Chairman, Chairwoman, Chair?

Britain is a country full of foibles, idiosyncrasies and outright bizarre behavior. Not just to the outside world, you understand. Sometimes, stuff that goes on in one part of the country bamboozles people who live in another part. Take a browse through these articles and learn more about what makes the Brits tick.


Chairman, Chairwoman or Chair? The Weighty Issue of Gender-Specific Language

The debate rages on. Yet this problematic word derives from history when the male of the highest status would be seated for weighty debates. The remainder of the elders would stand, thus signifying the seated male’s importance. Yes, the word “chairman” means seniority. It means importance. It means twiddle yer forelock, unworthy wretches. It means – bloke!  Women just didn’t hack it as decision-makers in those bad old days.

“Chairman” means, literally, “man of the chair.”  And today, as Lesley Bates, “Chair” of the University of the Third Age, Parbold, Newburgh, and District, points out, “The problem is clearly the use of the term “chair” whether it precedes a gender term or not. Given that the importance of seating in relation to rank is now almost defunct, is it not time to get rid of the term and start to use more apt terms, such as “president”?” Plenty of choices, right?

Sue Howard, Chair of Leicester U3A, is happy with just using the word “chair” rather than being gender-specific. She says that roles in society change and language changes, and we cannot stop that.  The University should recognize the contribution that everyone makes, regardless of gender. Well. there always are more ways to climb a mountain, aren’t there?

But Alan James of Tameside, disagrees with both women, maintaining: “There is no reason why it should be changed for the sex of the person carrying the post.”  He continues, “My wife has, for about 40 years, been the chairman of the church organization known as the 70 Club.” I wonder what his wife might say if she spoke for herself.

Another male opinion came from Martin Wright of Sale U3A, who points out that the majority of those defending the use of “Chairman” were men, and only women opposed the practice. Well, Mr. Wright, not surprising really, eh?  Still, to be fair he does have a point: “Many years ago this issue came up in the organization where I worked. My initial view was sympathetic to the women raising it, but I felt it was unimportant.”  So different from China, but that’s the way it just is.

The main point from Mr. Wright’s viewpoint at that time was how many women were in the role, not what they were called. But later, seeing the vehemence of the men who were opposed to non-sexist terms, he changed his mind and supported the feminist viewpoint. Read also this post about single women taking it back to the workplace.

Last word to Keith Richards of North London U3A. His friend’s University had recently elected a ChairBEING. But, to be fair, it was rather appropriate as the Chairbeing was to preside over the Science Fiction Society.