During many of my English-conversation classes, the topic of plane rides and travelling always comes up in many of our discussions. This means that, more often than not, I will hear my clients using the term, "stewardess".
"Then, the stewardess told me to put my seat up and get ready for lunch..."
"Oh, I see. So, the flight attendant wanted to make room for the person behind you?"
"Huh? What's flight attendant?"
I always have to remind each of my students that, these days, many native English-speakers try to avoid using gender-specific terms like stewardess or policeman. Instead, gender-neutral terms like, flight attendant and police officer are used. Why? Because woman work at these jobs too! And because some people feel that declaring their gender is not important and they wish to kept it private.
One day, a student told me:
"The waitress brought me the wrong dish and I got angry!"
"Oh, I see. So, your server mixed up your order?" I corrected.
So, which gender do you think the "server" was? Yes. The server was (most likely) a woman. We know because the student used the word "waitress". The "-ess" is called a suffix and suffixes go at the end of words.
In this case, "-ess" means "female-version of ___". So, the male is "waiter" and the female is "waitress". The male is "prince" and the female is "princess". Yet, many woman find this to be disrespectful because "princess" = "prince" + "-ess", which means the male-form is the original root of the word and it is found inside the "female-version". Notice that the word "female" has the root "-male" in it already.
So, if you use "waitress", then people will know that that person was a woman. Also, there are some people who are biologically-female, and feel they are male. This is another reason why people use gender-neutral language and terms. Some people want to keep their gender private and believe that it doesn't matter if the person is (perceived as) female or male.
Really, I believe that it is your choice which type of language to use, however, I usually use gender-neutral language because most people seem to appreciate it as respectful and because it seems to avoid conflict. :)
Here is a list of some gender-neutral terms and their antiquated pair.
fireman ---> fire fighter
waiter / waitress ---> server
stewardess / steward ---> flight attendant
salesman / saleslady ---> sales person / sales clerk
chairman ---> chairperson
councilman ---> council member
deliveryman ---> delivery person / delivery clerk
freshman ---> first year student
fellow-student ---> co-student
stock boy ---> grocery clerk
paper boy ---> paper carrier
maid / chambermaid ---> housekeeper
manpower ---> workers
mankind ---> humanity / humankind
manmade ---> handmade
house wife ---> homemaker (since men can stay home and "make the home" as their vocation)
There are many more, so stay tuned to this blog for more in the future...or just check the internet. Search keywords: gender-neutral terms / titles, etc.
Oh yeah...I forgot one more:
guys ---> folks
Hahaha....so....now you know why I made a mistake at the beginning of this blog post. At first, I said "guys", which means "males". Many people say, "guys" when they are referring to a group of people, even if there are woman in that group. Instead, I chose to say, "folks", which is an old-fashioned way of saying, "people". However, if more people begin to use this gender-neutral word...than it won't be so "old-fashioned" anymore!
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