Earlier this week a friend of mine posted a facebook link to Amnesty International where one could take action on worldwide women’s rights and protection from violence. The website invited people to contact their congressional leaders regarding House Resolution 4594, the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). Violence against women and girls is a devastating global issue and this legislation would set U.S. policy for responding to and preventing such abuse. I completed the online form to contact Congressman Pat Tiberi (Congressional District 12, Ohio) asking him to support the resolution should it make it to the house floor.
Though I was pleased to receive an e-mail indicating Congressman Tiberi’s support of IVAWA, I was appalled at the manner in which the letter was addressed to me. Please read his letter below.
September 16, 2010
Mr. Robin Dillon
Delaware, OH 43015-3211
Dear Mr. Dillon,
As you may know, H.R. 4594, the International Violence Against Women Act of 2010 was introduced by Representative Bill Delahunt (D-MA) in the United States House of Representatives on February 4, 2010. A similar bill was introduced in the United States Senate by Senator John Kerry (D-MA). The legislation would make it the policy of the U.S. to promote women’s political, economic, educational, social, cultural, civil, and human rights opportunities throughout the world. This bill also would make it policy that the U.S. would condemn and combat violence against women and girls, and would promote and assist other governments in preventing and responding to such violence. Please be assured I will thoroughly review this legislation should it be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives.
IVAWA is a step in the right direction to help protect women who have been victims of violence and to prevent such violence in the future. Whether or not this or similar legislation is considered in the U.S. House of Representatives will be determined by the Democratic House Leadership headed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Thanks again for taking a moment to share your thoughts with me. Please be assured I will keep your thoughts in mind as legislative business continues in the 111th Congress. If I may be of assistance in the future, please feel free to contact my office.
Patrick J. Tiberi
Representative to Congress
Dear MR. Dillon? Really? Um, that’s my Dad … not me. I was incensed that he automatically assumed I was male, particularly when he was writing about the issue of women’s rights. Hello? What’s wrong with this picture? I gave myself a few days to regain my composure and professionalism before responding to him. The following is the letter I sent to him this morning.
Dear Representative Tiberi,
I very much appreciated your prompt e-mail response to my correspondence regarding the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) that was introduced by Representative Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts. Indeed, as you have noted, this act is a “step in the right direction to help protect women who have been victims of violence and to prevent such violence in the future.”
I am grateful for your support of this legislation should it be brought to the House floor for consideration. However, your e-mail disturbs me. Though I am a woman, the salutation in your letter identified me as “Mr.” I recognize that the name “Robin” is ambiguous, but your use of the default masculine address is disconcerting, particularly since more than half of your constituency is female (51.9% according to U.S. Census Bureau data found at http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/QTTable?_bm=y&-geo_id=50000US3912&-qr_name=DEC_2000_110H_DP1&-ds_name=D&-_lang=en). Even more alarming was its use in a piece of correspondence of which the very subject was human rights for women. Since my gender was not identifiable in my initial correspondence, I would have much preferred a less formal and gender-neutral address to “Robin” than the formal, incorrect and devaluing “Mr.” Sensitivity to such issues should be a priority in future correspondence with your constituents.
We live in a patriarchal society and your very own letter is evidence that it will take more than a piece of legislation to enact systemic change for women’s social, economic, political, educational and cultural human rights in this country and throughout the world.
MS. Robin D. Dillon
Indeed we have a long way to go. Until next time, peace …