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I've just received an email from a female student, addressing me as 'Miss X' - not at all an uncommon occurrence. I like to think I'm not the kind of person who would feel the need to go round with a stick up my ass about people getting my title wrong like this - except that the rest of her email goes on to demonstrate perfectly why, nevertheless, I do. Within three sentences, she has gone on to mention (in the context of possible dissertation supervisors for next year) two of my male colleagues - and both of them are referred to, entirely correctly, as 'Dr. Y' and 'Dr. Z'.

Just for the record, it's not that she hasn't had every opportunity of noticing that I am a Doctor, too. She took one of my modules last year, so would have seen it on the module documentation. Meanwhile, this year she is studying in Italy, and as such has received numerous emails from me in my capacity as Study Abroad coordinator, all of which included my full name and title in the signature file. Also, one of the male colleagues she mentions is of a very similar age to me - so this should rule out the possibility that she is assuming I am too young to have become a Doctor yet. All that's left is an apparent unconscious assumption that female academics are not equivalent in status to their male colleagues.

It's not the first time I've seen this, or the first time I've seen it coming from someone who is female themselves. I recognise that a lot of people don't really understand what academic titles mean, or how you earn them. But even if you don't know the fine details, I think it's generally clear enough that 'Doctor' is an honorific, earned title. Seeing female academics regularly stripped of it by underlying assumptions about their intellectual status, while their male colleagues are not, is just one more sign of how unbalanced gender relations continue to be.


( 41 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 2nd, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
This is a good reason for always introducing yourself formally and not allowing people to make their own minds up.

I have the sneaking suspicion that she approached you because you're less intimidating than those scary male doctors.

Students, you can't kill 'em, and you can't slap 'em round the head either.
May. 2nd, 2008 09:25 pm (UTC)
Actually, to be fair, she was replying to an email I'd sent her, drawing her attention to the fact that she'd need to start thinking about her dissertation while she was still in Italy - so her choice of me as correspondent wasn't really significant.

I'm perfectly happy with informality normally - I just get annoyed when people attempt formality, and reveal these rather ugly attitudes as they do so.
May. 2nd, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
Are you pointedly going to reply by signing yourself as Dr. Penny Goodman? Because that's where I'd be heading right now.
May. 2nd, 2008 09:27 pm (UTC)
Oh, I've done that plenty of times! And at least once I've actually edited their own email, beneath my reply, to show the correct title. Which is a very passive-aggressive thing to do, of course, but I'm all for passive aggression when it gets me the results I want!
(no subject) - biascut - May. 3rd, 2008 09:38 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - smellingbottle - May. 3rd, 2008 04:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - May. 3rd, 2008 06:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - biascut - May. 6th, 2008 03:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - May. 6th, 2008 04:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - glitzfrau - May. 10th, 2008 10:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - May. 10th, 2008 11:36 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - altariel - Aug. 26th, 2008 05:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - Aug. 26th, 2008 06:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 2nd, 2008 09:03 pm (UTC)
I had absolutely no idea this sort of stuff went on, but then being male, I probably wouldn't experience the phenomenon directly.
May. 2nd, 2008 09:36 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it does. I'm probably particularly sensitive to it today, as a result of having read this (courtesy of matgb) earlier today - but, as I say, I've noticed the exact same phenomenon before anyway, and been annoyed by it. It's the fact that it's so obviously subconscious that really makes it so perfidious.

I'd be interested, actually, to know how often you (or any other male academics reading) get emails from students addressing you as 'Mr. Keen'. I get addressed as 'Miss' or 'Ms' fairly often by students - but of course most of those emails don't also refer to other members of staff, so don't include the stark contrast in forms of address that really annoyed me in this particular one.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - strange_complex - May. 2nd, 2008 10:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - swisstone - May. 2nd, 2008 11:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - smellingbottle - May. 3rd, 2008 04:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 2nd, 2008 09:31 pm (UTC)
It's quite strange really. I can only assume it was a "doctors are men" subconscious assumption.

Recently I had an embarrasing moment when two women told me that they were about to start work in a hospital. "Oh, you're nurses" I asked. "No, doctors."

