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Author Topic: adult female students being called "girls"  (Read 49311 times)
chromatic
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« Reply #15 on: February 02, 2012, 11:10:51 PM »

In response to Hegemony
I think it's generally inappropriate in a professional setting; however, perhaps the letter-writer is giving not-so-subtle hints about the maturity of the advisee.
This is the sort of paranoid hermeneutic that could get the advisee in trouble on the job market. Cynical people who talk about 'reading between the lines' and 'letters of rec are mostly fluff anyway' who then concentrate on finding the smallest flaw within layers of implied and imaginary meanings of even the tiniest words. The adviser, whose credibility IS currently genuinely low by the way, needs to be careful about that sort of thing, and this girl talk is not very careful.
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readandwept
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« Reply #16 on: February 02, 2012, 11:27:05 PM »

Really?  It would damage her chances?  If you read a letter of recommendation that said "Of all the girls I've advised, Stella Jones is the best researcher," would you really conclude, "This recommender has referred to this student as a 'girl,' and therefore she must be unworthy of this job!  Forget the promising writing sample and the impressive CV!  Out with her application!" 

It's not that I'd expect anyone to consciously think that; it's that I'd expect them to unconsciously echo the view of her as less of a mature and independent thinker -- in other words, less of an adult -- than the other candidates.
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readandwept
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« Reply #17 on: February 02, 2012, 11:28:27 PM »

And, sorry for the double-post, but I should've said: for that reason, I'm also in favor of saying something to the prof. I like some of the strategies here for how to do it, especially the more gently disingenuous ones.
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tee_bee
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« Reply #18 on: February 02, 2012, 11:49:27 PM »

Wow, I thought this debate had been settled 25 years ago, when I was between college and grad school. Sigh. Anyway, there are so many ways to avoid using "girl" that, while I the casual tossing around of girls still happens, it's far less common, and more constrained, than it was before. So yes, even in grad school there was girls night out, and "chick lit," and other terms that we don't use in a professional context--and only if the women in question are comfortable with that.

But in a professional context, it's really inexcusable. Thus,

If you read a letter of recommendation that said "Of all the girls I've advised, Stella Jones is the best researcher," would you really conclude, "This recommender has referred to this student as a 'girl,' and therefore she must be unworthy of this job! ....

I don't think the recommender is damaging the student's credibility; I think he's damaging his own credibility.

In this case, our superannuated (I presume) letter writer would have been made a double fool by (1) calling the subject a "girl" and (2) seeing any need at all to mention the subject's gender at all. I have never "gendered" my letters at all. I will write "Ms Jones is one of the finest students I've ever supervised," because she's a student. Her gender is immaterial to the subject of the letter.
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voxprincipalis
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« Reply #19 on: February 03, 2012, 8:48:34 AM »

I have never "gendered" my letters at all. I will write "Ms Jones is one of the finest students I've ever supervised," because she's a student. Her gender is immaterial to the subject of the letter.

If you use "Ms. Jones," haven't you already "gendered" the letter?

"Jones is one of the finest students I've ever supervised. Jones is bright, capable, and turns in all of Jones' papers on time."

VP
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ucprof
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« Reply #20 on: February 04, 2012, 1:18:14 AM »

Thanks for all your interesting comments.  OP here.  You might be interested to know the letter writer is  not superannuated.  He is male and originally from another country, but has lived in the US for some years.  He is my peer. There are nontrivial cultural differences between my background (raised in US, liberal household, post title IX female) and the letter writer's background.  At the moment I am too busy to worry about this but I will keep it in my mind and if there is an opportune time to say something I will.
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betterslac
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« Reply #21 on: February 04, 2012, 2:52:15 AM »

Quote
while the casual tossing around of girls still happens

Now that has got to hurt!

Quote
Thanks for all your interesting comments.  OP here.  You might be interested to know the letter writer is  not superannuated.  He is male and originally from another country, but has lived in the US for some years.  He is my peer. There are nontrivial cultural differences between my background (raised in US, liberal household, post title IX female) and the letter writer's background.  At the moment I am too busy to worry about this but I will keep it in my mind and if there is an opportune time to say something I will.

This really sounds like a mixture of cultural difference and possibly unfamiliarity with language. If this person speaks English as a second language, he may not entirely get the connotations associated with referring to an adult female as a "girl," particularly if his first language is like Chinese in having genderless third person singular pronouns. My wife, whose first language is Mandarin, almost always refers to adult women as "girls".
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wilbrish
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« Reply #22 on: February 04, 2012, 4:02:24 PM »

Maybe if you changed the reference point, the misuse of "girl" would stand out more, in relation to LOR's: "Of all the boys I advised, Jones was the brightest. " I really think a LOR should not go out that way.  Even if it's just an innocent slip, it's too close to pejorative.
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snowbound
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« Reply #23 on: February 04, 2012, 5:18:39 PM »

I think it's generally inappropriate in a professional setting; however, perhaps the letter-writer is giving not-so-subtle hints about the maturity of the advisee.

Exactly.  And a brief email to the letter-writer asking if this is the case, esp. since you know him anyway, would be in order. 

Of course, no one is going to pass over the applicant for a job ONLY because of she is described as a "girl."  If she is a fabulous candidate, she'll get an interview regardless.  But what if she is in the "maybe" pile?  What if she is very promising but ABD? Or PhD in hand with great research but little teaching experience? SC members are more likely to be more concerned about her inexperience or ABD status because the are envisioning her as a mere "girl" (as letter encourages them to do).  They are more likely to picture her as one of their students, rather than as a prospective colleague, than an identical candidate describes in a less infantilizing way.

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tee_bee
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« Reply #24 on: February 05, 2012, 12:37:14 AM »

I have never "gendered" my letters at all. I will write "Ms Jones is one of the finest students I've ever supervised," because she's a student. Her gender is immaterial to the subject of the letter.

If you use "Ms. Jones," haven't you already "gendered" the letter?

"Jones is one of the finest students I've ever supervised. Jones is bright, capable, and turns in all of Jones' papers on time."

VP

Good point. What I meant is that I consider all students to be my female students' reference group, not just all my female students. To say that one's students is among the best of the girls/women/womyn one has supervised is daft.

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jerseydevil
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« Reply #25 on: February 11, 2012, 8:55:56 PM »

Being called a girl could be an insult, depending upon the context.  So, this person should visit the equality office.
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skeptical
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« Reply #26 on: April 29, 2012, 6:41:39 PM »

I seem to spend a great deal of time "correcting" graduate students who refer to female undergraduates as "girls" (but undergraduate males as "men").
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macaroon
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« Reply #27 on: April 30, 2012, 3:02:52 PM »

[quote author=betterslac link=topic=85752.msg2071103#msg2071103 date=1328338335

This really sounds like a mixture of cultural difference and possibly unfamiliarity with language. If this person speaks English as a second language, he may not entirely get the connotations associated with referring to an adult female as a "girl," particularly if his first language is like Chinese in having genderless third person singular pronouns. My wife, whose first language is Mandarin, almost always refers to adult women as "girls".
[/quote]

Is this it, ucprof?

But thanks, betterslac, for this info.  One of my grad students just cannot get the gendered pronouns correct!
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