We must not change the meaning of the words ‘boys’ and ‘girls’

Yet more advice to schools to stop using the words ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ has been issued, this time from Natasha Devon, a former government mental health adviser. According to Devon it is “important for ‘heteronormative assumption’ not to filter down into language and behaviour in schools.” She explained:

“To give you an example, I never walk into a room in an all girls’ school and say ‘girls’ or ‘ladies’ because it is patronising, but also because there might be transgender people in the room. 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.”

As with all recent ‘gender neutral’ initiatives in schools, we cannot unpick the meaning and potential impact of policies unless we have a clear definition and understanding of the word ‘gender’ as distinct from the word ‘sex.’ When these two words get rolled into one we end up with so-called ‘gender neutral’ policies which have nothing to do with ‘gender’ and everything to do with ‘sex’ – ‘gender neutral’ toilets for example. Toilets have never had a role to play in breaking down gender stereotypes, they are simply an acknowledgment that biological sex differences between boys and girls necessitate privacy for both sexes.

Evidence from Sweden indicates that gender neutral school policies have two positive outcomes: that children are less likely to be bound by stereotypes and boys and girls are more likely to play with each other. However, according to the linked study, children are not “less likely to notice another person’s gender.” It may be markers of gender which provide the clues, but it is a person’s sex we are primed to notice; recognising a person’s sex is so important our ‘primitive’ brains work on automatic to make sure that we do, without any effort from us. This is not a negative outcome of gender neutral policies. It is not biology we want to eradicate but the limiting stereotypes associated with each sex.

What about the evidence for the use of the words ‘boys’ and ‘girls’? We are aware of the studies of ‘stereotype threat’ where women’s scores on Maths tests were found to be lower if they were reminded that they were female just before taking the test, for example by ticking a M / F box, although the evidence is not clear in the case of schoolgirls. The question is, would limiting our use of the word ‘girl’ help in this case?

There is no evidence that it would. Any initiatives designed to tackle gender stereotyping depend on the use of the words ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ otherwise how do we know who those gender stereotypes are being applied to? How do we know which people are expected to be tough and who are the ones expected to be passive?

The words ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ do not denote ‘gender’ they denote ‘sex’, boys are young human males and girls are young human females. The words themselves make no judgments. If we uncouple those words from biological reality and redefine them as inner subjective states, it is no longer possible to distinguish between boys and girls or talk about gender stereotyping in any meaningful way.

To use the word ‘girls’ is not patronising. To use the words ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ is not ‘heteronormative.’ The words exist outside our sexualities, our personalities and our ‘gender’, to limit their use is to suggest that these things are inextricably linked and more importantly it passes that message on to children.

Once again the advice has been issued to the Girls Schools Association at their national conference, just as it was last time when it was Gendered Intelligence telling girls’ schools head teachers to limit their use of the word ‘girls.’ Why on earth would you stop using the word ‘girls’ at an all girls’ school? Surely if you want girls to feel good about themselves they should absolutely not be taught that the word itself may be triggering for some people, that it may cause offence? We want girls to feel proud to be girls, not to feel that they have to be careful with the word and tip-toe around it in case using it hurts other people’s feelings.

The only reason to give this advice to the Girls Schools Association is in case there are some girls present who ‘identify’ as boys. In which case, the school is in danger of validating the idea that girls and boys are not young human females and young human males but identities, identities which are invariably informed by the very stereotypes they are purporting to tackle.

As over 70% of adolescents being referred to gender clinics are girls, girls’ schools have a special responsibility to look at what is going on in the world of teenage girls and investigate a little further. Otherwise they risk inadvertently reinforcing the messages girls are imbibing online which are persuading them in the first place that they must be boys if they don’t fit the ‘correct’ gender stereotype – messages from the world of trans and identity politics whose speciality lies in the conflation of the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender.’

