This post is related to a question I posted on Facebook on 3rd January, 2017. Nothing like starting the year with a wallop. Skip it if you don’t want your coffee to go cold. My original question was
“Was having a ponder earlier and – not trying to push any buttons, just thinking on screen – ….. how would ELT women feel / what would they think / how would they react if, say, Hugh D or Gavin also D or someone equally ‘FB visible’ set up a closed ‘Men in ELT’ group for the chaps…. I mean… what would go through your mind? How would your guts react?”
I started to write my reply on Facebook but it began to grow and grow, and I don’t like Facebook anyway. It is the Hovis of communication – only to be used when you’ve got nothing else, and too much of it causes… Yes, that’s Facebook. So here is my reply, slightly altered to be comprehensible as a blog post. Nowt to do with teens, so I’ll get back to them soon, and apologies meantime.
Sue Leather asked what my answer to my own question regarding groups was, and others asked why I posted it in the first place. What was the master plan? Or mistress plan. Hmm. It was to get a discussion going. A bit of conversation or debate. Dialogue, as the trendy call it, though multilogue would be more appropriate (if cringingly pedantic) here (tick).
But my own answer to my question is that I don’t really know what I’d think; that’s the other reason I posted it. I’d seen a blog post intro with a link to the Women in ELT group, and the name struck me. I’d seen it a few weeks before but at a time when it had shot off my radar almost as soon as it had come on. This time it stuck. The name. A few hours later, I was reading a thread about the IATEFL Slovenia conference with its four male plenary speakers out of four, and started chatting to Sinéad Laffan about that, and the two things clicked together. Except it was louder than a click. It was more like a train clanging in an old Western.
And the clanging hindered decision.
On the one hand, I recoil from anything exclusive – or that appears to be exclusive, in this case, as I haven’t joined the group, though may (at least temporarily) as they’ve been discussing my question since I posted it, too – as exclusion perpetuates division; I agree with those who say we need to work together on finding and maintaining a balance.
Another thing that caused me to – let’s say ‘be cautious’ was a comment that the group had been formed because someone’s career had been advanced by belonging to similar groups. But it occurred to me that if ‘similar groups’ meant ‘groups for writers’ or ‘groups for (say) journalists’, it’s not the same thing. To get a job as a writer when you’re already a writer/because you’re a writer is one thing, but to get a job because you’re a woman/ in a women’s group is another. This argument also made me furrow my proverbial. But see more on this aspect later, and let’s put a * so you know where I mean.
On the other hand, the balance in ELT, or rather the lack of (no way am I using ‘thereof’!), is shocking at times and something does need to be done. (In some areas, it’s male dominated, but in many it’s female dominated). I don’t think ‘recalibration’ (great word) is a boy/girl thing, though: I think it’s a people thing, a. boy/ girl/ native/ non-native/ white/ non-white etc etc thing. More diversity of voices. But in a genuine way, not that awful, force-the-stats ‘token woman, token non-white, token LBGTQ, token non-RP/standard US….’ way you get in TV series. And it’s difficult because it means changing society on an international scale. But person by person is as good a starting place as any.
So. These were the conflicting thoughts that led me to try to provoke a discussion, to give me more insight into the group and people’s opinions in general and… well, that. And debate there was.
Conclusions from reading the thread so far? Firstly and foremostly (NB students of mine: don’t copy my words, I make half of them up) that in general terms, we all agree. If not on the how, on the what. Change needs to be prodded along, as it’s shirking. Dawdling. Window-shopping.
Broadening our sights – all of us -, our awareness – all or most of us -, and our empathy seems to me to be the way (not implying I noticed a lack of any of that, but that that seemed to be the consensus). We’re part of a bigger picture, in ELT, it’s not about plenaries. They’re just a symptom.
Plenaries in some cases are like Facebook – he (yes) who is most visible, cracks the most jokes…… But really that’s only a few places: on the whole, plenaries go to those who’ve worked their way up, who’ve ‘been around a while’; and who’ve earned their place. We should be making sure that the women of the same generation as the ‘older white chaps’who are getting the brunt of this (sorry gents) get the same opportunities as they do, rather than thinking of ourselves. Women of my age (the 50-give-or-take generation) often do get the same opportunities as men of my age, we’re the heir(esse)s of the benefits Judy Garton-Sprenger, Jill Florent etc fought for (the age difference isn’t much but it’s significant socially and historically). We need to bloody well do our jobs well, beat the boys at the plenary lark to pave the way for the ones coming behind us. If you’re under 40 and looking for plenaries…… work on your ideas and experience, know your stuff. Work hard, be patient, be prolific and decide if that’s really what you want instead of being home at weekends. Same choice men make.
We also need to work on convincing the people who choose the speakers for plenaries – I do a fair few, and generally find that it’s older women who are more reticent when it comes to choosing female plenary speakers. Younger women and men in general don’t care about the gender. Younger means my age down. Again, society. The big shift that happened when I was in my late teens / early twenties. At that time, the ELT women named above were already working – and they still are. They are the generation that caused that change. It was a very different world for women in my country, then. Very, very. And in some areas, it still is.
And finally, from what I can tell, the Women in ELT group is * actually becoming more about a talking space than about career development anyway, a talking space where women don’t feel intimidated. But… I also reckon many men are intimidated by some of the shouty voices, the prestige of some of the Names, the occasional flood of strong opinions, the rapid verbal machine-gun fire on ‘open’ Facebook on occasion. So maybe a ‘Non-Shouty Voices in ELT’ group would be the thing to consider…. 😉
Too long a post and too late at night. And I wasn’t going to post at all. Thanks for the nudge, Sue.