It wasn't a gender thing though. Honestly, they both looked about 20. They hadn't actually quite finished qualifying as doctors this was their last "field assignment" before being qualified.
May. 2nd, 2008 09:44 pm (UTC)
Oops! Bless you for being ready to recount your slip-up here, though.
May. 2nd, 2008 09:33 pm (UTC)
Gender inequality
If you think that gender inequality is bad in England, try playing in the Antipodes. I found it seriously difficult to make various men actually acknowledge my existence in Australia, let alone recognise any of my better qualities. To be fair, this was on a farm in the middle of rural Tasmania, but still...
May. 2nd, 2008 09:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Gender inequality
Yes, I remember being quite shocked when reading Bob's account of how a male farm worker had addressed him about something that mainly involved you and completely ignored you, despite the fact that you were standing right beside him! Hope things are more civilised in Wellington.
May. 2nd, 2008 09:53 pm (UTC)
usually: lecturing = doctorate : )
We have a young, attractive, feminine professor who is head of psychology, see (http://www.psychol.cam.ac.uk/pages/staffweb/clayton/). I was disgusted to hear other students joke about how many members of the rest of the (entirely male) department she slept with to get there. Jenny Clack is another female prefessor we have in the department. She's just slightly older but much less "pretty". No one made any comments about her position - it is truly sad when this happens.
May. 2nd, 2008 10:15 pm (UTC)
Gah! Were the students joking about it male or female themselves?
May. 2nd, 2008 11:13 pm (UTC)
I get it all the time, except it's usually "Mrs" because of my advanced age ...And I'm told I look 5-10 years younger than I am!

And this is after I take time the first day of classes to instruct the students the proper form of address.

Generally, it's more men than women, but plenty of my female students do it.
May. 3rd, 2008 08:55 am (UTC)
I get the reverse effect -- students not infrequently call me "Dr. Holloway," although I'm not (yet). But my performance matches what they think of as an academic, I guess.
May. 3rd, 2008 10:15 am (UTC)
ARGH! There can be no excuses - that's just unbelievably crass of her. I'm not sure there's much you can do, per se, beyond, as people suggest, signing yourself pointedly as Dr.

Honestly, since academia is *still* male dominated you think women would be more inclined to support each other's right to be there.
(Deleted comment)
May. 3rd, 2008 03:08 pm (UTC)
Yes, absolutely. I'm all for helping to maintain general public awareness of the small-scale gender-snubs like this which go on every day. In fact, what I have done is to go back in and remove all specific information about both myself and the student, and then change the status of the entry from friends-only to public. So you can now quote it verbatim and / or link people here if you want to.
May. 3rd, 2008 07:52 pm (UTC)
It's not just that omni doctores are men, but that all of some sorts of men are doctors. I've been automatically awarded a doctorate by interlocutors on a number of occasions, I can only assume because I've written a book and went to Oxford. I can't think of any of my female friends that applies to in order to check their experiences - which probably tells you something in itself.
May. 3rd, 2008 07:53 pm (UTC)
Although thinking about that it's more polite to assume someone is more qualified than they turn out to be.
(no subject) - strange_complex - May. 3rd, 2008 09:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 3rd, 2008 08:58 pm (UTC)
Why couldn't she just have written 'Dear My-first-name'?

Going to a Qquaker college ruined me and I tried to get my students to call me by my first name - and that never worked. Now I noticed that the junior faculty are calling me "Dr" even when I ask them to call me Bill.

Students usually call female professors "Miss" or "Mrs" more than they do male professors. I had two friends, a married couple, she had a Ph.D. and he had a masters. The taught in the same department and their students usually called her "Mrs L" and him "Dr L". Knowing this, every semester, I mention that it's important to make sure you know if your professors are doctors or not.
May. 3rd, 2008 09:29 pm (UTC)
That's depressing, about the married couple. Good for you for doing your bit to tackle the issue with your students, though.
May. 3rd, 2008 09:28 pm (UTC)
This comment is not in any way intended to justify the sexism of your student, but I note in passing that there is a perfectly valid school of thought that holders of PhDs should be addressed in correspondence as Mr/Miss/Ms/Mrs X, and that the title "Dr" should be reserved for those who hold higher doctorates. (I beg your pardon if you actually hold a higher doctorate, but I do not believe this to be the case.) Obviously, it ought to be consistent across male and female doctors, but I was struck by your suggestion that "Dr X" was the "correct title", when that is not universally agreed.
May. 6th, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
I know people with PhDs who don't use their Dr title outside academia (I'm debating whether or not to myself), but I've never come across anyone arguing that it is correct to address someone who holds a doctorate and calls themselves "Dr" as anything but that within academia.

Out of interest, what is a "higher doctorate"? I've never heard of such a thing.
(no subject) - strange_complex - May. 6th, 2008 04:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 4th, 2008 03:36 pm (UTC)
I've quoted students' emails when they've addressed me as Miss E, to say to use Dr E or first-name, it's their choice which they want to use, but not to use Miss. One of the students in my lab I got really annoyed at as he would say "miss" when he wanted attention - it's not school any more!!!

The other day I got one of those emails asking whether someone can come and work with me for a summer. This one said the person had been looking at my webpages and was really interested in my research. They addressed me as "Respected Sir"... (it should be quite obvious from the photo on my webpage I'm not really a sir!)
May. 4th, 2008 06:56 pm (UTC)
When I was at uni, we never used people's titles (academic or otherwise) in our department - though I'm not sure if this was because we were generally pretty informal, or if it was due to academics getting sick of being addressed by the wrong title, or a combination of both.
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