Doctor, Doctor! (No, it’s not Dr. Who… alas.)

When I stumbled upon this article yesterday, I thought it was fascinating and started writing a blog post on it; I didn’t finish the post, because I’d already posted for the day. I planned to finish it up this afternoon.

Well, now I don’t have to. Sarah Jaffe at GlobalComment does an excellent takedown of the “news” article, which I doubt I can match. (Should’ve been faster; I could’ve been the one to break the news to the feminist blogosphere!)

Nevertheless, waste not, want not. The article is supposedly about Jill Biden returning to work but instead is about how she prefers to be adressed as “Dr. Biden” despite the fact that she’s not a real doctor, she only has a Ph.D, not an M.D. (bitch!). There’s also an adorable little side-obsession about the fact that Dr. Biden is the only second lady to work while her husband is in office, but the Ph.D. “controversy” is the main focus. Lynne Cheney has a Ph.D., too, it says, and she always went by Mrs. Cheney!

Money quote: “Also, just think if you were on an airplane and you called yourself ‘doctor’ and there was an emergency.”

I find the Ph.D./M.D. “doctor” distinction to be an compelling topic, though I side pretty firmy with the idea that if you have gotten a doctorate you can call yourself a doctor. However, I don’t think the female/male “doctor” distinction is compelling, exactly; it’s an interesting phenomenon to discuss, but it’s not a compelling argument to engage in.

My parents both have Ph.D.s in computer science, and I can’t tell you how many times my dad gets called “Dr. Smith” while my mom is “Mrs. Smith” (Not my real last name.) Or, even worse, my dad is “Dr.” and my mom is Susan. Once, we even had “Dr. Smith and Sue Smith.” My mother’s name is not Sue. It’s Dr. Susan Smith. And when you screw up, and call her “Mrs. Smith,” you don’t get to pretend it’s really about the fact that she’s not an M.D. Because even though the M.D./Ph.D. debate takes place with gender-neutral terms, nobody ever fails to address a professorly white man as anything other than doctor.

My parents emigrated from Canada for their degrees. They worked their asses off. And yet, my friends growing up had to be told again, and again, and again that my mom isn’t Mrs. Smith, because they’d forget every time. I remember asking once why my mom insisted, because it intimidated my friends a little, and she said that if she didn’t insist, if she didn’t keep reminding people all the time, they’d “forget,” and she worked to hard to let it not count. Maybe it didn’t matter what my friends called her when they asked for more juice, but it mattered that she was willing to be stubborn.

My mom is in computer science, which is one of the more male-dominated fields, but that makes it worse, not better, that she has to insist and be stubborn in order for people to “remember” to call her by her actual name. But it’s worked. She gets that respect, because she demands it. She’s actually Head of the department now (which makes me so proud, and also leads to hilarious hijinks when people looking for the Head guess the wrong Dr. Smith). But she shouldn’t have to demand the same title that her coworkers– including people who do not actually have Ph.Ds– get automatically. Because that’s rubbish.

A bit like the L.A. Times article that way, actually.


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