In India, a male public official elected to chair a committee is still called Chairman, while a female official is nowadays called Chairperson. The term 'chairwoman' is never used, but a male official is never called 'chairperson' either. What is the global trend?

I cannot digest the use of both "chairman" and "chairperson", especially in the same institution, as in

the convener welcomed all chairmen and chairpersons on behalf of the planning forum

the Chairman for Public Works and the Chairperson for Town Planning attended the meeting

with the "chairperson" therefore being assumed to be female by default. I THINK ALL SUCH OFFICIALS OUGHT TO BE CALLED CHAIRPERSON not necessarily for perfect gender neutrality by itself (though it is certainly one aim) but for linguistic consistency while applying gender neutral terminology. What is the expert position on this matter?

Note: Merriam-Webster defines 'chairwoman' as a woman who serves as chairman, which is itself defined as a officer (not a man) who heads a committee or institution, while 'chairperson' is also assigned this very same meaning...




...but the way the word 'chairperson' is being used here, exclusively for women, will probably lead Indians to think that a 'female chairman' is a 'chairperson!'

Added by edit:

The Wikipedia article on 'chairman' suggests that this is by no means an issue unique to India, but occurs worldwide:


In his 1992 State of the Union address, then-U.S. President George H. W. Bush used "chairman" for men and "chair" for women. A 1994 Canadian study found the Toronto Star newspaper referring to most presiding men as "chairman", and to most presiding women as "chairperson" or as "chairwoman".

The Chronicle of Higher Education uses "chairman" for men and "chairperson" for women. An analysis of the British National Corpus found chairman used 1,142 times, chairperson 130 times and chairwoman 68 times.[16] The National Association of Parliamentarians does not approve using "chairperson".[17]

The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and United Press International all use "chairwoman" or "chairman" when referring to women, and forbid use of "chair" or of "chairperson" except in direct quotations.[18][19][20] In World Schools Style debating, male chairs are called "Mr. Chairman" and female chairs are called "Madame Chair".[21]

The FranklinCovey Style Guide for Business and Technical Communication, as well as the American Psychological Association style guide, advocate using "chair" or "chairperson", rather than "chairman".[22][23]

The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style suggests that the gender-neutral forms are gaining ground. It advocates using "chair" to refer both to men and to women.[24]

Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chairman

I found the following related question

"Chair" or "chairman?"

but I think its focus is on whether the use of CHAIR as substitute for Chairman is appropriate, which is not quite what I would like to know.

So my question is whether routinely using both words -- 'chairman' for men and 'chairperson' for women -- is linguistically appropriate, since the gender neutral 'chairperson' has acquired female gender connotation (at least in India) as a consequence!

  • In a related example, women cricketers are apparently called 'batsmen' when they bat and not 'batter' or 'batsperson.' Other cricketing terms like bowler, fielder, coach, manager, captain and wicket-keeper have always been gender neutral, though "12th man" is similarly confusing. So would women officials actually prefer to be called Chairman? – English Student Apr 28 '17 at 19:13
  • 3
    Did you have a question? – Hot Licks Apr 28 '17 at 19:31
  • The question is whether routinely using both words -- 'chairman' for men and 'chairperson' for women -- is linguistically appropriate, since the gender neutral 'chairperson' has acquired female gender connotation (at least in India) as a consequence! – English Student Apr 28 '17 at 19:35
  • FYI, you unfortunately can't generalize this: the non-gendered version of chairman (chair) doesn't follow the same pattern as, say, fireman (fire fighter) or policeman (police officer) or stewardess (flight attendant) or salesman (sales rep). You'll have to learn them individually. – BradC Apr 28 '17 at 20:36
  • @BradC "you cannot generalize (...) will have to learn them individually" -- very true; and this is by far the toughest challenge for non-native learners of English! – English Student Apr 28 '17 at 20:40

In Britain it has largely become a matter of taste and personal preference as to which of chairman, chairperson, or chair are used. Chairwoman would be unusual unless it were of an organisation exclusively for women.

Many younger people use chair, but a few years ago the female chair of a Council of which I was a member was perfectly happy to be referred to as "Madam Chairman".

Excessive lengths to which some will go to achieve gender neutrality are seen by many, not only males like me, but by many women of my generation, as a tiresome affectation.

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  • Thank you -- "Madam Chairman" s certainly a good solution! – English Student Apr 28 '17 at 21:33
  • In fact Indian lady chairpersons are informally called 'chairman' as a common practice. – English Student Apr 28 '17 at 21:34
  • You may see it as a tiresome affectation, but words do have meaning and power and continuing the use of gender-unbalanced terminology help maintain the status quo -- where women are treated as second class citizens. – Roger Sinasohn Apr 28 '17 at 21:40
  • @Roger Sinasohn My question was primarily about linguistic (in)consistency and the need for 'chairperson' (or even chairman) as a usage to describe both men and women, but you are right in saying that words have meaning and power; calling men 'chairman' and women 'chairperson' could certainly be suspected to subtly undermine the aim of gender neutrality, which would be properly achieved only by using the same term for men and women, whether 'chairman' or 'chairperson'. I am confident that most powerful (or power-seeking) men worldwide would like to be chairman rather than chairperson! – English Student Apr 28 '17 at 22:17

In the United States, it has become common to use the term "chair" to refer to either a man or a woman in this position. For example, "The chair will call the meeting to order."

In practice, we have the same situation in the US that you describe having in India: a man in some traditionally male position is often called by male-specific term while we search for a gender-neutral term when it's a woman. Like most Americans calls a male policeman a "policeman" while a woman is called a "police officer". Etc.

There is no definitive answer to your question, because there is no single person or group that is universally recognized as the authority on proper English. Various organizations will declare that they think this rule or that rule should be used, but others may give contradictory rules, and it's not like there is anyone who has the power to put you in jail if you don't follow their rules.

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  • Thank you for the information. Certainly we cannot enforce language like laws, but I should like to know what policy of terminology is preferable from a linguistic perspective. – English Student Apr 28 '17 at 19:20
  • Interestingly, Indian lady chair officials may be called chairperson but Indian lady police officers are routinely called policewomen! – English Student Apr 28 '17 at 19:25
  • Yes? In much of Britain chair officials have largely become chairpersons or just chairs while female police officers were long-ago equalized by being switched from police women to women police constables. Yeah, right! – Robbie Goodwin May 20 '17 at 21:56

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