Earning Titles, Part Three

As I stated in the previous two posts I wrote those posts years ago but never clicked “publish.” I chose to publish those posts because of a conversation I had with a woman I admire; a conversation which reminded me of the women I have known over the years who have broken barriers that make my life possible.

These women include, but are not limited to, the journalist who had to fight to have her name as her byline and not be listed as Mrs. Her Husband’s Name. There is the woman who was the first married female teacher in a school district, being allowed to hold that position only after the superintendent asked her husband for permission. There are the women who told me about being unable to wear maternity clothes at their jobs (especially if they were teachers) because they were not allowed to mention their pregnancy at work. There are the women who have shared how they were looked down upon because they worked outside the home and hired help to clean the house. There are the women who had to stop working once they were married because married women were not allowed to work for that organization. There are the women who are partners in their family business but have been ignored when it comes to outside people wanting to talk about the business. There are the women who have chosen to stay at home with their children because they could and been referred to as lazy because it is assumed they wasted their education.

All but one of these stories come from women who are still alive today. Some of them are enjoying their retirement years, and some have decades more of work. I have learned these stories because I have asked. I have wanted to know how other women navigate living and working in a society that often minimizes the accomplishments of women at every age. I have learned for most of them their biggest supporters have been their spouses, their kids, their best friends, and sometimes their pastors, while some of their biggest opponents have been colleagues, supervisors, and strangers. This is the same type of experience I have had, so the only surprise is that this is still happening after all these years.

I am of a generation who had more opportunities for education and employment than earlier generations, while also still having to fight to be seen in the classrooms, to learn how to flirt because men in power are more amenable when a young woman flirts with them, to make coffee and copies while also learning how to moderate a meeting and balance an organization’s budget. I have been written up more than once by older female supervisors for not wearing enough dresses/skirts, for not wearing enough makeup, and for not trying to look more appealing. I have slipped out of the grabby hands of enough men to recognize an incoming inappropriate touch, and I have learned how to ask that certain jokes no longer be told without fear of losing my job (or at least with confidence I cannot be fired immediately). This is the reality I inherited and that I have worked hard to change. It is one that all the women who have shared their stories with me have described.

The reality of our society is that women are treated differently than men. The titles women earn are often seen as threats to the men around them, and sometimes cause resentment in the women who were unable to realize the same professional goals. Thankfully this continues to change as we become more aware of the power of our words and actions. Thankfully there are women who lead the way, like the women who have shared their stories with me, who encourage and celebrate with me; and who make small decisions that change the world so women have their own bylines, choose their own professions, wear comfortable clothes to work, run their own businesses and organizations, and support other women to do the same.

I aspire to be the kind of woman who supports all people as they achieve their dreams, so the stories I tell will be about the generations to come who have no idea what it is like to be known only by their spouse’s title.

Earning Titles, Part Two

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Here is the second of two posts I wrote some years ago. 

The most precious title I have earned is mom.  I wanted that to be clear since that is not the title I am going to write about today and my children follow this blog.

In recent months I have been in several conversations about how titles are used.  I have learned many women in my field struggle to have people remember or recognize their official titles, especially if they are a Rev. Dr.  This title means they completed a Master of Divinity degree and the ordination requirements of their denomination (Rev.) and a Doctor of Ministry or PhD (Dr.).  A number of the women have shared how their male colleagues do not have this problem, they are often called Rev. Dr. or Dr. if they have earned that title, both in written correspondence and introductions.  The ease by which our male colleagues receive recognition for their titles is often one of those things chosen to let slide because there are many other things to put energy into changing.  This seems especially true of the women who are married and are routinely referred to Mrs. or Mrs. “husband’s name.”  This lack of use of our titles feels like minimizing all the work that went into earning those titles.  To put it more personally, being referred to as Mrs. or Mrs. “my husband’s name” ties all my worth up in the person I married.

Almost fifteen years ago I earned the title Rev. when I was ordained as Minister of Word and Sacrament.  Eight years ago I earned that elusive title of Dr. after finishing a Doctor of Ministry program at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary.  Almost no one calls me by my official title of Rev. Dr. or a shortened version of Rev. or Dr.  For the most part I do not mind because I prefer people to call me by my first name.  I serve as a pastor in a community full of multiple generations and long ago assured people they could call me by my first name or my title as they were comfortable.  I have delighted in being introduced by members of our worshipping community as “my pastor” which changed to “my pastor, the Rev. Dr.” after my graduation.  The pride in the voices of those who helped me achieve a childhood dream of earning a doctorate never ceases to make me smile and blush.

