What do I mean by title?
Well, let me get this straight from the start. I’m not talking about book titles here. Or how you decide to begin your journal article or what you call your thesis. They are all important and I do have things to say about them, but right now I’m talking about the bit that goes before your first and/or last name.
Having just completed a journey from one side of the world to another, on two different airlines, I’ve discovered I can get pretty miffed about what people decide to call me. I’ve been Ms., Miss or Mrs the entire way to Australia and back, on planes and in hotels.
So what’s wrong with that?
Well, first off, the ancient part of me that struggled with lots of other women to say that our marriage status was pretty irrelevant to most aspects of our lives, and that we wanted to be called Ms. instead of Miss or Mrs, is pretty shocked at the way that this seems to have dropped off the list of titular possibilities. Only Qantas managed to print out a boarding pass that listed me as Ms.
But hang on Qantas, I’m in your data base as Dr. In order to print out my boarding pass I shoved my Qantas card into the appropriate slot and it clearly says Dr. What kind of translation goes on in the machine, I wondered, as I proceeded to board the plane and get called Ms. for the entire journey.
On the other flights and hotels, all booked via the university travel agency in which my academic titles are clearly entered, I become Miss or Mrs. When I produce my credit card for authorisation when checking in, it can be clearly seen that my very polite and proper British bank has written Prof or Profr as my title. Yet I remain firmly Miss or Mrs in hotel records.
I’ve even recently had two emails from academic conference organisers addressing me as Miss. And surely they ought to know better!
Am I just being a silly here?
Well, most of the time I actually don’t worry about titles. I don’t call myself Dr. Pat Thomson on Twitter or this blog. I know that some people do and I don’t have a problem with that. It’s just not that important to me. But I do know that lots of people click on the ‘about me’ part of the blog to see who I am and, I bet, whether I have any qualifications at all for talking about academic writing, research and other bits and pieces of academic life. So that’s where I put my stuff in this instance, where it’s about track record and street cred.
However, I discover that I am passionate in my belief that the use of a title is an option that people have the right to choose. Most of the time I choose not to use my titles. However I’ve recently confirmed that I object strongly to other people making that decision for me.
I worked hard for my PhD, as did everyone else who has one. As I keep saying to the doctoral researchers with whom I work, if a PhD was easy everyone would have one. So, in part, having the title is a recognition of something that I and every other Dr. have achieved. I’m not so fussed about the Professor bit but I guess it’s also some kind of achievement that in some places does matter – and as one person said to me on Twitter recently, not caring is a luxury I can have.
But the other thing – and actually the main and serious issue – is that an academic title is part of my identity. Like any other bit of the ‘me’ that I present to the world, I want to be able to control how I represent myself. If I choose to represent myself as title-less – another option not usually available – that’s up to me I reckon. If I choose to be known as Ms. then that’s my choice. And if in some circumstances, such as being notified about acceptance of a paper for a conference, or checking into a hotel or flight, I choose to be Dr. or Professor then I think I should be able to make that decision for myself.
Most of the time I don’t care to push my title(s) under people’s noses. Sometimes it’s downright embarrassing or counter productive – for example at the hairdressers, when Dr. or Professor makes normally voluble young women get very tongue-tied as they lapse into thinking about their own academic successes and failures. I can often see this happening in front of me when they ask what I do.
But when I am denied the option to choose my title I get crabby. What I get called is my decision to make, not that of some corporate computer programmers!!
What do you think? Is this just a girl thing? Does Mr not have the same effects? When do you use your title(s) and why?