From the Intern’s Desk: Craftsmanship, Gender Bias, and Different Words

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“Craftsmanship” is an interesting word.

The suffix “-manship” (sportsmanship, showmanship, penmanship, etc) denotes exceptional skill. These attributes are given to good sportsmen, showmen, and penmen. (I did not know that last one was a word until just now.)

But what do you call a good sportswoman, showwoman, or penwoman? (Note: the latter two are not words. Hmmm.)

The English language is weird for many reasons, but one is that we assume masculine to be neutral only sometimes. I’ve heard people say that “craftswomanship” should be included in “craftsmanship” – that “craftsman” is a gender-neutral term. It’s true that, historically, the vast majority of people who made a living by their craft were men. However, as a society, we’re moving (however slowly) toward gender equity in the economy. Now we often distinguish between titles for men and women in other professional capacities; “policeman” and “policewoman,” for instance. Plus, can a word that literally specifies that it refers to a man really be gender-neutral?

I, personally, would love to be able to use a word that denotes a knowledge of and skill at craft that doesn’t perpetuate the assumption that masculinity is neutral and femininity is the exception. “Craftspersonship” is way too clunky, but I think we could find a solution. To use the policeman/policewoman example, the term “police officer” is truly neutral and denotes respect for the position.

“Maker” doesn’t imply the care or expertise of craft. “Artisan” is too specific because it refers to only artists. Do you have any ideas for other neutral words for someone with notable skill?

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