Gendered phrases in sport

The incident discussed last week served to remind me of the frequent and casual nature of homophobic comments in general and in school communities more widely. Many Games teachers traditionally include the phrases ‘man up’, ‘don’t be such a girl’ and ‘stop being such a pansy’ in their vocabulary, though thankfully this practice is rapidly on the decline.

I have encountered an Outdoor Pursuits department where the phrase ‘scout up’ has come into common practice as an alternative to ‘man up’, for when people need to grit their teeth and push on through hardship. My favourite alternative to this one is ‘fortify!’, which has the beautiful combination of being both eccentric and non-gendered.

Equally, in pastoral care for schools, few gendered or sexualised insults would be tolerated if reported by parents on behalf of the affected children. Yet these comments and phrases remain common among children in the playground and online. This is just one example of language codifying prejudice and gender inequality, and must be discouraged whenever encountered, especially among young people, in order for it to die out of use.

One somewhat more tricky aspect of this codified language is phrases used commonly on the playing field featuring gender but without the same inherent prejudice. It is very usual for the teammates of a player about to be tackled by an opposition player to shout ‘man on’ to alert them to this fact. This happens regardless of the gender of the persons being tackled or tackling, and it is difficult to envision a quicker phrase given the need for quick communication: ‘person on’, ‘player on’, or ‘woman on’ are all an extra syllable in length.

In a lot of sporting terminology, there are easy alternatives; for instance, in cricket, the term ‘batsman’ is fairly easy to replace with ‘batter’, an equally short phrase which can apply to people of any gender. With a phrase like ‘man on’, time is of the essence and there are precious few alternatives to use in the same context. New language can come into play, but takes time to reach recognition, let alone common usage.

Questions arising from this week – which phrases are commonly used in your sporting circles that you find problematic or outright offensive? How do you tackle this, either in actuality or in theory?


4 thoughts on “Gendered phrases in sport

  1. My editor over at Blue Blue News also linked the following video to the article, which discusses the phrase ‘Like a girl’ as used in sport. There are some problems with reclaiming the phrase due to the word ‘girl’ (as opposed to woman) but it does make some valuable observations:


  2. In my soccer league we often (but not always) say “on you!” instead of “man on!” although I don’t think anyone thought of it deliberately as a non-gendered term (we are a co-ed league, though).


  3. Pingback: Is there any basis for the use of the genderless pronoun ‘they’? – Batting for Both Teams

  4. Pingback: Gendering the Laws – Batting for Both Teams

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