Q: Is Google male or female?

A blog for #IWD. Punch-line at the end.

Here are some encounters or interactions I have had all in the last week. They’re not related to education. They’re just bits and pieces from day-to-day life.

The Mortgage Broker

We’ve just applied for a new mortgage. On Tuesday, my husband and I sat in front of a mortgage broker and for about the 350th time in my seven-year marriage, I had to explain that yes, we’re married but no, I don’t use his name. On anything. No, not just at work. No, not on our existing mortgage account. Yes – everywhere I go, I am Sarah Barker, exactly as I was on the day my parents named me. Some kind of comment was then made about how I ‘wear the trousers.’ When our salaries were picked apart from the joint income figure we’d provided, it became evident that I earn more than my husband. ‘I can see why you’re in charge,’ came next.

The Reclamation Yard

Here’s a sign that is for sale in a local reclamation yard. It’s yours for just £14:


Google search: ‘Removing Gloss from Spindles’

I’ve been thinking about stripping the gloss from the spindles and banister. I looked it up and Google provided me with http://www.ultimatehandyman.co.uk. Another forum user had asked a similar question to mine. The first response (you can look it up if you can’t/don’t believe me) was this:


By the way, if you’re thinking of doing the same, I wouldn’t bother. It seems to be a hell-on-earth type of task.

Language and (what feels like) everywhere

You see, both sexism and old-fashioned attitudes in humour are everywhere. It encroaches into every part of life. It’s relentless. Some of my male friends and colleagues say that they don’t notice it because they are (rarely) on the receiving end of it. Being told we’re emotional, bossy, hormonal or fierce when men are, respectively, sensitive, strong leaders, work too hard/have a lot on or powerful gets tiring. The very language we speak is entrenched with sexism. Consider these words, their implications and the feminine equivalents:


With comments and/or associations


With comments and/or associations


Especially in the US, a ‘dog’ is a man who gets the women he wants but won’t commit. It’s a compliment – an achievement, even. Some music artists use it as a name.



This is an interesting one. We’ve seen a verbing of this word. To bitch is to complain, to moan, to talk about somebody in his/her absence. Then we have the noun, which I don’t feel needs my notations here.


Associations: bachelor pad; bachelor party; single by choice; loving single life; care-free and so on.


Associations: images of somebody who is dried up; abandoned; Miss Havisham-like; left on the shelf; gone to seed.


An expert.


Associations: a nasty woman (sounds like a presidential Tweet!); evil; hateful etc.


An expert. Top of the game. Knows all there is to know.


For me, this only ever means the other woman. It’s never a positive word, is it?

This is just a sample – a rather obvious one at that. Only today, one of my pupils bought up the word pimp. In the context, she had the wrong word (An Inspector Calls, if you’re interested, when Eric describes not understanding why a woman wanted Eva/Daisy to go to the Palace Bar). She needed the word madam. Pimp/madam. Sir/madam. On it goes.

If we replicate any of these points (that is, casual comments about female earnings, throwaway remarks about women’s decisions to keep their own names, retro signs churning out the standard stereotypical ‘all women are…’ comments, responses on trade forums suggesting that wives are controlling freaks and the English language as it stands) with discrimination about another minority group, we’d quickly find that there are policies in place to counter this kind of discrimination. Not, it seems, when it comes to casual put-downs against people based on their gender.


This is actually the shortest section. My point is that sexism remains everywhere and schools are no exception.

From the curriculum, to the language used by teachers, parents and other adults, sexism continues to pervade our schools. This often manifests itself through humour, which makes it harder to challenge. I’m not sure that citing examples would support my point but I encounter it on a weekly basis. Sexist attitude have shifted massively over the past 20 years, yet adult banter seems to be exempt from this shift. Schools should be the starting point for children to go out into the world of work, free from the entrenched, oppressive attitudes of older generations. What I see is the same old perpetration of the same old attitudes towards women.

Set Texts

These are the texts that our students are required to study for English Literature. In the planning of the new specification, I gave feedback to the board on this gender balance, as well as the lack of representation of BAME writers. I was not the only one to do so, but below you can see who made the cut for one board. They only study one cluster of poems but I’ve included both choices here for clarity:


Set texts (not including the Shakespeare) for one GCSE English Literature specification.

Today, a (male) colleague asked if he could borrow a pen and somebody else commented on the fact that I ‘always have a pen.’ So when the original pen-borrower came back with ‘it’s because she’s a girl,’ I just sat there speechless. Like, what the actual…? Because everywhere I turn, even in a room of senior- and middle- leaders, this kind of casual sexism is so embedded into our discourse that I feel exhausted at trying to challenge it. When I have challenged it before, I’ve been told I’m ‘spiky’. Maybe I am. I definitely give as good as I get, I concede that. I would like to think that my humour is not based on lazy stereotypes.

End on a positive:

Yet for #IWD, I do not want to end on a complaint. I want to celebrate the progress with gender equality that’s being made across my beloved city (read about it  in this Guardian article – I am proud to work/have worked for two of these women and alongside two more), across our country (@WomenEd) and on an international scale.

Oh, I nearly forgot to give you the punch-line:

A: Female, because it doesn’t let you finish a sentence before making a suggestion. (A joke I was told last week – by a man who interrupted me to tell it).