Will feminism change ELT?

The word feminism is not new, though the understanding of the concept seems to have changed. We shifted from the image of women burning bras in the 60’s to the powerful image of the most recent Women’s March in the United States and in other countries demanding equal rights. I emphasise the word equal and quote the Brazilian philosopher Mario Sergio Cortella in a video snippet that went viral some time ago. In this snippet[1] he briefly and eloquently explains why feminism is not the opposite of machismo. However, despite the fact that our understanding of feminism has deepened in recent years, have women’s demands really been taken into consideration? And what has feminism got to do with ELT?

A very simplified analysis comparing women in the 60’s and now will show that women have always wanted to be respected for who they are, i.e. equal to men. They want to be heard and to see their ideas and opinions, their qualifications and talents, be given the same weight as men’s. They don’t want society to be condescending or patronising. In alignment with these demands we have seen the rise and strengthening of groups whose objective is to support women in the ELT environment, such as The Fair List[2], which aims at encouraging a proportionate number of women as plenary speakers; the Facebook group Women in ELT through which women from all over the world, who play different roles such as teachers, editors, writers, trainers and so on discuss the numerous challenges women face in this and other professional field; and the recently-launched BRAZ-TESOL SIG called Voices, the whole board of which is composed of women and which fosters discussion about gender equality in ELT. In short, it seems to me that women are about to break the first barrier as far as ‘topics to be avoided in class’ are concerned, the so called PARSNIPs (P = Politics; A = Alcohol; R = Religion; S = Sex; N = Narcotics; I = –isms, as in communism; P = Pork).

I’ve written about taboo topics in this blog before[3] and feminism, as you can see, falls into one of the PARSNIP categories, but this topic has become far too relevant to be ignored in the classroom. Feminism, I believe, is here to stay and its impact, although still timid, can be noticed if you look at course books, for instance. In the contexts and situations proposed in course books nowadays, it’s much more common to see women as protagonists and successful professionals and not only as successful mothers and wives as they were depicted in a not very distant past. We know, nevertheless, that there is still a lot to be done. Domestic violence, particularly violence against women, despite its relevance, is hardly ever approached in ELT materials, except for books which meet the requirements of the PNLD[4].

The appearance of feminism as a topic and of gender equality as a whole may not be frequent enough in ELT and I think that we, as ELT professionals, have to keep insisting on having more women as plenary speakers, authors, editors and in other key roles. As the name of the new BRAZ-TESOL SIG suggests, women have voices and we want to be heard!




[4] Programa Nacional do Livro Didático.


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Elaine Hodgson is a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer, as well as a supervisor on the Distance MA in TEFL at Birmingham University (UK). She holds an MA from UECE and a PhD from UFC in Applied Linguistics. You can read more about her work at Email:

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