More Title Ruminations

So we received a lot of responses from Friday’s post about CUNY doing away with gendered salutations. Some people rightly pointed out that in certain professions, such as the law, are more formal and people use formal titles frequently. It was also mentioned that in some cultures, using titles as a form of respect is more expected for everyone. We ended up talking about it even further:

Jaya: Titles are something you do because you think it connotes respect, but if lots of people aren’t feeling respected, don’t do it!

Victoria: When we speak about it in the business world, I think company culture comes into play a lot. To purposefully go against what everyone else is doing out of some feeling of old fashionedness and having been raised to call someone Mr. or Ms., then it’s weird. And I think you risk not being taken seriously, especially as a young woman in the business world.

Jaya: I mean, I think it depends on what business you’re going into. As some lawyers pointed out, they’d probably be considered very unprofessional if they didn’t use them.

Victoria: Oh I just meant going against the norms of the work culture you are in. If you work in a law office where everyone is called Mr. and Ms., it’s fine. If you work at a tech startup and wear 3 piece suits and call everyone Mr. and Ms. when everyone else is in jeans and using first names, it’s an affectation that will probably stand out unfavorably. Until you earn the respect to be eccentric if being eccentric is what you want. But if you call someone Mr. Smith because as a child you were taught that children call grownups by their titles, then you are likely to be treated as a child.

Jaya: Yesss. Yeah I looked it up and Mr. was totally used for like, people of higher station than you.

Victoria: Um yeah. In Mad Men the secretaries always call Don “Mr. Draper” and he calls them Susan or whatever. Among the people who are equals, even then, they used first names. I believe Joan even switched to calling Peggy “Miss Olsen,” once she was promoted to a station above Joan’s. So I do find it pretty disturbing for professional women to continue to follow that type of outdated convention, especially if they are the only one’s doing it.

Jaya: Yesssssss. You’re so smart.

Victoria: Lol, well, my mom has some horror stories about working in finance in the aerospace industry in the 1970s/80s. I asked her why she didn’t watch Mad Men when it’s so good- “Darling, I lived it, I don’t want to watch it.”

Jaya: This is also a generational thing too, right?

Victoria: Yeah, probably. I have found that my parents preferred that my friends call them Mr. and Mrs. Pratt when I was in HS (but not now that my friends are adults!! Now they introduce themselves to my friends with their first names.) But my parents are slightly older than the parents of my friends and a lot of them preferred to be called by their first names even when we were kids. I would have a harder time making the switch from calling someone by their first name if I called them by their title as a kid than I would calling an adult by their first name if I met them now.

Jaya: But I think there’s value in being like “okay, this is what you grew up with, and this is how others may perceive it.”

Victoria: Definitely, especially if what you grew up with is becoming something that is not the norm in our overall American culture. Like I said, when I started working I felt a very strong need to call people Mr. and Ms. because I was used to calling teachers that, but I got over it suuuper quickly because it would have stood out SO MUCH and highlighted how young I was at the time.

Jaya: And if lots of people are saying using these types of titles are offensive or oppressive, then that takes precedent over tradition.

Victoria: Right, that’s the thing, etiquette is always evolving and as we learn more about the great variety of people we have around us and the less people fit into very rigid boxes, the more etiquette will have to change to take that into account. And I think we’ve seen from the feedback that we’ve gotten and the comments on the Jezebel article, that people have wildly different opinions about titles- some love them and feel respected and some hate them and feel oppressed, so there’s not really a solution that will make everyone happy.

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