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:
My title is Dr Fern Riddell, not Ms or Miss Riddell. I have it because I am an expert, and my life and career consist of being that expert in as many different ways as possible. I worked hard to earned my authority, and I will not give it up to anyone.
— Dr Fern Riddell (@FernRiddell) June 13, 2018
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:
Wow can you imagine being this arrogant. You’re human and remain so. You have no authority save for what your profession allows you to have. The minimum of being a Dr is being an expert in one subfield, the rest is your choice. you’re not better for being a Dr as you imply.
— Robin van Schendel (@RKAvanSchendel) June 13, 2018
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.Do you have an idea for a story?
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