When I left academia earlier this year to return to Montana, I quit going by Dr. Randi Lynn Tanglen. I realize now I made this decision because I didn’t want to face the misogynist criticism Dr. Jill Biden did last week in Joseph Epstein’s infamous Wall Street Journal op-ed.
For the past 12 years as an English professor in Texas, I was known as Dr. Tanglen to my students and colleagues and in the local community. Although I dropped “Doctor,” I still include “Ph.D.” after my name in my email signature and other professional communication. Nevertheless, I worry about seeming pretentious. Although my credentials are directly relevant to my new position outside academia, concerns about approachability and likability were undoubtedly on my mind when I made the choice to cease using my title.
Funny how the patriarchy still trains women to see ourselves as “less than” and conform to expected female behavior. When I posted about this on social media, several other women with Doctor of Philosophy degrees concurred. They told stories of being advised to hide their academic credentials, especially by other women. One promised to add Ph.D. to her email signature ASAP. Another expressed regret for not using her doctoral title throughout her successful career as a public servant after realizing her male colleagues never hesitated to.
To be sure, my male colleagues, friends and family responded the most strongly in support: “Who cares what the sexist curmudgeons think!” A board member at my former institution, a medical doctor, encouraged me to use both Dr. and Ph.D. in my professional title. But as I explained to one male friend, the gendered messages and socialization I’ve absorbed since girlhood — and the doubts and insecurities they still conjure — are a powerful force. And “not caring” what other people think can have very real consequences for women, LGBTQ, and professionals of color. Ask to be called doctor — you’ve risen above your station. Appear too approachable — are you really qualified?
I didn’t spend five years pursuing a doctorate just to hear people call me “doctor.” I pursued doctoral studies in literature because I loved teaching and wanted to bring the forgotten voices of our nation’s African American, American Indian and women writers to my students. Without a doubt, Epstein’s dismissal of Dr. Biden’s Doctor of Education degree reveals disregard for the teaching profession and those who care about schools, education, and students.
But when it comes down to it, what’s at stake is granting women expertise and credibility. Indeed, I worked hard for my doctorate and certainly earned my title. But my doctoral degree means I have highly specialized knowledge and skills that make me a qualified expert in my field. I used my doctorate every day as an educator in Texas and now in my current position as the executive director of Montana’s state humanities council.
I urge all Montana women to own their expertise, knowledge and credentials. The challenges we face as a state and a nation call for women who aren’t afraid to claim their accomplishments, influence and leadership.
Dr. Randi Lynn Tanglen is executive director of Humanities Montana, the state’s National Endowment for the Humanities council. She received a doctor of philosophy in English from the University of Arizona in 2008.
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