Headteachers in the UK have been told not to refer to female pupils as “girls” or “ladies” because it means they are “constantly reminded of their gender”.
The Government’s former mental health tsar Natasha Devon said teachers should be using gender-neutral language when addressing their students. She added that the same rules should apply when addressing male pupils.
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The Telegraph reports: Speaking at the Girls’ School Association’s annual conference in Manchester, she said that she would “never walk into a room in an-all girls’ school and say girls or ladies” because it was “patronising”.
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She added: “I don’t think it is useful to be constantly reminded of your gender all the time and all the stereotypes that go with it.”
Ms Devon said that rather than addressing children as “boys” or “girls”, teachers should use gender-neutral terms such as “pupils”, “students” or “people”.
“I think actually in some ways boys are more constrained by the expectation of their gender,” she said. “And whilst that is being challenged and changed I don’t think it’s helpful to keep saying ‘girls, girls, girls, boys, boys, boys’, because there is so much implication that potentially goes with that.”
Ms Devon said that using the term “girls” can evoke a sense that they have to do everything perfectly which can “create a lot of anxiety” in children and teenagers.
Meanwhile, the term “boys” carries connotations of “being macho, not talking about your feelings, being told to man up”.
She told headteachers: “If your narrative is saying girls don’t get angry, or boys don’t cry, or girls aren’t allowed to do this, or boys aren’t allowed to do this, then that is potentially going to have an impact on your well-being.
“So I hope that in taking away the negative stereotypes associated with gender, we can ultimately improve their mental health.”
Ms Devon said that another reason not to use gendered terms like girls or boys is because there may be transgender people in the room.
“There are some schools I go into that are single-sex schools, but there are transgender students in the year,” she said. “You can’t presume that because somebody presents as a gender that that’s what they are.”