She had a PhD just like all the men, so why couldn't he introduce her in the same way as the men? I only sort of know the convener, and know that he meant no disrespect by apparently demoting Dr. X to Mrs. X. He just wasn't comfortable introducing her as Firstname Lastname or Lastname only.
At the same conference, I encountered a research scientist with whom I have had occasional contact over the years. I don't know him well, but we are rather routine scientific acquaintances. When we met to exchange brief greetings at the conference, he called me Mrs. X.
He was not making a strange joke, and I am sure that I have told him to call me by my first name in the past. I am also sure that I sign my e-mail to him with only my first name.
I asked some close colleagues who are from the same countries as the men who used the "Mrs." terminology about this. The conclusion, which I could have guessed anyway, is that "Professor" or "Dr" seemed too formal for the occasion (especially since the men were being referred to by their names without titles) but these men were not comfortable referring to women (particularly older women) by their names. So they settled on the unfortunate "Mrs".
This is not a rant. This is a request. Of course I do not speak for all women, but I'm guessing that most women at a professional conference would prefer to be addressed, formally or informally, in the same way that the men are addressed.
My preferred options for being addressed (politely) or introduced (respectfully) in a professional setting are, in no particular order:
- Professor X, or
- my names without any title.
"Mrs. X" as a title is not as respectful as it might seem, and of course there is also the minefield of the Miss/Mrs/Ms issues, but I will even accept "Mrs. X" if the male professors are referred to as "Mr. X". If it is intended respectfully, particularly by young men who are not familiar with (or not comfortable with) North American customs, then no personal offense is taken (at least not by me). Some women with PhDs will, however, be insulted by being introduced as "Mrs. X", even if they are married and even if they share a last name with their husband, so I recommend avoiding using this term for women with PhDs.
Although I do not feel personally insulted, I do resent the singling out of women for a different mode of address in a professional context. It is yet another small and unnecessary way in which we are specifically designated as FSPs instead of just SPs like the men.
So, here is a friendly suggestion for those who find themselves in a professional situation that may require referring to a woman with a PhD:
Address everyone the same. With or without titles, do not make a distinction between how you refer to men and women. That is the most respectful thing to do.