'Man up' and other gendered terms are no longer allowed in English schools

Oct 20, 2015 at 1:59 p.m. ET
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From today on, several sexist and gendered terms are banned in every school in England, meaning there will be repercussions if a child is heard using the phrase "man up", or "you throw like a girl".

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To ensure kids abide by the new rules, senior teachers are being appointed "gender champions". Some schools even have groups of students volunteering to listen out for sexist language and report it.

This is great news, unless you're a misogynist, or too dim to understand how powerful an impact even the most simple of language can have on young kids.

The guidelines, "Opening Doors: A guide to good practice in countering gender stereotyping in schools", were promoted by the Department of Education and put together by the Institute of Physics (a London-based scientific charity that promotes physical education). The IOP's Professor Peter Main told The Sunday Times that they have the government's full support: "They have told us to send our good practice guide to every school in the country. Sexist language has a considerable impact, but in our research we found that it was often dismissed as just banter and was much more common than teachers were aware of."

"We have always had clear policies on racist language but now we are making it clear to staff that any kind of sexist language is not acceptable," Janice Callow, deputy head of one of the pilot schools, told The Sunday Times. "We used to say, 'Man up, cupcake'. We've stopped that. Saying, 'Don't be a girl', to a boy if they are being a bit wet is also unacceptable. Language is a very powerful tool. You have to be so conscious of what you are saying to children."

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Opponents of the new rules have blasted them for being too extreme, or for putting unreasonable pressure on young children who may not have any understanding of the implication behind the words they use.

But this is surely the whole point? It's our responsibility to teach our kids, from a young age, how the words they use can affect others. My son goes to art classes (and loves them). If anyone within earshot of me called him a "sissy" for doing so, I'd come down on them like a ton of bricks (or a mother scorned, which is the same thing). Likewise, if my daughter were told by a group of kids that she couldn't play football because she's a girl, I'd have plenty to say about that.

Why should it be any different in school? Our children spend the majority of their waking hours in the school environment, being influenced and guided by teachers and their peers. They shouldn't be subjected to any kind of prejudice or stereotyping, which includes systemic sexism, because the effects can be far-reaching.

"[British girls] who take physics are sometimes described as 'lesbians' and boys who take languages as 'sissy'," Dame Barbara Stocking told The Sunday Times. Is it a coincidence that boys are more than four times as likely to take A-level physics as girls are? Or that twice as many girls studied English A-level as boys last year?

It may be too late to encourage some people to drop gendered, sexist language. One comment on this topic popped up on my Facebook feed from an adult male: "Whoever came up with these guidelines needs to take their tampon out". Which shows what we are up against. And, perhaps, gives us a new phrase to be added to the list of banned ones? Just a thought.

Ultimately if, as some people say, using these phrases is "no big deal", then why is it such a big deal to stop?

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