By Dr. Julie Shayne
I have had my Ph.D. for 21 years, and it was not until reading the Wall Street Journal op-ed addressing First Lady Dr. Jill Biden as “kiddo” that I decided to use “Dr.” instead of “Professor” in my professional signatures. I now ask my students to call me Dr. instead of Prof or Professor.
The piece was a display of structural misogyny, something I teach about regularly. In addition to perpetuating sexist tropes, it undermined crucial pillars of education: public and community colleges, the social sciences, the academic achievements of women and marginalized faculty.
The article is a clear-cut example of misogynistic behavior, described by Dr. Kate Manne as “hostility toward women who violate patriarchal norms and expectations, who aren’t serving male interests in the ways they’re expected to.” Sometimes that misogyny is enacted through horrific acts of violence; other times it is about keeping women in our proverbial place.
I believe the author of the piece, and by extension the WSJ, told Dr. Jill Biden and millions of women doctorates like me and other UW Bothell faculty: “Stop celebrating your intellects; you’re scaring us. And stop being role models to young women who want to pursue Ph.Ds.” My first (polite) thought was, “This is exactly why we need to be called Dr.”
A passionate show of support for Dr. Biden soon followed, as did a wave of rage. Like most of my women/femmes and non-binary colleagues, especially faculty of color, I find myself regularly reminding students not to call me by my first name. Or, worse yet, not to call me Mrs. Shayne.
It gets old telling students, “It’s Dr. Shayne” (previously Prof. Shayne) for the fifth time in one 10-week quarter. Sometimes I am misaddressed because they feel my casual vibe, but sometimes it is downright disrespect.
I have a B.A., two M.A.s, and one Ph.D. I have written and/or edited four books. All of my colleagues have their own version of these credentials and accomplishments; we must because that’s our job. Some do not have doctorates but are professors regardless. Our titles, “Dr.” or “Professor,” are short ways of capturing our accomplishments. They are a form of armor against those who suggest we should remain “Mrs.” and not “Dr.” For women/femmes and non-binary faculty of color, the title is that much more important, as Dr. Blanca Elizabeth Vega so eloquently articulates in her op-ed.
I have been teaching university students for more than 20 years, and dealing with sexism since day one. My most memorable encounters were with male students who attempted to erase my hard-earned title. After about five years at UW Bothell, I finally started responding by saying, “Would you ever say this to your male professors?”
The first time I did so was in response to a student taking issue with a correction I made to his paper. He came up after I returned the class’s papers, even though I specifically instruct students to save questions for office hours. He approached me, interrupted my conversation with female students and said, “I just wanted to tell you that you are wrong.” I’d like to think a student wouldn’t say that if they were accustomed to addressing me and all their women professors as “Dr.” I have been called names in my evaluations and in reflective essays, and have been verbally assaulted while lecturing. I am not alone; this happens to all women/minoritized faculty.
We all have stories, including disrespect from people who refuse to introduce us as Dr. I have a woman colleague who was invited to partake in an event and share her expertise. She listened to the organizer introduce all of the male experts as Dr. So-and-so, yet address her and the other women by their first names.
We should not be made to feel like we are bragging or elitist when we ask simply to be acknowledged by our hard-earned titles. The WSJ op-ed was a reminder that women intellectuals are still viewed as a threat. We are not trying to threaten anyone. We are not hating anyone. We are just asking that we be afforded the respect our years of education, research and teaching warrant.
In so doing, we believe we are inspiring our women/femme and non-binary students to follow suit.
Dr. Julie Shayne is teaching professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences and is faculty coordinator for the Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies program. She is the author and editor of four books — most recently Persistence is Resistance: Celebrating 50 Years of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies. Dr. Shayne is the UW Bothell recipient of the University of Washington Distinguished Teaching Award in 2019.