Why Do We Still Use The Term ‘Stewardess’?


By the end of the 1970’s most airlines had phased out the term stewardess in favour of the gender-neutral flight attendant. The 1970’s. The majority of yacht stewardesses currently employed weren’t even born then, but yet when they arrive on the water – in the 21st century – they are still given an outlandishly outdated job title. Matess? Chefess? Deckhandess? Ridiculous right? Stewardess? Completely accepted. Why in the hell?

Answering that question honestly takes us a few fathoms down into the heart of what remains a business trapped in old ways; led by a mixed group of old people with old thinking, new people with old thinking, and well-intentioned new and old people who just don’t see it changing anytime soon. The status quo floats along, with a vague hope that improvements will seep in slowly over time. But again; airlines in the 1970’s: flight attendants. Yachts in 2015: stewardesses.

There will be those who say it’s just a term. And this is true. What is also true is that it is the only gender-specific job title in an industry that continues to struggle hugely to take any sort of meaningful steps towards gender equality in it’s senior positions. Those three letters of the suffix ‘ess’ bely an unspoken understanding that problems such as sexual discrimination, harassment, and career limitations on yachts have not been fixed so much as simply pushed beneath the surface to roll along like a badly bent propeller; unseen, but felt by all.

Is changing one job title likely to change a business? Unfortunately not. But at The General Alarm we don’t think that continuing to use an outdated term simply because we always have, and because those whom it bothers don’t have all that much of a voice, is good enough either. So. What should do you think we use instead?

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