Doctor Doctor, gimme the news, I’ve got a bad case of mocking you

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The new slogan for The Daily Chrenk should henceforth be “TDC – read it all here two days before News.com.au catches onto it”.

I wasn’t going to blog about this story, as I felt that I’ve done my duty both on Twitter and on Facebook, but it has gone so viral now that even the boring mainstream news sites have started covering it. There is not much to it – it’s a story of an Australian medical academic who took to Twitter to complain that Qantas staff addressed her as Miss, despite seeing on her ticket her title was Dr. This is the original tweet and my response, which coincidentally became the most liked/shared thing I’ve done on Twitter:

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It’s now up to over 1000 likes, but who’s counting? Dr O’Dwyer has subsequently blocked me and then unblocked me on Twitter – I’m no competition as her original tweet has been liked by 8 thousand people by now.

Lot of people on the social media seemed to have liked my response (including the great Amy Alkon) but obviously not everyone did, including not all my friends, which is all fine with me as I clearly wouldn’t expect any sort of unanimity on such a fraught issue. As I was writing my tweet back, I suspected that feminists would jump to Dr O’Dwyer’s defence and accuse me of mansplaining, denigrating a woman’s lived experience, and downplaying everyday sexism from my position of a male privilege. This is indeed what I got from a few responders:

I respect these views (and still salivating over my chunky slice of patriarchal dividend) but I stand by my original comment, and I do so for a few different reasons:

1. I’m not a fan of using professional or ceremonial titles outside of the confines of the work environment. I understand you might be proud about your academic (or other) achievement, and far be it for me to tell you otherwise, but is that a reason to insist that everyone else you come into contact with needs to acknowledge it on a routine basis? Do you really require all that constant validation of your achievement? “I did not spend 8 years at university to be called a Miss” seems like a wrong reason for doing things – presumably you spent X number of years studying hard for your own sense of self-satisfaction, to contribute to the sum total of the human knowledge, to challenge yourself, or to pursue a life-long passion rather than to seem more important than 99.9 per cent of the society. At least I would hope so.

2. Why does a doctorate, the gain of those two magic letters “Dr”, have to be privileged over all other achievements? Forget the academic ones – and why shouldn’t holders of the Masters degree insist they be addressed as Master? – should we address our Olympians in perpetuity as “Gold Medal Winner X” or “World Record Breaker Y”? After all, these widely acclaimed achievements also crown long years of hard work, albeit not intellectual one. What about partners at law firms or directors of government departments? Or award-winning writers, film-makers, musicians or artists?

3. I would certainly have more sympathy for Dr O’Dwyer if she received the “Miss”-treatment from her (male) peers and colleagues at university or a work conference, where they otherwise addressed each other by their academic honorifics but made an exception for Dr O’Dwyer. I think we would all agree that would be a sexist double standard. But the situation here is that most likely another woman (or a gay male, if you excuse an airline stereotype), working in services industry, in a job which doesn’t enjoy a lot of social status, and which pays probably a third of what Dr O’Dwyer earns, referred to her as Miss despite the ticket clearly stating her preferred title was Dr. Sexism? Brain freeze? Slip up? Who knows, but it sounds like something out of “Downton Abbey” or “Upstairs Downstairs”, where the Duchess is miffed because one of the servants did not address her properly. How dare the plebs? Particularly in this context:

Among her Australian academic supporters was Dr Mel Thomson, who describes herself as a “recovering academic microbiologist adrift in Quangoland” and a “bad feminist” from Geelong and Melbourne.

Dr Thomson tweeted to her more than 13,000 followers that she sometimes received the same treatment from Virgin Australia.

“I’m bringing my axe for all the asshats telling you it’s your ego,” she tweeted. “You have all of the solidarity on this issue. I’m first gen to finish high school (let alone get several degrees) in my family … I’ll be damned is some trolley dolly gets to decide what honorific I get called, FFS.”

There is such an ugly overtone of snobbery and elitism about it, putting down a much-lower status working females for not addressing their social and intellectual betters as betters. Is this really how we want our society to be? I’m all for a meritocracy and I definitely don’t believe in the sort of an absolute (and usually fake) egalitarianism where everyone has to call each other “citizen” or “comrade”, but I thought that the whole point of the social, political, economic and religious evolution since the Middle Ages was to break down the feudal-era deferences, where the great majority of the unwashed had to bow and scrape before their lords, temporal and spiritual. Holders of doctorates of philosophy or laws or medicine are clearly more deserving than a hereditary sire of the shire, but still.

The Dr O’Dwyer incident reminded me of this a few months back:

A Cambridge University academic has claimed she was subject to racist treatment from King’s College porters.

Priyamvada Gopal said she would stop tutoring students at the institution in protest of being subject to “consistently racist profiling and aggression by porters” at the college over the years.

Hundreds of stories abound over the years … If you can’t be polite to me at the gate, I can’t do any work for you,” the 50-year-old tweeted.
The academic, who teaches in the Faculty of English at Cambridge, said she had repeatedly asked the porters to address her as “Dr Gopal” instead of “madam” in an incident which took place on Monday.
“I repeatedly asked them to address me as ‘Dr Gopal’ and repeatedly failed to get them, including the aggressive Head Porter to whom I attempt to complain to address me as anything other than ‘madam’”.
She claimed after saying “please address me as Dr Gopal,” a porter hit back by saying: “I don’t care who you are”.

With an added twist of racism accusations. Dr Gopal no doubt also didn’t spend 8 years at university for some chav to just call her “Madam”.

There is the underlying assumption in all of this, that such actions must be motivated by malice, bigotry and sexism, because it would never have happened to a male. I don’t think that the case, but I stand to be corrected if there is some reliable research, as opposed to anecdotes. But if you believe that even in 2018 the whole social, political and economic metastructure is still a function of patriarchal oppression then everything will seem like a conspiracy against you. I’m not arguing that the world is perfect, everyone is happy and that prejudice doesn’t exist, but pretending the opposite is not helping anyone.

By the way, don’t you know who I am?

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