Your correspondent Helen Buchanan asks that women be treated as equal, something which Paul Hyett clearly advocated in his article (aj 23.4.98).
But it is not that easy. A few years ago I was arbitrator where both solicitors were women. An arbitrator's letters, by custom, are formal and usually start 'Dear Sirs'. With two women I was in difficulty. 'Dear Sirs' I felt would be insulting, but I could think of no word that served well for the plural of 'Madam', which of course comes from the French. 'Madams' is incorrect, and to write 'Dear Mesdames' sounds plain daft.
I rang the best authority I could think of, a lesbian co-operative fruiterer, and asked them how to get around the problem. 'Easy,' I was told, 'there is only one appropriate form of address: 'Dear Women'''.
So I wrote to the solicitors, and passed on the knowledge. 'No, no!' they both said. ''Dear Sirs' is just fine.'
Hyett Salisbury Whiteley