Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

November 24, 2011

What’s with all the sexism?

Filed under: Education,English language courses — rliberni @ 1:55 pm

I am feeling rather angry today and so probably not the best time to write a blog post but I can’t ignore this any longer!

This week I have come across two blog posts which to me are blatantly sexist and I can’t for the life of me understand why the writers concerned had to write like this. This, coupled with the appointment earlier this year of all-male board at IATEFL, has led me to wonder exactly where we are heading with regard to gender in ELT.

OK, so I grew up in the seventies, women’s lib and all that and I wholeheartedly believe in equality, not just in gender, but for all, and this is no feminist rant, what I feel really is a very deep sense of disappointment and yes, hurt. I also have one burning question – why?

Male teacher - logical, task-driven

The first post is on the Busy teacher blog  10 Reasons Why Men are Better at Teaching Than Women I couldn’t find the name of the writer (but from the picture I think male). He balances the point here with a sister post (no pun intended!) called 10 Reasons Why Women Are Better At Teaching Than Men’ I simply don’t understand why this has to be discussed along gender lines at all!  How many male/female teachers has he observed to draw these conclusions? If we look at the 10 points then he basically seems to be saying that male teachers are good disciplinarians and logicians so their students get better results and female teachers are more empathetic and sensitive and are somehow more approachable for students. This could have walked out of  an education article from the 1950s or 60s have we learned nothing in the intervening years?

Where is the evidence? Are all women colleagues you know warm and fluffy and all male colleagues strict and task-driven? As for men being better at grammar – I’ve been a teacher trainer and I can say on my very small sample of trainees that this is very debatable.

The second post was written by Jonathan on his blog Teaching Plugged-in and entitled  ELT and the infantilisation of

Female teacher - empathetic, sensitive

the adult learner . I know that Jonathan can be controversial (though I felt his attack on Mario Rinvolucri was a little harsh) and I admire his ability to throw out ideas that might cause debate, I really feel we need much more of this in ELT. But, this post just seemed to dismiss female teachers as unfit for purpose (fortunately the comments acceded as much) and the picture I got as I read was one of the ‘little housewife doing a bit of teaching for pin money’ surely we’ve moved beyond this in the 21st century. More importantly – how does he know? – where’s the evidence? His attack on this female teacher is based, it seems, on one student’s ‘experience’ (and one-sided) – gossip and hearsay.

Just as there are many different types of student, there are also many different types of teacher, we are not just male teachers and female teachers and this kind of generalisation on what seems to be very flimsy evidence is not appropriate. Certainly, we can argue the merits of different approaches, methodologies and start a real debate about these but please lets not do any more female (or male for that matter) bashing!

As for the decision of IATEFL to appoint an all-male board I have only one word to say – SHOCKING!



  1. This is one of those issues that doesn’t get talked about a lot in ESL. Don’t know how much sexism is addressed in mainstream teaching. These lists could act as a springboard to discuss these issues. My school for example gets a lot of Muslim students and the same student that is mildly annoying in my class (but can be brought back into line with a few words), is downright aggressive and condescending to his female teachers. Is that coincidence? Personality types? Or do I have the advantage of being seen as more serious and strong and worthy of respect because I am male? And what can we do about that so that female teachers are also taken seriously by students?

    By the way, I love the fact that both the articles on why men or women are better teachers had to be couched with so many hedges because there’s so little evidence. “It may be true that some people perceive women as being slightly less…”

    Comment by English Advantage — November 24, 2011 @ 2:13 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for the comment. Yes, was it necessary at all? Couldn’t it just have been about different styles of teaching and their effectiveness? I think your example would be more cultural and that’s a whole other layer of difficulty. At the end of the day I think it’s all about respect and if respect were more to the forefront I think we would see thing in a much broader way.

      Comment by rliberni — November 24, 2011 @ 5:26 pm | Reply

      • It is cultural, but related to sexism in a particular culture. I just thought it was interesting that as a guy I am, perhaps, perceived as stricter or more reasonable or more deserving of respect when in fact I am a total softie and several of my female colleagues are much stricter (and probably much more objective) than I, but are not perceived as such.

        I agree; it’s about respect which should be given on the basis of merits, not gender (or cronyism or culture or age or…)

        Comment by English Advantage — November 24, 2011 @ 8:29 pm

      • Nicely put – thanks 🙂

        Comment by rliberni — November 25, 2011 @ 12:45 am

  2. Well said 🙂 It’s all a bit like saying “S/He’s a good teacher because s/he’s a Gemini”, isn’t it? Or brunettes are more task-driven than hot-tempered red-heads, and as for blondes……. etc.
    Sexism has always been rife in this female dominated (at foot-soldier level) profession of ours – just look at the names and gender of the ‘sacred cows’ – but the internet and blogging have done masses to reduce the gender gap at least as far as ‘names’ and publishing are concerned, so how come some are still stuck pre-Glam rock? And out of curiosity, how many female presidents of IATEFL have there been?

