An Unexpected Source of Gender Bias


Justine Hong, Co-Editor-in-Chief

For many years, countless students at GSIS have been cracked down for violating the dress code. Only recently, however, has it been discovered that such discipline may not be a constructive method to facilitate education, but rather an inadvertent result of gender-biased perception.

On Mar. 25, when senior Jenny Kang was taken out of class for having infringed upon the dress code, she felt puzzled, for she’d believed her outfit to be school-appropriate. Upon checking the handbook, however, she realized that there was a greater problem at hand, namely that of gender bias.

“The handbook only addresses female-specific dress code. There is not a single mention of male students,” she said.

That day, she filed a formal complaint and voiced her opinions through a Facebook post. “I begin to realize that my education is more important than fitting into gender-biased policies,” she wrote. “As a student of GSIS for almost two years, I have seen male students and faculty wearing muscle shirts and even ripped skirts and short dresses during school events.”

She concluded, “I demand equality and fairness in these rules.”

Having received the complaint, the administration is currently working to resolve the issue and change the handbook. Along with making the statements gender-neutral by changing the phrase ‘young ladies’ to ‘students,’ it will include clearer rules about more specific articles of clothing, such as leggings, which Jenny had been wearing when she’d been taken out of class.

Yet while the brief controversy regarding the handbook has been resolved, the issue of sexism is nowhere near settled. This incident has raised intriguing questions about the perception of gender at school, namely whether discrimination truly takes place and whether students take on or impose gender roles. When asked for their opinions on the matter, the students were polarized.

Jenny, for one, reiterated the point she made in her post and affirmed that gender discrimination exists. “Girls like me have to leave the room and miss the entire class, but boys wearing outfits that could be considered inappropriate don’t get caught.” She added that other girls also thought this was unfair.

While senior Matthew Choi has never witnessed discrimination firsthand, he agreed with Jenny. “If she posted something like this, then obviously there is some sort of discrimination. As a male student, I probably can’t see it, but if girls are saying there is [discrimination], I’m pretty sure there is.”

Freshman Junwoo Kang, on the other hand, believed otherwise. “As far as what I feel as a new student and coming from a fresh perspective, I feel like all the male students and the female students are treated equally.”

As for the wording in the handbook, he believes, unlike Jenny, that men’s clothes are generally less problematic than girls’. “It’s sort of judgmental to say this, but boys tend to not really pay attention to their clothes, which is perhaps why there’s not as much conflict about their clothing.”

While he doesn’t see discrimination at school, he believes that it’s still an important issue in society today. “We should all be treated equally. The reason we exist is the females. It’s strange that women are treated in a disadvantaged way, especially with the gender pay gaps. Every woman is paid 79 cents while a male is paid a dollar.”

Senior Noel Lee agreed. When asked whether she thinks sexism exists at school, she responded, “No, I don’t think that.”

However, she does take issue with gender-biased perception in the news or on social media. “I read posts about how women are sexually abused, and they all talk about our clothing.”

With regards to gender roles, on the other hand, all students were in agreement. Not only do gender roles exist, they also result inevitably from the conservative, hybrid culture environment of an international school.

Junwoo said, “I think this concern regarding dress [results] from a conflict between the cultures that students bring. Korean societal norms tend to be more restricted toward girls, and this school’s a mixture between Korean norms and the flow of Western trends.”

Jenny agreed and described her experience perceiving gender roles. “When people naturally hang out at GSIS, it’s really gender-segregated, which I’ve never witnessed before. I think it’s traditional in Korea for girls to hang out with girls and guys to hang out with guys, but when the genders mix it’s often thought of as something romantic or even inappropriate.”

Noel described the influence of her cultural experiences prior to GSIS on her perception of the dress code issue: “We wore uniforms and were really strict about them. So I’m kind of used to that culture. There were really specific criteria for dress codes. So here, compared to that culture in Korea, it’s really just nothing.”

While certain gender roles are the result of a mere difference in culture or countries, gender discrimination is a critical problem in every part of the world.

Junwoo said, “We need to be more aware. That’s important. Sometimes we just accept how it is, and that’s not right. Awareness is key.”

Matthew said, “I think Korea is getting close to eliminating gender roles because you see more professional women working, and you see more women getting into colleges, so I think it’s going quite okay. But things could be better.”

2 thoughts on “An Unexpected Source of Gender Bias

  1. I love how this targeted something that many female students at GSIS have felt was an issue even in past years and then put it in a global context. Great article, Justine!

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