Monday, September 25, 2006

In all Propriety!

I've recently received some notes of concern regarding the original picture I selected for my profile (it is no longer available for viewing on the web). Apparently some folks thought it looked a little over-exposed, if you get my gist. It wasn't. But the fear that it might have been has caused me to meditate on what it means to be a woman with a not-very-anonymous blog.

Why do people tend to worry/assume that women who expose their thoughts on the web in blogs and elsewhere might also be baring too much photographically? No one wonders whether maybe male bloggers are showing too much in their photographs (below the waist).

Thinking about this also makes me think about a separate but related issue: the fact that my freshman survey students needed to be reminded to call me by my title and not "Miss" or "Ms." This would almost never happen to a male college professor, no matter how young. If you disagree, fine, let me know. I'm happy to be told otherwise, but I suspect your examples will be few and far between.

The worst part is that I felt compelled to take the original picture down, even though I know there's nothing wrong with it. Because now I'm feeling incredibly self conscious.

I've decided to replace the profile picture with something better. So there's no question of whether or not I'm "flashing a breast."

Ok, so maybe I over-reacted. Blame it on the upper respiratory infection. Don't worry, admirers, I'll get my vanity back and post some more pictures of me when the time comes. But I'm still experimenting with just how anonymous I can be on the web and still be myself and still write truthfully. For now, I'm going to be a Renaissance engraving.


Skept1C said...

No shouldnt compromise what you already know is right. Especially if its on the web. If you think the picture is fine, then you should leave it. I guess I understand the feeling self-conscious part of it. But, you say that the picture is fine. Then by all means, the picture is fine.

See ya. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey you don't worry about boys exposing their boobs because they don't have any. I agree that asking what to call you is partly a gender issue, but the only other young professor i know with the whatdotheycallme issue was male. he had to insist that his students call him professor. I think it's age and hipness, too. so could it be a compliment?

muse said...

That's interesting, a, that you know of a male who actually had a problem with "whatdotheycallme." But I still think my experience and my reaction to it was different from his.

It's sweet that you're suggesting it might be a compliment. It's nice to think that my students might find me hip, especially at a place with such a conservative vibe.

However, they shouldn't be calling any women professors "Ms" because it invokes a time in academia's not so distant past (i.e, about 38 years ago) when professional and academic women weren't afforded the same treatment as men. There are still female professors (just beginning to retire) in every department who had to fight their Universities for tenure because they were being discrimminated against on the basis of their gender. And don't get me started on gender bias in salaries in American Academe today. . .

I think it's hugely important that they at least know *why* it is particularly wrong to call their female professor "Miss," no matter how hip or young she seems, no matter how decent their intentions.

florestan said...

The problem of title used to be much more acute in British universities, where tutors were often found to be wanting a title before they obtained their doctorate, though these days it is impossible to get an academic job without one. Reading this post brings me to the disturbing realisation that not one of my undergraduate courses was run by a female lecturer.

As for anonymity, I think this depends on how you use your blog. If used for lofty academic purposes, you can probably afford to be cavalier about your identity; if you prefer to use it to comment on what to do whilst reading the New Yorker (see Helaine Olen) then its probably pays to be a little more circumspect.

Jonathan said...

Well, I'm glad that your new avatar cleared up any ambiguity about breasts.

My students never know what to call me. Some call me Proefssor, others call me Dr, others call me Mr. and a few call me by my first name. Most at the grad level.

I think it's interesting that the title changes by department and level of eliteness of the school. At certain elite schools, male profs and students addressed one another as "Mr." -- partners in the dominant class.

Flavia said...

I just received my first set of papers, and in their headers my 20 students identify me in a variety of ways: Dr. Fescue, Professor Fescue, and F. Fescue being the most common. Only one student identifies me as Ms. Fescue, which, from a freshman, I understand. But the one who identified me as Mrs. Fescue? Oh no no no no no.

Incidentally, when my partner started his job, he had just turned 27 only a few days earlier--and despite the fact that he's extremely tall and has a very deep voice, his face *is* rather boyish. Since he's at a school that reveres the hierarchy, his youthful appearance was rarely an issue. . . but he did once attend an after-party for the theatre group in that first year in which a student *not* in one of his classes, and perhaps a little drunk, attempted to get chummy by remarking on how young he looked, and how it was so hard to believe that he had a PhD--and hey, what was his first name, anyway?

My partner sent him the glance of death, paused, and said, "Doctor."

Shanghai Vixen said...

I second the "grrr" about the double standard towards what women are called. Women have to navigate Miss/Mrs/Ms, and in many places insisting on the latter is considered uppity.

How would men feel if their titles (and implied status) were based on marital status)? "Bachelor Smith, please meet Husband Sanchez and Divorcee Wang?"