked, and that was all there was to it. Outside the window, early snow swirled in the air and reminded her of a poem she read long ago:

Don't I know loneliness, poor as I am?
As I return from saying goodbye to you,
snow-covered alleys flood without moonlight bold and blue.

♥ Jiyoung's lack of response to his lecture prompted the father to say, "You just stay out of trouble and get married."

That wasn't the worst thing he'd ever said to her, but it was the last straw for Jiyoung, who was holding her spoon upright. Jiyoung was attempting to take a deep breath when an ear-splitting crack, like pickaxe on rock, rang at the table. Her mother, face crimson, had smacked the spoon on the table.

"How can you say something so backward in this day and age? Jiyoung, don't stay out of trouble. Run wild! Run wild, you hear me?"

♥ Jiyoung felt as though her heart wad filled with snow: replete yet airy, cosy yet cold. She was resolved to handle this next phase well, to keep it less challenging, demoralising or exhausting like her boyfriend said, but at the same time running as wild as her mother hoped she would.

♥ Kim Jiyoung went out to lunch wearing her company ID on a lanyard. Others seemed to be walking around with the IDs dangling at their chests because it was a bother to keep taking it out and putting it away, but Jiyoung did it on purpose. At midday in a busy neighbourhood packed with office buildings, Jiyoung often came across people wearing lanyards with thick straps bearing their company name and a clear plastic case holding their IDs attached to the end, swinging. That was the dream: walking with a group of people also wearing lanyard IDs, holding their purse and phone in the same hand, chatting about the lunch menu.

♥ "Living with the spouse's parents is harder for the husbands than the wives," they'd say. "Conflict between married men and their in-laws is becoming a societal problem these days. I don't know him but he must be an obliging person to take in his mother-in-law."

Jiyoung thought about her own mother, who had lived with her mother-in-law for seventeen years. The grandmother looked after the youngest when the mother went out on hairdresser house calls, but didn't take on any childcare labour such as feeding, bathing or putting the three siblings to bed. She hardly did other domestic chores. She ate foods the mother cooked, wore clothes the mother washed and slept in the room the mother cleaned. But no one praised the mother for being obliging.

♥ The first thing she did when she became management was get rid of unnecessary company dinners, retreats and workshops. She guaranteed maternity and paternity leave. She said she'd never forget how proud she felt when she presented a bouquet of flowers as a welcome-back present to one of her team members, who returned from a year-long maternity leave for the first time in the company's history.

"Who is she?" Jiyoung asked.

"She left a few months after that."

The team leader couldn't help out with the frequent late nights and weekends as well. Most of her paycheque went to the babysitter, and even then she was always frantically looking for someone to watch her child at short notice, and fighting with her husband over the phone every day. She came into work with her baby one weekend and ended up throwing in the towel.

♥ Jiyoung drank several glasses of beer the division head forced on her.

The division head, newly appointed just three months before after climbing the ladder in the product development division, gave her an unstoppable slew of advice "coming from experience", including backhanded compliments like, "You have a nice jawline and attractive nose – just get your eyelids done and you're golden." He asked if she had a boyfriend, and whipped out filth like, "No fun scoring when there's no goalie!" and, "Once women pop, they can't stop!" He wouldn't stop making her drink. "I've passed my limit, it won't be safe getting home, I'm done," she said. "Why so concerned when there's all these guys to escort you home?" You people are my biggest concern, she thought to herself as she furtively emptied her glass in the other empty cups and bowls at the table.

A little after midnight, the division head topped up her glass and tottered as he rose to his feet. He hired himself a chauffeur over the phone, speaking so loudly the sound bounced off the restaurant walls, and said to his crew, "My daughter attends the university right here. She was studying late at the library and wants me to come and pick her up because she's scared to go home by herself. Apologies all round, but I have to go. Miss Kim Jiyoung, finish that beer!"

