Why is it that I can watch TV in the twenty-first century and still see female PhDs and medical doctors not addressed as “Dr?”
My friend used to make fun of me while we watched The West Wing, because every time the other characters addressed Abbey as “Mrs. Bartlet,” I would mutter, “Doctor.” (To be fair, they did address this later—it turned out the campaign had decided to call her “Mrs.” for “likeability” reasons. But that was two seasons in, and gosh it pissed me right off, especially considering that even internally they all still called her “Mrs.” Can I just say how happy I am that the news media always introduces Joe Biden and his wife as “Vice President and Doctor Biden?”)
But now I’m watching The Newsroom, which, awesome show, but dammit if Sorkin isn’t doing it again. They constantly repeat on the show that Olivia Munn’s character has two PhDs—and yet she’s still somehow always “Miss Sabbith.” WHAT.
(mild Newsroom spoilers below)
In fact, to add injury to insult, when her boss is tearing into her after she made a bad mistake, he calls her “girl”—to which she retorts, quite rightly, “Don’t call me girl, sir!” Well, he keeps doing it until the end of the episode (I think it’s supposed to be funny), at which time he lets her out of the doghouse with the peace offering of calling her “Miss Sabbith” instead.
EXCUSE ME, IT’S DOCTOR SABBITH.
But it’s not just Aaron Sorkin (although Lord help me, and I do think The Newsroom is brilliant, but I’m starting to see patterns in how he writes his female characters . . . well, all his characters, but particularly the female ones). It’s other shows as well. For instance, The Big Bang Theory sends the main characters to a conference, and all of them have their names on name placards. The male PhDs all have “Dr.” in front of their names . . . but neither of the women do. Now, we find out later that one of them hadn’t received her PhD quite yet at this point, but we also find out at the same time that the other one had. So WTF, Big Bang Theory? If the writers just weren’t sure which of the women had graduated yet, why did they have to put “Dr.” on anyone’s nameplate?
Hey, here’s another one. I’m not a regular follower of NCIS, but I seem to recall Abby Sciuto also has a PhD. And yet whenever she’s referenced by title, it’s “Ms. Sciuto” . . . unlike (male) Dr. Mallard.
To be sure, most shows don’t do this. Can you imagine Dr. Brennan, Dr. Hunt, Dr. Cuddy, Dr. Crusher, or Dr. Fraiser being addressed by anything other than their rightful professional titles? Not a chance, right? But then why are there shows where this happens? What does it say that I was ecstatic to see that Dr. Blake on Eureka was never deprived her title, given that (white, male, non-PhD) Carter was the clear lead? And why am I able to name four modern shows off the top of my head in which this has actively bothered me?