Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
A huge debate has been sparked by the publication of an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal entitled ‘Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.’ by Joseph Epstein, 83, on the 11th of December. The article is about the incoming First Lady of the United States, Dr Jill Biden, and whether or not she should be entitled to the use of ‘Doctor’ as her title. The article has sparked outrage from feminists, academics, and Biden supporters universally for its sexist and elitist assertions.
This article has obviously made some big waves. I heard a lot of noise about it and it seemed like an interesting talking point, but when I actually sat down to read it, I could not believe how disgusting the article is.
It opens with these lines: ‘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?’. I was rather immediately thrown by his choice of the word ‘kiddo’ to address her, which is obviously patronising and blatantly rude when discussing anyone, let alone the future First Lady.
The main argument he is trying to push is that academics should not be entitled to use the title ‘Dr’, despite having a PhD – a Doctor of Philosophy. Mr Epstein attacks Dr Biden’s field of study as a Doctor of Education as being largely worthless, and that calling herself Dr Biden ‘sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.’ Mr Epstein then goes on to criticise how PhDs have ‘been diminished by the erosion of seriousness and the relaxation of standards in university education’.
So this article is elitist for a number of reasons. Firstly, his attitude towards her field of study is blatantly snobbish. A country is only as good as its educators, whose work should be respected, not dismissed. Secondly, in the last 70 years, university education has become much more accessible for normal people and academia is now slowly becoming more diverse, with increasing numbers of women, minorities, and people from working class backgrounds entering academia. The progress is slow, but it is happening.
The fact that university education is becoming more accessible is something that we should be celebrating, not mourning as Mr Epstein does. He calls it the product of ‘political correctness’ by which I think we all know he means that he opposes the greater diversity of academia, and particularly women, which is reflected by his diminishing of Dr Biden’s title.
The insistence that only medical professionals call themselves Dr is also elitist. ‘Doctor’ is an academic title awarded as early as the 13th century in European universities, predating medical use of the term. It comes from the Latin verb ‘docere’ – ‘to teach’. Medical professionals do not need to have PhDs to practice, and many within that field, surgeons for example, do not use the title ‘Dr’ anyway. By limiting the use of the Dr title to only medical practitioners is a deliberate devaluation of academia and just plain illogical.
His final paragraph is also revealing in a lot of ways:
As for your Ed.D., Madame First Lady… please consider stowing it, at least in public, at least for now. Forget the small thrill of being Dr. Jill, and settle for the larger thrill of living for the next four years… as First Lady Jill Biden.
So really what he seems to object to is the idea of a First Lady with a brain, instead of a quiet, unthreatening, supermodel wife to cut ribbons, smile for the cameras and hang on her husband’s arm. He is threatened by the idea of a First Lady who is not just the subordinate of her husband, but is a working professional, respected in her field, continuing to work while her husband just happens to hold the highest office in the country. It is a marriage of equals. It defies traditional values, and conservative America has always been threatened by this.
Dr Biden has not taken this lying down, and many have joined her in their criticism of this article. Following the publication of the article, Dr Biden tweeted: ‘Together, we will build a world where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated, rather than diminished.’
On Thursday the 17th of December, Mr and Dr Biden appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, to which the future First Lady said that she was more shocked by the tone of Mr Epstein’s article than anything else: ‘He called me ‘kiddo,’ and one of the things I’m most proud of is my doctorate. I mean, I’ve worked so hard for it.’
Critics of the Biden team have interpreted it as using ‘the big gun of identity politics [and]… playing the … gender card to stifle criticism’, with the Opinion Editor of the Wall Street Journal publishing an article in defence of Mr Epstein titled ‘The Biden Team Strikes Back.’
Tucker Carlson’s Fox News Show has also weighed in, stating that Dr Biden has ‘a bad case of status anxiety’, having ‘a doctor of education, which means basically nothing.’
What critics of Dr Biden have failed to understand was that this has nothing to do with status anxiety or politics. It is about respecting the achievements of a woman in her career and not talking down to her like a child. The language used in Mr Epstein’s article is misogynistic, elitist and disgusting. The sentiments that it advocates is for the devaluation of academic work outside of STEM and medical disciplines, which as a History student, is worrying to me. Most of all, it devalues the women in those fields. Mr Epstein seems to have written this article because he, and others like him, are threatened by the idea of women in these positions, especially women in the public eye.
Fundamentally, whether people like it or not, her name is Dr Jill Biden.