At that, a frail bit of hope inside Jiyoung crumpled. In a few years, that precious daughter of yours will find herself exactly where I am now. Unless people like you stop treating me this way.

♥ Jiyoung already felt guilty that she couldn't be of help to her boyfriend, who was now in the last year of college preparing for employment. She remembered very clearly just how supportive he'd been when she was in his shoes. When she thought back into those days, she still felt so in love that she ached. But her daily life was a battlefield and she didn't have the luxury of being able to cater to someone else's well-being when she was at risk of getting bloodied if she let down her guard. Disappointment collected between them like dust on top of the refrigerator or medicine cabinet – spots clearly visible but neglected.

..Onto the feelings left unsaid for so long that they were desiccated and crackling, a tiny spark of a flame fell and instantly reduced the most shining romance of youth to ashes.

♥ Jiyoung discovered a lot of things that night. The planning team was hand-picked by the head of the company himself. The competent middle-management section managers were chosen because the planning team needed a strong foundation, and the men were picked because the planning team was a long-term project. The head of the company knew that the nature and intensity of the marketing agency job made it difficult to maintain a decent work-life balance, especially if childcare came into play, and therefore he did not think of female employees as prospective long-term colleagues. He had no intention of giving employees better hours and benefits, either. He found it more cost-efficient to invest in employees who would last in this work environment than to make the environment more accommodating. That was the reasoning behind giving the more high-maintenance clients to Jiyoung and Kang Hyesu. It wasn't their competence, management didn't want to tire out the prospective long-term male colleagues from the start.

Jiyoung was standing in the middle of a labyrinth. Conscientiously and calmly, she was searching for a way out that didn't exist to begin with. Baffled and ready to give up, she was told to try, try again; to walk through walls if it came to that. Revenue drives a businessman, and you can't blame someone for wanting maximum output with minimum input. But is it right to prioritise short-term efficiency and balance sheets? Who'll be the last ones standing in a world with these priorities, and will they be happy?

She also learned that the guys were paid better from the very start, but that information stirred very little in Jiyoung, who'd filled the day's quota of shock and disappointment. She wasn't confident she could follow the upper-management and senior members' lead and trust that working hard was the answer, but when morning came and the alcohol had worn off, she found herself heading to the office as if out of habit. She handled the tasks she was given as usual. But her drive and faith had undoubtedly been weakened.

♥ When Jiyoung walked in, he was waiting for her with a piece pf paper on the dining table. It was the form to legally register their marriage. He'd downloaded and printed it out at work and had two guys from work sign as witnesses. Jiyoung couldn't help but laugh.

"What's the rush? We had a wedding and we live together. Nothing will change because of a document."

"It changes how we feel."

Jiyoung had been oddly moved that he was in a rush to make the marriage legal. She'd felt good, good and elated and buoyant, like something lighter than air was filling her up in the lungs or stomach. Daehyun's answer to her question pricked her heart like a short, fine needle and made a microscopic hole. The air escaped slowly, little by little, and brought her back down. She didn't think legal; procedures changed how she felt. Was Daehyun more committed for wanting to make the marriage legally binding, or was she more dedicated for thinking she'd always feel the same whether they were official or not? Jiyoung saw her husband in a new light – more dependable, yet oddly more alien.

♥ In the late 1990s, the dispute over the hoju system (the traditional family registration scheme, in which all members of a family must be registered under the patriarch) began in earnest with the emergence of organisations arguing for its abolition. Some people publicly used both of their parents' surnames, and a few celebrities revealed their painful childhood memories of being picked on for having a different family name to their fathers. At the time, a very popular TV show about a single mother at risk of losing custody of her child, whom she'd been raising all on her own, to a deadbeat dad taught Jiyoung about the absurdity of the hoju system. But there were still those who thought its abolition would turn blood relations into strangers and make Korean society savage.

