Doctor, Doctor…

Why female Doctors need to channel the pride in their title towards helping their fellow woman. 

Replying to comments on Twitter, the three themes most commonly responded to by the GoTitleFree team are:

  • The ‘rules’ of when to use ‘Ms’. 
  • How to pronounce ‘Ms’ and ‘Mx’.
  • How relieved female Doctors are at being able to use a title that’s marital status free. 

We’ve never yet answered a tweet from a male Doctor professing his relief at being able to use the title of ‘Dr’ instead of ‘Mr’.  

The tweets are always by women, and they’re often followed by droves of supportive and empathetic ‘likes’ and replies from fellow Doctors, expressing their mutual relief. 

Comments of this sort are disappointingly rarely followed by anger or frustration that this should not be the only way for women to achieve a title which is free from judgement on age, availability or sexuality. 

(We know from our research and interviews that although women are given ‘Ms’ as an option in the vast majority of registration forms, that people misjudge what it means, and don’t know how to properly pronounce it). 

Responses from the GoTitleFree team to these Doctors on Twitter are often tweeted amongst many appalling stories of how Doctors are always assumed to be men.

Outrageous seeing as female GPs in the UK (35,000) outnumber UK male GPs (27,000). 

Of course a second key thing to remember about being able to choose the ‘Dr’ option in the drop down list is that it’s also gender free. 

Several of the 242 non-binary people we have interviewed about their thoughts on marital status title have said they choose ‘Dr’…even though they’re not a Doctor… because it’s the only option often given that doesn’t mean ‘male’ or ‘female’.

And ‘why not?’ you might think. It’s not like choosing ‘Dr’ in a drop down list of a registration form for buying cinema tickets is going to lead to a bang on your front door asking to see your qualifications. Nobody is going to ask to see proof. 

Sadly however, choosing ‘Dr’ in the drop down list allows no more authenticity for a non binary person than choosing ‘Miss’, ‘Mrs’, ‘Ms’ or ‘Mr’ does. 

Far from progressing towards a world where individuals can be free of judgement of marriage and gender, including ‘Dr’ in that little drop down list is also actually setting us back.

By putting an earned option in the list, companies are giving an extra level of recognition to some people, which will understandably give rise to a heightened sense of pride, reducing the likelihood that they reject the request for the information. 

Doctors surely may not want to lose that box, because it enables them to choose something they’ve worked for, and are proud of, and in doing so it widens the gaps between us as a society. 

The sentiment of categorisation does not sit in harmony with the E,D & I training that the professional world is now working towards. 

When the GoTitleFree campaign began four years ago, the ‘Dr’ title was never on our hit list. It was an entirely valid title which we accepted and wished to retain. 

However when interviewed by GoTitleFree in July 2020, Amy Erickson, Reader in Feminist History at the University of Cambridge, went as far as to say that all titles need questioning. Because they’re all borne out of a request for status and therefore do not represent an equitable and egalitarian society, and we agree. 

Training in overcoming bias is now moving towards lifelong learning; towards understanding categorisations, cultures and communities and which individuals haven’t had the lived experience of; towards using the privileges each of us has, to raise up others. 

Female, and male, and non binary Doctors could help the drive towards positive change exponentially by rejecting requests for titles in situations other than where it’s relevant to the request. 

Let’s face it, most of the time a Doctor’s experience or specific expertise is probably not relevant to the company requesting it anyway. 

Some people choose ‘Dr’ because they’re a GP. Some choose it because they’re a surgeon, a specialist in fractures or infections, diseases and viruses, cell structures, chemical engineering, philosophy or marine life. 

There are PhDs in wood science, packaging, and puppetry, so we cannot even assume that everybody with a doctorate in the room is any more capable of saving a human life than the rest of us. 

This brings us back to the same point we always ask. – If people are choosing that option for so many different reasons, then it’s not telling the organisation who’s requesting it anything anyway, so why ask it in the first place?

We know it’s to be formal and polite… but we also know that it’s not polite to address somebody incorrectly, and ‘title’ data gets out of date so quickly nowadays. 

We know it’s to be respectful… but are we therefore saying that Doctors deserve any more respect than the rest of us? 

Removing all titles from registration forms and application systems, and offering people the opportunity to dictate how they would like to be addressed, is the best and only way to remove barriers to authenticity for: 

  • The many (female) divorcees who don’t know what to choose.
  • The many (female) unmarried people who are tired of being told that marital availability is important.
  • The many widows who may not want a constant reminder of their ‘status’. (Widowers don’t suffer this). 
  • The many people who don’t want to be defined by gender.
  • The many people who don’t know why it’s anyone elses business what ‘category’ they’re in.
  • The many people who wanted to be a Doctor but never had a life which enabled it. 

Our response to tweets from female Doctors expressing their relief is always, and will always be the same:

‘‘It’s a shame that women need to study so hard, for so long, and at such great expense to achieve a title which doesn’t give away their marital status, when men have this all along. 

Please continue to challenge organisations when they ask you for your title. Becoming a Doctor isn’t the right thing, or a possible thing, for many people”.

Stella Sutcliffe

For some examples of organisations who are going title free, and some free top tips on how to become more gender inclusive as an organisation, register for our next event:

3.30pm BST on Friday September 9th 2022 – Register here  

To use our toolkits now and start your organisational journey, click here

To sign our petition for organisations to go ‘title free’, click here

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