Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"Howdy Honey!"

Bloggers at Feministlawprofs and Moneylaw are talking about the frequency with which female authors do (or don't) appear in top magazines and law journals. That exchange reminded me of an experience I had earlier this year. When going through the routine article submission process this Spring, I noticed what seemed to be a disturbing tendency of student law review editors to lead off email and phone conversations using my first name. As in "Hi Lori", as opposed to the seemingly more appropriate "Dear Professor Ringhand".

In response, I took a very informal (and scientifically utterly unsound) survey of a half dozen of my fellow faculty members. My "survey" involved three men and three women, at various stages of their careers. Every one of the women I talked to had several distinct memories of being addressed inappropriately (either by first name or by "Mrs." rather than "Professor"). Not a single one of the men I asked had any such recollection, although two thought maybe they had had such an experience but couldn't remember for sure.

My colleagues offered two benign explanations for this: one suggested that students, particularly heavy users of email, are becoming increasingly informal in their social interactions overall, and that the apparent gender difference my survey revealed was instead a purely random example of that growing informality. A second noted (politely) that female professors might be more inclined to remember such incidents. Both of these explanations seem at least plausible to me, and, as mentioned, my little survey involved a whopping six people and thus obviously proves nothing at all. But if someone is contemplating empirical studies on such things, it might be worthwhile to add this to the list.

One additional note: a colleague asked me why this mattered. Maybe it doesn’t. But if the informality is gender related, and if it evidences an underlying assumption about the relative importance of the author or the work being examined, it does.


Blogger Chad Oldfather said...

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three instances in the last several months where students have used my first name. I've also occasionally had students use just my last name. Thus far none have used any of the endearing phrases that some of my former colleagues from practice used (and use) ...

I choose to interpret it as a sign of my youthful hipness. Or, more likely, a sign that, although I am neither young nor hip, I'm at least willing to poke fun at myself.

10/12/2006 10:50 AM  
Blogger Lori Ringhand said...

For the record, I don't think there is anything inherently troubling with students calling professors by their first names, particularly in small informal settings or at the invitation of the professor. I do think it is troubling if it is happening in a gender differentiated way on a first contact initiated by the student.

10/12/2006 1:35 PM  

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