Why we’re replacing ‘batsman’ with ‘batter’
For many of us cricket fans, ESPNcricinfo is right up there among bookmarks on our browser. Whether it is to catch a glimpse of the state of the match during a busy work day, thanks to the entertaining yet insightful commentary the writers dish out or run some stat analyses to see who was right on that argument you had with the friend at the pub, or the delightful prose on cricketing history, the website has been an internet home for cricket fans world over. But what’s even more inspiring about it is its stance on social issues and its little contributions to bring in positive change. In this piece, its editor-in-chief Sambit Bal writes about the role of language on social issues, such as racism or like in this case gender equality. Bal writes that from here on, the website will use the word ‘batter’ instead of ‘batsman’ to bring out gender neutrality in the game. As he points out, this follows their decision to ban the use of the words ‘Chinaman’ and ‘Mankading’, replacing them with ‘left arm wrist spinner’ and ‘Run-out backing up’. It might seem trivial but like he says, every small step contributes in this long journey of fighting these social issues.
“It can be argued that “batsman” isn’t in the same league because it’s not overtly offensive, and when applied to male cricketers it is accurate and can’t be described as discriminatory. It can be further argued that using “batswoman” for female cricketers is perfectly palatable, and that it doesn’t tamper with the game’s basic vernacular.
But the problem lies in the sovereignty of one term over another. The discrimination is in the manner the word “batsman” appropriates our very concept of batting and all the associated imagery that goes with it. Those who bat are batsmen, unless specified otherwise. The craft of batting is batsmanship. Cricket, of course, is a gentleman’s game, and its Mecca, the Marylebone Cricket Club finally allowed women membership in 1998.
Words are not just about what they literally mean but about what they imply as well. A job title or a role that requires a feminine suffix when performed by women marks an assumption of male primacy. Which is why there has been a global shift towards terms that are not gender-specific: “flight attendant” over “steward” and “stewardess”, “police officer” over “policeman” and “policewoman”, “actor” and “author” over “actress” and “authoress”, and “chairperson” or simply “chair” in place of “chairman”. “Batsman” is an exception in cricket among other main playing roles. “Bowler”, “fielder” and “wicketkeeper” are all gender-neutral.
Gender equality as an ideal is an objective that we will struggle for generations to achieve, but gender neutrality in language is easily achievable. We are aware there is a lot more for us to do content-wise in this regard, and a few more terms to address, but why not hit an easy ball over the ropes first?
When we discussed this among ourselves a few weeks ago, the question was, what took us so long?”
So “batter” it is for us then. We switched to “Player of the Match” in scorecards years ago, but we will make that usage universal across the site now.”