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.