…and I’m trying to decide what to do about it. I got my page proofs last night for a journal article in an Entomological Society of America journal. Yay!  But here’s what pissed me off so much–for the SECOND TIME, the email from the editorial office came addressed to “Dear Sir”.

Goddamn. It’s freakin’ 2007, and they still use a form letter that says “Dear SIR“??

I emailed them back the first time about it, but clearly no one has made the change.  And I’m really, really steamed. The assumption that the first author must be a man, or that only men publish, should have gone away decades ago.
I am trying to decide who to email next–the Publications Council? There are a couple of folks on the Governing Board that I know would have similar reactions to mine.

I also know that if I make a big deal of this, there will be two primary reactions:

1. “Oh God, it’s that damn Bug Girl again. What a Feminazi!”
2. “Sheesh, overreacting about a little thing like that. Get a life!”

I don’t think that anyone who hasn’t received letters and correspondence for years addressed to “Dear Sir” or “Mr. Bug Girl” can really understand how grating it gets to be after a while. It’s like the time a kid came into my office and assumed I was Dr. Bug Girl’s secretary. Cause, you know, no women are faculty.


Posted by Bug


  1. My wife got a letter once that started Dear Mr. {surname}. What made things worse, was that her name is not at all ambiguous. It’s most decidedly feminine. And even worse, it was a rejection letter for a job that she really wanted badly. And worse still, it was for a position in a public library, who a) should know better, with reading being a prerequisite for the job and all, and b) already have a staff that’s 2/3 female.

    And the reason they rejected her was because she wasn’t qualified. What a kick in the teeth. “You’re more qualified than me, based on your ability to discern gender based on a person’s first name, but you’re not qualified enough for this entry level position.”

    In your case, they could have opened the salutation with “Dear Dr. Bug Girl”, and it would have been non-specific enough that they might have gotten away with it. But, people need to start paying more attention when they go sending out form letters. Or save the form letter with “dear blank”, so that the salutation has to be filled in, forcing the typist to actually pay attention to who they’re talking to.

  2. My entire name gets transgendered sometimes, too. It’s really, really annoying, even beyond the whole male-directed form letter nonsense! OTOH, when I get mail to Mrs. Husband-Name, that gets pitched into the “circular file” (wastebasket) immediately.

  3. My husband and I were hassled coming back into the country by a U.S. Customs officer — a young guy — who didn’t believe we were married because we have different last names! Please.

  4. Even though you would think most people would know that “Erin” is the standard female spelling, most address me as Mr. I especially like the time I got a call back for a job and he asked to speak to Mr. So and So and I had to explain I was that person and NOT a mister. At that point, he said (and I shit you not and yes I wish I had a tape recorder for this conversation!), “Oh, well, we really only wanted to interview guys for this position because it’s an outdoor job that is very physical and you would be by yourself a lot. You probabaly wouldn’t like it.”

    Talk about seeing red.

  5. I don’t think you’re overreacting at all. I used to post on a college forum under my maiden name. Everyone on the forum assumed I was a man – one, because my last name looked “masculine” (???), and two because I apparently don’t “talk like a woman”. What is that supposed to mean, anyway?

    People who make assumptions are just dummies. :P

  6. A few years ago, I worked as an assistant editor in a scientific journal. Not every journal is working that way (I’ve submitted papers to journals with entirely written-up correspondance), but we had formatted letters with specific places to make the correspondance more personal. We always refered to the corresponding author as Dr X, but this was the journal’s philosophy: PhD students would like being treated as Dr X anyway, most authors actually are Dr X, and I just had to make sure Dr X wasn’t already Pr X. But if a journal has a concern about calling somebody a Dr when (s)he’s not one, I can understand its use of Ms/Mr in correspondance with authors.

    It happened once that I forgot to replace the X before sending an email. I was really ashamed. Even when I think it makes an error rate of less than 10e-3, it’s still dramatic. Mistakes happen sometimes.

    Now, here is my take on the event: this may “just” be an accident, not necessarily informed sexism. It’s not always easy to be an assistant. It’s not always easy to deal with names from different regions of the world (e.g. is it a he-name or a she-name? Other example: I was very anxious the first time I had to answer Chinese authors, because I could not tell surnames from lastnames).

    The current assistant may well be a foreigner. And (s)he may well be swamped by the number of emails to deal with (sustained correspondance is not always possible in rush submission periods).

    So… I see plenty of reasons for this to happen, that are not necessarily sexist per se. Make sure this is not the case if you decide to do anything about it.

  7. The assistant is an American Woman. I’ve already contacted her once about this to ask her to please update the form letter.

    This is the second time it’s happened, and I’m not the only woman that it’s happened to. So…I’m still annoyed.

  8. In this case…

    … best is probably to contact directly the editorial board. (After the paper is published?)

  9. (oops, forgot to add:)
    So… I was wrong.

    And there’s clearly something wrong here.

  10. Yeah, I totally understand when this sort of stuff comes from people overseas. It’s mildly annoying then, but forgivable.

    These people should really know better.

  11. I got some important mail from my university last week addressed to Ms. Jacob McCarthy.

  12. This past week I actually cancelled a subscription to an i_portant and influential _iddle school journal because they address all _ail to _e as _ister. No way to respond and say stop. You are not alone. (_ key doesn’t work today, sorry).

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