Dr Siobhan O’Dwyer is a Senior Lecturer in Ageing and Family Care at the University of Exeter. She has qualifications in Psychology, Human Movement Studies, and Higher Education, including a PhD.
But she claims all that was swept aside on a recent Qantas flight.
According to Dr O’Dwyer, a member of the airline’s cabin crew consciously ignored her academic title; a move that she argues is an example of everyday sexism.
“Hey Qantas, my name is Dr O’Dwyer. My ticket says Dr O’Dwyer,” she tweeted on Friday. “Do not look at my ticket, look at me, look back at my ticket, decide it’s a typo, and call me Miss O’Dwyer.
“I did not spend eight years at university to be called Miss.”
Hey @Qantas, my name is Dr O’Dwyer. My ticket says Dr O’Dwyer. Do not look at my ticket, look at me, look back at my ticket, decide it’s a typo, and call me Miss O’Dwyer. I did not spend 8 years at university to be called Miss.
— Dr Siobhan O’Dwyer (@Siobhan_ODwyer) August 31, 2018Advertisement
The tweet, which has so far attracted more than 8000 likes, sparked a vigorous debate in the comments about whether Dr O’Dwyer’s reaction is justified. Many critics argued her insistence that others use her title is ego-driven, even narcissistic.
“Chip on your shoulder much?” one wrote. “In contexts where academic achievement and standing are not relevant, this seems kind of pushy. I respect the achievement, but I can not imagine going through life like this.”
“I don’t believe anyone is obliged to call you doctor. Did you do your degree to learn or get a title?” wrote another.
But Dr O’Dwyer stood firm.
“Copping so much flack for this tweet,” she tweeted on Sunday. “This was not about my ego. It was about highlighting one of a thousand instances of sexism that women encounter every day. It’s not about the title, it’s about the fact that this wouldn’t have happened if I was a man.”
Probably because you’re used to getting it, instead of having your academic work trumped by your genitalia when being greeted by people.
— ????Liana Skewes???? (@lianasmooz) September 2, 2018
Research published in the Journal of Women’s Health has documented precisely this kind of inequity.
Analysing the introductions of speakers at medical gatherings, the authors found that men referred to women by their professional title just 47.2 per cent of the time, but did so for other men 71.3 per cent of the time.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Dr O’Dwyer’s experience on the flight wasn’t an isolated one.
“Ten years ago when I got my PhD, I went into the bank and said I wanted to change my title,” she commented on her original tweet. “The woman said, ‘Congratulations! What’s your married name?’ – Sigh.”
Several other women with academic titles reported similar incidents.
“My bank wants me to fill out three forms (which will be submitted for administrative review) just to change my title from Ms. to Dr,” one wrote.
“Growing up my family regularly received mail for Dr and Mrs despite the fact my mum has the PhD,” added another. “Not much has changed in two decades then. Not good enough!”
Just last year, budget airline Jetstar was forced to apologise for its online booking system, after it was revealed it automatically pre-filled passengers’ gender as male when they selected the title ‘Doctor’.
Melbourne-based ICU doctor Sandra Lussier drew attention to the issue, tweeting:
Fly with jetstar as a female doctor, website assumes you’re male without anyway of changing it.
Even the internet is sexist. pic.twitter.com/kPfDbsJoIC
— Sandra Lussier (@slussier82) June 21, 2017
The system was later corrected.
In a statement issued to Mamamia about Dr O’Dwyer’s experience, a Qantas spokesperson said: “We are extremely proud of our cabin crew, who respectfully serve our customers every day and play a vital safety role.”