Earlier this week, journalist Joseph Epstein published an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal directed towards Dr. Jill Biden, in which he encouraged her to drop the title of doctor from her name despite her being just that: a doctor.
In 2007, Dr. Biden earned her Ed.D., a doctorate in education, from the University of Delaware after spending 13 years teaching at public high schools, and after earning two master’s degrees in education. As she prepares to move into the White House in January, Dr. Biden has made it clear that she intends on continuing to work as an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College, a move that will make her the first First Lady to hold a paying job while in office.
But to Epstein, Dr. Biden isn’t a real doctor. By his definition, and as he explains in the op-ed, that title is reserved only for someone that has delivered a child. If that’s the case, I’m very sorry to inform all cardiologists, psychiatrists, neurosurgeons, and any other doctor that’s not an OB-GYN that they aren’t actual doctors too. That MD at the end of their name has been declared by Epstein as “fraudulent”, “a touch comic”, and “unimportant” because they haven’t been in a delivery room.
It’s important to note that Dr. Biden is not a medical doctor, nor has she ever claimed to be one, but she is a doctor of education. When people earn a doctorate, they have every right to use the title of doctor in their professional careers. Unlike most people, Dr. Biden’s professional career happens to be extremely public due to her husbands’ political status; but why should that be a reason why the same principle should not apply to her?
Whether it be a PsyD, PhD, JD, MD, or an EdD like Dr. Biden’s, a doctoral degree is the culmination–the cherry on top, per se–of years spent dedicated to a subject. It denotes mastery over a field and is something people spend their entire lives and professional careers working towards. It’s a highly impressive accomplishment to complete a doctoral degree; and for Joseph Epstein to discredit Dr. Biden’s is extremely disrespectful, especially in the way he did it.
“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, not to say a touch comic.”
Above is the opening paragraph to Epstein’s op-ed, in which he addresses a college professor, a woman with a doctorate of education, and nonetheless the future First Lady of our country, as ‘kiddo’. I wish we could write this off as one man’s sexist opinion; but unfortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how women are viewed and treated in professional careers.
Condescending speech aimed at women, like Epstein’s, has been normalized, so much so that it prompted Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson to even refer to Dr. Biden on his program as “as much of a doctor as Dr. Pepper”. It’s something women face while rising the corporate ladder or pursuing higher degrees; and even when you’re about to move into the White House, it’s still inescapable.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama issued a statement in defense of Dr. Biden in which she highlighted the all-too-real truth:
“Whether their titles are Dr., Ms., Mrs., or even First Lady: All too often, our [women’s] accomplishments are met with skepticism, even derision. 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.”
Women working in professional settings and higher education are constantly bombarded with questions about how they balance home life and work life, while men in the same positions are almost never asked how they manage to take care of their children and pay the bills. It’s a never-ending cycle that requires women to constantly prove themselves, their credentials, and their abilities in the workplace, even at the highest levels.
While reading Epstein’s piece, I couldn’t help but feel extremely discouraged at the idea that I could dedicate the next decade of my life working towards this goal of mine I have–to earn a PhD of my own–only for people to still disrespect it because of some preconceived notion they hold about doctors and women.
It’s a heartbreaking reality that’s now been highlighted on a national platform in The Wall Street Journal, but only time will tell if minds and opinions will be changed. If one thing is for certain, however, it’s that I’m elated to have a doctor in the White House, and somebody who will continue to champion for education as she has throughout her career.
Dr. Biden, continue to use that title: you’ve earned it. Joseph Epstein, just shut up man: you’ve said enough.