Why girly swots roc - but the phrase, does not

November 19

Why girly swots rock…but the phrase, does not

As Vice President of the Girls’ Schools Association, Head of an all-girls school, and a passionate advocate of girls’ education generally, I was unimpressed to see that our current Prime Minister has recently, and indeed historically, used the term ‘girly swot’. This kind of lazy throw away put down represents the sort of ‘banter’ that schools are educating their students not to use; in this case it underlies attitudes that the ‘everyday sexism’ project did so much last year to call out. 

Sadly, Boris is not alone: his comment is, unfortunately, a disturbing reflection about how intelligence in women is viewed by large swathes of society. I have known girls to hide their intellectual potential because they are worried that by being smart they will be deemed less attractive by boys and potentially isolated by their own female peer group. How frustrating to be sitting in a class where you know every answer and have the capability to be challenged more by your teacher but you sit quietly, hoping that by being silent no one will work out that you are actually one of the bright kids? 

Since when did it become a bad thing to be clever, or indeed a clever girl who works hard? Surely for our country’s economy and prosperity it can only be a good thing to encourage all of our young people to work hard, to not mock people for being bright and aspiring – especially our girls – and to try and dispel these antiquated notions that clever girls who like to read, or are good at maths are actually simply rather dull or boring swots. 

So why is this such an issue for girls in our society? Because as a woman in today’s society sadly there are still unacceptable levels of bias that need to be addressed in order to stop limiting 50% of our population.

Women in our society are not only to be viewed and valued as relational i.e. as our mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends and friends, but also as stand-alone entities - the doctors, teachers, academics, nurses, engineers, managers and leaders, today, and of the future. We have worked hard to deserve more respect from our political leaders and senior figures, and it is a sad reflection that these feeble, but dangerous, insults are still being widely and indiscriminately used. The effect, whether intended or not, gives permission to try and limit and suppress the potential that so many of us have which, if influenced by this kind of bias, may never be realised.

Charlotte Avery

Headmistress of St Mary’s School, Cambridge



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