The hoju system was finally abolished in January 2008 and replaced with a new law. This was possible after the Constitutional Court find hoju incompatible with the constitution's gender equality clause in February 2005. Today, there is no such thing as "family registry", and people are living their lives with the new individual identification system. It's not compulsory for a newborn to take the patriarch's last name any more, and a couple has the option to decide – upon signing their marriage registration – to give the mother's surname and family origin to their children. Technically, it is possible, but there have been only 200 cases in which children took their mother's name since the abolition of the hoju system in 2008.

♥ The world had changed a great deal, but the little rules, contracts and customs had not, which meant the world hadn't actually changed at all. She mulled over Daehyun's idea that registering as legally married changes the way you feel about each other. Do laws and institutions change values, or do values drive laws and institutions?

♥ "Still, think about what you'll be gaining, not just what you'll be giving up. Think how meaningful and moving it is to be a parent. And if we really can't find someone to look after the child, worst-case scenario, don't worry about quitting your job. I'll take care of us. I won't ask you to go out and make money."

"And what will you be giving up, Oppa?"

"What?"

"You said don't just think about what I'll be giving up. I'm putting my youth, health, job, colleagues, social networks, career plans and future on the line. No wonder all I can think about are the things I'm giving up. But what about you? What do you lose by gaining a child?"

"Me? Well... I... Things won't be the same for me, either. I won't get to see my friends as often because I'll have to come home early. I'll feel bad about attending business dinners or working late. It'll be tough to come home and help out with chores after working all day. And besides, you know, I'll have you and our child. Financial support! As the head of the household. Financial support! That's a huge responsibility."

She tried not to react emotionally to his words, but it was difficult. His list of potential losses seemed like such a trifle compared to the way her life could be thrown off course.

"You're right. Raising a child will be hard for you, too. But I have a job because it's fun and I enjoy it – the work and making money – not because Oppa wants me to go out and make money."

As hard as she tried not to, she couldn't help feeling she was bargaining something away.

♥ For safety reasons, the company allowed pregnant employees to push their work hours back by half an hour. When she announced her pregnancy at work, one of her male colleagues exclaimed, "Lucky you! You get to come to work late!"

Lucky me, I get to retch all the time, am unable to eat or shit properly, and I'm always tired, sleepy and sore all over, Jiyoung wanted to say but held it in. She was disappointed by his insensitive remarks, which showed no concern for all the discomforts and pains of pregnancy, but she couldn't expect someone who wasn't her husband or family to understand that.

♥ As she knocked into Jiyoung's shoulder and pushed past her, she said loud enough for Jiyoung to hear, "About to pop and still taking the tube to go make money – clearly can't afford a kid."

Tears fell from Jiyoung's eyes. That's what I am: someone who still goes to make money. By taking the tube. When I'm about to pop. Tears too heavy to hide or cover up kept on coming. She hopped off the train at the next stop. She sat on a bench on the platform and cried and cried, and then came out through the turnstiles. She was far from home and in an area she'd never been to, but she left the station. She found a queue of cabs on the rank, and got into the first one. She could have caught the next train home and cried in the tube carriage where she didn't know anyone, but she panicked and got off. She chose to take a cab. She wanted to.

♥ "..Think of this as an opportunity to start a new chapter. I'll help you out."

Jiyoung knew that Daehyun was being sincerely supportive, but she still couldn't hold back her anger.

"Help out? What is it with you and "helping out"? You're going to "help out" with chores. "Help out" with raising our baby. "Help out" with finding me a new job. Isn't this your house, too? Your home? Your child? And if I work, don't you spend my pay, too? Why do you keep saying "help out" like you're volunteering to pitch in on someone else's work?"

Jiyoung felt bad about jumping down his throat after the two of them had done a good job of making a tough decision together. She apologised to her stunned, stuttering husband, and he said, "No worries."

