Earlier this summer, we saw Transport for London scrap the term ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ in its tannoy announcements, instead opting to use more inclusive titles such as ‘Everyone’ and ‘All Passengers’. This decision has been reached after a long campaign from LGBTQ+ rights groups to work towards creating a space where everyone feels welcome, starting with inclusive language. Not only has this conclusion been welcomed by the LGBTQ+ community but also by those who feel that ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ are archaic terms loaded with connotations that no longer represent most of the binary male/female population today. However, there is some backlash to these changes in terminology, seeing the move as a loss of a harmless polite phrase banished by the overreacting “PC brigade”. It seems that the ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ issue is one that is both complex and emotive.
Inclusive for everyone?
Non-binary gender is an umbrella term that is used to describe all people who do not define themselves as being male or female. According to official statistics, approximately 1 in 250 people in the UK identify as non-binary, although this number is likely to be far greater. LGBTQ+ charities (such as Stonewall) have lobbied tirelessly to ensure that all people, identifying as either binary or non-binary, are included and represented in the language used by institutions. Exclusion is known to isolate minority communities and encourage rejection from the wider population; the language that we use plays an important part in this. With transphobic hate crimes rising by 170% between 2011 and 2015, it is clear that the need to create an inclusive world is more prevalent than ever.
The debate around the use of ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ has also struck a chord within the binary gender community. Outside of formal address, such as the old TFL tannoy announcements, the term ‘Gentleman’ has been widely dropped from popular usage. ‘Ladies’ has, however, managed to stick around. If you walk into any large shopping department centre you will be directed towards the menswear or the ladieswear – there is no sign of gentlemenswear. This unequal use of title often goes unnoticed in the subconscious and when drawn attention to is dismissed as an insignificant issue. However, with ‘lady’ conjuring up connotations of a demure figure of decorum, quiet and well-presented, and ‘man’ as an unloaded reference of biological gender; it becomes increasingly clear why it is important to use equivalent language.
Athletes not ladies
The use of equal language is a hot topic in the realm of Women’s football, as there is a mix of teams self-referencing as ‘ladies’ or ‘women’s’ football clubs in the current FA Women’s Super League (as well as the Doncaster Belles, which is another conversation entirely). In recent years, several teams within the WSL, for example Manchester City and Arsenal, have moved their terminology over from ‘ladies’ to ‘women’. Manchester City WFC state that the decision was made in order to ‘reflect the team’s values as professional, athletic, skilful and as positive role models’; a goal that they believe would not have been fully encompassed with the term ‘ladies’. This is an ongoing battle as, during this summer’s Women’s European Championship, the England Women’s team were referred to through The Guardian’s coverage as the Ladies’ team (despite my own, to date unacknowledged, letter of complaint on the subject).
Breaking the glass ceiling
In the business world, salutations are increasingly gender neutral. The vast majority of corporate communications will use inclusive titles such as ‘colleagues’ or ‘all’, mirroring Transport for London’s usage. However, in some business disciplines, antiquated modes of address still maintain their hold over the environment. It is not uncommon, for example, to see letters addressed ‘Dear Sir(s)’ in the law profession. Although the intention of this generic address may be to include all genders, it is not always clear to the recipient. With the worrying statistic that were more CEOs named John than women in the UK FTSE top 100 companies 2015, the importance becomes apparent that women in business need to be represented in language in equivalent terms to men.
Language is one of our most important tools, influencing our opinions and shaping our behaviours. Therefore, this tool must be accessible and equal to all. Does ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ need to be completely extinguished? Not necessarily. The crux of the matter hangs on the choice of the individual and, if they are happy to identify as a lady or a gentleman, then, by all means, use those terms to describe them. But it is not acceptable to have these titles assumed upon an audience, as with the England Women’s FC, when a choice has been made to identify in a certain way it is imperative we respect that. If a title has not been clearly identified the best course of action is easy: stay neutral! Follow Transport for London’s lead with titles such as ‘Everyone’, ‘All’ when addressing groups and when talking to an individual simply use their name. In the battle to fight for a more inclusive world, we must start with our most powerful weapon, our words.
Christina Thomson is an English Masters Student, socialist, activist, David Bowie enthusiast and all-around nasty woman. She lives in the best city in the world (Manchester, duh!) where she enjoys bourbon on the rocks, watching Mean Girls, being annoyingly outdoorsy and writing about politics and identity.