Earning a doctorate was a dream that kept me going through years when my world seemed to be limited to choosing between a cash job that would get me into legal trouble if ever the IRS found out, or a legal job that would pay minimum wage but never be enough to pay the bills, especially if I became the statistic others thought I would be by having a child before I was old enough to vote or buy alcohol.  I earned three degrees, BSW, MSW, MDiv, and the title Rev. while holding this dream and struggling against expectations of my failure.  I earned the MDiv, Rev., and DMin/Dr., with my husband by my side, proofreading all my papers, and listening to me talk through all the research and reading, all while taking care of our family so I could realize this childhood dream.

At my graduations and ordination it was my husband by my side, smiling the biggest, and proudly introducing me with my newest title.  He was such a part of my earning my doctorate that I told him I wished I could share the title with him.  He responded with some words about enjoying the fact that I had earned the title and the question, “Is there a doctor in the house?”  I smiled, laughed, and blushed at the pride in his voice.

The titles we earn are more than letters, they are symbols of what we came through to earn that title.  They are like stretch marks from pregnancy, laugh lines from years of joy, or scars from healed injuries.  They are evidence we have learned, changed, and been made into something new.  I think that is why it is so important to me, and maybe to others, that we be recognized by the titles we have earned, not the titles of our spouse.  And maybe that is why our spouses are the first to introduce us by our titles, because they know how much history those letters hold.

I defied expectations by achieving the improbable dream of earning a doctorate and though I do not long to be called Rev. Dr. or Dr. on a daily basis, I do admit to feeling a sense of immense achievement each time I hear those titles.

Earning Titles, Part One

The majority of this post was written about six years ago.  I had not published this two-part reflection but was recently encouraged to post them, so here is the first of two.   

20210825_175208I was first generation college student.  I coasted through high school with decent grades and because I was in the classes with the college bound students I heard about college opportunities and followed along with my classmates in the whole process of college.  I knew college was too expensive and not what we did, but I also believed my adults when they told me if I wanted to go to college they would make sure I got there.  Looking back on that time I realize how difficult that must have been for my adults to know I was headed down a path they did not know and would not follow with me.

I finished college earning my first title, three letters at the back of my name, BSW.  Then I went to graduate school which seemed bizarre but fitting to my adults, and I earned three more letters, MSW.  In five years I had more education than kids from my type of life statistically earned, especially without a child in tow.  My life was so different than what I had expected or been trained to expect from the treatment of my middle school and high school teachers and classmates.  I lay no blame at anyone’s feet, I know where I come from, and I know how rare it is to break those cycles; and thanks to those six letters I have an even better understanding of how rare it is for the cycle to be broken.

I also had a recognition that a dream I had since I was a child could come true.  I was young when I learned that a person could be a “Dr.” without being a medical doctor.  I learned that there was a chance to study so much that you would be considered a person of expertise.  I was enthralled by this idea that I could study so much I would earn the letters to put in front of my name that would tell the world I took my work seriously.  It was like a dream come true I did not even know I had until I learned it was possible.

After earning my six letters after my name, I married my best friend and took his last name.  But I was adamant I would not be called Mrs. unless it was followed by my first name, never his.  Of course, I was understanding of the generational habit that means I still get called “Mrs. his first name” but I wanted to be clear if his title did not change with marriage then neither did mine need to change.  A few years later I earned a title that went before my name, Rev.  Now we were Rev. and Mr.

But outside of our worshipping community I find I am more often referred to as Mrs. or Mrs. “my husband’s first name.”  Each time this happens I remember an interview I watched of Dr. Jill Biden.  The interviewer asked her if she preferred Mrs. Second Lady or Mrs. Biden.  She replied, “Dr. Jil Biden is good.”  There was uncomfortable laughter on the part of the interviewer while Dr. Biden sat smiling graciously then she helped move the interview forward.  I attempt to imitate her graciousness.