Girls just wanna….

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?”


All about the beard.  by Jeffrey Doonan at eltpics

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.8248352992_7752d7c65c_b

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.


               Older white chap            Image by DF at eltpics


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.


Who needs a beard, when you have…..?




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4 responses to “Girls just wanna….

  1. Nicola

    Not sure where to reply so will do it in both places! One thing I maybe didn’t make clear, or left open to interpretation, the writing related groups that have been career advancing were all women only. The original one now has almost 40,000 members and has generated lots of sub groups based on writing type and/or identity and people join the ones they identify with. I don’t think anyone thinks this is exclusionary. I am, for example, not in the groups for editors because I’m not one, likewise the trans, LGB, POC, tech writers, millenials etc but am in parenting, food, and others. Not education now i come to think of it, whatever the reason. Those groups used to have “women” in their name, now all have dropped that to be inclusive of non-gender identifying people but none of them accept men. It never occurred to me to mind that there are groups for, say, POC. The groups get less and less mixed as they subdivide and their are issues in the bigger ones when more marginalised groups feel their voices aren’t heard. Those issues are discussed a lot and most people try to listen and be educated about experiences they don’t live. Anyway, i digress a bit but those women only groups share way more contacts and resources and job opportunities than any of the mixed writing groups I am in, perhaps because they were specifically set up for that reason.

    The thread in the other group, where only women can respond (as opposed to one where a question to women is also answered by men) is very different in tone, has more NNS offering responses, doesn’t always agree but does so more pleasantly (no unpleasant adrenalin surges on getting involved) but most importantly contains views from people who don’t feel as comfortable expressing them in the mixed thread. If anything is exclusionary it is often places that are supposedly for everybody. Or at least on Facebook!

    I agree plenaries are a small part, but they are representative of a lot of other more subtle things. Whenever you hear anyone talk about big names, it’s mostly men’s they mean, even when the women have notable achievements, speak at conferences etc. Yesterday I did a podcast thing and they guy was talking about their line up and said people were always asking them “Are you going to have so and so?” The names he listed, ie that other people were asking about, were male, the usual ones. There’s a default setting here and it’s not tokenism to actively try to reset that. I’ve been around quite a few things, not actively involved, and the lineups discussed were male, often no-one noticing until I piped up. If, as you say and I think is so obviously true, society has these problems, then of course ELT does. But it’s almost MORE strange/shocking/unacceptable precisely because ELT is mostly women. You might expect it in tech and advertising when they have so much further to go to be equal, but here? If we can’t collectively reach a point where the first names anyone thinks of are women in a profession dominated by women, then who is going to be able to?

    And that’s one of the things these kinds of groups might change, not necessarily through direct advocacy perhaps but by networking sharing opportunities and teaching practical skills where they’re asked for or lacking eg assertiveness is a topic that comes up often. The other thing about this group (I hope) is that the demographic being only women cuts through the other demographics so is all areas of the industry. Then everyone really starts learning how things work in other sectors. I’ve already seen that kind of cross-pollination in conversations between teachers and publishers, which is not a feature in other ELT groups I’ve been in. So, I think it really has a lot to offer.

  2. Excellent blogpost, as always, which I took the liberty of sharing on FB. I actually think it’s understandable that women would want a women-only space to network, just as some women prefer to go to a bar with female friends, leaving male S.O.s behind (or out). Having said that, it’s a pity we live in a world where SOME women feel uncomfortable saying/doing all the same things in the presence of SOME men, and I think we only have previous versions of ‘manhood’ to blame for this status quo. Totally agree that things are changing though and most of the women I know are more than happy to express their views on gender imbalance and male arrogance, chauvinismo etc. in the presence of people of any gender!

  3. Pingback: Girls just wanna…. | ELT Digest | Scoop...

  4. I think it can all be reduced to one term: “safe space”. People of all descriptions feel uncomfortable (or even paralyzed in some cases) when they encounter opposition that for one reason or another, they simply cannot handle.

    Exclusive groups are definitely wrong in some cases, but if the group has just intentions and practices and it’s a group which may be inherently hindered by the structure of whatever industry or society it is attempting to navigate, then I’m all for it. If women in ELT feel they can’t get a fair shake so to speak, then meeting to right that wrong is OK.

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