Podcast: Discrimination in ESL - Sexism and Homophobia

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We know about discrimination against non-native teachers, but what about other kinds of discrimination? We welcome back Jessica Keller and David Tait to talk about their experiences with discrimination in ESL

Us with Jessica

Us with Jessica

Ross and David Tait

Ross and David Tait

Transcript - Discrimination in ESL Sexism and Homophobia [with Jessica Keller and David Tait]

Tracy:  Hello, everyone. Welcome to our podcast. Today, we've got two special guests. One is Jessica Keller, who has been working in recruiting for more than 15 years.

Ross Thorburn:  We talked to Jessica ‑‑ I guess a lot of it's you, as well, Tracy ‑‑ about sexism in TEFL.

Tracy:  Yep, and another one is?

Ross:  David Tait. David's a published poet, an author, and works as an ESL writing teacher in China. David is talking about homophobia, and neither Jessica nor Tracy nor David, their examples of people they mention are about their current colleagues.

Sexism in ESL

Ross: I'm a man. As far as I know, I'm often surprised when both of you tell me about sexist things that happen at work. Before, I always used to think of sexism as someone low‑balled your pay, or they didn't give you a promotion because you're a woman.

From what both of you have told me over the years, a lot of it's just people treating you differently or condescending to you or being more aggressive towards you. That's something that's completely new to me. It would be super interesting to get just one or two examples of things that happen and one or two examples of what you do as women, obviously, to get around that.

Jessica Keller:  I think about how people speak to you like you're a child. Someone I've worked with before, definitely. Every time he speaks with me, when he asks, for example, very specific things. It's not open‑ended like, "What do you think about this?" It's more of yes or no questions.

Tracy:  Like this person is control the conversation?

Jessica:  Mm‑hmm.

Tracy:  Yeah.

Jessica:  Definitely speaks in a pitch also. That's very talking down like you're either...I don't want to say younger, but it does appear more of like talking to someone who's lesser than intelligent as this guy is. It makes you want to really get out of the conversation as quickly as possible.

Tracy:  It's quite interesting. This is like male colleagues or whoever talking to the female colleagues. I heard from my alpha male colleague, actually, it's the way around. It used to be a female colleague and she speaks the way that you described earlier to the male colleague.

Ross:  Oh, really?

Tracy:  Apparently, this still bothers the male colleague so much.

Ross:  Wow.

Tracy:  Yeah.

Ross:  How can you tell with these that the person is doing it because they're sexist?

Jessica:  I can't say for all certainty that somebody does something just because of gender roles, but I do feel there's a number of people. The one that I was talking about is very different with male colleagues, right?

Ross:  Oh, OK. You can observe those other interactions that...

Jessica:  Yeah. How you communicate with people is so ingrained. Who knows what people's early family life is, what learned communication they have.

Tracy:  But for me, I probably have the same proposal and just approach to either the manager or the colleagues. They're male. It's just within the short period of time so these ideas have been delivered again, again, again to the same person, same way.

I'm just by myself. I've just never been accepted. One day, I somehow changed my mind. "OK, I'm going to ask one of my male colleague to go to this conversation we're meeting, and then to have the same proposal and see how it going to change." The result is interesting.

Ross:  Would the person accept the proposal?

Tracy:  Accept it. Yes, and happily accept it.

Jessica:  Well, that's a lot more hard evidence.


Jessica:  That's the thing I was talking about because that's pretty cut and dry. That's a really good example, for that reason.

Tracy:  Also, another thing is the language. If I'm using my first language, it's difficult for me to let people accept my idea. If I'm speaking English, the possibility is a lot higher. That depends on what first language the person you are talking to. For me, I use English, because I feel it's better because the person I'm talking to first language is not English.

Ross:  You're saying you almost carve out some advantage for yourself because you can show your superiority in English?

Tracy:  Yeah.

Ross:  That's one strategy that you've developed with, I presume, male Chinese managers.

Tracy:  For sure.

Jessica:  I think just being confident, not backing down and not being afraid of the label of being bitchy.


Jessica:  Which is what comes along with being confident in a business environment for women.

Tracy:  Another thing is because still a lot of people, they have that concept of you're a lady. You probably are too emotional. That's why if you have this opportunity to present yourself, please make sure we're not being emotional. We give a lot of facts. We do contribute. That's the great opportunity to change people's impression of you, especially in the professional context.

Ross:  I don't know, but I would guess, with a lot of other cognitive biases probably where you think that is, there's a lot of men that are not aware that they are sexist. What tips do you have for men to be less sexist or to be aware, maybe, of when they could be perceived as being sexist?

Jessica:  That's very easy for me.


Jessica:  I would say just don't dominate every conversation.

Tracy:  My advice is please use appropriate name or title, how you call the person or how you call the lady. At least in China, in a lot of companies, older male managers likes to call female colleagues or younger female colleagues like, "Oh, you're a little girl."

Jessica:  I was just thinking something like when people say, "Oh, that's cute," or something like that.

Tracy:  Yeah.

Jessica:  Like that type of...I don't think they mean it as demeaning, but it still comes across as...because they wouldn't say that to another guy.


