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January 7, 2011

I was wandering around the internet today and ended up on the Bad Science blog. After reading a few posts, I got to one about Gillian McKeith, a name that’s been making me recoil in horror for the last few years. I decided to stop and question this automatic response.

There are two things I know about Gillian McKeith.

  1. She sells extortionatly priced dull health foods (and I’ve encountered a lot of nut and seed mixes in my time).
  2. She calls herself a doctor, when in fact she is nothing of the sort. She bought the title off the internet.

The second point, I think, is the key to my whole problem. Dr. is a gender-neutral pronoun. I’d love to have the right to use it, but that won’t happen any time soon. The title Dr. also shows that there is no need for men to have one title system and women another. Dr. works wherever your gender may lie, even when married couples both go by Dr. Somethingorother.

I think this hit a nerve today because of an event about a month ago. I went to hand in a form and some ID at the local council office. I hadn’t filled in the title box, and the person behind the desk insisted I had to. Assuming from their tone that ommitting a title would cause problems in the database (it’s happened before), I eventually gave in and accepted Ms. being put in the box, “if you insist”. The council worker then explained that “it wouldn’t be polite” to send me letters without a title on. I pointed out it “would be more polite to refer to people how they wished”. I heard a general murmer of agreement, but I was never given the option to remove the Ms.

I’d like to think that my assistant learned something from my trip to the council offices. That treating everyone the same way doesn’t actually translate into treating everyone equally. That some people find some questions much harder to answer than the general population. That some people don’t want to be reffered to using a title. That respecting someone’s wishes is being polite.

I doubt it, though.

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