Gender Imbalance in the Classroom

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“Women belong in the kitchen.”

Traditional norms have assigned the genders appropriate roles and characteristics in the past: education was no exception. Traditionally, males have been expected to study hard and get jobs while women have been assigned more domestic roles. As women were not the typical breadwinners of their families, parents often invested less into the education for their daughters, and rather focused on getting their sons to college. The differences in educational expectations often bred different expectations on their fields of study: women were not expected to endure analytical and rational areas of study, such as the systematic education associated with science, technology, engineering, and math subjects, referred to as STEM, and were rather expected to show talent in more emotional and creative art forms.

Some may argue that such sexism no longer exists in our society. However, in these contemporary times, many more men study the sciences while more women are studying the humanities and arts. Studies released by the US government’s Economic and Statistics Administration claim that although women account for half the workforce, less than 25% of the STEM industry is occupied by women. Multiple factors may account for this phenomenon, one of which is societal pressure that women face in gaining a STEM education.

“On my personal journey toward a career in medicine, there have been clear obstacles,” said Sohee Ahn (10), a student who aspires to become a doctor. “There are few female scientists whom I can look up to as role models, and many people around me are extremely surprised to see me pursuing medicine. They say, because science is [innately] too demanding for females and because women fall behind men in terms of logic, I should stick to subjects that ‘fit me.’ Also, because the path ahead of me is uncertain with few women role models, I sometimes feel discouraged, but I feel further determined to take advantage of the opportunities I have and pull through.”

Many girls in the modern day notice the same things as Sohee. In the Solvay Conference of 1927, a gathering of “the greatest scientific minds of the day,” only one out of the 29 featured scientists was female. To be sure, the disparity between men and women in the workforce has decreased extensively. However, according to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) survey of its 20 member states, almost four times as many boys were expected to be employed in computing and engineering than girls on average. Additional surveys by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed that these results were not due to a lack of ability. Rather in a majority of countries, the number of 15-year-old girls at the top percentiles of PISA mathematics and science tests with knowledge application type questions either matched or outnumbered that of boys. If these numbers speak the truth, then why are girls discouraged to pursue careers in math and science?

First of all, girls do not feel comfortable “intruding” into a profession that is widely dominated by males. According the Science Daily Journal, Stanford University psychologist Mary Murphy explained that women are less likely to participate in science and engineering because women are a minority in these settings, and both men and women prefer a gender-balanced academic setting where ideas of both parties are more openly accepted.

“Most of my classes have had a balanced number of girls and boys in them since, in freshmen year, we don’t have many choices on what to take,” Sunhee Bae (9) said. “However, I am already worried about what courses to take next year because I have to think of both whether the subject would fit me and whether I would fit the subject. When I learn ‘softer’ subjects like art and humanities, there tends to be more girls so I feel more comfortable. Around guys, I can’t be myself and I feel pressured to prove myself.”

This imbalance of gender in classrooms is also evident at SIS. In AP Physics 1 this year, only 24% of students are female, but both female and male students do not differ much in performance according to the instructor. Brian Mellon, physics teacher, also surmises that the society’s positive view of males and positive view of females are different. In Korean society, the professions considered “masculine” and those considered “feminine” are clearly divided into two categories—eegwa and moongwa, basically translating into STEM and liberal arts courses, respectively. Students may be pressured to choose a category they excel at, based on their performance in science and math versus writing and history. The underlying assumptions regarding each category’s personality are so prevalent in everyday life that a conversation with family elders or a new classmate often begins casually with the ultimate question, “Are you eegwa or moongwa?”

“I feel like parents are too concerned about our future to the point that they are intrusive,” Jake Park (11) said. “Once you graduate from high school and leave the safety of the house, you must protect yourself in the real world, so parents really care and nag a lot about your studies. They want the best for you, and that sometimes makes it feel like even before birth, your path in life is predestined by the will of your parents, restricting choices in our lives, especially since what parents feel is the best choice for us is often based on society’s stereotypes.”

