British Army open to ideas as female soldiers reject being called 'guardsmen'

Use of gendered ranks and titles could become a thing of the past

Foot Guards march in the Trooping the Colour parade in celebration of Queen Elizabeth's platinum jubilee, in London.  Reuters
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The UK Army says it is open to new ideas on names for ranks after reports that female soldiers objected to gendered terms such as “guardsmen”.

All privates — women and men — in the Foot Guards, the elite infantry regiment that protects Queen Elizabeth II, are referred to as guardsmen, even though it is not an official rank.

The Foot Guards, wearing their iconic bearskin hats and red tunics, often serve the ceremonial role of guarding the British royal family, but are equally capable of stepping into combat roles when needed.

Women were officially allowed to join the Foot Guards in 2018 after a comprehensive review by the Ministry of Defence found that women should be able to serve in frontline positions.

However, the use of “guardsman” is now increasingly being viewed as outdated by top brass and among serving members, reports indicate.

One soldier said she was “tired of being called a man every day” and asked the Army Servicewomen’s Network: “Does anybody know if the rank of Guardsman is going to change soon?”

The Army has other units with gendered titles, including the Duke of Lancaster’s regiment, whose soldiers are known as kingsmen, and the Rifles, whose soldiers are known as riflemen.

“We value every soldier within the Army and remain open to different views and opinions on the naming of ranks”, a British Army representative told The National. “It is the quality and diversity of our people that gives the British Army its unique edge.”

Women soldiers played a major role in the queen's platinum jubilee and the Trooping the Colour ceremony in central London last week, including the first female director of music for a Foot Guards’ band: Major Lauren Petritz-Watts of the Welsh Guards.

At least half of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery are women and there are now at least 40 women in the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, with ranks ranging from Trooper to Lance Corporal of Horse.

Last year the RAF dropped the terms “airman” and “airwoman” in favour of neutral terms such as “aviator”. Reports suggest the Royal Navy is also looking at a similar move that would eschew terminology such as “unmanned”.

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Updated: June 07, 2022, 12:28 PM