Schools in the UK are aiming to challenge gender stereotypes through appointing ‘gender champion’ senior teachers.
Sexists words and phrases such as ‘man up’ and ‘sissy’ are among the banned words teachers will flag as inappropriate for students as young as five years old. The guidelines issued by the Department for Education have been created by the Institute of Physics and, among other goals, aim to get more girls to choose subjects traditionally preferred by male students and to get male students choose subjects considered ‘female’ such as literature and psychology, Metro reports.
The appointed ‘gender champions’ will help promote subjects such as science, math, engineering and technology to female students and help male students realize it’s not a taboo to study literature, languages and psychology. The goal is to instill in children as early as kindergarten gender-blind education viewpoints and ensure students do not choose education based on their gender and what’s considered the social norm.
Janice Callow, a Deputy Principal at Fairfields High School in Bristol, emphasized the power of teachers’ words on students, according to The Telegraph:
“We used to say ‘Man up, cupcake’. We’ve stopped that. Language is a very powerful tool. You have to be so conscious of what you are saying to children.”
For Dame Barbara Stocking of the girls-only Murray Edwards College, the initiative is much welcome as it will challenge gender stereotypes. She explains according to the Daily Mail:
“Girls who take physics are sometimes described as ‘lesbians’ and boys who take languages ‘sissy’.”
The Institute of Physics ran a pilot program in schools, and their findings suggest a comprehensive use of oppressive language in schools. A link between oppressive language and GCSE subject decision was found, with girls choosing traditionally ‘female’ GCSE subjects where sexist language was prevalent, Sarkis Zeronian of Breitbart writes.
The gender divide is especially evident at the GCSE and A level exams in physics and other traditionally male-dominated subjects. As the Telegraph and Helena Horton reported in 2011, only 19% of female students earned an A* in their GCSE physics compared to almost 50% of male students.
Comparatively, 7 out of 10 GCSE/A-level psychology students are girls, while for every one male student, two females take the A-level English language exam.
Peter Main, an Institute of Physics professor, said that sexist language in schools should be taken seriously because it substantially affects students. He told the Sunday Times:
“The government is backing this. 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.”