Some years ago, at the first ever ‘Best of British’ conference in Mexico DF I was lucky enough to be one of the plenary speakers. Among the others, if I recall, were Eddie Williams, Randolph Quirk, Richard Rossner, and…but there, my memory begins to fade.
You will probably have noticed the one common denominator that us plenary speakers shared – despite the fact that the conference organisers were both women. They defended their selection of speakers robustly, but then, as on similar occasions more recently, us 5 men on the final panel had the grace (?) to feel uncomfortable sitting there faced with a large crowd of Mexican teachers, the majority of whom, were, of course, women.
And then, as now, a common discussion point at conferences is why there aren’t more women giving plenary talks. It is taken as axiomatic that women don’t get invited to give plenaries, and people (both women and men in my experience) look darkly into their glasses – the ones they drink from – and mutter disconsolately about how dreadful the situation is.
Gender wars! They don’t go away even after decades of female struggle. And all of us are apparently prisoners of our genders acting, often unconsciously, in stereotypical ways just because we are men or women.
Or are we? Debbie Cameron’s wonderful bookThe Myth of Mars and Venus was one of my best reads of 2008, challenging as it did precisely the idea I have just written down – that gender determines our character (can you write ‘down’ on a screen?)
So I got to thinking about the ‘women-aren’t-invited-to-give-plenaries’ discussion. Is it true? For example, have a look at the line-up for the 2010 IATEFL conference. Women outnumber men 3:1. Last year female plenary speakers outnumbered men too.
Of course IATEFL is only one conference, and I have certainly been to many others where men clearly predominate. And even when women ARE in the ascendant, do they get treated the same as men? It has frequently been put to me by female colleagues that it is easier for men to speak at conference because the teachers are mostly women – and so the men get an ‘easy ride’. But is that true? When Danah Boyd blogged about being ambushed with a Web 2.0 conference backchannel last year, she ascribed some of her treatment to the fact that she was a woman (and some of the backchannel tweeting from some male mmebers of her audience was frankly outrageous).
So I guess my questions (as neutral as I can make them) are:
Are women ignored when speaking invitations go out? Is the world of language teaching any different from anywhere else?
Do women and men get equal treatment from audiences of teachers (again is there something special about language teaching)?
Is it true that most people who do gender studies women?
Myths and truths. I wonder.