Sir, the Honorific

One of my absolute favorite things stemming from science fiction has to be, 100%, the entirely gender-neutral use of the word “Sir.” I wouldn’t consider myself a huge sci-fi fan necessarily, probably just more of dabbler. As with any genre, if the story is good, I’m in. So I can’t say with any certainty where this first started, though I do know where I first encountered it.

Battlestar Galactica reboot, running 2004 to 2009. Somebody is talking to President Laura Roslin, addresses her as ‘Sir.’ Starbuck gives an order, gets a ‘Yes, Sir!’

Since then, I’ve seen this repeated in science fiction, especially where military is concerned. Regardless of gender, the person giving the orders is answered with a hardy “Yes, Sir!” And sure, we could argue that it’s not great, co-opting a traditionally masculine address to recognize somebody of either gender in power. If you feel that way, that’s valid, I’m not going to argue with you.

But me? I fucking love it, every time. Every time I encountered this, a woman being addressed as Sir, I knew I liked it. Until I got into the second book of the Expanse series, Caliban’s War, I don’t think I appreciated how much. Then, Sergeant Bobbie Draper calls Assistant Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala ‘Sir,’ and I got that little shudder of pleasure down my spine.

It’s entirely possible I enjoy that so much because it is traditionally a way to address a man in power. Maybe it’s my own views of hard masculinity, soft femininity and desire to fuck those ideas all to pieces. Maybe I just enjoy the power implied by addressing somebody as Sir.

Whatever it is, I hope writers never stop. It feels powerful to me. When I read or hear a woman in control being addressed as such, I get the impression that equality is coming. That we’re depicting women, finally, just as competent, strong and capable, a bundle of qualities typically reserved for men. Sir feels like we’re taking power, being recognized, and being equally respected. Sure, it sucks that it has to come from fiction, far-future fiction where we fight unimaginable horrors across the universe, but it’s better here than not at all.

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