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Gender Bias and Language

When debating how men and women fit into certain work roles, none is more controversial than the gender bias often present in the teaching profession. In both the U.K. and the U.S., over 60% of teachers are women, unless you’re talking about university level professors, in which case most outside of language learning tend to be men. These numbers are somewhat baffling considering that modern society has been tooting the equality horn for quite some time. How is it possible then, that we will still find most science and math teachers to be male while languages, literature, and the like are female dominated?

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These imbalances bleed over into every aspect of academic life. In fact, you’ll find most of the time that language teaching is a heavily female field, whether you’re studying with a one-on-one tutor or pursuing it in university. While it’s hard to determine exactly why this is, some point to the possibility that women are better at learning languages than men in the first place. Science, to some extent, agrees with this premise. Research has shown that a woman’s brain will display more activity in the area responsible for language encoding and she is more likely to use a wider variety of study methods and engage more skills than her male counterpart. This same study revealed that most men need visual or oral reinforcement to learn and are less likely to put themselves out there to speak with a native. Of course, these are generalizations and not everyone is alike, but could also explain why most language teachers tend to be women – as science shows they are more likely to excel at a task like language learning.

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Another reason for why there are greater numbers of female teachers than males stems back to our long, rather male-dominated history. Back in the 1960s when women finally started entering the workforce in greater numbers, teaching and nursing were amongst the few professions available to them. In fact, my mother was still restricted by these norms when she decided to attend university. She was told she could do one of two things: be a teacher or be a nurse, and she chose nursing because she loved science. The teaching profession therefore became known as a female dominated field and for too long was considered a job mainly for women. This has a detrimental effect on the male mentality because, with so few men in teaching, other men are less likely to view it as a viable career choice. Thankfully, this mentality is slowly changing.

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Still, some modern (and rather questionable) methods are prone to force language teachers into gender boxes. Perhaps one of the most outlandish is this TV show which has naked models teaching English. Once you look past the difficulties of trying to retain any information while watching a beautiful woman strip, you can’t help but notice the blatant sexism running amok in a show which, let’s face it, is geared mainly towards heterosexual men. The profession has been horribly gendered with this technique of hot women being the only ones teaching (and stripping). What about the rest of us? Aren’t we deserving of perhaps having a good-looking naked guy try to teach us a foreign language? Apparently not, since the realms of naked language instruction are reserved primarily for women.

Gender bias is a very serious thing, whether we’re talking about teachers or students. Indeed, stereotypes which portray women as better at language learning and the arts while men succeed in math and sciences should go the way of most of our outdated thoughts of yesteryear. Teaching should be hearkened as a noble profession for both men and women and language learning attainable to anyone regardless of gender. We’ve made great leaps in recent years as universities have seen a greater number of women going into what were once considered male-dominated careers. Perhaps though, we can hope to close the gap in the other direction as well and will someday see a record number of men choosing to study languages and go on to become teachers and instructors.