Sports and the Sexes

As the 4:30 bell rang, I grabbed my change of clothes and rushed into the restroom. It was our monthly Teacher Sports Day. Throughout the afternoon, I had flashbacks of elementary school Field Day. Relay races. Tug-of-war. Red Rover. And, of course, the fear of embarrassing myself.

Athleticism is not my strength. I remember that when I was in my seventh grade gym class, I tried to shoot a basketball into the hoop, but it bounced off the rim, then hit one gym teacher in the face and another in the stomach. When I didn’t think it could get any worse, I did the exact same thing the following day.

Nope. Definitely not my strength.

As the teachers filed into the gymnasium, I noticed that the women were still wearing their office attire. Most of the men had changed into shorts or gym clothes. I felt a little self-conscious and wondered if I had missed something.

Mr. Hong and I played a quick round of badminton, and I remembered that the last time I played a sport was six months before. It was a mandatory Quidditch game as a bonding activity for the resident assistants at my college. Yes, you read that correctly. Mandatory RA Quidditch.

“Practice!” Mr. Hong said as I missed the birdie yet again.

“Next time, I will do better,” I promised as we put away the rackets.

We joined some teachers on the bleachers. The gym teacher set up a volleyball net, and the men wearing their gym clothes divided into two teams: under-45 and over-45. Then, the gym teacher spoke in Korean as she waved a notebook and a pencil in the air. The only word I could understand was “벳팅!” (pronounced “betting!”)

Now that was a sport I could enjoy!

The teachers on the bleachers placed their wagers on the under-45 and over-45 teams, then the game began. I watched and cheered appropriately, but I was still thinking of the separation of the sexes. In the cafeteria, the teachers usually sat by department or with their friends, regardless of gender. This was the first time that I noticed distinct roles between the men and the women in my school.

When I looked at the smartly-dressed female teachers sitting around me, I wondered if they felt pressured to sit down and stay out of the game, if they chose to stay on the bleachers, or if they weren’t invited to participate in the first place. Maybe it was just an expectation that the women would sit and the men would play. Some of the older men also sat out of the game, but it looked like the younger men didn’t have much of a choice. I was perfectly happy sitting next to a big bag of sour cream and onion potato chips and talking with my co-teachers, but I questioned the gender dynamics.

After a quick game (the over-45 team won, if you were curious), we shared pizza and Korean food. As the game was ending, many of the women stood up to prepare the tables. Both men and women, especially the younger ones, helped to clear the tables at the end of our meal.

It will be a few more weeks until our next sports day. I will have some time to think more about hierarchy and gender before the next volleyball game. And, perhaps, to practice playing badminton.


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