“Man up” and other gendered terms being banned in UK schools

And today in Awesome Things That Are Happening, sexist and gendered terms are being banned from every school in England as of this Tuesday. That’s right — if a child says something like “man up,” “sissy,” or “you throw like a girl,” and a senior teacher overhears, they are in some big trouble indeed. In fact, senior teachers are being named “gender champions” to stamp out such gendered language and stereotypes.

The guidelines — which were promoted by the Department of Education and drawn up by the Institute of Physics, a London-based scientific charity that works to advance physics education — aims to nip outdated gender roles in the bud. “The government is backing this,” the Institute’s Professor Peter Main told The Sunday Times. “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.”

Head teachers are being urged to take sexist language as seriously as racist language, and some schools are even creating squads of volunteer students to watch out for sexist language and report back.

“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.”

The teachers named “gender champions” are also tasked with encouraging more girls to take traditionally male-oriented subjects such as economics, physics, and computer science, while urging more boys to take traditionally “female” subjects like literature, psychology, and foreign languages. As The Telegraph notes, boys are twice as likely to study mathematics, three times as likely to study further mathematics, and more than four times as likely to take A-level physics as girls are; twice as many girls studied English A-level as boys last year, while 70% of psychology A-level students were female. This issue is thought to be a partial root of the pay gap.

“[British girls] who take physics are sometimes described as ‘lesbians’ and boys who take languages as ‘sissy’,” Dame Barbara Stocking told The Sunday Times.

It may seem like an extreme move to opponents of the ban, but something like systemic sexism is insidious, creeping in through tiny words and phrases. “Even low-level comments are potentially an issue with teachers using phrases such as ‘man up’,” Clare Thomson of the Institute of Physics, who helped to draw up the guidelines, told The Sunday Times.

Words are powerful, and it’s time we started taking sexism seriously, starting from a young age. Teaching our children these important lessons is an essential first step to making the world a better place. Let’s make this a worldwide thing, shall we?

Related reading: 

Sometimes we say sexist things without even realizing it

Sexist Internet terms we should eliminate ASAP

(Image via YouTube)

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