Headteachers warned calling female pupils ‘girls’ or ‘ladies’ could cause anxiety

Natasha Devon
Calling female pupils ‘girls’ or ‘ladies’ could cause anxiety, according to the Government’s former mental health champion Natasha Devon.

Speaking at the Girls’ School Association annual conference, Devon said staff should be conscious to only use gender-neutral language when addressing pupils.

Devon told the audience that she believes it is ‘patronising’ to walk into an all girls’ school and say ‘girls or ladies’, and said the same rules apply when speaking to male pupils.

She said: “I think actually in some ways boys are more constrained by the expectation of their gender,”

“And whilst that is being challenged and changed I don’t think it’s helpful to keep saying ‘girls, girls, girls, boys, boys, boys’, because there is so much implication that potentially goes with that.”

Ms Devon said that using the term “girls” could make girls feel like they have to do everything perfectly which could “create a lot of anxiety”.

The term “boys” could carry connotations of “being macho, not talking about your feelings, being told to man up”.

She addressed headteachers: “If your narrative is saying girls don’t get angry, or boys don’t cry, or girls aren’t allowed to do this, or boys aren’t allowed to do this, then that is potentially going to have an impact on your well-being.

“So I hope that in taking away the negative stereotypes associated with gender, we can ultimately improve their mental health.”

Ms Devon said also explained that using the terms girls and boys could be harmful to transgender students.

“There are some schools I go into that are single-sex schools, but there are transgender students in the year,” she said.

“You can’t presume that because somebody presents as a gender that that’s what they are.”

Writing for Tes on Thursday, Devon said her words from the conference were ‘wilfully misinterpreted’, and she has received death threats as a consequence.

She reiterated her point that her suggestions were not ‘legal policy’ and that she wasn’t trying to stop girls from being called girls, and vice versa.

“I never insinuated that, if you’re speaking to an individual who you know is a girl and likes being a girl you shouldn’t be allowed to call that girl a ‘girl’.”

“Neither was I saying, as seemed to have been inexplicably gleaned in some camps, that all children who have interests and hobbies which fall outside of the prescribed gender norms are transgender.”

“It’s also important not to conflate biological sex and gender. Your sex lives between your legs, your gender between your ears.”

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