Jenna Martin

About Jenna Martin

Jenna Martin is a writer, producer, dog lover, red wine enthusiast and author of Driving Under The Influence. (Which may or may not be based on her own life and her enthusiasm for red wine)

School bans not girls, but themselves of an opportunity

Approx Reading Time-11As it turned out a girl’s school didn’t actually ban the term “girls”, but I feel they’ve missed out on doing something important.




Sydney’s Daily Telegraph caused a bit of a stir this week with the front page of its paper: “SCHOOL BANS GIRLS”, screamed the headline.

According to Miranda Devine who first broke the story, teachers at Cheltenham Girls’ School were told not to use gender-specific terms like “ladies”, “women” and “girls” when talking to their students, and were informed that if they didn’t support Cheltenham’s LGBTI students, they wouldn’t be welcome to teach at the school.

Except…they actually weren’t.

After a few hours of madness, the school later issued a statement via Facebook saying the whole story was untrue, that “The school has not, and will not, change the way students’ gender is referred to.”

So it was all for nothing. All the huffing and puffing about imposing a homosexual agenda on poor unsuspecting students and all the protestations about free speech being under attack by an out of control Lefty mafia were entirely without merit.

And for that, I’m disappointed.

I’m disappointed that Cheltenham didn’t decide to make a stand on behalf of their students, many of whom wouldn’t care whether they were called “girls” or not, but for some of whom, I suspect, life at a gender-specific school is pretty tough.

I myself went to an all girls school, much like the one on the front page of the Tele. I wore the Panama hat and the stripy blazer. But far from some sort of Ja’mie: Private School Girl personal hell, my high school experience was okay.

I wasn’t in the cool group but I wasn’t an outcast. I was fairly academic, okay at sport, great at drama, crap at art and pretty good at debating, which in essence meant I got asked to lead group presentations but wasn’t trusted to decorate the accompanying posters. I was a bit overweight, pretty nerdy and hadn’t yet discovered hair product. But the same went for my group of friends so in a sense, we were all in it together. I’m not gay or transgender and my parents are both married so I had it pretty easy in that sense too.

But even in my relatively “normal” experience, high school was bloody hard. There were tricky friendships to navigate, teachers I didn’t like and subjects I just couldn’t conquer, despite how much I studied. All the while my body was growing in weird and embarrassing places and my brain was struggling to process all the things those new body parts were now associated with.

With nothing really holding me back, I still found school a challenge. So I can only imagine how much harder it is for all those kids dealing with so much more. Dealing with the possibility of Safe Schools being cut. Dealing with the possibility of a painful plebiscite trying to determine if their family is valid. Dealing with the terror of telling their parents they are gay. Or their name is really Simon, not Sally. And that they’re not – despite what school they go to – a girl, or a boy for that matter.

When I left high school, almost fifteen years ago, something like Safe Schools was never on the table. I honestly couldn’t say if anyone was struggling with their sexuality or gender identity, it just wasn’t something you talked about.

It fills me with hope and pride that schools are the places that they are today; places of life learning, not just academia. Fifteen years ago we were taught sex-ed, but not sexuality. We were taught self-defence, but not self-empowerment. From what I see and what I read, it’s a very different situation these days – and that can only be a good thing. Because, despite what the conservative pundits would like to think, LGBTI people aren’t actually going to go away. Pretending they don’t exist doesn’t actually make them disappear. These kids have to go to school too, struggling with all the things that your average student goes through, and then some. Many kids who are trans don’t actually want to leave their schools – and their friends – purely because they have changed gender; they simply want to feel accepted, not ostracised, because of it. Why not make it easier for them? Why not remove the pronouns, if it removes the pain?

We seem, as a nation, far too concerned about the loss of childhood innocence, forgetting that the ship actually sailed long ago. Today’s kids are decades ahead of most of us when it comes to understanding this stuff, as was seen last year when a school tried to screen Gayby Baby within class hours. A few parents whinged about it being “extra-curricular” in its subject matter and the screening got nixed, despite widespread support from all the kids to whom it was actually relevant.

Also on The Big Smoke

When I was in high school, we watched – among other things – Outbreak, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Thelma & Louise, Alien and an episode of The View. Some were relevant and some were fairly tenuously linked to our curriculum, but none were actually prescribed by the board of studies. All were watched within school hours and to my knowledge, my parents never had to grant permission for me to watch any of them. Just so we’re clear: films containing scenes of rape, murder, armed robbery, brutal misogyny, innocent kids disappearing in the bush, space mutants leaping viciously out of John Hurt’s stomach, angry American ladies yelling over the top of one another and Dustin Hoffman fighting monkeys in a hazmat suit are all kosher when it comes to in-class viewing. Gay people setting up house? No, no: that’s clearly “extra curricular”.

These outcries about how to teach sex and gender to students are never about the welfare of the students themselves. They’re about terrified grown ups not being able to face that the times, they are a’changin’. These kids are so much smarter, more sensitive and more in tune with these issues than their parents are, so why are we insulting their intelligence? Thankfully, pretty soon they’ll be out there in the world, calling the shots, calling for real, administrative change. I can’t wait to see it.

But first, we owe it to them to get them through high school safely.

LGBTI kids are telling us that they’re struggling. They’re telling us that they’re targeted, that they’re depressed, that they’re suicidal. So why aren’t we making it easier? Why are we putting up obstacles and telling them that who they are, who they love or who their parents love isn’t acceptable?

Dropping the “girls” from Cheltenham – or the “girls” or “boys” from any other school – will have zero impact on any adult parent or teacher. Regardless, it’s not about them. And it’ll have zero impact on the vast majority of students who grow up associating with the gender they were assigned at birth. But for those who don’t, dropping that tiny pronoun might mean the world of difference.


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