♥ The job did not pay well or make a big splash in society, nor did it make something one could see or touch, but it had brought her joy. It afforded her a sense of accomplishment when she completed tasks and climbed the ladder, and gave her a sense of reward knowing she was managing her own life with the money she earned. But that was all over now. That's how it turned out, even though she wasn't incompetent or lazy. Just as putting the care of your child in anther's hands doesn't mean you don't love your child, quitting and looking after your child doesn't mean you have no passion for your career.

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. The workforce participation rate of Korean women decreases significantly before and after childbirth. Its percentage starts at 63.8 for women aged between twenty and twenty-nine, drops to 58 per cent for women aged thirty to thirty-nine, and increases again to 66.7 per cent for women over forty.

♥ "Try to rest your wrists. No other solution."

"I can't," Jiyoung sighed quietly. "I have to look after the baby, do the washing and the cleaning..."

The doctor chuckled to himself. "Back in the day, women used clubs to do the laundry, lit fires to boil baby clothes, and crawled around to do the sweeping and mopping. Don't you have a washing machine for laundry and vacuum cleaner for cleaning? Women these days – what have you got to whine about?"

Dirty laundry doesn't march into the machine by itself, Jiyoung thought. The clothes don't wash themselves with detergent and water, march back out when they're done and hang themselves on clotheslines. The vacuum doesn't roll around with a wet and dry rag, wipe the floor, and wash and dry the rags for you. Have you ever even operated a washing machine or a vacuum cleaner?

The doctor checked Jiyoung's previous records, said he'd prescribe drugs that are safe for breastfeeding and clicked the computer mouse a few times. Back in the day, physicians had to go through filing cabinets to find records and write notes and prescriptions by hand. Back in the day, office clerks had to run around the office with paper reports to track down their bosses for their approval. Back in the day, farmers planted by hand and harvested with sickles. What do these people have to whine about these days? No one is insensitive enough to say that. Every field has its technological advances and evolves in the direction that reduces the amount of physical labour required, but people are particularly reluctant to admit that the same is true for domestic labour. Since she became a full-time housewife, she often noticed that there was a polarised attitude regarding domestic labour. Some demeaned it as "bumming around at home", while others glorified it as "work that sustains life", but none tried to calculate its monetary value. Probably because the moment you put a price on something, someone has to pay.

♥ "What was it like when you were raising us? Wasn't it tough? Didn't you regret having so many? Were you almighty, too?"

"Ugh. Don't even get me started. Your sister was loud from the very start. She cried so hard day and night that I was always running to the hospital to see if there was something wrong with her. I had three, your father never changed a single nappy, and your grandmother took three meals a day at home like clockwork. I had so much to do. I was falling asleep all the time, aches and pains all over – it was hell."

Why didn't Jiyoung's mother ever speak up? No one had shared this in detail with Jiyoung – not her mother, relatives, older friends, or even friends her own age who'd had children. The babies on television or in movies were all pretty and cute, and mothers were always portrayed as beautiful and noble. Jiyoung was responsible and equal to the task or raising her child well, but she didn't want to hear people tell her how proud they were of her or how noble she was. These comments made her feel guilty about being exhausted.

♥ The year Jiyoung married, a documentary on natural births aired on television. This was followed by multiple publications on the subject, and the sudden widespread popularity of natural births, the crux being minimal medical intervention and a natural birthing experience in which mother and baby make their own decisions. But delivery has to do with the safety of two lives. Jiyoung chose to give birth in a hospital with the help of experts because she had decided it was the safer way, and believed the birthing plan was a decision based on the parents' values and circumstances, nothing to make a value judgement on. However, a significant number of media outlets reported on the possible adverse effects of medical treatment and medication on newborns – their casual relationship speculative – to arouse guilt and fear. People who pop a painkiller at the smallest hint of a migraine, or who need anaesthetic cream to remove a mole, demand that women giving birth should gladly endure the pain, exhaustion and mortal fear. As if that's maternal love. This idea of "maternal love" is spreading like religious dogma. Accept Maternal Love as your Lord the Saviour, for the Kingdom is near!

