Friday, March 25, 2011

Funny Thing That Happened to Me At Work: Boys and Girls and Brains Exploding

I teach at a "co-educational" high school. But. My classes are segregated by gender, making for some interesting sociological shit goin' down (see here and here).

This semester has been boy-centric: because lots of Korean ladies/men/couples only wanted sons sixteen years ago (the age of most of my students), lots of Korean women chose to abort if a sonogram indicated they were having a girl. Thanks, Confucius, for teaching everyone in this country that men are superior ever since the 1300's!*

Subsequently, Generation Z in Korea has a lot more males: only four of my thirteen classes this semester are all-girl. I see a lot of boys all day long, which is usually awesome: they are mostly hilarious, smart, and hate Taylor Swift and Shinee, both of whom my female classes OBSESS OVER. Barf.


BLARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH. Maybe if boys and girls actually had classes together, they could convince the girls that this is the most annoying song EVER

I have always been puzzled by people who think separate classes for boys and girls are a good idea, as it makes things really weird and awkward between Korean boys and girls 4 LIFE. Once again, this can all be blamed on Confucius, whom taught that women are inferior to men and should always speak to them with the formal Korean used when you are talking to your boss or your grandfather. Or to put it more colloquially, I'll quote my co-teacher's explanation for why classes are segregated here: "The parents of the boys are concerned that the girls will make the boys look stupid and inferior in class."

When I hear things like this, I close my eyes/breathe deeply/try not to cry about how much it sucks sometimes to be a girl...especially a Korean girl.

Seriously though, I've dated a few Korean guys here, and I think one of the reasons it never works out is because they've grown up in a society where women are taught to be afraid to talk to men. Here are some anecdotes for you:

  • During my winter camp, boys and girls actually had to attend the same class OH MY GOD. I might as well have been teaching two classes: the boys sat on one side of the class, and the girls on the other. During games, there were always boy and girl teams, and during speaking activities and interviews, the boys would only talk to other boys and vice versa. There might as well have been a wall in between the two sides of the class: I don't think the two sexes communicated at all for three whole weeks, they were soooooooo terrified of each other

  • The Question I Get Asked the Most: "Teacher, do you have a boyfriend?" If I ever show students a picture of my friend, who happens to be a boy, invariably there is lots of "OOOOOoooooo Teacher! Boyfriend? Very handsome!" They look at me slyly when I insist I'm just friends with the pictured boy, knowing that I am lying because it is impossible to be just friends with someone of the opposite sex

  • At my school, girls and boys all have a homeroom teacher, who serves as their counselor, mentor, and adviser. Homerooms teachers here get calls from students in the middle of the night, asking them inane questions about homework, University, and life's eternal mysteries--it's a serious job. Most students want a male teacher if they are male, and a female teacher if they are female. However, with the male:female ratio of teachers being almost 1:1, and the student male:female ratio being 2:1, naturally, some female teachers have to have male students. This has caused SO MUCH OFFICE DRAMA you have no idea


  • The awkwardness isn't limited to the kiddos, though.

  • Last semester, I had a male co-teacher. You never read about him, because I never had a real conversation with him: after "our" class, he would literally run out of the classroom rather than have a conversation with me. In the hall when I would pass him, he would pretend like I didn't exist. You could blame this on my foreignness, but I choose to blame it on my femaleness because...

  • Last week, I went to school dinner with the principal/some teachers from my department. The women teachers sat on one side of the table, and the men on the other. Things were going ok, until the principal pulled out a cigarette to smoke. He asked the female teachers if it was okay, and several of them said it wasn't. I sort of wanted to stay--I was getting to talk to the male teachers, which I never get to do--but because females + males can't mix, I had to leave with the rest of the female teachers. Thinking we would all go our separate ways after dinner, instead we retreated to a nearby coffee shop to gossip. LIKE GIRLS DO

  • Just off the top of my head, I can think of ten Korean women at my school that I know who are VERY unhappily single. They live at home, go on dates arranged for them by their mothers, and give me a very prim "No thank you; this weekend I will take a rest" whenever I invite them out to go drinking or dancing or do anything fun. Maybe they think they'll fall in love with the pizza delivery boy? Or the mailman?

  • At lunch, men and women teachers sit at separate tables. Just like I did in middle shcool

  • At my school, we have separate napping rooms for men and women. In the men's room, it's ok to smoke, but definitely not ok to light up in the women's room. However, if you are a woman, and you do want to smoke, it's okay for you to sneak a cig in the bathroom, while you sit on a toilet behind a locked door and feel absolutely no shame at all.



I could go on, but I'm going to stop myself and get off the raging feminist bitch soapbox now. We have our own, more subtle boy/girl gender things in the U.S., which annoy the shit out of me just as much. I guess I just notice it here because it is so overt, you don't even have to completely speak the language to figure how messed up it is...

*To be fair, the boys: girls birth rate ratio has since evened out a lot more, and most modern couples in Korea are happy to have a baby boy or a baby girl, which is awesome.

1 comment:

  1. Ugh, blogspot ate my novel of a comment.

    1) I will agree that gender roles in Korea seem much more concrete and delineated than in the US. The girls seem to act "girlier" and the men seem to prefer that. Even Jong-min once complained that a girl he was seeing "obviously doesn't have an older sister"—as in, no makeup, no dressing up, no girling-out. (These are all things my Swede-heart likes in his women, i.e. he prefers no-frills.) This doesn't stop Jong-min from drinking and carousing with super-loud, super-butch me, but I think I most of the time register as "one of the guys."

    2) I don't think it's as bad as all that, though. I've met sassy Korean women; Mina and the other Koreans we worked with seemed perfectly understanding of the fact that I have men who are friends but who aren't my boyfriend. I think you could have stayed when the principal lit up; I don't think it's a question of propriety so much as it's one of just awkward. If you can blunder your way through the first like, five minutes where you're the only lady there, everyone will chill the fuck out once they see the world isn't ending. WOO GOOD OLD FASHIONED AMERICAN SASS.

    3) Don't forget that immaturity and hormones will breed awkwardness with the opposite sex just as much as anything else, at least as regards your students. And they get other truly co-ed socialization time as well (hagwon time!). I think if you take two *classes* and lump them into one for a short duration of time, the classes themselves will stick together: established interaction patterns, hierarchies, social dynamics, etc. The fact that it was boys & girls together may have only been one factor.

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