On International Women’s Day 2021 we celebrate the word ‘girl’. We are watching as the word ‘woman’ is being erased and replaced with the more ‘inclusive’ spelling ‘womxn’, the gender neutral ‘person’ or demeaning and dehumanising terms such as ‘uterus haver’ or ‘menstruator.’ We don’t want to see the same happen to the word girl.
‘Girl’ means a female child from birth to adulthood. That’s it, that’s the dictionary definition. Nothing subjective, nothing about personality or an inner feeling, just the simple fact of your biological sex. A girl, by definition, is female. Girls need to know that more than ever today when they are being told that some girls have a penis and that they themselves might really be boys if their behaviour and interests stray too far outside the pink girl box.
It is especially important now that schools are urged to adopt ‘gender neutral’ language and avoid the word ‘girl’ altogether.
Let’s look at some examples over the past few years.
“Try to avoid making distinctions between boys and girls. For example, don’t separate boys and girls for activities or use language such as ‘boys and girls.’” (Getting Started, Primary Schools, 2016, p. 33)
Stonewall here employs their usual strategy of beginning with something uncontentious (although this is not the 1950’s, schools really don’t split girls and boys into woodwork and domestic science anymore) and then extend it to their real agenda – in this case erasing the terms girls and boys. Except that we all know which of those two words will be erased and which one won’t.
The most sinister aspect of this is the way it is being pushed on girls’ schools, but not boys’ schools. In 2016 Gendered Intelligence was invited to address a Girls Schools Association (GSA) conference for head teachers. The Telegraph reported:
“Teachers at girls’ schools should consider addressing their charges simply as “pupils” or “students” rather than girls, to be more inclusive to transgender children, leading headmistresses have suggested.
Caroline Jordan, president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), said that, in some circumstances, staff should use gender-neutral language.
Some single-sex schools have already adopted more neutral language in situations such as assemblies and others are considering doing so, said Mrs Jordan, who is headmistress of Headington School in Oxford.
Her remarks were echoed by Ena Harrop, head of City of London School for Girls, who said that her staff took a similar approach if there were transgender pupils in the audience.”
She added: “Where relevant to the audience, in assemblies, for example, instead of saying ‘Girls, go to lessons,’ staff should consider saying ‘Pupils, go to lessons’ or ‘Students, go to lessons.’
“Every year there are more and more young people posing questions around their gender identity. I do not want anyone to think that girls’ or boys’ schools are invested in one way of being a girl or one way of being a boy.”
Mrs Harrop said: “We are trying to replace the word girls with students or pupils, when transgender pupils are present and where relevant to the audience.”
At the time we wrote:
“That there is only one way of being a girl is exactly what you are invested in if you are suggesting that going too far outside that gender box makes you a boy. “Being a boy” is not one way of being a girl as she suggests, it is the opposite sex category. By this statement she implies that the word “girl” itself is a personality type; that by saying “girls” everyone understands that you mean a certain type of person.
“Girl” is not a subjective idea, it is a fact and it means “young female.” To give girls the idea that it means anything else restricts ALL girls in their idea of themselves as people. Are there no adults left who are prepared to critically examine this new hypothesis of gender and realise how damaging it is for girls to be defined as a ‘gender identity’ rather than as a sex?
Who is going to defend the word “girl” in its true meaning if not the president of the Girls’ Schools Association? Who is going to have the courage to say “I will not reinforce to my girls the illusion that being a certain way makes you a boy”? And who is going to refuse to give up the word that allows girls to name themselves? Taking away our language and its meaning is not a benign but a political act and no school should be inviting in political activist groups to advise them.
The fact is that girls who don’t conform to the feminine gender stereotype can find life very difficult: they are not the most popular girls in the school and society views them with suspicion and disapproval. The GSA fails in its responsibility towards all girls by buying in to this new pressure on those who don’t conform to sex-role stereotypes to redefine themselves as boys, and teachers at girls’ schools, of all people, should be resisting the sexist assumptions behind it.
There are infinite ways of being a girl, none of which tip you over into being a boy. That is the message we expect the teachers at girls’ schools to give to their pupils: be proud of being a GIRL, be yourself and don’t let anyone tell you that means you’re a boy.”
Educate and Celebrate
Also in 2016 Educate and Celebrate, funded by the Department for Education, launched their book Can I tell you about gender diversity? In the words of the publishers, this is the first book “to explain medical transitioning for children aged seven and above.”