♥ She never suspected an ordinary person like herself could be a target of pornographic pictures floating around the web. The security agent set up hidden cameras in the women's toilets, and her male colleagues passed them around. Hyesu said she would never be able to trust a man again.

"The accused male employees blame us for being too harsh with them," she added. "They say they neither set up those cameras nor took the pictures, they just saw some photos posted on a website everyone has access to, and we are treating them like sexual offenders. They distributed the pictures and were complicit in the crimes, but they don't understand why that's wrong. It blows my mind."

It'll ruin this company's reputation if word gets around in the field. The accused male employees have families and parents to protect, too. Do you really want to destroy people's lives like this? Do you want people to find out that your pictures are out there? These obviously self-serving words of absurdity flew out of the mouth of the director, who was considered to be progressive and sensible compared to his peers. It was the last straw for Eunsil.

"The fact that they have families and parents," Eunsil retorted, "is why they shouldn't do these things, not why we should forgive them. You should come to your senses yourself. Maybe you'll be lucky to save your ass this time, but if you keep sweeping things under the carpet, you'll soon have another incident like this. You know this company hasn't done the mandatory staff seminars for sexual harassment, right?"

In fact, Eunsil was scared and exhausted herself. All of them – the team leader Eunsil, Kang Hyesu and the victims standing with them – wanted this case to be resolved soon so that they could go back to their lives. While offenders were in fear of losing a small part of their privilege, the victims were running the risk of losing everything.

♥ In fact, according to statistics, a stay-at-home mother with a baby under the age of two has four hours and ten minutes a day to herself, and a mother who sends her baby to daycare has four hours and twenty-five minutes, which makes only a fifteen-minute difference between those two groups. This means mothers can't rest even when they send their baby to daycare. The only difference is whether they do the housework with their baby beside them or without.

♥ According to reports, more than half of the women who quit their jobs are unable to find new work for more than five years. Even if they do manage to find new work, it is quite common for them to end up with jobs that are more menial than their previous employment. Compared to the jobs they had before childbirth, the ratio of women working in places with four or fewer employees doubles. Fewer women get manufacturing and office jobs, while a greater number end up in the hotel industry, restaurant business and sales. Frequently, the pay also decreases.

Ever since government-funded childcare became available, young mothers have been censured for leaving their children at daycare to go for coffee, get their nails done and go shopping in department stores. The reality is that very few couples in their thirties are able to afford such a lifestyle. Far more mothers wait tables at restaurants and coffee shops, give other women manicures and work as sales assistants at department stores for the minimum wage. Since Jiwon was born, Jiyoung wondered each time she ran into working women her age: Does she have a child? How many months old? Who's looking after it? Many people don't want to accept the evident fact that all difficulties in life – a stagnant economy, high cost of living, adverse labour environment and so on – affect both men and women equally.

♥ The possibility of starting something new made her heart flutter with long-forgotten excitement. First, she looked into schools teaching journalism, but most of the programmes only had evening classes aimed at full-time workers coming to school after work. Daycare centres would be closed by then, and even if her husband left work punctually, by the time she got to school the first half of the class would be over. She could opt to hire an evening babysitter, but it was difficult to find sitters who could work just at night for a short period of time. The fact that she had to hire a babysitter simply to take classes, not even to work, made her feel exhausted already. The cost of tuition, plus babysitting, was burdensome too.

Daytime programmes were mostly about hobbies or getting licenses for teaching reading, writing or history to children. It felt like someone was saying, "Have a hobby if you can afford it. If not, teach your children or others." Her career potential and areas of interest were being limited just because she had a baby. A feeling of helplessness quickly replaced the excitement she had felt.

