School teachers should not refer to pupils as “girls” or “ladies” because it constantly reminds students of their gender, according to one of Britain’s most powerful mental health commentators.
Natasha Devon, the UK government’s former mental health tsar, said she would “never walk into a room in an-all girls’ school” and call students “girls” or “ladies” because she believes it is “patronising”, and the same should apply to male students.
Her comments will come as a surprise to anyone who went to a girls’ school or college in past, when it was common to be referred to as girls or ladies. It is, however, one of the many recent pronouncements designed to overturn old habits that are now deemed damaging, such as the recent warning from the Girl Scouts that youngsters shouldn’t be forced to embrace relatives at festive occasions.
It’s also part of the larger ‘gender-neutral’ debate, which has seen calls for school toilets that don’t require students to identify as either male or female, and criticism over the teaching of ‘gender fluidity’ .
According to The Telegraph, Devon told the Girls’ Schools Association’s annual conference in Manchester, ““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.”
She said that rather than addressing children as “boys” or “girls”, teachers should use gender-neutral terms like “pupils”, “student” or “people”.
“I think actually in some ways boys are more constrained by the expectation of their gender,” The Telegraph reported Devon as adding. “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.”
She went on to say that using the term “girls” or “ladies” could evoke a sense that they have to do everything perfectly, which can “create a lot of anxiety” in children later on.
Meanwhile, the term “boys” carried connotations of “being macho, not talking about your feelings, being told to man up”.
Devon noted that another reason to not use gendered terms was because some students may be transgender.
“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.”