Beki Grinter

Dear Sir…

In academia, computer science, social media, women on October 27, 2010 at 10:23 am

For some time, I did think that Dear Sir emails were just a confusion about appropriate address, and that address forms were actually gender specific. But, I kept all the messages that I received addressed Dear Sir, and now I have a corpus to examine. And while it is definitely true that some of the corpus might be attributed to English as a Second Language skills, it doesn’t explain the entire corpus.

Specifically, I’m beginning to notice that some of these messages go on in very good English. Good enough that Dear Sir seems out of place in the message.

Some of them also write to me and my colleagues as part of a group spam asking me for paid positions to work on research that I am clearly not interested in. As a result of these I edited my website to include a picture of me, actually two, which I think make it pretty clear that I am female. I also wrote about appropriate forms of address on my website. And yet it persists. I receive emails that are well worded, but just don’t address me according to my gender, even some that otherwise show careful attention to my research and well worded descriptions.

I don’t think it’s intentional (“I refuse to believe that she’s woman faculty member”). Instead I wonder whether it’s the result of not being exposed to enough women in the sciences in academia. Does that lack of exposure lead to forgetting that you might encounter a woman? I know this is dangerous territory for a blog. I am not anti-men. I am not even suggesting that this is harassment (I’ve discussed that before without including this). I am however, increasingly wondering whether Dear Sir is an echo of being in an environment where the expectations are that Doctor or Professor = Man. This message is another attempt to explain a) why it shouldn’t occur and b) why I find it bothersome.

  1. In a lot of the cases, I think it’s just a result of cut-and-paste form letters. I’ve gotten one talking about me/GT, but then the letter inexplicably includes a link to some Univ. of Toronto website. Mail merge fail.

    I do wonder about the cases where they’ve at least scraped your website to include the title of a paper and at least mention some research topics. (But then I always wonder why they then put these things in bold and/or italics which makes it obvious where they’re filling in the blanks…) Hmm, perhaps some enterprising you person has gone through mountains of faculty webpages and put together a database of names, email addresses, research keywords and sample paper titles so that all of these students can effortlessly crank out form emails seeking funding.

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