Monday 11 January 2021

CAMRA - coping manfully with the 20th century

From Viz magazine: I have occasionally heard
such sentiments - supposedly made in jest.
In my capacity as press officer of CAMRA's Southport & West Lancs branch, I sometimes use national CAMRA press releases in my articles in the local papers, and one thing that increasingly irritates me about them is the description of Nik Antona as the campaign's national 'chairman'. This term was even used when two women, the late Paula Waters and Jackie Parker, held the post.

I have belonged to a number of organisations, campaigns and political parties over the years and CAMRA is the only one that still uses such old-fashioned terminology. When I became a union rep in 1984, my union had scrapped gender-specific terms years earlier and - believe it or not - the world didn't implode. There are three main reasons why I feel that change is long overdue:

  • Use of terms such as 'chairman' reinforces the stereotype of CAMRA as a lads' drinking club rather than a campaign to represent all real ale drinkers, an image problem that has discouraged some people, mostly but not exclusively women, from joining. Such a stereotype also has the effect of diminishing any influence we may hope to have. Viz magazine had a cartoon strip that mercilessly took the mickey out of real ale drinkers, and if we're being honest, we real ale drinkers have all met people who resembled the Viz caricatures.
  • Gender-specific terms are on the decline in general, with terms such as police officer, fire fighter and seafarer increasingly becoming the norm. There are women in the acting profession who prefer the term 'actors' to 'actresses'. Some gender-specific terms have become completely obsolete, such as baxter for a female baker and brewster for a female brewer; I have seen one or two beer writers pretentiously, but pointlessly, using the latter term, but they really are swimming against the tide.
  • Whether you agree or not, it is a fact that some people find such terminology irritating, or worse. For a mass membership organisation, discouraging potential supporters by using outdated language really is an own goal, one that is both wholly unnecessary and very easy to prevent. 
One argument that I've heard deployed against change is, "I'm not a piece of furniture!" This is, frankly, quite silly. The term 'chair' when used as the title of the person presiding over a meeting is being used symbolically, not literally. Other examples are:
  • The use of the term 'the crown' in reference to our head of state: as far as I know, the queen has never been heard to say, "I'm not a piece of jewelry". 
  • The Crown Prosecution Service will take you to court in the queen's name and not on behalf of an expensive trinket, and the Netflix series 'The Crown' is not a multipart documentary about royal jewelry.
  • Magistrates are routinely referred to as 'the bench', and yet you don't hear them complain, "I'm not a piece of furniture!"
Dea Latis is an organisation committed to "bringing beer to women". While I welcome this organisation and its aims, surely this is something CAMRA should have been doing; I think we missed a trick here and our image is part of the problem.

A genuine commitment to equality and diversity has to include the language we employ. Clinging on to outdated terms simply reinforces stereotypical attitudes, especially among our detractors. We are foolish to give them ammunition, while at the same time discouraging people who might otherwise support us.

In CAMRA's 50th anniversary year, surely it's about time the organisation took a decisive step forward into the 1980s.


  1. I have always used the term "Chair" when addressing CAMRA members weekend meetings AKA "Conference" as well as many other gatherings in various groupings (Liberty, Amnesty International, TUCND, CND ands like Neville, several TU Conferences). Despite several of them (the Chairs!) stating they were not bits of furniture. Hasn't change my terminology, as we fight from beneath!

  2. I have removed one comment which consisted solely of anonymous abuse. Very mature.


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