So… what’s wrong with this conversation?

When Jamie reached the age of two with a spoken vocabulary of four words and the occasional letter, Barry took him along to the health visitor for advice.  She agreed with us that he was probably just a normal late developer, but referred him to the local nurse who assesses children with speech problems.  There was then quite a delay since the person he needed to see was off sick, but she finally rang us yesterday afternoon.  Barry answered the phone.

She said "Hello.  Can I speak to Mrs V__, please?"

He said "Yes.  Who is that, please?"

She introduced herself as "the nursery nurse".  Barry, a little bemused and wondering whether I’d booked Jamie into a nursery and omitted to tell him, passed the phone over to me, and I worked out straight away who it must be and made the appointment.

Which is fine by me, and I’m happy to have had the chance to speak to her, but… excuse me?  Why not discuss the child’s problems with the parent who answered the phone, regardless of gender?

I know that in the majority of cases it’s going to be the mother who brings the child to appointments, but that’s not true of all families by any means, and I don’t think it’s vanishingly rare for it to be the father.  Surely the appropriate thing to do would have been to check that she actually was speaking to a parent of the child in question and then explain who she was and let Barry decide whether or not this was something for which he wanted to pass the phone to me?  Why assume that just because it’s a child-related matter, it’s the mother’s job?

(Incidentally, one other advantage of this approach would be that it would avoid the errors that are inevitable when you try to guess someone’s correct form of address purely from knowing the name of their child.  She had no way of knowing that I’m actually Dr V. and not Mrs V., so I won’t hold that against her; but she also didn’t have any way of knowing that my surname is the same as my child’s, which is certainly not something you can take for granted in this day and age.  For this reason, when I’m making phone calls to parents whom I know only through having their child as my patient, my normal greeting format for any adult who answers the phone is "Hello, is that Freddy’s dad/mum?" rather than any attempts at guessing at a name.)

Anyway, that’s my stereotyping-in-a-biased-society mini-rant for the day.

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2 Comments

Filed under Grr, argh, Here Be Offspring

2 responses to “So… what’s wrong with this conversation?

  1. maureen

    I actually think these stereotypes are a pain. I used to feel that I was seen as the carer, the nurturer (especially if you are a SAHM) and my husband was rational, the decision maker. When my daughter was little, we would sometimes be late for hospital/clinic appointments because my husband is chronically unpunctual. Nurses would tell me off, then be charming to my husband. After all he was a Busy Man. How can they persist still?

  2. Mathematician

    Also, on the subject of nothing except addressing people, could you please take every opportunity of passing on to everyone you interact with professionally (starting with yourself if it applies), JUST HOW IRRITATING it is when medical doctors and their receptionists insist on referring to “Dr X” as “Mrs X” the moment they find out that, shock horror, she has a PhD instead of a medical degree. For one thing, unlike many medical doctors, the Dr of someone with a PhD is part of the name, attached to the person not the job (and if we’re going to be sniffy about it, if anything *more* “real”, not less). For another, on the rare occasions when you must guess a title surely Ms would be a better guess. As it happens I didn’t take my husband’s name, so Mrs X is my mother. For yet another thing, the implication that it’s important to know whether someone they’re dealing with is a fellow medic because they’ll somehow treat them or talk to them differently if so is in itself insulting and worrying on so many levels I hardly know where to start…

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