WHY does being the best still imply being male? In many industries the highest honour bestowed upon a professional still involves a patriarchal term?
Take our industry, that of public relations. Six new fellows were just appointed by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). Two were female. Should the leaders of our profession, recognised for their ‘outstanding contribution to the industry as a whole’, be recognised by a male term?
A fellow is one who has proved himself among his peers. Or indeed, herself among her peers. It’s a term borrowed from academia, where this engendered term became the norm only because women in education were not. Women were never going get the highest academic accolade, because they weren’t going to be allowed entry, or notable progression.
In a female-dominated industry that’s based on the power of words, meaning and communication (albeit one where men are twice as likely to be directors, partners or MDs and enjoy a salary that’s on average £12,000 greater than their ‘fellow’ female counterparts), why have we stuck with a patriarchal term? Why is the other meaning for our highest honour ‘man or boy’?
I moot that the profession needs to find a new word that isn’t gender-specific. You may scoff, but it wasn’t so long ago that women chairs of organisations were still referred to as ‘chairmen’. It took some time before it even occurred to anyone that the male suffix could be substituted for a female one; or all gender reference removed entirely. All hail whoever referred to the first ‘chair’ of an organisation.
But it probably doesn’t matter. Only 98 of the CIPR’s 304 fellows are women anyway.
Sarah McDaid is a senior account manager at Pagoda PR.