Tips &

Tips &

Gender neutral pronouns ; “Is ‘Ze’ just another label?”

April 2017
Janthea Brigden
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Personally, I have been a campaigner for gender equality since I started my childcare company 24 years ago – you only have to look at our logo to appreciate this – the blue side has long hair, the pink side has short spiky hair and our uniform is designed in neutral purple. (Well – it was the 90’s and quite a big statement back then!)

With my own children, I deliberately kept both my sons’ hair long, dressed them in pink and gave them dolls at a very young age along with trucks and trains and dresses to dress up in. My daughter had short hair, loved climbing and wearing superman outfits. When their genders where confused, I was gleeful. It was my own mini revolution and I delighted in it! “You can’t change the world, but you can change the world for one person.” Now, as adults, my children are totally comfortable with their gender, and tell me they never did mind being asked which gender they were.

Taking all this into consideration, I am still unclear where I stand. There seem to be many unhelpful gender specific social messages forced upon young people today, however, we are a long way from the “dolls and pink for girls -blue and trucks for boys” routine of the 90’s, that I was rebelling against!

Encouragingly, I have found that now, most early educational establishments acknowledge that individuality makes us stronger and are encouraging gender neutral play, giving children access to all opportunities and encouraging them to embrace differences.

I was recently running a crèche where the parents of children in our care asked us to address them with gender neutral pronouns.

Busily preparing for a childcare inspection, I hadn’t thought to train the staff in the use of gender free pronouns! Thankfully they rose to the challenge, but it set me thinking more about this issue.

The Non-Gender concept began in Stockholm in 1998, when an amendment to Sweden’s Education Act stipulated that all schools must work against gender stereotyping. As a result, Lotta Rajalin, the head of five state preschools for children aged one to six, introduced gender-neutral policies. In 2011 she opened Egalia (equality in Latin), a school that specialises in gender equal teaching. The school works on the idea that they are friends and a group, not separated by gender, and has seen a positive impact following this idea..My concern is that by ignoring a child’s gender, we might be in danger of suggesting (subliminally) that there is something ‘wrong’ with how we are born. From my experience, children have a need to be socially compliant, if we somehow suggest that they have a choice about gender, we could put a psychological burden on them about which parent or carer to ‘please’ with their choice. Mental health issues for children are already worryingly high – are we just adding another complication?

In my view, all labels hold humans back – they become self-fulfilling prophecies and young people labeled by adults, struggle to throw them off. The ‘clever, sensible one’ finds it hard to be anything else, for fear of letting someone down and the ‘naughty, violent one’ lives up to expectations.

It seems to me that Ze and Hir are yet more labels, meaning “young people who have not yet decided.” A third gender category.

Isn’t it better to encourage no labels at all? Shouldn’t people who cross dress be people who enjoy exploring all fashions, rather than ‘transgender’?

I’m all for extremes, if they force people to think and debate an issue. The Egalia nurseries are clearly changing perceptions in Sweden! And with British schools to be sent guides to train them in the use of alternative terms to describe sexuality and gender, I expect the debate around the use of non-gender pronouns will increase.