An op-ed calling for Dr. Jill Biden, the US’ incoming First Lady, to stop referring to herself as “Dr” has been slammed as sexist and patronising by people around the world.
Written by Joseph Epstein for The Wall Street Journal, the article was titled “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not If You Need an M.D.”, and argued that Biden’s doctorate of education was “fraudulent” and even called it “a touch comic”.
He also referred to her as “kiddo” in the opening line of the article.
“Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the “Dr.” before your name? ‘Dr. Jill Biden’ sounds and feels fraudulent,” he wrote.
“Your degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title ‘Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students’ Needs.”
He went on to say that “a wise man” once said that “no one should call himself Dr. unless he has a delivered a child”, essentially denigrating every other medical speciality while delivering one last misogynist ‘mic-drop’:
“Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc.”
Critics online were quick to refute Epstein, who is also a former academic who taught at Northwestern University—and does not have a PhD and or an MD. For the record, Dr. Biden has a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a doctorate of education—which she acquired while raising children—and plans to continue working in education after moving into the White House, just as she did when she was Second Lady.
“Never in my lifetime has anyone suggested I should not claim the title of Dr., despite my PhD being in Mathematics and not baby delivery. Which begs the question, what exactly is the difference between myself and Dr. Jill Biden?” former US Secretary of Defence, William J. Perry, wrote on Twitter.
“A friend pointed out that beyond differing in our likelihood of experiencing sexist attacks, Dr. Biden has two master’s degrees over my one. America should be proud to recognise the commendable achievements of our incoming First Lady.”
Similarly, American minister and daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. Bernice King voiced her support for the First Lady-Elect, writing:
“Dear @DrBiden: My father was a non-medical doctor. And his work benefitted humanity greatly. Yours does, too.”
Writer Charlotte Clymer took things a step further and summed up the underlying sexism and nuances at play.
“In light of that WSJ op-ed on Dr. Jill Biden, what a stunning coincidence that comparatively un-credentialed white men only seem to get up their hackles about PhDs being referred to as ‘doctors’ when it’s a woman and/or BIPOC using that honorific. What a striking happenstance!” she wrote.
“And yet, what also a depressing irony when so many women and/or BIPOC physicians have related having their MD credentials doubted or assumed to be less-than-credentialed in medical settings. It’s almost like there’s something here at play that has nothing to do with the degree.”
Dr. Biden, also received support from others in her inner circle, including former First Lady Michelle Obama, who came to Dr. Biden’s defence in a poignant Instagram post, praising her friend.
“For eight years, I saw Dr. Jill Biden do what a lot of professional women do—successfully manage more than one responsibility at a time, from her teaching duties to her official obligations in the White House to her roles as a mother, wife, and friend. And right now, we’re all seeing what also happens to so many professional women, whether their titles are Dr., Ms., Mrs., or even First Lady: All too often, our accomplishments are met with scepticism, even derision,” she wrote.
“We’re doubted by those who choose the weakness of ridicule over the strength of respect. And yet somehow, their words can stick—after decades of work, we’re forced to prove ourselves all over again. Is this really the example we want to set for the next generation? Dr. Biden gives us a better example. And this is why I feel so strongly that we could not ask for a better First Lady.
“She will be a terrific role model not just for young girls but for all of us, wearing her accomplishments with grace, good humor, and yes, pride. I’m thrilled that the world will see what I have come to know—a brilliant woman who has distinguished herself in her profession and with the life she lives every day, always seeking to lift others up, rather than tearing them down.”
The soon-to-be Second Gentleman and Kamala Harris’ husband Dough Emhoff, also tweeted his support, rightly pointing out what we all know to be true: this story would never have been written or allowed to be published about a man.
“Dr. Biden earned her degrees through hard work and pure grit. She is an inspiration to me, to her students, and to Americans across this country. This story would never have been written about a man,” he wrote.
Although faced with calls to remove the article, including Dr. Biden’s spokesman Michael LaRosa, who asked the WSJ to “remove this repugnant display of chauvinism from your paper and apologise to her”, the publication has yet to do so, although has since published a series of reader responses in support of Biden.
Northwestern University, however, has issued two statements condemning Epstein’s op-ed, saying: “Northwestern is firmly committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, and strongly disagrees with Mr. Epstein’s misogynistic views.”
It continued: “The Department is aware that a former adjunct lecturer who has not taught here in nearly 20 years has published an opinion piece that casts unmerited aspersion on Dr. Jill Biden’s rightful public claiming of her doctoral credentials and expertise. The Department rejects this opinion as well as the diminishment of anyone’s duly earned degrees in any field, from any university.”
The whole situation is arguably best summed up by another woman who has served as First Lady, former Presidential Candidate Hilary Clinton.
“Her name is Dr. Jill Biden. Get used to it.”