Opinion | Why Manchester University's guidelines on inclusive language may be a good example to follow

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By Dayana Soroko, Second Year, English

On Wednesday 10th March, The University of Manchester updated its inclusive language advice and sent it out to all staff to start implementing immediately. This policy means that the university now uses gender-neutral terms such as ‘guardian/parent’ and ‘you/they/them’ rather than assuming gender, amongst other suggestions.

Every person will be classed as an ‘individual’ rather than a man/woman, lecturers will be known as ‘colleagues’ rather than ladies and gentlemen/guys, and ‘partner’ rather than husband/wife.

Some publications wasted no time in critiquing the University of Manchester’s decision to change the way they address people; criticising them for giving in to the “woke brigade” to be more inclusive, and arguing that gender-neutral terms only serve to advance a ‘woke agenda’.

Despite this, the University of Manchester spokeswoman explained that the terms ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ have not been banned from campus, rather, staff have been encouraged to use more inclusive language.

As someone who has been raised by a single mother for my entire life, these guidelines are more than just a supposed performative act to be seen as progressive.

These guidelines have only come about as a result of students’ negative experiences and even trauma with the many times they had been misgendered or assumed about.

These guidelines are more than just a supposed performative act to be seen as progressive

Throughout my whole school experience, I have always been hyperaware about the language people use to define their parents - most of the time being limited to ‘mother’ and ‘father’. As a child, I of course had learnt to distinguish between the terms guardian/mother/father simply because the term father never applied to my life.

However, other children and even teachers did not. This resulted in me seeing a culture of ignorance being raised through my peers around me, when they were surprised and shocked when I told them I did not have a dad.

The embarrassment that came from having to explain why I do not have a dad, how my sister’s father had passed away, and that my dad left when I was born, at eight years old taught me to never assume a person’s situation.

I have always been hyperaware about the language people use to define their parents

When you are taught as a child to never assume another child’s situation, it teaches you to do the same in adult life, preventing many potentially traumatic conversations.

Yet, this ignorance is not only seen in children, but also in adults and worst of all teachers. My housemate, who has two mothers, mentioned she had a languages teacher once mark her down for talking about her family experience as her ‘deux meres’ as opposed to ‘ma mere et mon pere’- not from a conscious prejudice but out of the assumption that she had a mother and father.

While we can recognise that these biases are not always intentional or malicious, the fact that terms of identification can be assumed so subconsciously highlights the ignorance of their attitude.

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It is obviously tempting to play the devil’s advocate and claim to be a person of simplicity because you are not the person that gets offended.

But many people will never know what it’s like to have to explain to your friends at 10 years old why your dad left when you were born, nor will they have to correct a teacher and explain that they only have a dad and why, in the middle of class in front of everyone, they will not have to experience the strange looks you get when you correct someone in science class that your two mums will be signing the school trip permission slip instead of your mum and non-existent dad.

The inclusivity movement is not there to appear progressive and keep up with the times, it is there because of decades of hard conversations and corrections that a lot of the time start during childhood. Inclusive and gender neutral terms are there to make conversations easier, no one is stripping you of your femininity or masculinity, it is simply there to encourage us all to be a little less ignorant.

Featured Image: Unsplash / Brett Jordan


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