    Comment by macappella — November 24, 2011 @ 2:16 pm | Reply

    • Thanks Fiona. I really wouldn’t know – any? You’re right about the internet, this is true. It all takes time but I think reminders are necessary too which is why I decided to write this 🙂

      Comment by rliberni — November 24, 2011 @ 5:19 pm | Reply

      • Might make an interesting topic for eltchat, don’t you think? How to counter sexism in ELT..

        Comment by macappella — November 24, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

      • Pandora’s box methinks 🙂

        Comment by rliberni — November 25, 2011 @ 12:42 am

  3. Some very valid points here highlighting cheap and easy generalisations but I do wish to point out one problem with your post:

    “As for the decision of IATEFL to appoint an all-male board I have only one word to say – SHOCKING!”

    What exactly is the problem here? Should the board include women purely because the board needs to include women? This is quite simply wrong on a number of levels. Substitute any group in here and see why: the board should include a disbaled person, a blind person, a non-native speaker, a dwarf, a black person, a pensioner, etc, etc. The board doesn’t include a nudist? Shocking!

    No, the board should consist of the best people for the job regardless of gender, age, and so on. If they exclude a worthy person purely because that person is a women then, yes, you have a point, but to ask them to include women purely because you’d like to see a woman there is not doing anyone any good.

    Comment by TEFLWorldWiki (@TEFLWorldWiki) — November 24, 2011 @ 3:19 pm | Reply

    • I take your point but in the heavily female dominated industry of EFL (& in the room when it was announced there were far, far more females than males) I find it very surprising that there wasn’t even one woman worthy of a place on that board. Remember women are not a minority so why are we seen as one?

      Comment by rliberni — November 24, 2011 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

      • Agreed, Berni.

        Glad to read your fiery tirade, I know that I sort of gave up on the battle I had launched a few years back (She-in-ELT series and it’s final joke on the men in our trade, “the sexiest… post”) because it backfired and I wound up looking like I had had a chip on my shoulder.

        But basically, whether it’s within IATEFL or BESIG et al or whether it is simply the number of male authors given writing contracts to the number of female authors getting them vs the number of female teachers with clearly much more experience, intelligence and ability than their male counterparts, or even if we want to go deep, the number of males vs females pictured within the graphics of business English texts, sexism is and has been an issue for some time now.

        While I agree with TEFLWorldWiki that a board shouldn’t appoint a woman just because she’s a woman, there are certainly more than enough well-experienced, highly intelligent, well-deserved women in our industry who time and time again are passed up for not belonging to the “old-boy’s-club.” I, for one, am excessively tired of the nonsense idea that this does not exist. The other thing is that in some cases, it would seem, the women who do seem to be “endured” are the ones who spout flattery at the drop of a hat, but be a female of equal or greater intelligence, then…

        Take care,

        Comment by kalinagoenglish — November 24, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

      • Thanks Karenne, I don’t want this to be a feminist thing really as I just think in both posts that the male-female thing was irrelevant but I do have to agree with you about ELT and education generally with regard to women. We are always somehow seen to be a minority and when we speak out we’re also labeled. I did hesitate before writing this but to hell with it, damned if you do and certainly damned if you don’t! At IATEFL I really wanted to get up and wlk out when the board was announced but I didn’t. My husband says that’s the problem, we just accept it and moan! Maybe he’s right. It’s also the old thing of appointing who you know which will always limit your organisation (true in business and many other walks of life also) as most will be in the same ‘group’ and it prevents well needed fresh blood, male or female.

        Comment by rliberni — November 24, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

    • Hm. What percentage of the population is blind? And what percentage of the ELT sector is blind? Or nudist other than in the shower? I suspect that to say less than 10% is not to put my head on the guillotine, but 52% of the world population is female and what %age of the ELT sector is female? The board is not necessarily ‘the best people for the job’, it’s a combination of people who have time, people with perceived prestige, ambition etc and then, from those proposed choices, the best person. As for non-natives, Herbert Puchta was the last president and is current Vice President. The secretary is also non-native and possibly other board members too. It may be coincidence rather than design that all the board members are male but to question that fact is certainly more logical than ‘should there be a dwarf on the board?’…. Surely?

      Comment by macappella — November 24, 2011 @ 8:34 pm | Reply

      • I am saddened that not one woman is deemed worthy – it sends out a very poor message. Maybe we need more training or sophistication to reach those heights? In that case I think it should be IATEFL’s mission to provide this to us 🙂 so that we too may, one day aspire. Lol

        Comment by rliberni — November 25, 2011 @ 12:49 am

  4. There’s little to add, I’m afraid. It’s obvious that the TEFL world suffers from a great paradox: there are far more female teachers “in the field”, so to speak, teaching locally, but there are far more male ELT theorists, managers, etc., respected and, somehow, inadvertently, accepted in leading positions in ELT organisations.

    Who’s to blame? I think it’s our – both male and female – natural inclination or susceptibility to all these deeply-rooted stereotypes, like accepting wise male Elders of the Tribe, who lead and organise.

    Sadly, it’s prevalent in most fields, but far more evident in teaching.

