This week newspapers published a report that “leading headmistresses” have suggested that teachers at girls’ schools should consider using gender neutral language such as “pupils” or “students” in place of “girls” in their assemblies. Their recommendation came after Gendered Intelligence, a transgender activist group which runs “trans awareness training” sessions in schools, was invited to address a Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) conference for head teachers.
Caroline Jordan, president of the GSA, said:
“In assemblies, instead of saying ‘Girls, go to lessons’, staff should consider saying ‘Pupils, go to lessons’ or ‘Students, go to lessons’. That is something our schools are thinking about and some are already doing. I feel that 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.”
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.
Anecdotally, there is a pattern emerging in girls’ schools where girls are ‘transitioning’ in clusters. Typically, one girl who decides she is a boy gets to be the only girl in the school who is allowed to wear trousers, after which two or three more girls follow suit. Faced with a child suffering genuine gender dysphoria, girls’ schools should be reviewing their uniform policy so that the girls who feel uncomfortable and restricted in skirts can choose the option of trousers. To reinforce the notion to all girls that wearing trousers is for boys (who get the special privilege of not only trouser-wearing but attending a school for girls) just reinforces the superficial gender stereotypes girls are expected to adhere to. It also makes the idea of transitioning a very attractive prospect: what girl wouldn’t consider it when they can see that it opens the door to special treatment which ordinary female trouser-enthusiasts don’t get?
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.