As much as Korean society values education and hard work, Korea has the highest salary gap between male and female workers in the world at a soaring 39%, according to the Maeil Business Newspaper. Only 55.6% of women in Korea participated in the economy in 2013, according to the IMF, and women make up only 1.7% of senior management positions. Gender inequality in the workplace leads to problems regarding the nation’s progress, as the STEM subjects are often perceived to contain “industries of the future.”
This phenomenon of a lack of women in STEM education is not just an issue in South Korea. Developed nations across the world have attempted to help cultivate women engineers, especially in countries that already have advanced engineering programs, and the gender disparities are seeing some gradual improvement. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the epitome of an eegwa university, specially offers programs such as the Women’s Technology Program (WTP) to “spark high school girls’ interest in the future study of engineering and computer science.” Other colleges and programs have followed its lead by providing similar opportunities for women to delve into STEM subjects, such as the Curie Academy from Cornell University. With such programs providing sparks to push girls to study the STEM fields, perhaps, in a future not too far from our time, women will be working in labs to cure cancer while the robots that they have programmed help them cook and clean while they are busy.

Soomin Chun is a sophomore and a reporter for TTONL. Her passions are widespread, including biology, volleyball, and writing. She is nocturnal yet cannot function without ample sleep, so you can often see her dozing off all day and staying up late at night.

1 Comment

  1. “Studies released by the US government’s Economic and Statistics Administration claim that although women account for half the workforce, less than 25% of the STEM industry is occupied by women.”
    Men do not outnumber women in all STEM fields. The problem with this statement is that there are many separate fields under the STEM title and that this study released by the US government seems to use averages as a means of calculating gender inequity in the STEM fields (plus a citation would be nice). When you compare the percentage of STEM bachelor’s degrees awarded to female students for the last two decades, based on NSF statistics (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/2013/pdf/nsf13304_digest.pdf), you’ll find that there are barely any notable differences in terms of gender in biosciences, the social sciences, or mathematics; the only fields in which men seem to genuinely outnumber women is in the Computer Science and Engineering fields. (Here’s a simplified graph to demonstrate this point based on the NSF statistics: http://newshour-tc.pbs.org/newshour/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Cummins.bachelors-degrees-1024×553.png) When looking at PhD’s, women have clearly reached equity in the biosciences and social sciences, almost equity (40%) in mathematics and physical sciences, and are over-represented in psychology (78%). Again, the only fields in which men truly outnumber women are in computer science and engineering (simplified graph: http://newshour-tc.pbs.org/newshour/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Cummins.PhDs_-1024×504.png). If we’re talking about labor force or occupation, then you’ll notice that women are as likely as men to be biological scientists, medical scientists and chemists. They are much less likely than men to be computer scientists, but have achieved equity in three out of five areas, with computer science and geoscience being exceptions (http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-sciences).

    “They say, because science is [innately] too demanding for females and because women fall behind men in terms of logic, I should stick to subjects that ‘fit me.’”
    Who says this to you? If it’s the kids in SIS, then they are people who have little experience working in the real world and thus you should ignore them. If it’s the elders who are saying this to you, then they’re living in a time when women indeed followed the career paths set by their parents; my mom is a testament to that. In general though, men and boys are also told to do things based on subjects that “fit” them too. It’s not just you; it’s everyone in SIS to a certain degree. Don’t turn this into a gendered issue.

    “However, according to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) survey of its 20 member states, almost four times as many boys were expected to be employed in computing and engineering than girls on average. Additional surveys by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed that these results were not due to a lack of ability.”
    Please put citations into your articles if you’re going to use resources like these. It makes yourself look more credible and makes it easier for people to look at the evidence. Regardless, what strikes me as odd is that the OECD has 30+ members already. And we’ve already determined why more men are to be hire than women: because men already outnumber women in the CS and Engineering fields (look at evidence above). Now, a reasonable look into why this inequity in this part of the STEM fields is needed. There are many possible reasons why this is the case, some of which are feminist in nature. However, the one that can actually be backed up by science is the fact that sex-based preferences exist. Newborn girls tend to look at faces more; newborn boys pay attention to mechanical stimuli. When it comes to toys, a consistent finding is that boys (and juvenile male monkeys) strongly prefer to play with mechanical toys over plush toys or dolls, while girls (and female juvenile monkeys) show equivalent interest in the two. By this very fact alone, we can see why girls would intrinsically favor sciences based on social interaction or people in general such as psychology, social sciences, and biosciences, while boys would intrinsically focus on mechanical-based fields like computer science and engineering.
    Study on newborn boys and girls: http://www.math.kth.se/matstat/gru/5b1501/F/sex.pdf
    Study on Rhesus monkey and sex difference: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2583786/#!po=7.14286

