Some thoughts on Young Ladies and Old Men

The terms YL and OM are omnipresent in the world of amateur radio. They have been in use for many decades and should therefore be looked at for revision.

First of all, the terms themselves could be seen as somewhat problematic. Not only isn’t every man who does amateur radio old – calling any woman young might be meant in a charming way, but is also somewhat belittling by creating a hierarchy between „old“ and „young“. Turning YL into XYL (ex-young-lady) as soon as she’s married doesn’t make things better.

An even bigger problem however occurs in actual radio contacts with strangers of which you often know nothing but their callsign at first. It goes without question that guessing gender from someone’s voice is a bad idea, even more so in SSB contacts. And in text-based modes like CW, RTTY or PSK this isn’t a possibility anyway.

Therefore many people (including me so far) would default to „OM“ in such contacts, at least until they know better. Some YLs will explicitly state „YL“ in text macros, as guessing genders from names can go horribly wrong as well, especially in international contacts.

But of course assuming that someone is male by default is inherently problematic too, even in a hobby like ours with a male majority. One could circumvent this by using „YL or OM“, „YL/OM“ or something alike. Which reinforces the gender binary, making it a rather nonpreferential option too.

Using a gender gap or star (YL_OM or YL*OM respectively) would work, but could cause problems in some text-based modes which don’t implement a full character set, and it isn’t well pronounceable in phone either.

Luckily there is a simple solution to this and it doesn’t even require new terminology: Just discard the gendered terms altogether and use „operator“ (short form: OP) instead. I will try to do this as consequent as possible from now on and I’d like to encourage everyone to do the same!