It’s 2017; why are we still sending mails with the salutation, ‘Dear Sir’?

It’s 9 am on a Tuesday morning. I glance through my inbox, casually ticking off mails that I want to delete, mark as unread, or send to spam. Now and then, I see mails from my colleagues with issues that’ll form the bulk of my workday to sort out. A promotional email here, a delivery report there. And a whole bunch of applications. As someone who’s the director of a company, I get internship and job applications from all sorts of people: school students looking to apply to colleges, college students looking to do their MBAs, MBA students looking to beef up their resumes, graduates of all ages desperately seeking jobs. I open them one by one — applications for marketing, HR, design, content writing. As I read each one I get progressively more annoyed. It’s 2017, why am I still getting mails with the salutation, ‘Dear Sir’?!

Did everyone get a memo which says that people reading emails at workplaces are always men? Maybe they think the person making the decision at the end of the day is a man? Or, scariest of all, has it not crossed their mind at all that a ‘Dear Sir’ salutation excludes half the world and is actually a really annoying way for a woman to start her day?

 It’s 2017; why are we still sending mails with the salutation, ‘Dear Sir’?

Often, these mails are not even at the beginning of a thread — they’re replies to an initial mail from poor ol’ innocent me who’s got someone’s CV from a job site. So my name and photo are actually clearly displayed to them while they’re making the conscious decision to brand me as their dear sir. Of course, in the 21st century, if you want to give your employer the impression that you’re sufficiently woke, you mustn’t brand anyone as belonging to any gender; in the same vein, I don’t necessarily want to be called ‘ma’am’. A simple ‘Hello’ would suffice. In fact, it would be welcome.

You’re probably thinking that I’m being too harsh, that people send out job applications en masse, and probability would indicate that a majority of bosses are, in fact, men. Well, sorry, but my vagina is not really the single exception to this patriarchal rule. Women are climbing corporate ladders everywhere, despite men trying to look up their skirts while they do it. An increasing number of HR teams are skewed towards females. Heck, most of the applications that I get are from young ladies! Honestly, even if all these weren’t the case, isn’t it just common courtesy to not assume someone’s gender, especially when you want a favour from them?

I’ve tried several makeshift solutions to this problem that started out as an itch and somewhere along the way became a massive tumour. Often, I try to achieve inner peace by ignoring them. (Hint: it doesn’t work. I’m still mad as hell.) Sometimes, I intentionally respond to them with the opposite gender assumption. (‘Dear Yash Ma’am’ or ‘Dear Sita Sir’, for example). Of late, the most common response I’ve been doling out is the straight-faced “I’m not a sir,” which usually leaves people red-faced — or so I like to imagine, I can’t actually see them — and apologetic, and very very conscious about ending every single future sentence to me with ‘ma’am’. However, as is to be expected, there are also several who completely ignore it and continue speaking with me as though nothing has happened.

The sad part of this whole phenomenon is that it’s a mirror reflection of the work culture I see around me in most companies. My male colleagues, both peers and juniors, are frequently referred to as ‘sir’ by interns, while I’m called by my first name. When people want to complain about something, they come to me, if they want to show off their achievements, they go to my male colleague. I’m the approachable one, and he’s the scary one. Coincidence? I think not.

If I call it out, it seems like I’m being self-important and cranky; again, the point is not that I want to be called ‘ma’am’, it’s that I don’t want to be treated with less respect just because I’m a woman, which unfortunately happens even in my progressive, liberal, startup workspace where everyone is under 30 and watches Game of Thrones on Monday evenings. And it’s not just me, I see the ‘dear sir’s and their manifestations everywhere, in the bank letters addressed to my mother (“Dear Sir, we have opened your account!”), in my grandmother’s investment folios (“Dear Sir, thank you for investing in us!”), in the promotional messages I often get from brands (“Treat your lady love to a special pizza today!”). And even though we still live in an era where films are banned for being too ‘lady-oriented’ at the same time as semi-naked women prancing around for the male gaze in item songs, I really, really think that we’ve long crossed the point where this kind of branding, even if unintentional, is acceptable.

Updated Date: Aug 05, 2017 12:21:40 IST