Recently, CUNY Graduate schools sent out a memo that asks staff to avoid using salutations like “Mr.” and “Mrs.,” and instead asks that staff call students by their full first and last names. We talked about it!
Jaya: I am for this, at least personally. I have no real use for honorifics in my life, and I think we’ve established before they they were sort of a random thing non-noble people came up with in the name of equality? By all means if you’re a doctor or a knight, use one, but all “Ms.” does for me is tell people I’m a woman, which you can usually get by my name/seeing me. I mean, I have a STRONG preference for being called “Ms.” over “Mrs.” (do not call me “Mrs.”), but if I woke up one day and we didn’t use any of them, I wouldn’t miss them.
Victoria: This does not bother me one bit. I kind of like it from a practical standpoint for official correspondence- if everyone is just first name last name, you don’t have to have a human being sitting there being like, okay, this is a male name so it’s Mr. and this is a female name so it’s Ms. Or wondering whether someone is married or what they prefer.
Jaya: That’s true. I guess the one issue is, as some have brought up, that lots of people have valid reasons for why they’d want to use them. In some cultures it’s really disrespectful not to use them. This might just cause more problems than it purports to solve.
Victoria: Someone brought up in the comments of Jezebel that probably when you enroll there is a box or dropdown to choose your honorific so maybe it doesn’t actually save any human time anyway.
Jaya: It says they’re doing this for gender inclusivity, and the Empire State Pride Agenda praised it, saying those titles are an “outdated formality” that risks misrepresentation. So I’m inclined to go with that, especially since I’m not particularly attached to gendered titles anyway. If they’re saying it’s oppressive, it’s my job to listen. I guess the one thing is, if you’re being misgendered, the person who’s doing it is just as likely to do it by calling you “Mr.” as by calling you “John.”
Victoria: Right, it’s minor, but I think it’s great as a general thing, maybe not even about gender. It’s good in terms of women not having to declare their marital status.
Jaya: What do you think of people who see not using those titles as sign of disrespect? One commenter mentioned that civil rights activists made a huge point of using those titles, because people wouldn’t give them that respect often.
Victoria: Yeah, but that was a time when everything was more formal and it was a serious dig to not be called by a title. Like literally you would call your boss Mr. Lastname, which doesn’t happen now as much. Also there are countries that already don’t use honorifics. In Iceland apparently it is correct to address the prime minister by her first name. By HER first name. No titles= female prime ministers. Definitely correlation = causation, right?
Victoria: But I definitely do see the point where it must be difficult for someone who does not identify as either male or female to explain that to someone who wants to know if they are Mr. or Mrs.
Jaya: Yes, first names are much easier then. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that you shouldn’t need to know someone’s gender unless they want you to know.
Victoria: I can’t even remember the last time someone insisted on calling me Ms. All my professors called me “Victoria.” Like, by the time you are in college, you are an adult and should be treated as one. And adults generally call each other by their first names.
Jaya: Plus, I’d like to think if a student sent an email saying it made them really uncomfortable to be called by their first name, there could be an exception?
Victoria: Oh yeah, for sure.
Jaya: Mainly, I wish more places would just adopt a policy of “ask someone what they want to be called, then call them that.”
Victoria: I think we’re already getting there, hopefully. Most of my mail comes to “Victoria Pratt.” If “Ms.” disappeared I doubt I’d notice. Aside from this particular school- I think it would be great if we could drop titles for formal events without people being offended. It would make addressing, say, wedding invitations a lot easier if you didn’t have to remember what EVERY SINGLE PERSON preferred.
Jaya: God that was such a nightmare.
As far as If you’re being misgendered, the person who’s doing it is just as likely to do it by calling you “Mr.” as by calling you “John.”: I think, in a context like faculty and staff dealing with students, you’re actually much more likely to accidentally misgender someone by calling them the wrong honorific than by calling them the wrong name, just because you’re likely to be pulling their name from a class roster or their student records, but choosing which honorific to use based on their voice or appearance. Your student who used to go by John won’t generally have too hard a time changing the name on their account (university records often include a “Preferred Name” field of some kind, which would allow them to put in a different name even if they haven’t gotten a legal name change), but changing their voice or appearance to the point that people who don’t know their gender don’t automatically call them “Mr.” may be a longer process, if it’s one that they pursue at all.
That’s a good point, thanks!
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