I'm reading a news article about a male police officer and the author calls him a policeman. This word seems unsophisticated to me, but is it still sexist if it refers to a man?
Yes it is gender-exclusive, but that need not always lead us to recoil in utter horror. “Stewards must always offer any pregnant passenger assistance with her luggage” is also gender-exclusive, but I will personally undertake to assuage the hurt feelings of any pregnant male passengers who feel affronted by the wording of this guideline.
Policeman is quite common in reference to male police officers, and I do not think I would even notice it. For that matter, the corresponding form policewoman is not uncommon. For example, here are some recent uses in The New York Times:
Staring up at the steep and lifeless brown ridges looming over the valley, Gulzar Ahmad Dar, a boyish and chatty Kashmiri policeman, sighed at having drawn a short straw. [link]
As soon as my passport was stamped, a policewoman strode over, said she had a text message for me and, though I laughed at her scam, requested a tip. [link]
[…] a woman from Canada who says a handful of French policemen raped her in Paris in April. [link]
[…] he said that Muslims who were responsible for vandalizing police vehicles, damaging public property and attacking policewomen during a rally in 2011 “will not be spared”. [link]
As to whether this is “still sexist” — that seems very subjective to me, and depends greatly on the political and cultural context. You will need to decide for yourself how you feel about these usages.
Several people have suggested the use of the term "police officer" but we must be careful not to create confusion with non-human police actors such as dogs and AI systems.
To be specific, a police canine is often given an officer rank. If it is attacked or bitten that is treated as an offense against a serving office.
We need to say "a canine police officer" or a "human police officer" to clarify our specific case. This will grow more important as AI officers are deployed more widely.
Another suggestion would be police officer as a more gender-neutral term.
There is no such thing as policewoman, firewoman, journeywoman, businesswoman.
It's a masculine noun so it is businessman, Foreman, fireman etc. The word doesn't define the gender it defines the title. At work we never say forewoman. Yes she is a woman but the title is Forman because it's a masculine noun. Another good example is with the French language. La= Feminine Le= masculine.