Tracy:  Yeah.

Jessica:  At least on most circumstances...


Homophobia in ESL

Ross:  Hello again, David Tait.

David Tait:  Hello, Ross.

Ross:  David, you've just written your book, which is called...?

David:  It's called the "AQI."

Ross:  Which is about?

David:  It's all about...a lot of stuff about living within contemporary China, a little bit of stuff about air pollution, and also quite a lot about homophobia as well.

Ross:  Great. I thought we could ask you about homophobia and some of your experiences with that since we're looking at different types of discrimination. This is one of the least talked about and yes, some of your personal experiences, if you'd like to share them, and advice for people that might be in the position of being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

David:  Yeah, sure. I'm not particularly excited by my sexuality. It is what it is. I've been out since I was 16. I'm 32 now. I've been out more than half my life. It's not a big deal. When I came to China, at first I thought it would be a big deal and then I met people that are like, "Hello!"


David:  OK. It is a thing. It's one of those strange things whereby if I sound gay, and I'm very open about it, then I think it's acceptable by virtue of me being a relatively confident white male.

I think it's much harder for people that are lesbian. It's really hard for local people to say it, particularly. They can become quite discriminating against you in the workplace because of it and not taken seriously.

I know people who've been gay, been openly gay and working with young learners. This is a really thorny issue at the moment.

I know somebody who's a teacher of young learners, who was very open at first about being gay, and parents would complain that it's not appropriate for their child to be studying with LGBT teachers because he was very open about it.

Ross:  Can I ask you to go back? What did he do? Do you have any advice for people in that situation?

David:  He didn't do anything. He just was in the teachers' office and said, "Yeah, I'm gay," did a normal teaching job. For some reason, I don't know why, somebody in the teaching office spread some rumors or talked about that. It became common knowledge among people wider than the teachers' office. Then it became a problem because parents complained.

Ross:  Did he still keep his job?

David:  I think he decided to leave.

Ross:  That's pretty unfortunate when it gets to that.

David:  Yeah.

Ross:  Did he regret that decision to be so open?

David:  It made him think twice about it in the future. You'll find that there are a lot of people that don't...I'm gay and I'm very open about it. Anyone who cares to listen to this will know it. If you didn't know it, I'm terribly sorry.


David:  It's one of those things where you can be quite open about it, but you don't need to talk about it or feel the need to talk about it. Quite often, I find myself...if students ask me, "Do you have a girlfriend?" rather than saying, "No, I'm gay," I would just say, "Oh, I don't." I don't do that for any sense of shame.

It's just to keep things simple, but there is a bit of a needle that lies in there. Why can't somebody just say, "Actually, I don't like girls very much"? Fortunately, for the most expats and indeed most locals, who go into teaching, I would say, are relatively liberal, relatively open‑minded people.

You'll get some conservative people. You'll get some very conservative people, but on the whole, most people are quite chilled out. The fact that they've moved to the other side of the world to experience another culture suggests that they're quite open‑minded so somebody saying, "I'm gay," isn't a big deal.

You will get situations whereby, actually, that can be seen as being a big deal and some fuss can be made over that.

Ross:  As someone who's moved from a bit more open society to a less liberal society, what advice would you have for someone who is LGBT moving to either China or to somewhere else that might not be as open as what they're used to?

David:  My advice will always be, "Be yourself." Who else are you going to be? Ultimately, you're going to potentially have people who will discriminate against you but you're also going to have a lot of people that don't. Most people are good at heart.

It's really tough, as well, for me to answer that question, because I can't answer that question for all the LGBT people and the experiences they've had. For me, for instance, I'm, ultimately, somebody who a lot of people will know me for a while and they would say, "Oh, I didn't know you were gay."

I wonder if that has an impact on the way that I am discriminated against compared to some friends who are, quite obviously, in that person's eyes, gay, who say, "Oh yeah, that is a gay person. That is what a gay person is."

There's always going to be discrimination. Unfortunately, if you're moving to a place with less liberal, more conservative values, you're going to run the risk of more discrimination. There's always going to be good people. Particularly, if you're moving to China, rest assured there are lots of gay people here.


David:  So, good.


David:  I should also say, as well, one thing to definitely include would be, because of my personality and assuredness, I suppose, I don't particularly have much time for people being homophobic towards me. In that respect, I've been quite lucky in that people haven't given me much of a hard time but homophobia definitely exists within the industry.

It's often quite shameful. I don't really think it has much of a place. It's something we should all be considerate of and make sure that we, ourselves, are not affected by it.


Discrimination in ESL

Tracy:  This is one sensitive topic and maybe people get really offended, or they feel really unhappy, or they feel uncomfortable when they're talking about it. I really appreciate Jessica and Dave. They're very open‑minded and willing to share how they experience in their life.

Ross:  Yeah, I think we're all aware of, for example, some of the discrimination that happens in TEFL, for example, for "non‑native" English teachers. Maybe we don't talk enough about some other forms of discrimination. If any of you have been through anything like that and you want to share your experience or your advice, then please leave us a comment.

Tracy:  Mm‑hmm. Bye!

Ross:  Bye, everyone! Thanks for listening.