It’s a curious but not unexpected phenomenon that when you talk about Speech-Language Pathologists/Therapists (SLP’s/SLT’s) there’s a markedness component to the word . If you want to talk about gender in relation to SLP’s, the feature [+male] is actually the marked version i.e. you talk either about “SLP’s” or “male SLP’s” – you never say “female SLP.” It’s also a well-established fact that men in SLP are almost as rare as hen’s teeth or unicorns – as some of the folks on Twitter’s #slpeeps hashtag call them. In a recent paper, Litosseliti and Leadbetter (2013) cite studies that suggest that in 1999, 1.9% of UK speech therapists were male (Sheridan, 1999), and six years later, this had shot up to a stunning… 2.5% (McKinson, 2005). In 2010, ASHA reported that 4.1% of the workforce was male, and a 2012 study had Australian males accounting for 3.0%.
Clearly there’s a significant lack of testosterone in the profession and trying to encourage more dudes to become Speechies appears to be an uphill struggle. The McKinson article lists five reasons why men are turned off by this career:
- Lack of awareness of speech and language therapy among boys
- Historically seen as a profession with low pay and costly training
- Perceived poor working conditions. Seen as a role with little opportunity for advancement and under-recognition of achievements. Lack of respect from within employing organizations
- Perceived female stereotype
- Working with children and communication seen as “feminine”
Among the suggested solutions were to (a) re-brand the image so as to counter the feminine stereotypes and (b) provide more positive images of male SLP’s in the media. Well, the Dudes are certainly not stereotypical and our blog counts as a “media outlet” so here’s our pitch for why guys should consider being Speech and Language Pathologists.
7: You Can Pee Standing Up – Anywhere
Conferences and symposiums are great places to learn new stuff, meet new people, and drink obscene amounts of coffee. Of course, the latter has the well-known physiological effect of causing your bladder to swell to the size of the Montgolfier brothers’ balloon, necessitating the need for a trip to the bathroom. Great news! There’s never a line. Even at the ASHA Convention where the organizers re-label 90% of the facilities, the chances of your getting stuck in a queue are less than the Pope’s chances of hitting it off with Angelina Jolie.
Although most of us are fully aware that the phrase “adult male” is an oxymoron, at least as a Speechie guys can not only legitimately play with toys and read kids books but claim tax back on any purchases. You want a remote-controlled robot? Just call it a “language stimulation device” and the IRS will believe you. Need to add a Kinect to your Xbox? No problem if you can argue it’s a “gesturo-motor development enhancer” with a straight face. And running a weekend camp for kids with communication disorders gives you carte blanche to stock up on Super Soakers (TM) and run around like a mad thing squirting anyone who happens to be within range – kiddos included. So anyone with Peter Pan syndrome can safely channel it by becoming an SLP.
5. You Get To Dress and Look Good
Let’s face it: if you’re going to spend 100% of your working life surrounded by women, it’s inevitable that they are going to help you look your best. Your female colleagues are doing their damnedest to be seen as intelligent, creative professionals and don’t want guys who dress and look as if they’ve just had an argument with a hedge trimmer after completing an oil change on their truck. If you take just a moment to listen (I know, that’s not a natural male behavior) they will be happy to tell you whether you look OK and after a year or so on interacting with them, you might not necessarily be ready for the cover of GQ but at least you won’t a candidate for a full-page spread on the “People of Walmart” website.
4. You Get To Appear Smart With Your Non-SLP Peers
Provided you actually listened to all those lectures about phonetics, phonology, syntax, and semantics, you are uniquely equipped to expound on something that every one of your peers has some vague knowledge about: language. And I say “vague” because as we know, there’s a world of difference between using language and knowing about language. Explaining to someone how stress patterns turn the noun “PERvert” into the verb “perVERT” or that “beer” and “bier” are called homophones can make you seem like a college professor – unless you ARE a college professor, in which case this is just called “showing off.”
3. You Get To Use Cool Technology
When I graduated back in the 80’s (that’s 1980’s, not 1880’s) the most sophisticated technology I had was a typewriter, and the only time a phone was mobile was when you dropped it off a table. But now a Speechie can find himself getting to use lots and lots of amazing hardware and software, along with the ability to communicate live with colleagues all over the world – and in real-time . The rate of technological change is now such that there’s always something new to be looking at, playing with, and eventually buying. And as with toys, you can get the tax folks to give you a break on your latest object of desire.
2. You Can Actually Make Money At This Job
According to the 2011 US Census, the median wage is $26,695. The median salary for a Speech Pathologist was $69,100. Although many of us become Speechies because there’s no significant math skills required, it’s not rocket science to see that if $69K is the median, it’s possible to get higher if you’re willing to work hard and charge for your services. And sure, you may not start at the median, but given time, you’re not going to be living in a cardboard box and dumpster diving by the time you hit 35. A six-figure salary may well be in the cards, which means you can get that convertible (or motorcycle) and live a little. Hey, we’re dudes, ain’t we?
1. You Get To Be Surrounded By Women – And That Will Drive Your Non-SLP Friends Crazy
Men being men, they see no problem with spending time in the company of women. That’s not sexist, that’s biology. Women are, after all, incredibly interesting. Men can be reduced to three motivators; Food, money, and sex. All a woman has to do to understand a man is work out which of these is likely to be motivating a guy at any particular time and you have him pretty much sewn up. Women, on the other hand, have emotional and psychological depth, which is why they are more fascinating than men. But being in the company of women helps you become a more socially rounded person because you do, after all, get to experience – if only vicariously – the “view from the other side” that many blokes who work with other blokes never see.
So there you have it. Forget the “twin set and pearls” of the past and let the Speech Dudes be 21st century role models. We’re looking to do for the profession of Speech Pathology what the guys at Top Gear have done for cars . Or what Anthony Bourdain has done for cooking. Feel free to pass the URL for this article to vocational guidance counselors and careers teachers across the globe. And if producers at The Learning Channel are looking for a new “reality show,” we’re just the guys to take it on.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2010, Highlights and Trends: ASHA Counts for Year End 2010 (available at: http://www.asha.org uploadedFiles/2010-Member-Counts.pdf).
Litosseliti, L., & Leadbeater, C. (2013). Speech and language therapy/pathology: perspectives on a gendered profession. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 48(1), 90-101
McKinson, F., 2007, Why do men become speech and language therapists? RCSLT Bulletin, April, 12–14.
Sheridan, J., 1999, A career in speech and language therapy: for white women only? RCSLT Bulletin, February, 9.
Speech Pathology Australia, 2012, Real Men Do Speech Pathology
(available at: http://www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au/
 ‘Markedness’ refers to an asymmetry relation between elements of linguistic or conceptual structure. In a marked-unmarked relation, one term of an opposition is taken to be the dominant one while the other is regarded as secondary. The dominant term is known as unmarked and the secondary one is marked. In the case of “speech pathologist,” the word is semantically unmarked for [female], which is why we add the word “male” to create the marked form, “male SLP.”
 Although “real-time” communication is indeed possible, it’s important to remember that we live on a big ball and that your buddy in Australia or New Zealand is 12 hours away, so a “real-time” call at 3:00 in the afternoon might not be appreciated. Now matter how slick the technology gets, time zones will continue to bemuse us all – until someone invents a Tardis…
 Fans of Top Gear can follow the link below to take a quiz and find out which of the Top Gear presenters you are most like.
For those curious, I came out as Jeremy Clarkson – so no surprise there then!