significance of misidentification

Bharathi Jagadeesh bjag at
Fri Aug 14 01:24:45 EST 1998

Bharathi Jagadeesh (bjag at writes
> >I arrived for an appointment with a
> >department chairman, only to be asked by the secretary something to the
> >effect of whether I needed a drop card signed -- she had mis-identified
> >me as a medical student. 

Una Smith (una at writes
> Unless you informed her of your name and reason for being there, as soon 
> as you walked in, it seems logical to me for her to assume you belong to
> the horde of medical students that stampede through her office.

I informed her of my name, and said that I was there for a meeting with
the chairman. She then asked me if I needed something signed. Of course,
my first interpretation of this was to assume that I did need something
signed (one frequently does when visiting universities, i.e. travel
orders, reimbursements, etc.). So we wasted five minutes or so trying to
understand each other. I consider this minor, and it did not ruin my

But, I do consider this frequent "misidentification" to be an insidious
effect of the continued segregation of our society (in this example,
that women are secretaries, personnel managers, technicians, research
assistants, undergraduate, medical, and graduate students), but not

We all know of more egregious examples: Linnea Ista's example of a
African-American physician is one. Another is a friend of mine, an
attorney, who was yelled at for staying in a lawyers-only conference
with a judge, because the judge had mistaken her for her 14 year old
client. These cases are the worst examples, because they reduce your
ability to do your job. I do have to say that race compounds this
misidentificatons -- most of the egregious cases of which I am aware
involve non-white women. But constantly having to explain who you are
amidst confusion is something more than an annoyance. 

As I proposed in the other thread, if I can avoid these confusions by
altering my style of clothing, that's certainly something I'm willing to
do (within bounds -- stilletto heels are not an option). I do think,
however, that avoiding making those assumptions about the people we meet
is also a good idea, and would generally make the world a better place!


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