    Comment by Marián Steiner (@MarianSteiner) — November 24, 2011 @ 6:11 pm | Reply

    • It is a huge cultural thing in the US–women are expected to cook in the house, but only men can be professional chefs; women are teachers, but men are professors; women can take care of children; but men are great psychologists and sociologists, and so on.

      I suppose the only thing to add is what we do about it.

      Comment by English Advantage — November 24, 2011 @ 8:23 pm | Reply

      • Now this is about money I feel. Go where the money is and you’ll find the men – historical, cultural and in need of change but sociological and cultural change takes a long time to achieve. 😦

        Comment by rliberni — November 25, 2011 @ 12:44 am

    • Thanks Marian, this is true and education, health and many of the people oriented srvices have a similar profile. It’s something we all need to work on and I think the two posts I mentioned are symptomatic of why it continues to happen – we shouldn’t need to mention gender or anything else for that matter it should just be about teachers, or nurses or business people. Eutopia maybe 🙂

      Comment by rliberni — November 25, 2011 @ 12:40 am | Reply

  5. I don’t get it. I’ve read both posts and I just don’t get it. Why that line ? Maybe that line because it draws attention and gets people fired up, and DRAWS ATTENTION. Ok… I think I figured it out, now 😉

    There are so many more interesting and non-evident things we can discuss about our industry. Alas, maybe that just doesn’t draw the same amount of attention… Thanks for your frankness, Berni. Cheers, brad

    Comment by Brad Patterson (@brad5patterson) — November 24, 2011 @ 7:41 pm | Reply

    • Thanks Brad, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – yes it sells papers or gets readers but it’s really irrelevant and, I believe, doing more harm than good.

      Comment by rliberni — November 25, 2011 @ 12:42 am | Reply

  6. Hi Berni,

    I can’t comment on the IATEFL board as I didn’t attend the AGM and I don’t recall having seen any information re: the names of people who were put forward for it at any point – I’m guessing members must have had some information about it, but it never worked its way onto my “important emails to read” list :-)… If you have more background information on this I’d appreciate a link, as Google search for it drew a blank (I am presuming here that there must have been some kind of election process?).

    Leaving IATEFL aside, I’ve served on many committees over the years (including stints as treasurer, secretary, chair & other officers) and I’ve observed a number of things about them generally that are perhaps worth noting with regards to what you and others have said here so far, which are as follows:

    – positions of authority on committees tend to be filled by powerful men more often than not, who are not shy about singing their own praises or asking other people to vote for them and back their bid for office;

    – ordinary members of organisations are often fairly apathetic and many of them probably won’t bother to vote unless one of their friends is standing for office, or somebody canvasses them;

    – ordinary members often tend to be fairly conservative as well, and if they do vote, are more likely to stick with a face or name they know (i.e. re-elect an existing committee member, unless that person has made a hash of it and burnt their bridges for re-election);

    – unless a role comes up for grabs that nobody already serving on the committee wants to do, the chances are that any vacancy will be filled by someone currently serving on the committee, or a person who has previously served on it 😉

    Obviously I’m generalising here, but the point I am making is that what you basically have in essence is a self-perpetuating system for maintaining the status quo. The only way to change it is if the wider membership galvanises itself into action and votes to elect some new blood.

    If we want to see more women and other marginalised groups represented on the board, then perhaps it’s down to us to be more pro-active and give such people who stand for office more support to try and achieve a better balance?


    Comment by Sue Lyon Jones — November 25, 2011 @ 1:16 pm | Reply

    • Hi Sue, thank you for your great comment and precis of the situation vis-a-vis organisations and officers. I think this is a good summary of the situation in most organisations and I agree due to apathy, fear of stepping forward or a desire not to rock the boat things go on as before. My actual aim in the blog was to question whether we should be discussing things like methodolgy and teaching style along gender lines and whether this was in fact appropriate, but the final comment about IATEFL seems to have stuck a chord. You are right it is incumbent upon people to put themselves forward but often when things have been run in a particular fashion for a long time it is not easy to do this but I have found from my own experience with committees that once you approach new people they will often be happy to step up and join. There is always a feeling that one is not experienced enough or that one might be rejected and that would be very embarassing. The flip side is that no new blood often means no new ideas and this makes organisations stagnate. A bit of a catch 22 I think 🙂

      Comment by rliberni — November 27, 2011 @ 10:21 pm | Reply

  7. Thank you for speaking out about this important issue,which seems almost taboo. I’ve suggested it as a topic for the next ELT chat.

    Comment by Anne Sinclair (@AnneSinclair1) — November 26, 2011 @ 4:34 pm | Reply

    • Thank you Anne. Could be an interesting topic to discuss ? Let’s see if others think so.

      Comment by rliberni — November 27, 2011 @ 10:12 pm | Reply

  8. Don’t worry about having to explain/apologize for/rationalize your support of equality. Feminism is for everyone!

    Comment by John at TestSoup — November 28, 2011 @ 4:43 pm | Reply

    • Thank you John, you are right, people are people 🙂

      Comment by rliberni — November 29, 2011 @ 8:37 am | Reply

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