According to the UK Department for Education’s (DfE) former mental health advisor Natasha Devon, we should all be using gender-neutral language when talking to children, and teachers should “never walk into a room in an-all girls’ school and say girls or ladies” because to do so is “patronising.” Yes, believe it or not readers, Ms. Devon (whose TV interview I watched…open-mouthed) told a Girls’ Association’s annual conference in Manchester that rather than addressing children as “boys” or “girls,” teachers should instead use gender-neutral terms such as “pupils,” “students” or “people.”
Oh give me a break will ya love…sorry neutrally-gendered person! And by the way, if this is the level of advice you’re dishing out, I’m no longer wondering why you were let go after only nine months in the job!
Now, in the interest of balance here, (and while I do think, given her questionable viewpoints, of which she is entitled, Ms. Devon’s grasp of biology is highly questionable), I can also fully understand that some students may be transgender, or may wish to self-define as neither gender, as in they’re gender-nonbinary, and we must absolutely empathise and strongly advocate for an all-inclusive and equal environment for everyone. And I do. But OMG, if this terminology is now set to become part of the new school and workplace vocabulary, then I’m afraid many, including myself, are going to struggle, and I’m kinda glad I’m no longer an education officer working in secondary schools because I’d be petrified I’d offend anyone.
You see readers, while feminine and masculine pronouns have always been used, it now appears (if we are to believe Ms. Devon), they carry oppressive connotations leading to people’s mental health being “damaged,” as well as promoting negative stereotyping that can cause anxiety. Okay, as a journalist and an experienced training facilitator, I’ve always worked hard to broaden my language and keep it as neutral, and as respectful, as humanely possible. However, here’s the thing, on a personal level, what do I do when I’m wrapping my granddaughter’s (sorry Natasha, grandperson’s) Christmas presents? I mean, should I rip up the cute pink ‘girly’ Disney princess gift boxes I’ve specially sourced for her and instead cover her presents in dull, neutral, insipid grey paper as an acceptable alternative? I mean, I don’t wish to blur the PC lines here. Nor do I wish to “damage” my granddaughter-non-specific-person’s mental health by creating future narratives and ideas around her gender and the way in which she feels about herself as an individual… now do I? Oh well, I’ll just add this to my list of ‘reasons to be confused,’ and move on.
Sleep well Biddy, you will be deeply missed
I was saddened to hear of the passing of one of Ireland’s TV favourites Biddy White Lennon aka Maggie from RTE’s The Riordans. It was back in 2009 that I had the absolute pleasure of working briefly with Biddy, whom I found to be a warm, friendly and very funny and entertaining lady. I was working on RTE’s The Afternoon Show and I interviewed Biddy for a guest appearance where we featured an entertainment segment reviewing the TV documentary ‘Tea, Taboos and Tractors’ which marked the 30-year absence of the then iconic show; which, even though it has been credited with making rural Ireland sexy, was unceremoniously axed by RTE, causing a nationwide outcry back then.
Biddy – who was also a founding member of the Irish Food Writer’s Guild – and myself had previously enjoyed a bit of good-humoured banter and history together, when, as a writer for the Evening Herald one of the many roles I had back then was to strive to capture the dining and travel experiences of my readers, and deliver a fair and honest review of my findings when visiting hotels, gastro pubs, restaurants, cafes and eateries, etc. Yeah, I was also once a food and restaurant critic…but I digress. At the time, myself and Biddy would have enjoyed a good old laugh about her now famous and most controversial episode of The Riordans, i.e. ‘the contraception dilemma,’ when her character Maggie went on the pill for ‘medical’ reasons as she (Maggie) was advised not to have any more children with screen hubby Benjy.
This particular cutting-edge episode of The Riordans unleashed a critical backlash from the ‘family values’ brigade. It also, in my opinion, positively pushed an agenda that highlighted the conflict between so-called traditional Catholic Ireland with the liberal ideas being bandied about by those of us living up in the big shmoke. Indeed when I viewed this very episode in the RTE archive’s editing suite, (I didn’t see the original back in the day because I was only a little nipper), I came to my own personal conclusion that this particular piece of writing and acting singlehandedly raised awareness of the social injustice being faced by Irish women back then; and I suddenly realised just how important this series was to viewers of my parents’ generation. May the ground-breaking, much-loved, respected and very beautiful Biddy White Lennon rest in peace. She will be deeply missed and I feel privileged to have made her acquaintance.