Email etiquette – who comes first?

I was somewhat taken aback recently when it was suggested to me that all emails should be composed addressing women first, and then men. Not only does this notion seem both patronising and frankly, rude, but it also strikes me as an example of exceptionally poor communication.

Just who are you talking to?

Imagine you are composing an email to a company director (John), and the director’s PA (Mary) and secretary (Ann). If we follow the suggestion that women should precede men in emails, then this email would open: ‘Dear Ann, Mary and John’.

Reading this introduction one would assume that Ann and perhaps Mary are the key persons being addressed. You might also assume that Ann and Mary take precedence over John. But John’s in charge, and the email is for his attention, so why are we not addressing him first? This isn’t a question of gender; it’s a question of clear and open communication. If the email was specifically for Ann, then placing Ann as the first person in the address line would make sense, but here it quite simply isn’t true.

This is 2014, not 1814

As well as causing unnecessary confusion, it seems strange to me that in 2014, some people still feel that we need to set women (or indeed men) apart for special treatment. If you honestly believe we should be placing women before men in emails, perhaps you should question just why you think this should be the case. ‘Because we’ve always done it’ just doesn’t cut it in this enlightened age, and equally, if you think it’s out of deference or some sort of chivalrous nod to ‘the fairer sex’, then do you not think this is just a little bit patronising? Shouldn’t it be the case that all people should earn respect on merit and nothing more?

It may surprise you readers that it was actually a woman who suggested to me that all emails should be composed in this way, though I suppose it goes without saying that we are in fact a generation apart. I believe it’s testament to the work that the Feminist project still has to do that beliefs such as this still exist in our culture, to the extent that many women are even supporting the systems that create inequalities against them.

Let common sense prevail

Of course there are a great many discussions to be had about how gender roles are subtly reinforced through general discourse, and emails are just one means through which still to this day it seems gender issues play out.

While I am sure that most reasonable people would these days support the idea that we should all be considered equal and treated on our individual merits, in the case of email etiquette, I think the whole argument boils down to something far simpler than that. As a writer, to me the focus should only ever be on clear and open communication. If we struggle to communicate clearly in the simple act of addressing our emails, then something is very wrong indeed.

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