Fighting a losing battle

Browsing around a blog that I read from time to time, one of those I sometimes comment on, who doesn’t comment on mine etc etc I noticed an interesting photo.

It referred to ‘Fisherpeople’, and the comment was:

So very PC – does anyone ever say this.

I held up my hand and wrote yes.

And pointed out that years ago, we had firemen and policemen and now we have firefighters and police officers. Admittedly, fisherpeople is pretty clumsy, but when I have been writing about the Gib/Spain fishing dispute that is what I have used.

I don’t care if 100% of the Spaniards fishing in Gib waters are men, I don’t see why the assumption should be that they are, and that the male default takes precedence.

There are women who fish, angle, whatever. There will no doubt be women who fish at sea. So why call them fishermen?

One commenter asked why can’t fishermen refer to anyone who fishes? And referred to it as a crime against the language.

Why not call anyone fishing a fisherwoman in that case?

It is a very long and a very hard battle to try and escape from the masculine default. This isn’t about linguistics, or political correctness, this is about men being in charge and women having a subservient position in society.

Men chairing meetings, men in the police, men in the fire service. While ever we refer to men doing something – chairmen, firemen, policemen, fishermen – it implies that women have no part.

This language continues to perpetuate the concept that basically, men work, men are in charge and women do, well nothing really. Or if they do, they are token men and don’t mind being referred to as men.

So well done, Newfoundland, for referring to fisherpeople. If it wasn’t so cold, I would think about moving there.

About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and getting on with life. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog had his own blog, but most of you knew that anyway. Pippadogblog etc
This entry was posted in blogging, feminism, gender-specific language, life, writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Fighting a losing battle

  1. davidprosser says:

    I’ve known both a chairperson and a chairwoman, a policeman and policewoman. I’ve heard of fisherpeople ( though rarely) but though we have a fireman a firewoman just doesn’t sound right and firepeople is almost as bad.I think we’ll have to come up with a whole new concept there like blazemen and women perhaps?
    xxx Hugs xxx


    • I have written endlessly about the chairing issue, what to call people who chair meetings. I go for chair these days, although when I was trying to be diplomatic (!) in the past I usually worded it to refer to someone who chaired the meeting.

      I think police and fire are easy. It’s years since journalists referred to firemen, they just overnight became firefighters. And although PCs technically aren’t officers, it’s just as easy to call anyone in the police force a police officer.

      People don’t seem to realise language changes, and so it should. I dig my heels in at a lot of slang, but I think linguistic changes to reflect societal changes ie women joining all uniformed services, is deserved.

      We all live in the past to some extent, but wanting to hide women away doesn’t do it for me. Not that I agree with fishing, being a right-on vegetarian, but I do applaud Newfoundland for getting their sign right.


  2. Andrew says:

    I was at a board meeting yesterday. I referred to the person chairing the meeting as George. It seemed a good solution as that was his name.


    • I try and conduct all my meetings on first name basis 🙂

      I’ve gone through the whole progression of what to call people who chair meetings. As a kid my dad informed me that women who chaired meetings should be addressed as Madam Chairman, some 20 odd years later I worked for Madam Chairman.

      But by then, I’d started to ponder the logic. On one of the newspapers I asked what to call the woman who chaired the parish council. She clearly wasn’t a man, so chairman didn’t sound right. I think we agreed on chairwoman.

      Later again though in the NHS, we moved in more heavily political circles. All our MPs were labour, our local councils were well left, we had to deal with charity organisations and NGOs who invariably had lefty councillors.

      If we wanted to get anything done, calling the women ‘Madam Chairman’ wouldn’t work. I started using Chair to refer to my blue rinsed Tory MC. She didn’t like it, but didn’t argue. I watched all the other senior staff incl directors bite the bullet.

      I don’t go out of my way to use gender neutral language deliberately but there is a lot of rationale for not using the masculine default. Anyway, I have written about chairing meetings at length before so I will now shut up, and consider writing some board papers for the forthcoming meeting that Madam roughseas is about to chair. Also the bread will not get made, the tea will not get cooked, and I will be so distracted by one of my pet topics.


