Dear Sirs – sorry, I mean Dear Readers, I am pleased to announce that a local newspaper will be dropping the traditional “Sir” from its letters pages after a female reader described it as a “ridiculous and offensive tradition.”
Liz Hatch wrote to the editor of the Henley Standard (presumably dropping the “Sir” at the top of her letter): “I can’t believe it is necessary to maintain such a practice when other papers have eradicated this sexist attitude, I very much doubt whether readers of the Henley Standard are even aware of the gender of the editor and why is it even relevant anyway?”
I could not agree more. It’s time we abolished this “Sir-premacy” which has been allowed to run riot over the letter pages of local and national papers for centuries.
I started out as a reporter on the Hampstead and Highgate Express and for the most part loved readers’ letters – there were some brilliant stories, with fights between dogs and swans on Hampstead Heath and crusades against supermarkets taking over artisanal shops.
We had a female editor at the time, who wrote a column each week, accompanied by a smiling headshot. Nauseatingly, some readers still wrote to us with the words, “Dear Sir”. This was hastily edited out before the paper went to print – I wonder if repeat offenders noticed.
When I started working on national news desks, I was sent press releases addressed “Dear Chaps” – with the clear but deluded assumption that everyone with any power, or decision-making authority, was a man.
It is all part of the same patronising tradition as addressing a group of people as “guys.” As Woman’s Hour host Jane Garvey wrote on Twitter last year: “New rule – ‘Hi guys!!’ NEVER say this, unless you are the daringly informal guest speaker at the annual meeting of The Society of People Named Guy.”
Respected national publications including the Daily Telegraph, The Times and the Private Eye continue to publish letters addressed to “Dear Sir”, or sometimes the more brusque, “Sir”.
There are, however, some pioneering publications in this war of letters. This newspaper, for one, holds it as a badge of honour that it does not include “Dear Sir”on reader letters.
The Financial Times announced in April last year that it was dropping its Sir – with the groundbreaking statement that it “not only feels old fashioned but also may one day be inaccurate.” Meanwhile, the former editor of the Irish Times, Geraldine Kennedy, would spend her days replacing “Dear Sir” with “Dear Madam” on her letters pages.
Newspapers should finally catch up with the times – let’s wave bye bye to Dear Sir.