Opinion: Calling women in power by their first names widens the gender gap

Refusing to address them by their surnames belittles their power and position

Opinion: Calling women in power by their first names widens the gender gap

As children, it felt like a sin to refer to authority figures by anything other than their surname. It’s ingrained into society that addressing someone by their surname denotes a position of power or respect. Yet, when it comes to female politicians and professionals, this unspoken rule is commonly dropped and replaced with their first names, instilling a false familiarity that diminishes their authority.

Ultimately, this simple-fix issue is the precursor to the larger problem of gender inequality. Although the Pew Research Center reported this year that 94 percent of citizens across 34 countries think it’s important for women to have the same rights as men, close to 90 percent of men and women worldwide hold some sort of bias against women, according to a United Nations report.

For women in power, gender bias persists more often than not. In a world that presumes women are inherently incompetent, using their first names elevates the status of men to be higher than women and discourages women from adopting any “manly” behaviors, such as being too strong, too firm or too ambitious.

The continued disregard for the status of women brainwashes the public and the subject into believing women need to be more approachable to succeed in life.

Hillary versus Trump. Michelle and Obama. Kamala and Biden.

Addressing and referring to women in power by their first names is a bad habit we need to kick. No matter how unconscious it is, denying women the use of their surnames undermines their prominence and implies that women are undeserving of their recognition. 

A Cornell University report found that students were 56 percent more likely to refer to a male professor by his surname on Rate My Professors, a popular website for college students, than a female professor. The researchers also discovered that radio personalities like Terry Gross and Rush Limbaugh, were more than twice as likely to refer to well-known men by their last names.

During last week’s vice presidential debate, moderator Susan Page addressed Sen. Harris as “Kamala Harris,” to which candidate Harris attempted to assure her that usage of just her first name was fine. Page shortly apologized and firmly stated that she would receive the same privilege her male running mate and male counterpart are guaranteed — to be addressed by her title and surname.

The first name versus surname debate puts women, especially female politicians, in a quandary. They walk the thin line of society’s expectation for them to be the likable and demure complement to their brazen and assertive male counterparts, while somehow standing firm in their decisions and making forward change.

Women in power deserve the respect that is long overdue to be addressed by their surname, the same as we do their male counterparts. The larger issue of gender inequality is going to go unsolved, especially as long as we continue to put blinders over our eyes to the simple and obvious ramifications of it.

Samantha Margot is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences and a staff columnist for The Eagle.

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