Reflecting Allowed

The “Dr.” Thing and Gender Issues

Two slightly different things motivated me to write this post: the first is my boss saying she “heard’ that I “insist” on being called “Dr” which is a totally untrue rumor, but I know how it originated so I feel compelled to dispell the notion once and for all… Which all leads to a gender issue which I have been thinking and reading about (the great bell hooks, and the great Rebecca Hogue)

Let’s start with the Dr thing…

It starts when I was a child and people jokingly called me “Dr” because my parents were medical doctors, and continues onto my adulthood where people assumed I must be a medical doctor because my parents and husband are medical doctors. Right, what else might I possible be? Then because I teach at university, people (at least students at first) call me “Dr”

but I always, always insist on my students, often school teachers, calling me by my first name (when I did get my PhD some jokingly called me “Dr” for fun, but not like all the time or anything…
(Note: I don,t tell undergrads I teach not to call me “Dr” coz I have been told it’s important to keep that barrier, but other undergrads I interact with call me by my first name)

The miss/mrs thing…
To understand the rest of this story, you need to understand my miss/mrs thing. I am deeply insulted by the fact that women are defined by whether they are married or not. I know there is a “Ms” in English (not in Arabic, though, but there are alternatives that do not refer to marital status that are very rarely used, like “ostaza” and often apparently also imply a single woman who’s gotten old.. But never mind). So I have issues with this, gender-wise. I have another issue with an old wedding invitation at my old job as a systems analyst, where all the guys in the department got an invite with the title “monandes” (engineer) when some were not engineer at all… And I got one with the title “Miss” (was not married at the time) when at least I was a computer scientist and closer to an engineer than some other dudes. For me, the offense was in being defined by my marital status when the men were defined by their profession, even though I was like, in the exact same profession for God’s sake!

This got more complicated when I was at a stage in my relationship with my now-husband called “katb ketab” where you are officially married in terms of government docs but not yet living together as married couples do. Whenever I was in an official situation where someone had to say Miss or Mrs, my husband would insist on “Mrs” and my dad would insist on “Miss” (apparently, my dad was stuck on a virginity thing, I kid you not!) – and if that is not a case of the men in my life controlling how the world sees me, and the damn world sticking its nose into my personal business, I don’t know what is…

The gender issue in academia

Right, the rest of this story goes… i was having a discussion with an older female professor who talked about how in formal settings, some people would introduce all the men on a panel as “Dr. X and Dr. Y” and then call her by her first name. It is one thing to be called by one’s first name in general, but another to have this done in formal settings, where everyone else with a PhD gets called “Dr” – if everyone’s gonna get called something, and I am that something, I deserve to be called “it”… Fair enough?

The rumor thing
And so the rumor about me wanting to be called “Dr” originated in two separate stories.

One is that my faculty contract said “Ms. Bali” which is really funny given it was an assoc prof position and they had my CV! So when I went to sign it, I told the person giving it to me, “btw, you do know the contract says Ms not Dr, right?” And she asked, “do you want me to change it?” And I said, “naah, just thought it was strange…” And she said “but I didn’t realize you’d finished your PhD”… At which point I was wearing Timberlands and jeans and posted something on facebook about how my dresscode made people not believe I had a PhD…

And then… There was another incident with an (older, male) faculty member who recently called me “Miss” and i was like, “I am Dr now” (plus been married almost 10 years, but hey, who’s counting?) but he kept calling me “Miss” in meetings. I was like, will you please call me by my first name? And if you’re going to be formal, please don’t call me “Miss”, call me “Dr”. I don’t see what is wrong with that… Ummm, I guess you’d have to understand why I don’t like being called Miss… But it’t not that I insist on ppl calling me by my title rather than my name… It’s that my title is not “Miss” so if you’re gonna use a title, use “Dr”…

And finally, apparently the whole misunderstanding reached our temp dept assistant who is a grad student. She’d been around for maybe a coupe of weeks at the time, and she stopped me and asked, “I’ve been calling you Maha all this time, because everyone calls you Maha, but should I be calling you Dr.?” And I laughed and said, “You’re kidding, right? Why would you call me that?” And she said, “well, I call the other faculty here Dr., so I thought maybe …” And I just kept laughing, because, really? (for the record, everyone in my dept calls the younger faculty by their first names – so I am not sure why she doesn’t)

Anyway: I have written before about my mild impostor syndrome issues, but needing to be called “Dr” is not one of my mechanisms for dealing with that. I don’t need to be called anything, but I do have a gender-related issue of being called Miss/Mrs, and Dr is my way out of that… And I will take it!

[coming up soon, more on gender and bell hooks… Yum]

2 thoughts on “The “Dr.” Thing and Gender Issues

  1. I definitely agree with your aversion to Miss. I dropped that many years back (after my B.Sc) and started using Ms. I’m now married, but I didn’t change my name – so I’m still Ms. Hogue. Although, when I submit things to medical education conferences, it always is addressed to Dr. Hogue. In that area, there is automatically the assumption that if you are submitted something you are a medical doctor. I cannot yet say what I shall think about being a doctor one day (soon enough I hope). There will be many awkward times when you just don’t know how to introduce yourself – but truth be told, I already have those times, as I sit on the boundary of scholar and practitioner.

    I find the similarities in our paths in life rather interesting :-). We shall have to try to find a conference in which we both plan on attending sometime, so we can share a meal.

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