Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Gendered language

 When I encounter the word ‘gender’ I think of male or female in a biological way. I also think of softness and a hardness (not sure how to describe what feels a sub-conscious, inbuilt impression…) influenced by pink and blue - possibly due to seeing this linked with gender discussions on Twitter - and minimally, gender stereotype roles/appearances of men and women. That’s my current underlying stereotype of the word gender. Those impressions above, whether I want to agree with them or not, are the ‘baggage’ I bring to my view of gender, men and women. Having thought about it, I feel a bit embarrassed or ashamed that my unbridled impressions are so cliché and predictable. From the words I’m writing, people could probably make several inferences based on that peeping view into my consciousness, but those inferences would be informed as much by a reader’s stereotype as mine; without dialogue, meaning can only be constructed by the ‘consumer’.

The current language discussion taking place is based on sex-based social structures and the notion that some words are masculine or feminine. Although heated and sometimes unpleasant, there are some really interesting conversations around the theme. For me, what’s missing from these discussions is recognition that the purpose of language is to communicate. Words, letters, symbols - all are systems that were invented to help humans communicate with each other. The debate is focused on whether some of those words and symbols in English are male/female words but I don’t understand how this can be so when both language and the meaning given to it is fluid over time.

My understanding of language is that its meaning is constructed by the users and social contexts. For example, in my locality we are familiar with the terms bredders/bredrin, shank and peng. To shank someone is to stab them but for many the word shank could be associated with lamb and Sunday roasts, which is significantly less violent than the former (sorry, this is the main example I can think of to demonstrate what I’m trying to say). The same word has different meanings depending upon who is using it, how and on the context of the rest of the sentence. In English, I’m not sure words in isolation can be separated into masculine/feminine due to this.

 When thinking about gendered language, I think along similar lines and can’t see past language being a social construct; for me, the context of the rest of the sentence and situation determines the connotations that I attach to words such as mastery. As a female footballer I have grown up with terms such as grit, resilience, responsibility and commitment (the latter two are interesting to muse on) but within the context of female teams, leagues and the arena of higher level sport, these words do not appear as masculine to me and having asked other sporty people - limited by the bias of my network - others have said the same. For us, the terms are verbs that help describe expectations of what it means to be a sports person with an underlying implication that this is what is needed for success, regardless of gender. I’ve no degree or further reading to be able to explain why but considering the context, I think it is because those words are closely linked with my identity (and maybe the identity of anyone with a long-term involvement in sport?) so how we’ve internalised their meaning may differ to those who have not experienced a similar background. Is my personality masculine for being successful in sport? I’ve had equal success within art and writing too, does that make my personality feminine? When I see term’s like soft arts, I don’t imagine femininity but rather a spiritual, meditative space. When I see terms such as hard edged sciences, I imagine a unisex lab full of people in white coats with test tubes George’s Marvellous medicine style. I get an impression of activity and teamwork but for arts I feel it as a more solitary activity - this may be because for me, art and writing are solitary activities. My experience, without me explicitly being aware of it, probably influences my view. This is probably true of language too; our perceptions on whether a word is masculine or feminine is influenced not only by our experiences but also by society, however, how we choose to frame and create meaning from those words ultimately lies within us. With this in mind, can there be a generalisation that some words are masculine and some are feminine?

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The worlds we inhabit

We all have a crutch (some of us have several!). By crutch I'm not talking about something that helps us walk but the things in life that help us to cope; help us to function; help us to survive.

My biggest crutch is sleep. The world in my head is an addiction I can't kick - some might call it imagination, but when do you draw a line at being imaginative and using that creativity to avoid reality? Sleep is something I rely on to function - since I was a child I've napped during the day, usually with a walkman (remember those? 90's!) and some rock n roll. It still is my 'go to' place. Perhaps it's a way of literally shutting the world out as head phones are on and eyes are closed, and for me, I literally hide under cover and pillows when I want to escape. Maybe there's a crossover with anxiety and this kind of infantile hiding as I have always suffered with 'fear'.

When I first entered education as a Teaching Assistant, something which struck me was how often people drink and how normalised the negative, crutch like contexts surrounding drinking are. For example, many would post on social media about a mid-week (or more) glass of wine or discuss how much they were having on a Friday night. It's with family, nobody's out binge drinking or anything so what's the issue? I feel the reasons behind why are the issue. When teachers have a tough day, the default comments I see tend to are along the lines of 'deserving a drink' or 'relaxing after a long day'. Is it not strange to think that the normalised way to relax in education is to drink? Or to consider alcohol as being earned through pressures of a tough day? I'm pretty sure education isn't the only job in which phrases like the above are used. The observation is probably more one of society in general but my experience is limited to my life and networks.

It makes me wonder why this habit has replaced things such as walking (with a friend?) talking (with a friend?) or doing something to relieve tension like swimming/sport - I would say sex but that can be a crutch for some too! I've used alcohol as an example but I know from current experience gambling is becoming a favoured option for men - I used to be very close to a gambling addict and have met several others during the last 12 months who are in the throws of the same addiction. Is it strange to think that there are addicts in schools?
 By addicts I don't mean those in 'recovery' (although I'd argue it's management/awareness rather than recovery) but those who are leaning on their chosen vice to cope with reality. I find it strange. Not because society points a moral finger at addicts but because it means there are a proportion of teachers who are not coping and not able to be themselves at work which in turn means they're not getting the support necessary to develop positive mental health. This is an area SLT's and governing body's usually touch upon with 'well-being' surveys or 'working hours' feedback but the influences on mental health are much more than this.

In my opinion, culture, expectations and approachability within teams are what make the difference between a school to grow with and a school to cope in. If mental health awareness weeks and days are to have any impact, it needs to be more than a tweet or a sympathetic nod. That's the bandwagon; collective, united agreement. For mindsets around adult mental health to change - which can then also have a positive impact on children's mental health - society needs to talk honestly about the rough times as well as the high. This can only be achieved if fear of reprimand or moral judgement is lessened. SLT's and leaders need to set the tone for this yet there also needs to be space for those in senior positions to struggle sometimes too; it works both ways. Remove the pedestals and weight of authority? Focus on the fact all are human and have a place within a team - all are capable of the same weaknesses. Leaders are role models but part of that is not to offer a version of perfection - that doesn't exist - but an example of how to do a job well, sustainably and with balance. For a culture change in education, leaders must be allowed to acknowledge their human sides too and not be seen as idealised versions of themselves.

I think if people talked more about their feelings, they'd find they've a lot more in common than they think. Dark corners are only dark until they're lit; I reckon there's probably a few in each corner but everyone's unaware of each other.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

ResearchED London/Scotland presentations

Below is a link to the slides and video from the presentation in lovely London.

Below is a link to the slides and videos from the presentation in glorious Glasgow.

 Any questions of want to talk more, DM me on Twitter!