A woman on Twitter had the audacity to ask to be referred to by her earned title of Dr and, unsurprisingly, drew ire from a gaggle of angry men online. Fern Riddell, a writer and cultural historian, explained that she would prefer to be referred to as a Dr in a tweet – only to be unnecessarily attacked by the needlessly offended.
“My title is Dr Fern Riddell, not Ms or Miss Riddell,” she tweeted this week. “I have it because I am an expert, and my life and career consist of being that expert in as many different ways as possible. I worked hard to earned my authority, and I will not give it up to anyone.”
The debate of what should prefix a woman’s name – the endless awkwardness of assuming a Miss is a Mrs, or sizing them up and wondering whether it’s in fact a Ms – has raged on for years. But it appears to be an argument that’s complicated further when women have titles that aren’t any of the – at times – controversial three.
It seemed a pretty straightforward statement – she earned a doctorate through her PhD in history from King’s College London and therefore would like her name to be prefixed with the Dr she spent several years earning. But, of course, this is Twitter where things are anything but simple. Before long, the tweet was descended upon by several angry men, or, as Riddell put it herself, men who were “gammon TO THE CORE”.
“Of course, those who have to talk of their 'authority' seldom possess it!” replied one Twitter user by the name of Simon, who has gone on to tweet her 100 times and counting (literally).
It’s a sad state of affairs when a woman finds herself literally having to defend the title she spent years earning to strangers
“Wow can you imagine being this arrogant,” another said. “You're human and remain so. You have no authority save for what your profession allows you to have. The minimum of being a Dr is being an expert in one subfield, the rest is your choice. You're not better for being a Dr as you imply.”
“Cool story, although not sure what authority you think you've got,” another man intervened. “Also, if you have to tell people you're an authority or an expert then you probably aren't.”
Except she is an expert. While she didn’t seem to be having much trouble fending trolls off on her own with quick and cutting shutdowns, a number of women showed their support in her replies by only referring to her as Dr. More heartwarmingly, there were a number of women who were inspired to change their own handles to include Dr after her tweet and its backlash, which Riddell called “literally the greatest thing”.
Dr Séverine Barthes changed her handle in solidarity with Riddell, saying “academic women shouldn’t have to face shitstorm because they use their (earned) title”. Dr Clare Clarke did the same “for the massive amount of shit that she and other female academics are getting from randomers for simply stating that we earned the right to use that title by virtue of our work”.
Another, Dr Zoe Davies, explained that the harsh reaction from mainly men was exactly why she was hesitant to include her title in everyday life. The conversation soon sparked a hashtag, #ImmodestWomen, which saw women with doctorates in their droves changing their Twitter names to reflect their earned titles (and unearned, with one user changing hers to “Queen of Fucking Everything” in solidarity with “all woman who get shit for daring to have professional titles in their twitter bios from insecure idiot men”).
It’s a sad state of affairs when a woman finds herself literally having to defend the title she spent years earning to strangers. But it’s even sadder because, frankly, it’s not a conversation she’d be having if she were not a woman. The assumption she is just being arrogant would be less likely but, more importantly, people would be far more willing to call her Dr anyway. As soon as a woman enters a position of power, she is expected to occupy it as quietly as possible – and the collective noise made by Riddell and her supporters will hopefully send the message loud and clear that we no longer have any intention of whispering our achievements.