In reading another recent diary here today, there was a brief discussion regarding the appropriateness of using a woman's first name when using a last name is the norm. For example, a poster referred to Senator Claire McCaskill as Claire. Another mentioned that Hillary Clinton called herself Hilary when running for the Senate. Another mentioned that Governor Jennifer Graham was generally referred to as Jenny. Someone else mentioned that Romney is sometimes referred to as Mitt.
The discussion made my feminist radar turn on - you know, that stuff that makes women grow mustaches, hate babies, and get tattoos. Well, while I kind of secretly want a little tattoo in an out of the way place and won't be around any babies for awhile, so am okay with hating them, I really, really don't want to grow a mustache. So I've gotta' see if I can't do something to get that dang thing turned off.
Follow below the squiggle to see my efforts and let me know whether you think a mustache is in my near future:
My initial reaction to the whole discussion was that using a woman's first name when a last name is generally used is clearly sexist, even though it's a subtle form of discrimination. Generally, using a person's last name is a sign of respect. For example, a boss often calls the employees by their first name, even when the employees use the bosses last name. The doorman's first name is used, while s/he uses the residents' last name. Patients refer to their doctor using his/her last name, while the doctor generally uses the patient's first name. And on and on. Those with power or authority or money are nearly always called by their last name; those without those things are called by their first name. Ergo, using the last name shows a level of respect that is being withheld when the first name is used instead.
Ah but, one of the poster's maintained, that can't be the case because Hilary Clinton herself chose to use her first name rather than Clinton in order to differentiate herself from her husband. Another pointed out that Claire McCaskill uses her first name quite frequently.
At that point, I thought I might be saved from the deadly mustache blight. Of course, if a woman herself prefers to be referred to by her first name, then there can be no sexism about it. Of course, in this justification, I have to omit Hilary Clinton. I mean, there's no evidence to suggest she preferred to be referred to as Hilary. Just that she knew that if she didn't want the electorate to confuse and conflate her with Bill, there had to be a way to differentiate her from him. Using the same name as he used wouldn't go far in that. What other option was there? Referring to herself as Clinton II? Or the unClinton? Nope, Hilary was about the only route she had to go. The mustache is seeming inevitable right about now.
And Jennifer Granholm? Well, I have to admit, even though she was my governor, I never once ever heard her called Jenny. Or Governor Jenny. I quite distinctly remember hearing her referred to as Governor Granholm, both in writing and in print. So maybe the person posting that statement was much more in the inner circle than I - or knew her a lot better than I (a distinct possibility, since I never had the honor of meeting her).
But Claire McCaskill. It does seem as though she is quite free about incorporating her first name into ads and such. So maybe it's just a natural thing to refer to her as Claire rather than as Senator McCaskill. It was the only hope I now held for fending off the mustache doom.
Then I thought back to when I first began working professionally and my level of discomfort at being called Ms. last name while I called the secretaries by their first names. I remember feeling so bad when one of them would slip and use my first name - and actually apologize for it. They needed to apologize only because they were worried that they weren't showing the appropriate level of respect by using my first name. And I was very uncomfortable with being at a different level - I'd have much preferred just being one of them. If I'd dared, I'd have told them to just use my first name. But I also knew that if I was referred to by my first name while the men were referred to by their last name, I would lose respect from the men. But I wasn't comfortable. Of course, then, I wasn't comfortable with many aspects of stepping outside the box of societal norms that existed at that time. It would have been so much easier to accept the sexual boxes we'd all been put into.
I then thought about the one female judge we have in our county. I've kicked myself numerous times because I so often find myself thinking of her and referring to her by her first name, whereas I never refer to any of the male judges by their first names. Again, during her campaign, she tended to refer to herself by her first name, and that perhaps made me think of her in that way more readily. But more than that, I've concluded it's because I actually respect her more in most ways. She's the most courteous judge I've ever seen, she exerts extraordinary self control and is patient with the most difficult persons, and she makes more of an effort to be certain she's rendering the correct decision.
I've also noticed that it's quite definitely not just me that refers to her by her first name so much more often; it's pretty much everyone. Do they all respect her more? Like her more? I have no idea.
Finally, I then tried out the idea that we're more likely to refer to female politicians by their first name than male politicians because we just like the females better. That would work for Hilary - except for the right wing zealots, can you imagine any more well liked politician right now? And it would work for Jennifer Granholm had it ever occurred to me to call her Jenny. I don't think it would work so good for Claire, though. Or for Sarah.
Then, too, there's the question of - even if a woman doesn't recognize that she's accepted some form of discrimination because it's so prevalent, who even notices, does that mean it's any less discrimination?
And then there's the fact that we liked to call Bush Jr. George and Romney Mitt and Cheney Dick. We did that, not their supporters or the media. Us. Those that hate them. We used their first names and or a nickname as a symbol of disrespect, pure and simple.
I don't know that there's a right and a wrong way to look at this question. But I find it an interesting one. I'd like to think that the sex of a politician should not matter in either how we react to them or how we refer to them. I'd like to think that, except for the fanatic right wingers, a politicians sex is irrelevant and it's their positions and abilities that create respect or lack of it. I'd like to think that our tendency to "demote" women by fairly often referring to them by their first name rather than their last simply reflects a friendlier feeling towards them, more of a sense of bonding, rather than a subtle discrimination. But I don't know. That feminist radar still seems to be at least on a low frequency, and I swear I see some black hairs on that upper lip. And I saw a baby carriage being pushed by my window, and had to hang on to my desk for dear life to stop myself from rushing out the door to harangue the poor mother for keeping the dear thing. And the spot I've always envisioned a little tiny Tweetie Bird is feeling kind of itchy.