Explained: The WSJ piece asking Jill Biden to drop the title of “Dr” and the outrage it sparked

Written by Surbhi Gupta, edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |

Updated: December 16, 2020 15:31:39

Jill Biden, wife of President-elect Joe Biden, helps prepare assistance packages for American troops deployed overseas during the holidays, at the DC Armory in Washington on Thursday, Dec.10, 2020. (AP Photo)

An opinion piece by writer-editor Joseph Epstein, 83, in the Wall Street Journal urging educator and incoming first lady Jill Biden to stop using the headline “Dr,” sparked outrage on social media. Many, including public figures and women in academia, have found the suggestion sexist. A graduate of the University of Delaware, Biden has been a professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College since 2009. Referred to as “Dr B” by her students, she is also the first Second Lady to do paid work during her tenure and plans to do the same for the next four years.

What did Epstein say in the opinion piece?

Released on Friday, Epstein opened his piece by addressing Biden as: “Madame First Lady – Mrs Biden – Jill – kiddo”. Many found the latter paternalistic. He asked her to leave the “Dr” before her name, because she thought Dr. Jill Biden “sounds and feels fraudulent, not to mention a comic touch.”

President-elect Joe Biden walks offstage with his wife Jill Biden after speaking after the Electoral College formally elected him president, Monday, December 14, 2020, at the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del. (AP)

He even called the title of his dissertation – “Community College Student Retention: Meeting Student Needs”, “unpromising.” He goes on to tell Biden to “forget the little thrill of being Dr. Jill” and settle for the “bigger thrill” of being “First Lady Jill Biden”.

What response did the piece receive?

The WSJ piece has sparked huge outrage on social media with people calling it sexist, misogynist, and emblematic of the way men question women’s credentials. Many PhD women added Dr to their names on Twitter out of solidarity and used the hashtags #MyTitleIsDr and #DrJillBiden to talk about their experiences. Several medical doctorates have come out in support of Biden, claiming him “so good” and tweeted about how difficult it is to get a Ph.

Michael LaRosa, a spokesman for Biden, called Epstein’s piece a “disgusting and sexist attack” and urged the publication to remove it and apologize, while Biden indirectly responded in a tweet, saying, “Together, we will build a world in which the achievements of our daughters will be celebrated rather than diminished. “

Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr, recalled that her father also used the title of Dr despite not being a doctor. Former First Lady Michelle Obama wrote on Instagram: “For eight years I have watched Dr. Jill Biden do what many professional women do: successfully manage more than one responsibility at a time, from her duties as a teacher to her official duties to White House. To her roles as mother, wife and friend. ” Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ husband Doug Emhoff tweeted: “Dr. Biden graduated from hard work and sheer grit. He is an inspiration to me, his students and Americans across the country. This story would never have been written about a man. “

How did the Wall Street Journal respond?

Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul A Gigot accused President-elect Biden’s strategists of instigating a coordinated response to the editorial article, adding that complaints that started as a “trickle” have become a “torrent.” after Biden’s media team elevated Epstein’s work “into what was clearly a political strategy.” “Why go so far to highlight a single editorial on a relatively minor issue? My guess is that Biden’s team concluded it was an opportunity to use the great rifle of identity politics to send a message to critics as it prepares to take power. There is nothing like playing the race or gender card to stifle criticism, “he wrote. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

How is Jill Biden different from previous First Ladies?

It is unusual for a First Lady in the United States to do paid work with official duties. Biden broke the mold teaching in a community college when she was the Second Lady and announced that she will continue to do the same thing as the First Lady.

History of the title of doctor

In response to the controversy, Merriam Webster published the “English language history” of the word doctor. First used in the early 14th century, the word was applied to select eminent theologians who had special approval from the Roman Catholic Church to speak of Church doctrines. They were teachers of a kind, and the origin of the word makes this connection. Doctor comes from the Latin word for teacher, from docere which means to teach. By the turn of the century, it was also used for academic and medical experts.

In the 19th century, the title was widely disputed and people were sued for using the doctor on phone cards or advertisements if they had not graduated from a recognized medical school. The title has since been used by both graduate students and medical professionals. However, the expansion of professional doctoral degrees into the clinical field has led to further controversy between physicians and other medical professionals over who can use the title in a clinical setting.

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