Yesterday my school (in South Korea) held an English reading-comprehension competition. 40 of the top English students were chosen, and then placed into rows throughout a small room. They had been given a short story one week earlier, and were now preparing to compete to see who had the best understanding. Each student was given a small white board with a dry erase marker and set with the task of writing the answers to questions I would ask them. As they sat waiting to begin, some chatting with their friends, others ferociously trying to absorb any last minute tidbits from their storybooks, I glanced over them and noticed something, once again, the obvious surplus of females in the room.
I began asking the questions, and the students began filling in their white board. If a student made a mistake; a misspelled word, a wrong answer, or a grammatical error; they would be disqualified. The first few questions were simple, and so no one was forced to leave. By the fifth question I was losing two or three students a round. We continued, slowly thinning out the numbers, until there were only seven students left. Still, the girls greatly outnumbered the boys, with only one boy left. He was knocked out that round, and so the top six places were taken by females.
This is a common occurrence at my school. All of my classes are divided into low, mid and high level English ability, and girls outnumber the boys in all of my high level classes. Some might argue that this is because girls are better than boys at language related tasks, but the boys are better than the girls at math and science related tasks. These people are, of course, stupid. Studies have conclusively shown that this only occurs when girls are TOLD that boys are better at math. It has nothing to do with ability, but instead with anxiety, with being told you cannot do something, and unfortunately believing it. But the girls in my school are not limited by such doubts either. We make the same level divisions for math class, and the same disproportion happens there, as well
This got me to wondering about the future of these ladies. Korea is a certainly a deeply patriarchal society. But, more significantly I think, it is a competitive society. Almost all of my students go to after school classes at private academies. Those who can afford the academies study privately for hours every night, and attend whatever free classes are offered. Korea has one of the highest levels of secondary education in the world. Most jobs require you to write a written test, as well as participate in multiple interviews. In a society that is so keen on being the best, women now have a significant lead. And as these women gain more power, become more educated, realize that they’re more accomplished than their male counterparts they are beginning to question why males are so often given the advantage.
In the end, it just seems to me that the girls try harder. The boys are being raised by men who have grown up reaping the benefits of a patriarchal society. They see their fathers watching TV while their mothers cook and clean. They are allowed to advance grades even when they fail classes. They are being trained to believe that their laziness is acceptable. But when my female students become adults, I don’t think they will tolerate such actions.
The students at my school have one advantage over many other students, their principal is a powerful woman. She is feared and respected by her employees, and she gets what she wants. The education board wanted her to retire this summer to make room for their excess of teachers, but she was having none of that. They wanted to get rid of the native English teacher (me) but she was having none of that. Under her direction the schools average grades have steadily risen. I think this is good for both the boy and girl students. The girls, they get to see a powerful woman at work, they can see that it is possible to rise to the top, even in this patriarchy. And the boys, they get to see what their competition is going to be.
Right now, Korea is a little behind in woman’s rights compared to some of the other first world countries. But they have been modernizing at a mind-boggling rate. They have momentum, and I will not be surprised if oppressed women of the world are soon looking on with envy.
By Matthew Ariss