♥ Jiwon was asleep with a long, clear drool hanging off the corner of her mouth, and Jiyoung enjoyed coffee in the park for the first time in a long while. On the next bench over was a group of office workers drinking coffee from the same café. They looked to be around Jiyoung's age. Knowing how tired, frustrated and exhausted they must be, she still couldn't help looking at them enviously. One of the guys on the bench glanced over at Jiyoung and whispered something to his colleagues. Jiyoung couldn't make out every word, but she could hear bits and pieces of their conversation: 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...

.."People call me "mum-roach"."

..Jiyoung told him what happened that day. She'd felt shocked and mortified at the time, and she had wanted to get away that instant. But recounting the situation made her flush, and her hands shook.

"The coffee was 1500 won. They were drinking the same coffee, so they must have known how much it was. Tell me – don't I deserve to drink a 1500-won cup of coffee? I don't care if it's 1500 won or 15 million won. It's nobody's business what I do with the money my husband made. Am I stealing from you? I suffered deathly pain having our child. My routine, my career, my dreams, my entire life, my self – I gave it all up to raise our child. And I've become vermin. What do I do now?"

♥ I'm not saying I was wrong, only that I've come to realise there is a worldview that I wasn't aware of.

If I were an average male in his forties, I would have gone through my entire life without this awareness. Only by following the medical career of my wife (she was a better student than I when we were in medical school together) who made compromise after compromise – from going after a tenure position as a professor or ophthalmology, to contract doctor, to giving up on her career entirely – was I enlightened as to what it means to live as a woman, especially as a mother, in Korea. Frankly, it's only natural that men remain unaware unless they encounter special circumstances as I have, because men are not the main players in childbirth and childcare.

♥ That weekend, I found more maths workbooks in the recycling. My wife had gone through all of them. All this time, I had thrown out volumes of maths workbooks thinking our son was really into the subject. I could have just thought of the workbooks as her cute, odd hobby, but it got on my nerves. She'd been a maths prodigy: she'd won maths competitions and Olympiads all through school, got 100 per cent on all twelve mid-term and final maths exams over three years of high school, and missed one question on the maths section of the college entrance exam. I couldn't understand why someone like her was so into elementary-school maths workbooks. When I asked, she said offhandedly, "It's fun."

"For someone your level? It's literally kids' stuff."

"No, it's fun. It's really fun. 'Cause this is the one thing I can control these days."

My wife is still doing the maths workbooks, and I wish she'd do something more interesting. Something she's good at, that she likes, that she really wants to do, not something she does because there's nothing else. I wish the same for Kim Jiyoung.

♥ The clinic director recommended Suyeon a year ago and she has been working with us since then. After six years of marriage and years of trying, she finally got pregnant but was warned her condition was unstable. After a few miscarriage scares, she decided to temporary" give up her job. I was displeased by the news at first, wondering why she couldn't just take a couple of months off instead of quitting altogether, but I guess this is for the best since she'll be going on maternity leave soon anyway, and then causing inconveniences at the clinic by taking sick days for herself, for her child, etc.

Suyeon has undoubtedly been a great employee. She has pretty – some would say elegant – features, a neat and snappy way of dressing, and a quick wit and charm. She even remembers how I take my coffee – which coffee shop, how many shots of espresso – and brings it in on the way to work. Cheerful and warm, she has a smile on her face for co-workers and patients alike. Unfortunately, because of her suddenly leaving, more patients have decided to terminate therapy rather than be referred to another counsellor at our clinic. That's a bottom-line loss for the clinic. Even the best female employees can cause many problems if they don't have the childcare issue taken care of. I'll have to make sure her replacement is unmarried.
Tags: 1980s in fiction, 1990s in fiction, 1st-person narrative, 2010s, 20th century in fiction, 21st century - fiction, 3rd-person narrative, cultural studies (fiction), feminism (fiction), fiction, foreign lit, korean - fiction, mental health (fiction), multiple narrators, multiple perspectives, parenthood (fiction), poetry in quote, psychiatry (fiction), social criticism (fiction), translated
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