By Cho Nam Joo
Translated by Jamie Chang
These 163 pages were very heavy. I don’t have a reason why I picked this book but I am glad that I did. The book is set in South Korea but I’m sure a lot of women out there will relate to it inspite of the geographical differences.
A lot of us who are privileged sometimes turn a blind eye to the situation of average working class woman and say things like, “A lot has changed.” “This doesn’t happen at our home.” And none of this means that the overall condition has significantly improved.
As the author says,
“The world had changed a great deal, but the little rules, contracts, and customs had not, which meant that hadn’t actually changed at all”.
Story: Kim Jiyoung suffers extreme identity crisis. After an incident at her in-law’s her husband asks her to see a psychiatrist. The story is from the lens of the psychiatrist who is trying to understand the root cause. We follow the story of Kim Jiyoung starting from her mother’s story, her birth, childhood to marriage. The story focus on how she leads her entire life under pressure of societal expectations of being a woman.
Cho Nam Joo also added so many facts and numbers in between that it almost felt like I was reading an autobiography of a common woman.
“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.
“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.
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.
The women take on all the cumbersome, minor tasks without being asked, while guys never do. Doesn’t
matter if they’re new or the youngest – they never do anything they’re not told to do. But why do women simply take things upon themselves?’
What do you want from us? The dumb girls are too dumb, the smart girls are too smart, and the average girls are too exceptional?
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.
People who pop a painkiller at the smallest hint of a migraine, or who need anesthetic 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.