“The story of a fictional 12 year-old girl ‘transitioning’ into a “boy” (although without the language of “girl” and “boy” we can’t really name this) suggests that diversity is not to be celebrated but medicalised by changing sex and thus replacing non-conformity to one stereotype with conformity to the opposite sex stereotype. The possibility of diversity without medication is not entertained. This is very subtle brainwashing of children that non-conformity to sex stereotypes is a problem which needs fixing, under the guise of accepting and celebrating difference.
And although biological sex is seemingly irrelevant to whether you are a girl or a boy, it is your biological sex characteristics which must be prevented from developing and then cosmetically changed into the opposite sex characteristics through synthetic cross-sex hormones for life and possible surgery (almost inevitable for girls), with infertility as collateral damage. Through its financial backing the government is helping to promote unnecessary, harmful, non-evidence-based medical intervention on the healthy bodies of children in service of an ideology which demands nothing less than we all believe that words no longer mean anything.”
“Children are being taught in schools that it’s their “gender identity” and not their biology which makes them male or female. By teaching them that this “gender identity” is their “authentic self,” disassociated from the body, we are actively training children into a state of “gender dysphoria” as the normal. What do we really expect to happen? If a girl has interests that society is already telling her are “for boys” and she learns that how she feels is the critera by which she should judge whether she’s a boy or a girl, what conclusion is she supposed to reach, other than “maybe I’m really a boy”?
No generation of children before this one has been taught an ideology in place of facts in an area so fundamental to how they understand themselves.”
In 2017 Natasha Devon, a TES columnist and regular visitor to schools, addressed Head teachers at the Girls’ School Association (GSA) conference in Manchester. She said:
“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.”
Surely the answer is to challenge and eliminate the stereotypes, not the word ‘girl’? But it seems that Head teachers at all-girls schools have jumped to obey the new dictate:
“Already some schools – like City of London Girls and Wimbledon Girls – are “leading the way” with policies that address girls as “pupils, students or people”, Ms Devon told Tes.”
As we wrote at the time:
“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.”
“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.”
“…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.”
And this is where erasure of the word ‘girl’ leads – the following are all examples from sex education resources for schools:
“Don’t forget that anyone who has a uterus may or may not have periods! This includes, but is not limited to, non-binary people, trans boys, trans men and cis women”
“Real life stories from people about what their first periods were like I’ve got information about why people get periods I don’t have a womb, so I asked people that did to tell me about how they feel.”
“How to adapt language to include menstruators of all genders in menstruation education:
Q: Does the person menstruate?
A: Yes – they are a menstruator
A: No – they are a non-menstruator
girl/woman (when meaning someone who menstruates) – menstruator
boy/man (when meaning someone who does not menstruate) – non menstruator
becoming a woman – starting puberty/growing up
feminine hygiene products – menstrual products
femcare – menstruation management
women’s health – reproductive health
“Essentially, most people with a uterus will usually experience a menstrual cycle and therefore, a wonderful period! But it’s important to say that not all women have a uterus, and not everyone with a uterus is a woman. Periods depend on anatomy, not gender. That’s why throughout this leaflet we’ll refer to ‘menstruators’ meaning everyone who menstruates.”
This is dangerous information. If a girl doesn’t start her periods it may be indication that there is a serious health problem. In this case a girl may believe that she is just one of the ‘non-menstruators’ and fail to tell anyone or seek medical advice. How would a girl know if she is one of the people who has a vagina who also has a womb? This kind of language undermines girls’ right to be taught facts about themselves as the female sex, to gain understanding of their female bodies and to be given accurate information about issues which affect only women, such as menstruation and pregnancy.
This kind of language puts girls at risk and is particularly dangerous for girls with learning disabilities, neurobiological differences such as autism and those with English as a second language. Information about biological sex must be clear, factual and unambiguous.
(All examples above taken from our guide Inclusive Relationships and Sex Education in Schools, available here).
The word ‘girl’ has always been hijacked to be used in various negative ways – in the sex industry (girls girls girls!) and as a way to patronise and put down adult women.
Girl means a female child from birth to adulthood. Girlhood doesn’t last long so while you’re there, girls, claim your word, own it, make it yours. Don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed of using it for whatever reason.
To girls everywhere: the word ‘girl’ belongs to you, it is a wonderful word; embrace it, celebrate it, use it with pride and shout it out loud.
And when you grow up you will not become a menstruator or a uterus haver, you will become a woman: an adult human female.