As a female with short hair, I am often referred to as ‘sir’.

This occurs mostly by flight attendants who take a quick glance and assume, rather than just offering a friendly ‘good morning’ or ‘good evening’ and avoiding their own embarrassment when they realise their mistake.

Once, the same flight attendant who greeted me to the plane was so embarrassed she could barely offer me tea or coffee later in the flight.

It’s silly and avoidable, and I find it quite funny and entertaining to see which way it will go.

For others, though, it can be an awful embarrassment that can easily be avoided by removing titles.

So, this International Women’s Day, I’m choosing to challenge all of us to end their use.

I’m a proud female but I don’t feel the need to be referred to as madame, ma’am, mademoiselle, etc. It’s old-fashioned and classist.

And as a proud LGBTI woman, I am extra aware that titles can isolate and sideline—not encourage and respect—people for whom gender and identity has been hard-won.

Let’s talk our walk. Let’s end titles for good.

By Jo Penney as part of International Women’s Day 2021