Musings about academe in haphazard fashion.
I just signed my Fall contract, which is always reassuring in a recession. For those of you who don’t know, many professors like myself are on 10 month salary contracts and, while I have tenure, there is always that nagging fear that a new contract will not emerge. This was a bit more concerning in this past year given the consolidation of my university with the medical college and other schools into a new entity. Long story short, I was happy at the salary listing and things were looking quite positive until I looked carefully at the salutation.
In the nicely presented formal contract signed by the university president, I had been addressed as “Mrs.” While I did email the President and copied the Chair, and apologies were made and promises to address this with HR, it left a residual feeling of irritation. Hence this post.
Whether one considers the origins of the movement for women’s rights in the U.S. to be in the colonial era, the late 19th century, the suffrage movement, or women’s lib of the 60s and 70s, we should all agree that gender equality should exist in 2013. If women like Hillary Clinton and others can run for President and hold high levels of office, then we should have graduated long past the designations of women only being addressed by marital status.
Years ago I was amused when my then professor, Dr. J. Maxwell, introduced me to the idea of “s/he” instead of the traditional “he or she” and other gender neutral terms. I was always rankled by my esteemed, but much older mentor, Dr. R. Lee Woodward, Jr., using what he termed “colorful” language to describe boats, ships, nations, as “endowed” or with a female pronoun, but never made much headway. I even fought with the science professor, Dr. Jim Bray, at Blackburn College over his proposed course titled “Man and the Land” for the generic and supposedly all-encompassing use of “Man” to include women as well. I didn’t participate in these issues because of my strong beliefs in feminism or my adherence to a particular cause, but to help realize the idea of true equality.
I must admit that I do feel a serious twinge of irritation each time a student calls me Mrs./Ms. Abdelnur or Mrs./Ms. A. Ask any female professor and we notice any time an advisee, student in the classroom, or students out and about on campus mention other male professors; they never say “Mr.” I know, I know, some of you are going to say, “It comes out of high school. They are just used to calling their former teachers by their first names or married designation.” However, that still does not explain the lack of “Mr.” when addressing male professors, so I’m not buying that argument. I fully believe there is an embedded underlying sexism when addressing women who have earned their doctoral degree. This antiquated idea that women could not possibly have attained that level of education and, thus, be equal to their male counterparts absolutely must go! I work in a department with five men and six women, so the era where men dominated academia and the lone woman was an anomaly is no longer a reality.
The rule of thumb if you are a student should be:
1. All in the field of education should be deserving of respect for their willingness to share their knowledge and their patience in helping you attain your goals. It does not matter if they teach elementary, middle, high school, community college, or continuing education. This is not college or university specific.
2. Never assume a woman is married, even if you have seen her photos of her children or grandchildren in her office. She may be divorced, widowed, estranged from her husband, or never have been married or even believe in the institution. For example, she may not be heterosexual and the assumption on your part of “woman + children = married to a man” might be extremely offensive.
3. When in doubt, “professor” is safest if you have not been given an indication the first day of class, on your syllabus, or on her office door as to otherwise.
4. If your professor has introduced herself as “Dr.” or it is on her syllabus and/or her office door or business card, then give her the courtesy she deserves after years of graduate courses, written and oral exams, and a dissertation the length of a book.
5. You may only, and I mean only, address a female in the front of your classroom as “Ms.” if you know for certain that they do not have a Ph.D. And you should never, ever, address her as “Mrs.” or by first name unless she has given you express permission to do so.
This topic is nothing particularly new, as the related blog posts below can tell. However, just ask yourself how you would address your oldest, most revered, male professor in college? Would it be “Mr.”? Now think of that same professor who’s gender just happens to be female. Get the point? Thank you!