A doctor by any other name

In the mid-1980s, I ran for the NDP in a provincial election. I didn’t win; didn’t even come close, in fact. I ran against the Conservative incumbent, Keith Norton, a charming and gracious person, who later held the position of Chief Commissioner of Ontario’s Human Rights Commission. The Liberal candidate was Ken Keyes, a popular former city councillor and mayor.

The campaign was, for the most part, exhilarating. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed the door knocking and talking to people. I especially liked meeting older women, many of whom were enthusiastic fans just because I was a woman. I suspect few of them actually voted for me, but they were very nice to me when I came to their doors.

Mostly, though, I loved the all-candidates meetings. I knew my stuff, prepared seriously and was a confident speaker, so they were fun.

I will never forget one that took place at Queen’s University near the end of the campaign. After we were all introduced by the moderator, Keyes was the first to give an opening statement. In the usual, meaningless way of so many politicians, he began by extolling Queen’s, mentioning how proud he was to be an alumnus of the university and noting that Norton was also a Queen’s grad.

Then, he looked in my direction and said words very much like these: “And Pam, well, I know she’s not a Queen’s grad; in fact, I don’t know if she has been to university . . .”

Would he have made such a comment about a male candidate he did not know? I don’t think so.

Message received: I was not to be taken seriously by the voters.

Ignored or mocked

That incident came back to me recently when I read about the scorn that has been heaped on Jill Biden about her Ph.D and the fact that she calls herself Dr. Biden. An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal opined: “sounds and feels fraudulent, not to mention a touch comic,” Fox Network’s Tucker Carlson described her as “poor, illiterate Jill Biden.” The topic of her Ph.D research and dissertation have been mocked as not serious.

She is not alone; as Amy Davidson Sorkin writes in The New Yorker:

“But women’s experience of first having their credentials ignored and then being mocked if they assert them is all too familiar, in almost every arena.”

How things stay in the same. In 2020, Biden is dismissed as not a real doctor because her title comes from academic work just as, in 1985 and on a much smaller stage, I was dismissed as quite possibly having no education worthy of note.

No wonder many young women doctors are so insistent on being called Doctor.

Invisible in other ways

Emily Khazan, a graduate student at the University of Florida, gathered evaluation data from an undergrad science class that had two teaching assistants: one male and one female. The male TA received a higher score, and the female TA got five times as many negative reviews as her male counterpart.

Surprise! There was only one TA: Khazan. It was an online course with more than 130 students, half of whom were told their TA was male and half female. The students were provided with very similar biographies of their TAs.

The photo of the non-existent male TA belonged to another grad student, a co-author on the research paper, Jesse Borden, who himself learned about gender bias from the experiment; in particular, to “recognize both my privilege and the systemic and widespread bias against women and minority groups.”

Khazan used only text-based interactions with the students, so they had no way of knowing both the TAs were the same person. She commented:

“Girls are told throughout their education that they’re not as good at science and math as boys. You have this pool of people who made it through all of that and are still being told by their students that they’re not as good.”

Dr. Laura Greenhaw, an assistant professor at the university’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and a co-author of the study, noted that even a small number of negative evaluations can shake a prospective professor’s confidence and have an impact on their job prospects:

“This study highlights the need to mentor our grad students through this experience and put in more intentional work to move women through the pipeline.”

And then there is this

Pope Francis has been lauded by many for his progressive positions on a number of issues: LGBTQ rights, refugees and the need for action to address climate change, among others.

However, he has remained a staunch opponent of women’s right to choose and the ordination of women as priests.

He recently announced that women will be allowed “to do more things during mass,” while confirming that they cannot be priests, noting that women have made a “precious contribution” to the church.

There has been both praise and criticism from women within the church in response to this announcement. Phyllis Zagono, a member of the Pope’s first study commission on the ordination of women says the changes are important because they allow women, for the first time, inside the sanctuary. Lucette Scaraffia, former editor of the Vatican’s women’s magazine feels differently, calling the move a “double trap” and “a step backward” for women.

Dr. Biden, TA Khazan and so many other women: precious contributions, indeed.

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