I’m sure whilst attending primary or secondary school we have all come across the phrases “man-up”, “stop being a sissy”, “you’re acting like a girl” and so on. There is no denying that these forms of expression are deprecating towards most individuals, regardless of gender, and also incline young people to adhere to gender binaries. Such culturally embedded and confining phraseology doesn’t necessarily encourage children and young adults to explore their identity and embrace every pathway along which their brains and sense of self could potentially take them.
Our time within education is vital and essential to who we become as adults and our educational institutions have the power to mould us into specific types of people. If we embrace these discriminatory terms as children, the likelihood is that as we grow older these phrases will become our subconscious views and attitudes towards gender, not only tainting our views of acceptable behaviour but also limiting us as individuals. This language hinders us from discovering what unique gifts we can give society: we won’t allow ourselves to experiment with behaviours identified as non-binary and which do not conform to gender expectations.
Perhaps this is why new guidelines regarding sexist comments are being sent to schools all around England. These new guidelines will assign certain senior teachers as “gender champions” in order to tackle this problem specifically in school playgrounds where the majority of these problematic terms are being used. Gender champions will attempt to eradicate the use of what the government has described as “low-level comments” and which it believes are part of the reason why females feel discouraged from doing stereotypically male subjects such as science and economics and males from doing stereotypically ‘female’ subjects such as English and Psychology.
Despite the fact that many individuals may see this intervention as rather unnecessary, pretentious and overreacting, we cannot keep pretending that gender inequality doesn’t exist in this country. Women are still, on average, paid 15% less then men and that figure increases dramatically when we take in to account such factors as race and class. Gender inequality is a systematic problem which has seeped through our cultural institutions for hundreds of years and has caused patriarchal control to be mistaken as something which is natural, instinctive and accepted.
This misconception creates inequalities that do nothing but harm our cultural environment, our expectations of one another and not to mention our sense of self-worth. Imagine what we could achieve if we allowed people to embrace any gift they feel their identity has to give, without the fear of breaking societal rules and being subject to ridicule and deprecation. If we can teach children from a young age that frivolous, throw-away, sexist comments are actually incredibly harmful to our environment and individual development, our society can become a prosperous place to be.
For once, these new educational guidelines are actually inciting something which provides children with more freedom when compared to previous changes which have enforced categorisation and limitation for the youth. Let’s make the most of this and encourage the children of this country to respect individual identities regardless of gender, because let’s face it: they are the future.