Deja Vu All Over Again: Sexism

It’s gratifying that my granddaughters can take the rights for granted that women won in the 1970s, but I’m afraid they will disappear if the feminists and their work is forgotten. Sexism is so pervasive, even when people are trying to “do the right thing.”

I had a discussion a month or so ago on an email discussion list for copy editors and publishers about addressing invitations to women.

The woman was doing supremely proper invitations for a charity event and insisted on using titles for everyone. Couples were to be addressed as “Mr. and Mrs. Important Dude.” Her problem was that some of the women who were “Dr” were married to men who were just “Mr.” What to do? She couldn’t call them Mr. and Dr. Important Dude.

Further, she said it is inappropriate to refer to a woman’s professional status in a social situation. (Who knew? I can’t even remember that rule so I’m sure I didn’t know it in the 1970s.)

The problem was even worse, however. These women had responded to their invitations as “Dr.” Should she ignore their social gaffe when printing seating cards?

No problem with the men, of course. It was not only proper for a man to be referred to by professional title, it was a serious faux pas not to do so.

Is this sounding like the 19th century yet?

She and I got into a huge argument about why she was using titles at all. Almost all titles are discriminatory, sexist or elitist, or both. Titles require everyone to make distinctions based on level of education, marital status, social class (titles as opposed to just first names), and most importantly and persistently, sex. Who cares who has a PhD and who doesn’t?

Does it make a difference at a charity auction? A big expensive party masquerading as noble work isn’t tenure review. How does she even know if people are married? How does she know their sex? She was on shaky ground.

The woman thought I was being “reactionary” and “ignorant of proper social etiquette.” The “discussion” didn’t end well. I hope she at least spent a few sleepless hours wondering whom she would be offending most.

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