Tuesday, April 7, 2009

inapropriately addressed

I just got an email that went something like this:
Dear Sirs,

We are writing this email on behalf of Professional Society Outside of My Discipline to invite posters and presentations at our upcoming annual meeting. Could you please forward the following information to the students, post-doc fellows and researchers in your department/program?

Student Chapter Committee, PSOMD
Dear Colleagues,

[Relevant conference information]

PSOMD Conference Committee

This is disturbing for a few reasons.
  1. The first part of the email assumes that all recipients of this email are men.
  2. The first part of the email is from the STUDENT committee! The non-student committee used the more appropriate and gender-neutral term "colleagues." Aren't the students supposed to be the ones challenging the status quo?!
  3. I am sad for the women in this particular field who have to deal with such asinine assumptions.
In a less offensive incident of mistakenly addressed correspondence, I am still receiving letters from my IACUC regarding my animal care protocol addressed to "Dr. Anirak." I suppose the title "Dr." is a safe assumption since not many grad students here are PIs on their own protocols.


Anonymous said...

I'd say the title "Dr" from IACUC would a 100% certainty at my insitution...grad students are not permitted to be the PI on that, no matter what! Your advisor is PI and you are personnel. but, at least that's not insulting..."Dear Sir"?!? jeez, what decade is this?

EcoGeoFemme said...

I swear I got that same email! I thought it was spam/a virus!

Fia said...

I bet the students who wrote that mail were not english native speakers.

I am not and I actually learned at school (yeah, that's some time ago) that "Dear Sirs" is the proper way of addressing people of unknown gender in letters.

I found out that this is not the case (any longer?) when I did that and got told (rather rudely) by the recipient that she's actually female, and it made me feel very stupid.

As a non-native speaker with few contact to the english speaking world, it is always a very difficult to find out what is actually convention and what not (any longer), and what is polite and what is considered rude. So we learn things at school, never use them, and then when there is the chance to use these formalities all of them are suddenly wrong.

And one couldn't guess what would be more polite. Because, for me, "colleagues" implies only male colleagues (because in my native language, we have a female form for colleague, too) and I would expect that it is unpolite for native speakers, too. So in some cases, it is not possible to guess for a non-native speaker what would be correct.

Karina said...

Fia, I'm about 99% sure that the email's author(s) were not native English speakers, and I think you bring up a good point that it can be difficult to know the proper way to address multiple people.

When I wrote letters to unknown audiences as a child, I was taught to address things "To whom it may concern," though I have not seen that used recently. "Dear sir or madam" was the other alternative.

I am surprised that you were taught to write "Dear Sirs" since colleagues is a non-gendered word in English.

Since you're right that they probably that English was not their first language, I wrote them explaining how their address may be interpreted and an email explaining the more polite way to address such an email. I hope that helps.