Gender vs Genderless Titles

  • Waiter / Waitress
  • Actor / Actress
  • Doctor / Doctress?
  • Lawyer / Lawyess?
  • Nurse / Nurser?
  • Author / Authoress (that one is real)

Why are some titles/occupations gender based and others not? I got to thinking about such things and attempted to derive a pattern.

The only rationale I could come up with is that during the gestation of each of these occupations, if there were both male and female participants, then dual occupational titles were created. This may not hold water, but let’s see…

When did restaurants really come into their own? At the end of the 1800’s? Ergo waiter/waitress. What about film and the occupation of acting? Early 1900’s? Actor/actress.

If this concept holds true then the fact that both men and women starting out in the same field needed different names. Host/hostess? Both were necessary as both came to be when the need arose. How about: prince/princess, barman/barmaid, or steward/stewardess. Were each of those name-pairs created at the same time (because both genders were doing the same job)?

Engineer, doctor, lawyer, surveyor, conductor, tailor, sailor and so and so forth, all were originally male-filled jobs. All got names that only have the one gender.

And then there are the occupations where females originally dominated the position, like nurse, midwife, model. There weren’t male versions of those created when they came to be, women exclusively filled those positions.

These days, new occupation titles are always genderless: programmer, copywriter, consultant, developer, designer, controller.

Gender oriented titles are pretty much gone these days. And if not gone, then frowned upon: “I’m not a stewardess, I’m a flight attendant!”

What do you think?


16 thoughts on “Gender vs Genderless Titles

  1. It’s even more interesting when it comes to other languages in comparison; for example, “teacher” in English doesn’t have a gender marker, but in French, it’s enseignant or enseignante, depending on the gender of the person doing the job. It makes it very difficult in my work, which produces docs in both English and French, where we are trying to stay away from gender-specific terms–much easier in English!

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  2. I’d bust you for “rational” but I’ve decided the world is a better place if people are left to their laffin’ places unencumbered by editing. Besides, my comments are full of typos.
    A few more where gender has never been assigned – Chef, Decorator, Detective. Pilot, Driver. Gender and race can used as declarative qualifiers – Female Chef, Black Detective, Indian Doctor, Gay Decorator, Retarded Driver…However contextually works best for me with no surprise at gender.

    I put my Walther in the pilot’s side. “I need to borrow your helicopter, Lieutenant.”
    “You’ll need this, Major. Sir.” The helmet came off, Lieutenant Comeaux tried to push her ponytail back inside her flight suit. “Not for heads up but for com. For the record I would like to officially request to ride shotgun, sir.” She beamed a wholesome freckle nosed Midwest smile. “I thought I was pretty hot shit but you flew rings around my ass the other night, sir, and I’d like to see this.”
    “Scoot over, keep your hat.” I climbed in. “Run com, no bullshit.”
    “Yes sir. No sir. Ignore me if I puke, sir, It’s not your fault,” she said, strapping in. “I can drive, no problem, but I don’t ride for shit.”

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  3. In the case of “authoress,” adding that female ending was a kind of sneer, I think. And the genderless professions (lawyer, surveyor, engineer, etc.) are those entered by women in the late 20th century, by which time differentiating by sex was going out of style. When men work in originally female-only roles,like nurse or model, they were at one time distinguished by the addition of “male,” as in male nurse. Apropos of tailors, the female equivalent was seamstress. The former made clothes for men, the latter for women. But “seamstress” doesn’t appear to be a feminization of a male profession. Seamsters?

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  4. I once had someone apologize to me rather profusely for referring to me as a secretary as opposed to an executive assistant. I really didn’t understand the need for an apology, but I’m guessing he either thought “secretary” implied a female or maybe just didn’t sound lofty enough now that we have important-sounding titles for what is, essentially, a secretary. Either way, I understood what he was trying to say, so I was confused by his over-the-top display of shame.

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