A policeman, mailman, fireman and ice cream man walk into a bar…

As I was pulling out of the driveway from my wife’s place of employment, my youngest daughter saw an ice cream truck drive by.  “Look Daddy, the ice cream man!”  My oldest noted that it was her math teacher Mrs. “Smith”, to which my youngest replied, “Mrs. Smith is the ice cream man?”  This incident reminded me of a time when delivering mail to an apartment building a 70 year-old hippy greeted me with, “Hey there mail-person!”  I smiled knowing it was political correctness/misguided feminism behind her jolly salutation.  “That’s OK” I said, “you can call me the mailman”.  Well, she wasn’t having any of that.  “No, you’re the mail-person.”

I write this with women in mind.  Is there something about occupations which were universally held by men so that the job title itself reflected it that is inherently offensive?  Garbage man, policeman, fireman, mailman, paper boy, and stock boy are just some that I can think of off the top of my head.

Is there something wrong with saying “she’s a fireman” or “my sister is a policeman” or “my mailman’s name is Sally”?

Should we ween ourselves from masculinized job titles?  Or is this much ado about nothing?


  1. I can only speak for myself, but calling a woman a man seems incorrect. I have no problem calling a man a mailman, but it’s just weird to call a woman the same.

  2. No qualms here. ;)

  3. The man suffix doesn’t bother me. If the person speaking it corrects themselves, they are either feminist, scared of ruffling feathers, or overly concerned with others’ preception of them.

  4. Doesn’t bother me any.

    A bit of history on the word, though; man used to be a gender neutral term for humanity. Males were weremenn and females were wiffmenn. Over the years, as the English language evolved, the gendered terms for females changed but stayed, while males lost their gendered terms completely. Gender neutral terms became associated with males as a sort of cultural default.

    • Interesting. What do you make of people who take issue with it? Are they really offended? Why do you think they focus on something so inconsequential?

      • I think they were either taught to be offended by it, or they have hitched themselves to a reaction that makes themselves feel important and righteous. In some I’ve seen, it is a reflection of their own anger, hatred and self loathing.

  5. So, none of you think that calling a woman a ‘mailman’ sounds weird?

    • If youre going to change it, the change shouldnt sound contrived. Mail-person sounds like a pathetic attempt to avoid a non issue. However mail carrier doesnt. Same with police officer or fire fighter. So im not saying its inappropriate to alter the title, but it isnt necessary because its not offensive.

      • I agree, John.

        To give an example of how bad it can get, I grew up in Manitoba. In Winnipeg was the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature. People not only decided to suddenly find “Man and Nature” offensive (after decades of use) and fight to change the name, a lot of people included Manitoba as part of what was offensive, since Manitoba has the word “man” in it. Manitoba isn’t an English word, making the whole thing incredibly silly, but boy did people take themselves seriously!!

        That museum is now called the Manitoba Museum.

  6. paynehollow says:

    I prefer postal carrier, fire fighter, police officer, etc. Not because it is “offensive” to call a woman a man, just because it is factually incorrect. It sounds ridiculous (not offensive) to me to call Mrs Jones a “Fireman” when, quite obviously, Mrs Jones is not a man.

    It’s all about the facts.

    ~Dan Trabue

  7. While it is correct that the first definition of man is an adult male, the second definition of man is a human being of either sex; a person and is the original definition from the Germanic language of which it was sourced.

    Likewise, the first definition of boy is a young male, but the original definition is servant, which is still used frequently today (ie Bellboy, Paperboy).

    Expecting everyone around you change the language they use because you don’t understand it is the epitome of imperiousness.

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