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Is it a “Reasonable Man” or a “Reasonable Person” ?

© Peter Zohrab 2003

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Justice Megarry said, in a breach of confidence case:

“It sems to me that if the circumstances are such that any reasonable man standing in the shoes of the recipient of the information would have realised ... , then this should suffice...." (Coco v A.N. Clark (Engineers) Ltd. [1969] R.P.C.)

This Reasonable Man criterion has been used in many cases -- not just in breach of confidence cases -- see, for example, the contract case: Paulger v Butland Industries Ltd [1989] 3 NZLR 549-554.

New Zealanders take Feminism very seriously, and you often hear Feminists (which includes both men and women) refusing to use the phrase Reasonable Man, but insisting on using the phrase Reasonable Person instead. I will discuss why they do this below, in the course of making the case for the retention of the original phrase.


The Case for the Reasonable Man


There are three reasons, I believe, for retaining the term Reasonable Man:

  1. That is what the term originally was;

  2. It was not meant in a way that excluded women;

  3. Feminist uses of "non-sexist language" are inconsistent and sexist.


1. The Original Term

The English legal tradition is full of Latin phrases, such as a fortiori, Ex parte, and non sequitur, etc. I happen to have studied Latin for many years (a long time ago), but I do understand that Law students who have not done so might find these Latin phrases a bit unnecessary, to say the least. In that context, one might expect that a simple English phrase, such as Reasonable Man, would be retained in its original form. After all, if you don't object to using numerous phrases from a language that has been (for most purposes) dead for about 1,500 years, why should you insist on modifying a phrase in your own, living language that was perfectly acceptable a mere generation ago ?


2. An Inclusive Term

The word man, before Feminism was invented, was a sexually (no: I do not mean "gender-", because I am referring to physical sex, rather than to Sociological gender) inclusive word. It had (at least) two meanings: it meant a male human being, and it also meant a human being -- whether female or male. I don't think that anyone is so simple-minded that they can't cope with a word having more than one meaning.

There is more to this issue, however: Feminists claim that research indicates that males and females take more interest in job-advertisements if the occupational term is sexually neutral, than if it seems to include the opposite sex only. See, for example, the booklet "Watch Your Language" (New Zealand State Services Commission 1990).

This booklet suggests, for example, replacing the words on the left with the words on the right:









skilled worker


milk vendor







(and so on)












However, many of the occupations involved are not attractive to most women, so the name changes may seem to some people to be a waste of time, effort and money. It is not as if all mainly-male occupations are better paid and more attractive than all mainly-female occupations! A lot of them are dirty, dangerous, and poorly-paid. Many more men die in job-related accidents than do women.

Nevertheless, let's assume that the above argument in favour of using occupational terms that are sex-neutral is a convincing one. Even if it is convincing, it still does not apply to the term Reasonable Man, because it is not an accupational term.


3. Feminist Hypocrisy

The clincher, however, is the hypocrisy of the Feminist attempts to institute sex-neutral terminology -- at least, outside the limited sphere of occupational terms. For example, many Feminists have argued that God should not be regarded solely as male. Some have even referred to God as She. But I have never heard a Feminist refer to the Devil as she. Why is this ? It is quite obvious that most Feminists are biased. They only want the good things in Life to be female !

I have found that TV One and TV3 insist on using words like gunman, instead of gender-neutral alternatives, such as gunperson, gunner, or shooter. The incident when armed male and female Chechen militants took over a Moscow cinema would have been a perfect opportunity for the (overwhelmingly Feminist) media to use terms like gunperson or even gunwoman, but they did not rise to the occasion, as far as I could see. If a word was derogatory only to mere men, then they were perfectly happy to use it. Another example is the word manhunt, which Feminists have never tried to change to personhunt, as far as I am aware.

The word gunman denigrates all males, because it implies that only men go around killing people with guns. This is parallel to the word chairman, which Feminists say discriminates against (all) women, because it implies that only men chair meetings.

The difference is that Feminists want women to be thought of as potential chairpersons, and so on, but they are quite happy for only men to be thought of as potential gunmen, because this word has negative overtones. Feminists often say that they only want equality, but issues such as sexist language make it obvious that this is a lie.



Until and unless Feminists show a consistent willingness to use non-sexist language for the benefit of men as well as women, lawyers should not even contemplate saying Reasonable Person instead of Reasonable Man. Even if and when the above unlikely event does occur, lawyers should continue to use the term Reasonable Man until and unless the use of Latin terms is also abolished in Legal contexts.




Peter Douglas Zohrab

Latest Update

26 July 2015