Dammit I’m a Dr not a Stereotype

Actual responses… prompted by the “Immodest” tweet. Image credit @ralphharrington

I’m proud to call myself Dr Bastiman. It’s on my email signature (personal and professional), it’s in my twitter name, it’s the title I use when dealing with I have to give my details for just about anything. I’m proud of it and have never consider this to be immodest. My title shows to the world that I’ve achieved something considerable. I was both surprised and then immediately not surprised when a storm started on Twitter…

I’ve had similar rants myself over the years. Particularly at one company where using my title in my email signature didn’t fit their cultural “tone of voice” yet at the same time senior males with PhDs were allowed to use their titles… I now use mine everywhere. However, the reason that the tweet came to my attention was one of the bizarre responses…

And oh my, everything exploded in a few amazing ways. Firstly, women in their droves changed their twitter names to include their earned titles. Drs, Profs sprang up everywhere. While this started as solidarity it’s absolutely beautiful to see so many women showing their achievements. There are a lot of us and that makes me very happy.

Secondly, there was a backlash from people who were pressing the immodesty issue. Why is it a bad thing for a person to showcase their achievements? I spent too many years evading questions about exam results out of a sense of embarrassment that society had forced on me, and it wasn’t until I was comfortable with who I was in my mid twenties that I could be proud about it all. By referring to it as “immodest” it is somehow boastful or arrogant to celebrate significant achievements, even putting aside the connotation that he was suggesting women in particular should be modest. There were huge threads from men who seemed to think that an appropriate response was to call Dr Fern Riddell out on being single and/or a crazy cat lady and/or ridicule her academic credentials.

Just reading through some of the responses to that tweet was quite eye-opening.  It’s remarkable that 100 years after Sufferage, women are still being degraded because of their marital status, not wearing high heels1 and daring to showcase their academic achievements.  This is not a case of disagreeing, it is unnecessary rudeness.  As one of the books I read at infant school stated:

“People should think twice before making rude remarks,” said Mrs. Lambchop. “And then not make them at all.” ― Jeff Brown, Flat Stanley

There were a lot of comments from male doctors wondering why they had never been called out…

This also re-raised the gender stereotyping that comes along with the use of Miss, Ms or Mrs. I used “Ms” on my university application because it was irrelevant despite being told that this would “say something about me”… the implication being that this was a bad thing.  Titles were used for gender classification and this is still done in a lot of areas. Dr is regularly mapped to Mr or Male in badly designed systems (something I’ve spoken about before2). We are becoming a society where gender identity and pronouns are a personal thing and may not conform to a binary check box.  If you think it’s immodest when someone offers you a title to use by which to address them, then might you not also consider that it would be rude to mis-address someone?  I wonder how some of the men calling out Dr Riddell would feel if they were continually addressed as “Miss” in their daily lives.  It would be rude, it would be incorrect.  It would be exactly the same as Dr Riddell being called Miss.

I loved the tweet from Professor Judith Buchanan on her strange airport experience…

We still have this strange society norm that women can’t be Drs and if they are then they need to look a certain way.

If you’ve earned it then do not be afraid or ashamed to use it. It is not any more immodest than using Mrs, Ms or Miss – you are stating your title so that people can address you correctly.

  1.   Yes one of the respondents made a comment about “comfy shoes”.  I’m typing this wearing trainers – attire has literally no impact on intellectual ability.
  2. Only a Sith deals in absolutes – let’s all be a bit more Jedi 😀

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Dr Janet is a Molecular Biochemistry graduate from Oxford University with a doctorate in Computational Neuroscience from Sussex. I’m currently studying for a third degree in Mathematics with Open University. During the day, and sometimes out of hours, I work as a Chief Science Officer. You can read all about that on my LinkedIn page.