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Op-Ed About Jill Biden Raises a Ruckus

Essayist tells her to drop 'Dr.' before her name
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 13, 2020 8:20 AM CST

(Newser) – The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed about Jill Biden on Saturday, and it has not landed well in some circles. The piece is by 83-year-old essayist Joseph Epstein, who implores Biden to lose the "Dr." in front of her name. The soon-to-be first lady has a doctorate in education, and Epstein thinks that doesn't cut it. "'Dr. Jill Biden' sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic," writes Epstein. The op-ed is now being widely slammed as sexist. Coverage:

  • The tone: As Vox notes, Epstein is touching on the long-running debate of whether the title should be reserved only for medical doctors. The Associated Press, for example, does not use the title for non-medical doctors in its stories, while the New York Times does. But the tone of Epstein's op-ed has struck many as sexist and condescending.

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  • Examples: Epstein refers to Biden as "kiddo" and writes this: "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 adds that "a wise man once said that no one should call himself 'Dr.' unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc."
  • Pushback: Biden's spokesman called the op-ed a “disgusting and sexist attack” and said the Journal should remove it. But criticism of it also has emerged from medical doctors as well as in academia, reports the Hill. "Dr. Biden can absolutely use her honorific,” tweets physician Cathleen London. "It was not bestowed upon her, she earned it. Those of us with MD will not suffer for her using it.” She adds, "misogynist much?"
  • Big slam: The New York Times notes that the sentiment of women who have earned non-medical doctorates might be summed up in this whale of a tweet by Sarah Parcak, who has a PhD in archaeology: "Dear Joseph Epstein, author of this garbage sexist article: Kiss my a-- and go f--- yourself. Signed, Every woman with a PhD in these United States."
  • Older controversy: This isn't Epstein's first brush with controversy. The Times also notes that he wrote an essay in 1970 in which he called gay people "cursed" and added, “If I had the power to do so, I would wish homosexuality” away. He addressed the controversy in a 2015 essay in the Washington Examiner, suggesting his critics were distorting his views. "My only hope now is that, on my gravestone, the words Noted Homophobe aren’t carved."
  • Biden bio: To read about the future first lady's academic credentials, see this previous story in Politico. (She is poised to make history as the first first lady to keep her paying job outside the White House.)

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