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Photo: Dr Fern Riddell/iStock

Female PhD holders become proudly immodest

A doctor of history has sparked the latest academic Twitter spat. Dr Fern Riddell, a Research Associate at English university Royal Holloway, changed her Twitter name, adding the ‘Dr’ prefix, with the following explanation:

The expert in Victorian-era sex, culture and suffrage – who’s also a media personality – added the hashtag #ImmodestWomen, with the aim of other female PhD holders joining her movement.

Indeed, many did. Naturally, detractors followed. There were the usual, biting responses, like this one from a molecular life science student:

Others simply disparaged the use of the prefix for men or women. “My eye-rolling reaction is the same as when @vincecable affects to style himself Dr. As it was when I had an RE teacher who called himself Dr,” @JahProle tweeted.

“Why should anyone (male or female) need to add Dr to their twitter handle/image? We all know the answer,” Colin Richards, a university professor retorted.

These online ‘gender wars’ may seem trivial, but many would argue that they’re grounded in harsh realities. UTS researcher Deb Verhoeven, for instance, has found that research grants are conferred in sexist ways.

And, given Twitter is the most popular social media platform for academics, and is indispensable for many, whether a researcher is known as a Dr, Mr or Ms potentially makes a difference.

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