Question: Do we need to add -ess?

I was thinking the other day about how we add -ess to many profession words to indicate it is a woman: waitress*, actress, stewardess.  I think I have even heard authoress.  There are some jobs, though, that do not get this: teacher, dancer, painter.  Yet, I do not feel that those women in those professions are insulted by this lack.  So why do we need it at all?  Why does it matter if we differentiate in those circumstances?  Do you think that the knowledge that your will be waited on by a woman rather than a man is going to affect your choice in restaurant, but not the paintings you buy?

It just seems a bit silly, especially when you take into consideration that it is not done consistently.  What do you guys think?



*I know it is becoming politically correct to say “server”, but to me that sounds like a robot.


About Tori

I am a graduate student working on my masters in Women and Gender studies. My masters thesis is on the gender nonconformity and ambiguity in modern film.
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2 Responses to Question: Do we need to add -ess?

  1. DEBI says:

    Or scientist!

    I say flight attendant, but I say waitress and actress, too. And acknowledging the silliness of gendering professions isn’t going to get me to change what I say, because I have to think too hard about it…

  2. Sita says:

    I think I’d heard at one point that the addition of “-ess” was historically a demeaning addition to words that divided women and men. Prince and Princess for example. The historical value of a princess was almost always lower than that of a prince–most princesses couldn’t inherit or rule, so what good were they. I could be wrong, and I can’t remember where I heard it, but I’m pretty sure that “-ess” was used to feminize certain words, and not in a nice way.

    I’ve heard “authoress” too, but not often, and I think it’s silly whenever I do hear it. I’d certainly never call myself an authoress. I’m a writer, plain and simple, and I don’t need or want any other term to define me.

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