  3. Totty says:

    I like the fact that the Spanish have solved the problem by using the aruba; pescador@s fulfills the remit!


  4. Totty says:

    N.B. What’s wrong with Fisherfolk?


    • Nothing. It’s good. Not one I’d thought of. Nice alliteration. Do you think it could be construed as classist though to refer to people as folk and not people?


      • Totty says:

        Classist? Of course it is, but only if you consider class important! Old English folc “common people, laity; men; people, nation, tribe; multitude; troop, army.” How many aristocratic or “celeb” people do we hear of working on trawlers?

        Now “Fishwife”…there is a word that has changed its usage!

        Not cold or wet up here, just cool grey days, alternating with warm sunny days, in the low 20s mainly.


  5. Wouldn’t “anglers” sound better than “fisherpeople?” The latter is seemingly so purposeful in its effort to be inclusive that it draws attention to that fact, rather than simply decribing a profession. I find it distracting.

    Anglers, on the other hand, works for me. Sort of like I wouldn’t refer to those as who deliver the mail as “mailpeople” but instead as “mail carriers,” or those who put out fires as “firepeople” but as “fire fighters.”


    • I think anglers is fine if that is what they are doing. My problem describing the Spaniards fishing in the sea, is that they are most definitely not angling, they are fishing, hence needing to call them something and I don’t want to call them fishermen, goes against the grain.

      In the example quoted, I reckon anglers would have worked nicely, and I agree it looked deliberate and jarred. Not with me, but I can see why people don’t like it.

      I think firefighters is a good one, I like that. Interesting how that has become the norm really. Back in my early journo days they were all firemen and soooo good looking. Did we ever fight to go to fire jobs!! We tend to call the posties, well – the posties, Otherwise mail or post deliverers. It’s describing what they do. The fishing one (rather than angling) is a harder one. Do you call them fishers? Doesn’t work either. I’m waiting for someone to come up with a good word 🙂


      • When I was working in newspaper the edict came down that fishermen, even if they were all men, were to be described as “fishers.” Of course, most people who read sport-fishing stories aren’t exactly the PC type and likely got a hoot out being called fishers. I personally always thought of kingfishers and similar types of birds when I heard the term “fishers.” And, of course, the edict came from an editor who had never fished a day in his life and probably thought those of us who enjoyed fishing were mindless cretins.


        • You must have been working later than me, because we never had any such edicts. The one I remember was about the difference between nursing homes, residential homes, and rest homes. We had to get that one right.
          We had a good style guide on my first newspaper, less so later.
          Fishers, reminds me far too much of ‘Fishers of men’ (Matt 4.19) and as I’m not religious it doesn’t really work for me.
          And as I’m vegetarian, angling/fishing doesn’t appeal to me. Mindless cretins no. Other words come to mind however. I’m not your average hunting shooting fishing gal.


  6. Kev says:

    The easiest solution would be to simply eradicate the, man after such words, but as in this case it doesn’t always work. However, It’s not exactly rocket science. common sense dictates using, person(s) in some instances. In others simply use a word that does not dictate gender…officer(s), administrator(s) such words are uni-sex. This is where the focus should lie. Eliminate all words ending in man/woman and use unisex words. If there isn’t one, bloody create one…how hard can it be? Problem solved. Only idiots and backwards people would argue against it. Let’s just hope they are not the ones running things. 🙂


    • Have you seen Hot Fuzz? Great line in there about policeman officer instead of police officer.

      It’s easy enough to use different words and find other ways to say something, and that includes finding non-gender specific ones.

      I do balk at being told I should use roofs instead of rooves though. Because a word that was in current usage 40 years ago is now deemed archaic doesn’t make it incorrect.


I appreciate any comments you leave, so long as they are relatively polite. And thanks for reading.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s