What’s in a Title, Anyway? Accomplishment, That’s What.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of different work with folks who I know both personally and professionally but haven’t had to do work with them in writing. We arrange things on the phone, we share notes at a meeting or I recognize them as a leader of their group, they recognize me as a leader in mine.

The problem is, I’ve had to call on them to create things for me in writing lately and they’re forgetting the Dr. From very trusted, feminist friends and colleagues, I’ve recently gotten “Ms. Julie Ferris” memos and writings and letters. Really? In the same breath that you praise my work, my collegiality and encourage me personally, you’re forgetting one of the coolest, hardest earned things about me: my Ph.D.

At first, I wasn’t going to be bothered by it. When I was defending my dissertation–which is, of course A BOOK–a friend of a family member asked “Are you going to be one of those ones who makes us all say “DOCTOR” Julie Ferris?” I naively told her no, I earned the degree for me, for my profession, for my mind and because I had the academic and critical thinking skills and talent to do so.

Later, however, I have found that when I was teaching and without a doubt all the men in the room were immediately assumed to be Dr. Jones, Dr. Smith and Dr. Brown, and all the women were assumed to be Ms. Johnson, Ms. Miller and Ms. Smith, I realized I had to be more assertive to remind others that I earned I title I wanted.

Do not call me “Ms.”, I tell my students. Be personal enough with me in the classroom and active in your engagement and dedication such that we work closely and you can call me Julie…in class, we are, after all, working together.

Or call me “Dr. J” or “Dr. F” if you want to use the title but don’t like its formality. Be warned, most of all, that I did something MANY people cannot do in earning that title. Do not discard it. Do not reassign me as you see fit.

When I left academia and started a job in the public sector, months after seeing my business card (Julie E. Ferris, Ph.D.) and my email signature (same), one of the bosses I work for, an older generation male, cornered me and said “Oh, hey, I didn’t realize you were a Dr.!”

I blushed and then owned the knowledge (finally) that indeed, I had spent 11 years studying to become an expert in a field and was acknowledged by colleagues, peers and universities everywhere to be said expert and published original research with said title. He then laughed and said “it hurts right here,” pointing to his elbow. Then he got very serious, paused and said sternly, “But, you’re not THAT kind of doctor, are you now?” I think he thought he was putting me in my place as he walked away with some sick satisfaction. Though I won’t forget it, I will also continually remember he is just a “Mr.”

I was most disappointed that women in my life–powerful women–inadvertently removed the title for me. I can’t stop contemplating why that would be. If you’re a cheerleader (pardon the gendered metaphor here, perhaps I mean it…) for the State Conference Champs, do you leave off last season’s major victory and simply host a pep rally for the “Spartans,” only to remember later, “oh, yeah, you’re conference champs. Great job.”? Nope.

So, my latest course of political action is to be less humble about my achievement because it appears that if even women can neglect the assumption that another woman has earned a title–any title–that isn’t a throwback to a condition of matrimony (Miss, Missus, Mrs., Mistress, Mademoiselle, Ms.), then apparently the time has NOT yet come to be humble.

People may not understand it or may think that because I’m not in a job that requires it, my Ph.D. doesn’t have meaning. Of course, if it doesn’t have meaning for them, there’s nothing I can do about that. I can, however, reflect in my resume all the opportunities it’s given me. I can reflect in my day to day strategic thinking and planning all the mental gynmastics I’ve been able to perfect as a critical scholar. I can remind people that I had the drive, character, determination and smarts to do this work, maybe they don’t.

I can, of course, remind people much more seriously now and not worry that I’m a bitch as I say, firmly, “That’s Dr. Ferris, not Ms.”

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maryt1 View All →

Feminist, activist, outdoor advocate, animal lover, chocolate shake lover, reader, watcher, talker, actor, speaker, worker, writer, urban adventurer, hustler, involved, passionate, excited, ready.

1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. This brought to mind a conversation I had with my Doctor. She told me to call her Anne. I said no, you earned the title of Dr. I did start calling her Dr. Anne however. Use that title girl, you’ve more than earned it.

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