This article presents data from a series of life-history interviews with female student teachers of physical education. The intention is to forge links between the experiences of female student teachers, and their 'gender positioning' within the micro-politics of teacher education and the wider discourse that informs these interactions. On first entering teaching these women tended to adopt or enter 'survival mode', which endorsed particular professional identities that were consolidated by a form of instrumental rationality. These professional identities were closely tied to conventional conceptions of masculinity, and legitimated and contributed to, the reinforcement of particular gender inequalities in teacher education. The analysis suggests that a liberal discourse of equal opportunities masks the institutionalisation of social 'otherness' and inequality and supports the 'essentialisation' of male and female identities.