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The commonsense approach is under threat amid an increasing eagerness to take offence where none is meant

By Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 24/06/2016

Eilis O’Hanlon
Eilis O’Hanlon

Remember girl power? It was all the rage a while back. Those members of the population who are not of the male persuasion were encouraged to be loud and proud and celebrate the fact - and rightly so.

Suddenly now they're not supposed to use the word 'girl' at all. The Girls' Schools Association, which represents many top independent establishments across the UK, including Belfast's own Victoria College, has written to members advising them to say "pupil" or "student" in future instead of "girl" in order to avoid upsetting those who may be transgender, "particularly when transgender pupils are present".

Only an insensitive oaf would deliberately use the word "girl" when describing someone who doesn't think that they are one.

Calling people by the names that they themselves prefer is just good manners. But that's quite different from trying to slap a blanket ban on certain words to avoid problems that are only ever going to arise in the rarest of situations.

It's neither unreasonable nor unkind for a speaker to assume that the pupils at a girls school are girls. In almost all circumstances, they are, and it does no good to encourage the tiny few who believe that they were born in the "wrong" body to feel personally affronted when, as part of some group to which they belong at that moment, they're collectively addressed as one thing rather than another.

However, that commonsense approach is under threat these days as people become increasingly eager to take offence where none is meant.

The English language has become their favourite battleground, and one consequence of aggressively policing it in this way is that we'll soon be so scared of saying the wrong thing that we eventually decide the safest policy is not to say anything at all.

There's always someone ready to be outraged, after all, either on their own or someone else's behalf.

I even know some women (or am I not allowed to call them that either?) who get irritated when mixed-sex groups are summoned together as "lads" or "guys", as they often are.

My response is always to say that it's just an expression, and the same goes when teachers at a girls school say "come on, girls, it's time for chemistry" or "walk in single file, ladies". No harm is meant in either case, so why react as if it is?

This hypersensitivity will be our undoing, and the absurdity of it is nowhere greater than in the fact that this latest example comes from an organisation called the Girls' Schools Association. If they're that bothered by the word are they going to change their own name too?

Belfast Telegraph

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