Don’t want to look on from shade of life’s treeEver since I was a little girl I enjoyed playing sports. During the years I spent in the United States, I participated in school sports like soccer, field hockey and volleyball. At first, it was hard getting permission from my parents to participate because they simply refused to believe that girls were capable of doing anything athletic. Eventually, after coming to watch several of the games, they actually seemed to support me playing sports. Or so I thought
My freshman year in high school I made the junior varsity soccer team. I asked my parents for money to buy shin guards and cleats and they looked at me as if I had committed a crime. Joining the soccer team meant a four-mile run and an hour of weight training every day after school. And that was just the warm-up before the actual soccer practice. "Why would you want to waste your time on a silly thing like that?” my mother asked. My father agreed. Despite their protests, I played the whole season; I learned a lot and had a really good time.
Because of my soccer training, I was in much better shape than the other girls at my new high school in Korea. There was no soccer team, but at least I would get a chance to play sports in gym class, right? Wrong. On the first day of class, our gym teacher told all of the girls to go sit under a tree and chat ― for the whole hour.
That was my first shock. The second came the week before the school’s annual intramural sports festival: there was no girls volleyball team. I was upset, but instead of setting off to form a girls squad, I asked to try out for the boys team. I had more playing experience than any of the boys on our team, so I thought I could help them compete. They refused to even give me a tryout; they said they were afraid I might get hurt playing a “man’s game.” I kept pestering them and eventually got the real story: They were afraid the whole school would make fun of them if they let a girl play on their team; their humiliation would deepen if I turned out to be good.
The experience was a little embarrassing. People kept coming up to me to ask if I was the girl trying to play volleyball with the boys. I had to enjoy the sports festival from the sidelines, but I learned two valuable lessons: Perceptions do not change easily and women in Korea have an uphill fight to gain equality with men. Maybe if teachers empowered girls, instead of telling them to park it under a tree, we could level the playing field a little.
by Lee Jung-bi