A digression… “What should we call a group of women?”

On 25th August 2021, our Founder Stella Sutcliffe was invited to speak on BBC Radio 4 during Women’s Hour.

The Associate Producer inviting her explained that her team had been receiving a growing number of letters and comments about marital status titles and whether or not they were really necessary.

Women were writing into the BBC in their droves, asking if the use of titles was simply an old tradition left over from, “when husbands owned their wives and when dinosaurs ruled the earth”.

One person commented, “I feel like I’m living in Austen times!” regarding requests for her title.

The following Friday, the live show aired. Stella spoke alongside our previously interviewed Amy Erickson, Professor and Reader of Feminist History at the University of Cambridge.

Woman’s Hour has a weekly listener figure of 3.7 million viewers, so this was an amazing opportunity to tell those listening on the 27th August about how the GoTitleFree™ campaign began and why we are focusing on supporting and encouraging organisations to have better business systems, and train their customer facing people more carefully.

Whilst delighted to have such a fantastic platform to speak about how unnecessary and problematic marital status title are, we were perturbed that the conversation digressed towards the question, “What should we call a group of women?”.

Having thought our part of the morning show was about marital status titles, and titles only, this was an unexpected shift in focus.

However since being drawn into the debate on Twitter, (and never being a team to shy away from a challenge!), we wanted to take a bit of responsibility and answer the question properly.

We collectively felt that a group of any sort of people are simply called “people”, so it was difficult to escape the obviousness of the answer…

Initially it felt like a trick question. As though women are a collective to be named in the same manner as a herd of elephants or a flock of geese. – Get it wrong, and they may swoop down on you in the night!

What’s definitely clear in hindsight is that there is a huge amount of nervousness around addressing people, and moreover, fear at addressing people incorrectly.

And so reflecting on our initial feelings that this is an unconnected issue to titles, we realise that there are in fact strong correlations with the marital title problem, and with our solution.

Remove the gendered element completely, and you don’t have a problem. The clue is in the group of people you’re addressing surely?

  • If you’re addressing an audience in a theatre, you could address them as ‘esteemed audience’.
  • If you’re addressing students in a school, you could address them as ‘students’.
  • If you’re a Cub Scout leader addressing your Cubs, you could address them as ‘Cubs’.
  • If you’re addressing a group of [what looks like] men, or [what looks like] women, you could address them as ‘everyone’, or ‘people’. (You won’t be wrong!)

Many of the participants in the Twitter discussion said that a group of women should simply be called, ‘women’.

Of course this is the ideal solution if you are absolutely sure that every single person in the room is a woman and is happy to be labelled as such. But for the sake of those in the room who may look female, but may not identify as such, then the better, easier and no less correct term, is ‘everyone’ or ‘people’.

There were a lot of respondents to the question posed by Woman’s Hour who were part of the ‘Whatever next!’ crowd. It has never escaped us that those who call themselves ‘Mrs’, and are proud to be a ‘Mrs’, will NOT have it taken away from them.

One person commented via Twitter:

“I don’t want to give up my ‘Mrs’ title and instead have to tick ‘partner’ on a form I want. I’m proud of being married and hate being told I’m old fashioned because of my feelings”

We were very pleased that this tweeter ‘liked’ our response:

“You don’t need to give it up.

Businesses just need to give people an option to ‘opt out’ of an unnecessary field which doesn’t accurately represent them.

P.S. You are NOT old fashioned for demanding an identity which accurately represents you.”

The world can be so much easier, and kinder, with a shift in thought, and kindness doesn’t have to mean a lowering of standards.

The GoTitleFree team is so pleased to be part of this continued discussion on gender equality. We are open to challenge and debate, and definitely appreciative of the huge amount of support we’ve received directly, and across all our social media channels.

To Penny Bates, who sent one of the many messages into the BBC, no, there is no legal reason why you have to explain your relationship status when making a purchase! You, like us, should pressure organisations to let you go title free.

Do it for all the divorcees, the widows, and every woman who’s gone through several stages of life without marriage and doesn’t want to have to explain herself when ordering a sofa, booking a theatre ticket or speaking with her utility providers.

Stella Sutcliffe

To listen to the recording of Woman’s Hour from 27th August, click here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000z1h2

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