    “First of all, girls do not feel comfortable “intruding” into a profession that is widely dominated by males. According the Science Daily Journal, Stanford University psychologist Mary Murphy explained that women are less likely to participate in science and engineering because women are a minority in these settings, and both men and women prefer a gender-balanced academic setting where ideas of both parties are more openly accepted.”
    If a person decides not to work in a place because it isn’t favorable to their tastes, then they doesn’t deserve to work in that place anyways. If a they were truly interested in that field of study, then they would go through with it regardless of how many men/women are studying with them or what kinds of conditions they’re in. This is what the earliest women computer scientists have done: they have persevered through conditions that are unfavorable to them, and they had risen to the top of their fields of study. Same case here: if someone, either a man or a woman, is unable to participate in a field of study simply because they feel uncomfortable in it, then they weren’t truly invested on doing that field of study in the first place. It’s something called “perseverance,” something that seems to be lacking among many people nowadays.

    “In AP Physics 1 this year, only 24% of students are female, but both female and male students do not differ much in performance according to the instructor.”
    Again, we’ve explained why this is the case.

    “The underlying assumptions regarding each category’s personality are so prevalent in everyday life that a conversation with family elders or a new classmate often begins casually with the ultimate question, ‘Are you eegwa or moongwa?'”
    I have never been asked this question in my time in SIS. Perhaps among elder family members, but that’s because they lived in a time when engineering jobs gave the most benefits in a nation focusing on technology as its main export. Regardless, whenever I WAS asked this kind of question, it was never in terms of the eegwa or moongwa; it was more worded like “what’s your major?” or “what do you want to be in college?”. But that’s just my experience.

    “Only 55.6% of women in Korea participated in the economy in 2013, according to the IMF, and women make up only 1.7% of senior management positions. Gender inequality in the workplace leads to problems regarding the nation’s progress, as the STEM subjects are often perceived to contain ‘industries of the future.'”
    I think you’re mistaking “inequality” with “inequity”. Is there any law that forbids women from entering occupations that any qualified man can take? Is there any legal or economic barrier focused solely against women that affects women’s occupations in Korea? If any qualified woman can take the same job as any qualified man and there exists a document that enshrines this behavior into the laws of Korea, then there already exists EQUALITY among the genders. In fact, there already exists laws that focus on gender equality in terms of employment in the workplace; this is known as the Act on Equal Employment and Support for Work-Family Reconciliation (http://www.moleg.go.kr/english/korLawEng?pstSeq=57940); ergo, there already exists EQUALITY in South Korea in terms of legal rights. Your focus on the ratio between men and women in certain jobs means you’re focusing on EQUITY among the genders, or whether if there is an equal number of men and women, which is a good thing in theory but not so much in practice. If society focuses too much on equity, then you’ll eventually reach the problem of less qualified people being hired over more qualified people as per political correctness. I’m not saying that women are any less capable than men in general; however, jobs should be chosen based on quality rather than quantity. If a less-qualified woman is hired over a man that is more qualified for the sake of equity, then that isn’t right. If a woman candidate is equally qualified as another male candidate, then both should have the equal opportunity to be hired, which is then up to the employer’s decision. And in such a case, if the employer chooses the man over the woman, then that’s not entirely sexist but rather perhaps of differing reasons such as personality, work ethic, etc. Also, on the topic of equity, I’m surprised that you’re not advocating for more women to work in occupations such as trash collectors, sewage workers, and construction workers, since all those kinds of jobs have a majority of men and a minority of women in them.

    Your message is good-natured, and I agree that more women should be encouraged to join computer science and engineering. However, we must recognize that women have free autonomy too. Women, just as much as men, have the ability to choose their career path, and if some women choose to not go into the STEM fields despite such encouragement, then there’s nothing we can do to force them to stay. We must also avoid a stringent pursuit of political correctness; doing so may detriment society in the long run. Indeed, women are just as capable, smart, and creative as men and equity is good in theory, but we must ensure that we also consider the quality of the women who enter in these fields. Also, citations go a long way.

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