Sister Act: Mudança de Hábito

I have a confession to make.

But first, some background: as a gander around most teacher rooms or ELT conference audiences will quickly show us, language teaching is eminently a female profession. The British Council reports that 81% of English language teachers in the Brazilian public school system are women, and the Brazilian Ministry of Education (MEC) registers 82% of female teachers in regular education in general (including other subject-matters). Yet that proportion is not felt to be as large when it comes to higher ranks in our career, or at least it’s not so in the U.S. and in the U.K., countries which keep track of those statistics*.

If this sounds like something you’re already acutely aware of, good, I won’t hammer the point home. This text is for you, who, regardless of your gender identity, also believe that the scenario described in the previous paragraph is unfair.

To you, feminist colleague (may I call you a feminist?), I confess: I don’t always act as though I wanted that scenario to change. Or rather, that behavior doesn’t come naturally to me. Twice in the past month I caught myself inadvertently doing things that go against my outspoken beliefs.

For the sake of brevity, let me tell you only one of the stories. A school owner publicly asked for recommendations of teacher trainers who could deliver workshops on pronunciation.

Try this exercise: what names spring to mind when you read that?

Now analyze your mental list: did it have by any chance only or mostly names of men?

To be honest, I thought of 2 men, great professionals who I also have the luck to count as friends. So no problem, right? They’re professionals I trust, so I should recommend them with no qualms. And I do: I’ve always recommended them and I always will. They’ve paid their dues and deserve to be recommended far and wide, high and low, no doubt about it.

I was about to press enter when I did a double take, “Mmm, where are the women on my list?” It dawned on me that another great friend of mine has been delivering pronunciation workshops for as long as I can remember, with every bit as much success as the men I had thought of. In fact she holds an M.A. with a thesis on the topic! After that, I thought of my name. Yes, I managed to forget my own name. But ok, let’s chalk that up to impostor syndrome or whatnot: two men, two women, I pressed “send”. That’s when I thought of Catarina Pontes, who needs no introduction, but let us just remind ourselves she’s recently been invited by IATEFL Pronunciation SIG to present there. At least two great professionals live a stone’s throw away from me, yet they have been recognized by people on the other side of the ocean before my allegedly feminist brain thought of them.

I was glad nobody could see me going through that process (well, now you know, thanks to a BRAZ-TESOL Voices board member who suggested I write about what happened), but I must admit I was a bit cross with myself. How come I hadn’t thought of them right off the bat? How can I call myself a feminist and overlook great professionals every bit as deserving as the men I thought of?

Well, I blame habit, a cultural habit, if you will, the habit of not considering gender equality an issue we need to address. However, if we do believe that men and women deserve equal chances, we need to shirk that habit as soon as possible.

For that, I believe step one would be to start questioning ourselves. It’s not that we shouldn’t recommend the many fantastic male professionals, nor that we should recommend women who are not as good – honestly, to me that goes without saying, but you’d be surprised how many people misunderstand when we say these things. So let me restate the obvious: those who are great professionals should be recommended regardless of what gender they perform in the world. It’s just that we need to start questioning our biases, “Ok, brain, in a profession with 80% of women, are there really no women (or even better, are there not as many women) that are just as good as these men, so I can recommend them as well?”

I seriously doubt the answer will be no. For most cases, at least.

Maybe, if we start forcing ourselves to think of women (not instead, but as well), it will become a new habit, a more equitable habit that we can be proud of. So I call for a change habit, a “Mudança de Hábito”, just like the title of that famous Whoopi Goldberg movie.

By the way, do you remember what that movie is called in English?

“Sister Act.”

As I can’t resist a good pun (or a bad one for that matter), may our new habit be to act towards including our sisters.



*Thank you, Bruna Caltabiano, for pointing me to the data in her wonderful session at IATEFL 2018.

Natália Guerreiro

Natália Guerreiro has been a teacher since the year 2000 and currently works in Aviation English assessment and teaching for the Brazilian Air Force. She holds a CELTA, a B.A. in English & Portuguese from UFRJ, and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Melbourne. She's been elected BRAZ-TESOL's Second Vice President for the 2019-2020 term.

  • Catarina Pontes
    Catarina Pontes
    Posted at 17:12h, 28 junho Responder

    Natália dearest,
    only now have I read this post of yours and felt truly honored by your mentioning my name!
    Thank you so much for thinking of me (though not t first! hahaha), and let’s get our act together! 😉

    • Natália Guerreiro
      Natália Guerreiro
      Posted at 23:27h, 28 junho Responder

      I’m working on retrieving great female names like yours as quickly as I do that of men’s. Please be patient. I’ll get there eventually. =)

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