A woman’s voice is a powerful thing. Let’s listen to it

After some reflection last night I wanted to make a couple of things clear. I love Primary Rocks. It’s a great organisation and it’s done so much for Edutwitter. It has helped to improve me as a teacher. I appreciate the hard work that the organisers put into the event every year. I know it can’t be an easy task. I’ve been very excited for months as some of my friends on here can attest to! 

As some of you may know a debate has been taking place over the last couple of days around female keynote speakers at the event or lack thereof. Some feel that this isn’t an issue as there is an even split of female and male speakers. 

A 50/50 split is great and should be applauded. It makes my heart happy to know so many incredible women that I admire are speaking at the conference. It’s important to remember, however, that keynote speakers are a separate issue. 

The challenge towards the lack of female keynote speakers isn’t supposed to insult the organisers or how hard they have worked. For me personally it isn’t an expectation that things will change for this event either. It’s a legitimate query that I hope the organisers will take onboard for next year when they look for keynote speakers. There are wonderful organisations out there like WomensEd which can help. 

A keynote speaker is the most important speaker at a conference. It’s a title that holds prestige. It can be the selling point of the day. The lack of female keynotes (at any conference) sends a subtle message that women are not good enough to fill this role. I have found some of the responses to this legitimate criticism disheartening. 

A prominent male tweeter called the people questioning the line up a deplorable word that I won’t repeat here. He did this merely because they spoke out. He went on to say they need to get a life and stop whinging. Is abuse okay because people are asking questions? Would we allow that of the children we teach? What message does that send to women who might have been thinking of commenting? It certainly made me want to take a step back. I didn’t want to be subject to such public abuse because my opinion differed to his. 

One of the event organisers said that women would drop out/there were no women he knew of that could fulfil the role. As a woman I find that utterly heartbreaking. Why would a woman drop out? Why wouldn’t a man drop out? Is there really not a single woman you could think of that might be a suitable keynote? Again, what does that say to women? To me, it says I’m thought of as lesser. Someone who is weaker. Someone who isn’t up to the challenge of being the face of the conference. 

These are the messages women are often told. It’s one of the reasons we do see such a dominance of male speakers at conferences in general. Primary Rocks has been held to a high standard because it is a brilliant organisation and people like myself trust it to do the right thing. This isn’t something that is specific to primary education, this is a problem worldwide: 

https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2015/07/countering-gender-bias-conferences

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/09/30/success/women-representation-panels/index.html

http://theconversation.com/race-and-gender-still-an-issue-at-academic-conferences-92588

I’ve had many conversations with Pran Patel (@Mrpranpatel) about the issues surrounding BAME representation at conferences (which is a separate issue and deserves its own blog post) but I did want to talk about my initial reaction to his points as I feel people have a similar reaction to the issue of female representation. 

At first I felt defensive. I don’t feel that way! That’s not me! I’m a good white person! But I quickly realised after some thoughtful and patient conversations with Pran that my privilege has meant it’s not something I’ve ever really considered. It wasn’t something I’d  thought about from the perspective of a BAME person. I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening around me because I was in my own liberal white bubble. I needed to be better and I’m still trying to be better. 

We as educators need to be better because we are teaching the future generation. I don’t know about you but I want the children I teach to belong to a society that values every single member equally regardless of skin colour, how they identify or sexual orientation. In order to show we value everyone we need to represent everyone at all levels. Lots of female speakers at a conference is great. Female keynote speakers would be even better. We are improving but we’re not there yet. 

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