My boss has this habit that has been driving me to fury for the better part of three years. I’m not talking about her inefficiencies or quirks or her tendency to micromanage. Those are all separate issues. No, what I’m talking about is her habit of referring to me as her “assistant.” Now before I go on, I want to say that I have nothing against anyone who is a personal assistant or secretary. You are invaluable to the endeavors of others everywhere. I’ve been there and done that. But I am not an assistant. My proper title is Research Associate, and my job description is not that of a personal assistant or secretary. So I have to say that when my boss refers to me as an “assistant”, I see red and usually want to commit some heinous homicidal act.
I have never said anything, mostly because I really didn’t think I could say anything and stay calm and rational about it because it makes me so incredibly angry.
Then came yesterday. Yesterday she copied me on an email sent to another colleague who needs to send me some information for a website I’m designing for work. And in it she referred to me as her assistant. To a woman who was not only my major professor, but who is a teaching colleague over in the psych department. The same psych department where I graduated with a 4.0 and number 1 in my graduate school class. She knows who I am. I was so embarrassed and furious, I emailed my boss back.
I would really appreciate it if you would refrain from referring to me as your assistant. I find it incredibly belittling, condescending, and offensive. I’m a research associate, not a personal assistant. Personal assistants don’t have master’s degrees.
Send. Total disconnect between mouse finger and brain.
Well didn’t my stomach feel like somebody’d dumped Pop Rocks and Pepsi down it?
So my boss predictably shows up at my office. And she starts in saying “Dear,” in this incredibly patronizing way she has and telling me to take a deep breath. I glare. She tells me to calm down, that she didn’t mean– At which point I interrupted her and said that I don’t care how she meant it. I have never, ever taken it how she meant it and I’ve always found it demeaning because I have been a personal assistant, and I did not go back to graduate school only to continue to be considered one.
“But it’s just short hand because you assist me–” she starts. She’s always big on talking about how much she depends on me to assist her with stuff. As if that’s a legitimate justification for insulting me.
“Associate or colleague is just as short and doesn’t have the same connotation.”
She just seemed so incredibly baffled that I was upset by this, and sort of agreed to call me something else in a tone that indicates I’m being ridiculous. Which I might believe if not for the horrified reactions of other colleagues of mine when I told them she does this. I have a title, damn it. Use it.
I have no doubt she’ll be good for a week and fall back into old habits. But at least I’ve had my say. What I find so strange about this whole thing is that I would expect it from a MAN of her generation. Part of the good old boy club that missed the feminist movement entirely and just considers all women lower or less intelligent and not more than a secretary or assistant. Like my first two bosses out of college. But she’s a woman. You would expect a woman, particularly one who came up into the work world at a time when those good old boys ruled everything, to have a clue about such things. But no. I’ve never met a lesbian who missed the feminist movement. They were usually heading it up and forging the way. The other lesbians I know all have a clue and are awesome, wonderful people who grasp how to value others. My boss’s partner is made of awesome (and is probably why no one has yet murdered her).
In any event, I really hope the instructor positions get approved for the psych department and that they call me up post haste. I would love to give my two weeks’ notice.
I totally understand. And, to that end, I sent you an email at the link on your contact page.
Hoping you won’t mind a few prayers thrown in there in support of that teaching position. I feel for you so deeply. I’m the Administrative Clerk for a political science department at a state university, and the title is because I am so beyond a secretary, it isn’t even in the same league. I’m so fortunate in that my faculty (all but one) refer to me as the Administrator, not the secretary. They even support my taking classes toward my Master’s degree in English, being tremendously generous at Christmas to help toward a laptop for studying, etc. I’m so very blessed with my faculty.
I think you did the right thing in letter her know your objections. What she means doesn’t matter, and I bet she wouldn’t accept someone belittling her choice of partner and then protesting that she was taking it wrong. She would insist that basic respect be given, as you did. If she reverts back, you should remind her again, until she modifies her behavior permanently. You are helping who knows how many other Research Assistants she will encounter over the years to be given their due, as well as yourself.
Hey I will take all the prayers I can get! Thanks. 🙂 And hey, GREAT on you for going back to get your Masters! I know how hard it is to work full time AND go to school. So many of my students are doing that (and so is my husband), and I absolutely admire your fortitude!
Empowerment! That’s the way 🙂
Don’t be afraid to make ripples in the world. You never know what might wash up afterwards.