International Women's Day and the Dear Sirs Dilemma

It’s International Women’s Day and, as assistant editor here at Vagabond Voices, I feel like I need to do something, but I’m not sure what. Usually on holidays and other special occasions (like this one) we offer some sort of deal, but what sort of deal should we offer in celebration of International Women’s Day? To reduce the prices of all our books written by women seems contrary to the point of the day – I mean, not that putting a book on sale necessarily devalues the work of the author, but specifically discounting all of our women-penned titles just seems wrong.

Vagabond Voices has published a number of books written and/or translated by women; I could simply photograph those books and add the caption “books we’ve published by women writers” (or something less clunky), but it doesn’t feel like enough. And to single out only a few of our authors with quotations or excerpts would also be less than ideal: it wouldn’t showcase the variety of voices we’ve published and, on a more selfish note, it’d only exacerbate my crippling fear of disappointing people (i.e. the women writers whose works weren’t featured). 

So now it’s nearly 8 p.m. and I’ve spent much of the day waffling between writing a half-arsed “Look at us! We also publish books by women!” post and feeling like if I can’t write a masterpiece I shouldn’t write anything at all. And now my empty stomach is beginning to call me names under its breath, and the movie tickets on my phone are tapping their wristwatches.

I’m running out of time on getting something out there ... and yeah I guess we could just stay silent but we – and by we I mean Vagabond Voices – are actively working on being a publisher that supports and promotes women writers, so it’s important to me (and to us) that we say something that is, if not useful, at least interesting, on International Women’s Day.

So, as is usually the case when I’m hurtling towards a deadline, I’m procrastinating. I play “Where is my Mind” repeatedly on bass whilst having a staring contest with the cat across the street; I get into a (mostly civilised) argument on a friend’s Facebook wall (we agree to disagree); I check my email inbox and ...

Pondering the mysterious practice of opening emails with "Dear Sirs"... 

Pondering the mysterious practice of opening emails with "Dear Sirs"... 

I cringe because we've received yet another email that begins “Dear Sirs”. This time it's from a woman, which is a first and, perhaps unfairly, I feel like somehow that makes it worse.

So maybe that’s what I can write about today ... I guess I don’t need to write much about it other than to say it’s 2017 and we are receiving emails – most often from men – addressed to “Sir” or “Sirs”, as if the thought that a woman might be working in publishing hadn’t even occurred to the senders. Or perhaps even worse, it had occurred to them but they just didn’t think that a woman would be the first person evaluating their submission.

My friends have suggested responding to “Dear Sirs” emails with “Dear Madam”, and as much as I love the idea, I feel that to do so would be kicking someone when they’re down, since most of the “Dear Sirs” emails are submissions, and with our limited resources, most of our responses to submissions are rejections. Also, I’m more interested in helping my employer publish good books than I am in punishing someone for their poor email etiquette, so I still read and respond to our “Dear Sirs” submissions with the same care that I give to others.

I mean, we often receive submissions from people whose first language isn't English, so it's also possible that they don't realise how bad "Dear Sirs" sounds – that's what I learned when, confused by the use of the sexist, old-fashioned greeting, I did some research: I looked at a number of language forums (okay, the number was six) in which people discussed proper email etiquette and the use of “Dear Sirs”. On a few forums people claimed that “To Whom It May Concern” was rude. One respondent advised that it was more appropriate to write “Dear Sirs” if you knew you were addressing a whole company (which is the case when people are sending us submissions) ... while many others suggested “Dear Sir or Madam”, rounded out with “Yours faithfully” at the end of the email. (I must admit I find the latter almost as creepy as "Dear Sirs".)

I try to never point out a problem without offering a solution, and so – armed with my new-found knowledge of email greetings – I will now offer you some alternatives should you ever feel compelled to begin an email (one that is not addressed solely to men, anyway) with “Dear Sirs”:



“Good morning/afternoon”

“To Whom It May Concern” (a controversial one, apparently)

“Dear Sir or Madam” (as aforementioned, not my favourite, but still a valid option)

“Dear [Name]” (if you have it, use it)

“Dear [Position]” (e.g. “Dear Submissions Editor”)

“Good morrow to you”


“Greetings earthling” (I’m serious – nearly anything would be better than “Dear Sirs”)

“Hey jerk” (I probably would be confused but I’d still be more interested in reading your email than if you started it with “Dear Sirs”)

The list will just get more ridiculous the longer I write it, so I’ll stop here. And maybe this is personal preference ... maybe some women like being referred to as “Sirs”. I can’t speak for all women. I’m just a girl, sitting in front of a laptop, overdosing on Nutella, writing a blog on something I care about, and asking you to care too.