Titles

This morning, a friend noted a discrepancy between two recent headlines at The Mac Observer:

I tweeted the two headlines and corresponding URLs, with a single word of commentary: “Hmm”. I said no more partly because I was near the 140-character limit, and partly to see what the reaction would be. Some got it, but many repliers missed my point, mistakenly thinking it was related to an exodus of executives from the company.1

My point was to draw attention to the disparate job descriptions: “Apple CFO” vs. “PR Queen”.

Julia Richert pointed to a similar discrepancy — two Philip Elmer-DeWitt headlines on his weblog at CNN/Fortune/Money:

Maybe you can find an article in which Peter Oppenheimer is described as Apple’s “finance king”, but I can’t. It’s true that Oppenheimer’s official title (“CFO”) aptly describes his position in a way that Cotton’s (“vice president of worldwide corporate communication”) does not. “Queen”, however, is the wrong way to shorthand it. Boss, chief, head, leaderhoncho perhaps, if you want to be casual — any of these words can be used to convey authority. Queen, though, emphasizes something else: gender. It carries other connotations, none of them flattering: queens are arrogant, distant, prissy, entitled, superior; they become queens by birthright or marriage, not through merit.2

[UPDATE: Dan Benjamin points out that Elmer-DeWitt has used β€œking” in headlines, albeit not in the context of a substitute for a job title. Queen in the above cited examples is being used in lieu of gender-neutral words such as boss or chief.]

Unintentional sexism is sexism nonetheless. There’s almost never a good reason to use a different word to describe a woman’s job than the words you’d choose if the position were held by a man.


  1. Which, admittedly, is not unreasonable. Apple’s executive ranks have been remarkably stable during the post-NeXT reunification years, and two high-level retirements in a short period of time is notable. 

  2. You know you’re in poor company when you’ve chosen the same word as Valleywag’s Sam Biddle, who describes Cotton as “the queen of evil tech PR” in his headline, and quotes an anonymous source who describes her as “wicked witchy”. Jiminy. 

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