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Feminist Professor Rages at ‘Sexism’ of Airline Worker Who Didn’t Call Her ‘Doctor’

Feminist Professor Rages at ‘Sexism’ of Airline Worker Who Didn’t Call Her ‘Doctor’

​”This was not about my ego.”

Title-aggression is real, and Dr. Siobhan O’Dwyer is a survivor.

A mental health academic teaching at Exeter Medical School, Dr. O’Dwyer tweeted on Friday that she had recently come under an especially subtle (but no less malignant) form of sexism when a flight attendant addressed her by the wrong honorific.

Self-identified on Twitter as “Immigrant. Feminist,” Dr. O’Dwyer, an Australian native living in Britain, was boarding a flight on the Australian national carrier Qantas, when the detestable incident occurred.

“Hey Qantas,” she later tweeted directly at the carrier. “My name is Dr O’Dwyer. My ticket says Dr O’Dwyer. Do not look at my ticket, look at me, look back at my ticket, decide it’s a typo, and call me Miss O’Dwyer.”

To clarify the intensity of the offense, she added: “I did not spend 8 years at university to be called Miss.” (Neither for the intellectual sublimity, nor for the trans-continental career, apparently.)

Liked by thousand of sympathizers, ​​Dr. O’Dwyer’s post shows she’s not the only person to be vexed by the ticket-taker’s breach of decorum. Nor is she the first to experience title-shaming.

Dr. Mel Thomson, an Australian microbiologist also fixated with mis-affixation, expressed fierce solidarity.

What might appear to the uninitiated like an Old-World preoccupation with hackneyed formalities is in fact a symptom of a much deeper social pathology, and one which the two doctors recognize all too clearly.

“This was not about my ego,” Dr. O’Dwyer responded on Sunday to backlash to her tweet. “It was about highlighting one of a thousand instances of sexism that women encounter everyday. It’s not about the title, it’s about the fact that this wouldn’t have happened if I was a man.”

 (Surely this wasn’t just a case of nobody-gives-a-damn-about-your-title-ism.)

The doctors O’Dwyer and Thomson were further endorsed in allyship by Dr. Darren Saunders, who on Sunday dismissed the many Twitter-eyerolls the thread had garnered as “a nasty blend of anti-intellectualism and sexism.”

What seems to elude Dr. Saunders too is the possibility that much of the ridicule aimed at Dr. O’Dwyer’s original tweet was not motivated by bigotry, but by a different concept of social justice.

For Dr. O’Dwyer (and her support group), the struggle for social justice is conflated with her individual experience. An anecdotal case of rude service is read as “sexism.” The snarky sigh of commenters at her title-envy is read as “anti-intellectualism.”

This is taken for granted by the doctors, as they seem to blithely ignore the fact that the whole to-do is about possibly the most precious of first world problems, suffered by a successful, highly-educated internationalist. And in ignoring this, the doctors play perfectly into the most classist suspicions (and perhaps paranoia) of their detractors.

This is not to say that the specter of sexism is completely spurious in this case. Just last year another Australian airliner admitted that its booking website did ​not allow travelers to sign up as female-doctors.

But nor is sexism self-evident, especially when sloppy service is an equally adequate explanation.

And while it’s well within Dr. O’Dwyer’s right to take the whole affair as an affront, she might want to reflect on why her globe-trodding travails are really getting “so much flack.”

Cover image: A Lufthansa flight attendant. (Getty Images)

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