Are the girls who are suffering real dysphoria actually asking for this consideration of their feelings? Certainly the other girls will know what is happening: the lesson is that when there are trans people around, we don’t mention the word ‘girl.’ If you don’t know whether there are any trans people present, probably best not to mention it at all, just in case. So girls are trained into giving up their word, to see it as a kind of shape-shifting essence which may dissolve and reform in unexpected places, attached to no definable meaning or tangible reality.

Natasha Devon makes the claim that “ultimately this is beneficial to everyone.” No, it’s not. It is not beneficial to girls to be made to unwittingly collude in severing the connection between ‘girl’ and ‘the female sex’ and thus stripping the word ‘girl’ itself of all meaning.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Scout Thornton

    Every girls school should have a copy of Kate T Parker’s book ‘Strong is the New Pretty’. The photos of confident, adventurous, independent girls say it all.
    Try telling the girls in this life affirming book that the word girl should be used less frequently, that’s if you can catch their attention when they’re having such great lives being GIRLS!!!!!!! Yea!

  2. Lucymarie Ruth

    Very straightforward and to the point. Thanks for sticking up for sanity. I may be transgender, but I haven’t succumbed to losing my integrity by swallowing the propaganda of the trans activists.

    1. Lucymarie Ruth

      I should have used the word “transsexual” rather than “transgender”. Sorry. That’s just an indication of how ubiquitous and effective the propaganda can be. (And I should mention that no one can change sex regardless of surgeries and hormones and whatever. One can only very much chronically want to be the sex that one is not. But I can live as much as possible as the sex I am not. It’s a useful legal fiction for me. But legal or not, that doesn’t change who I am.)

  3. Suzi

    VERY interesting to hear this….I’m alarmed by the percentage of girls seeking redefinition. Ok I’m no expert on the subject and science of transgender adolescents, however I have a transgender ftm 18 yrs old so I’m supporting this precious human bean best I agree that stripping a girl of her title is NOT HEALTHY for the status of women in general *my interpretation of the article. We need to continue to empower our daughters to live as equally valid and an intrinsically important part of community. Womanhood is not a dirty title. It is a royal and dignified crown she wears, when she is taught so.

  4. E

    “He who shall not be named!”… “Voldemort”! Or in this case, women and girls.

  5. sally jarvis

    How long before we will be called transphobes just for not being trans identifying ourselves? When I decided not to send my daughter to school because she and I felt she wasn’t ready, her friend’s mother was very offended and stated that she felt my decision as a personal criticism because she then knew I disagreed with her sending her child to school. (I didn’t) People are strange…

    1. Scout Thornton

      When I delayed sending my daughter to school for a whole term, I got exactly the same reaction. I knew I was right and stuck to my guns, not easy in today’s conforming, bandwagon world.
      How long before we hear the mantra:
      ‘There’s nothing wrong with being trans’
      coming from the mouths of the lefty leftists who care nothing for evolutionary psychology, evidence or the damage to the young.

      1. sally jarvis

        Indeed. Sad to say I’ve always thought of myself as a “lefty”, having not really educated myself in politics and really just identifying with the side I thought prioritised people and services over personal greed, but if the left wasn’t always “loony” it sure is now.

  6. May Loo

    Why is this a problem? Most people are heteronormative!

  7. Sharon

    I have always found these new trends at once confusing and contraditory. On the one hand, there’s the narrative that there’s no difference at all between male and female. That women can do everything men can do, and vice versa. That gender is a social construct. Yet the very same people who propgate that message seem to be the very once who are pro-trans, supportive of transitioning, etc etc. If they could only get their besaic message straight it might be a help. Personally, I do believe there are differences, yet first of all we are all human and that should be our primary identity. I was born in the 50’s and was a typical tomboy; I despised girl games, clothes, dolls etc, and was the opposite of girly. Yet I grew up to be all-woman; fell in love with men, married, had children, and loved being a woman. I am still not feminine in the usual sense: I have no fashion sense, never wear makeup, have basically three pairs of shoes, and so on. I guess you would call that gender-neutral. But why can’t a gender-neutral person feel at ease in their body, love the things it can do such as give birth and nourish a child, and be softer, gentler, less abrasive and “masculine” in everyday life?

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