Dr Jill Biden helping in handing out food for the disenfranchised.
Photo courtesy of Dr Biden / Twitter

Sexism 101: It's Doctor, not "Kiddo"

On December 11th, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed that questioned the title of Dr. Jill Biden in an explicitly sexist and derisive manner. Not only did the author discredit the hard work Dr. Jill Biden underwent to earn her doctorate, but the article overall has overarching, discriminatory rhetoric and uses degrading terminology that both belittles and attacks the status of women in general. Based on the columnist's tone, women, in his eyes, are not worthy enough to hold a prestigious title such as ‘Dr.’. This column clearly serves to belittle the accomplishments and identity of women, as the columnist did not discredit any man for using the title ‘Dr.’. This publication presented harmful thinking and brought forth a clear reminder that there still exists a lot of negative public discourse around female scholars who constantly receive criticism for their well-earned accomplishments.

Dr. Jill Biden studied and worked hard to get her Ph.D. and, therefore, rightfully earned the opportunity to use the title ‘Dr.’. The WSJ columnist and writer Joseph Epstein, however, somehow disagrees and immediately set the sexist tone of his article by beginning with the following line: “Madame First Lady — Mrs. Biden — Jill —kiddo: a bit of advice on what might seem like a small but I think is not an unimportant matter.” He continued, “any chance you might drop the ‘Dr.’ before your name? ‘Dr. Jill Biden’ sounds and feels a touch fraudulent, not to mention comical.” The term, “kiddo”, was a clear attempt to minimize Dr. Jill Biden’s public image as a woman, hard worker, mother, and doctor. The fact that the opening line of the column is filled with suggestions of other titles for Dr. Biden, despite her achievements, implies she should not be able to publicly go by the title she rightfully earned. 

Now, if Joe Biden had a doctorate would he have been treated in the same manner? Arguably no. This article demonstrates how willing a man is to sit behind a screen and dangerously gamble with women’s status in our society. Epstein concocted a harmfully patriarchal bluff that seeks to oppress the achievements of women. This sexist-thinking only gives value to the marital title of women and places them as inferior to their husbands rather than recognizing their accomplishments and dignified identities.

The WSJ columnist also wrote: “The Ph.D. may once have held prestige, but that has been diminished by the erosion of seriousness and the relaxation of standards in university education generally, at any rate outside the sciences.” Does the phrase, “the erosion of seriousness” sound a bit ironic? The columnist himself ignorantly published something so immature and child-like, yet women, like Dr. Jill Biden, are the ones who are contributing to an ‘erosion of seriousness’? Seriously?

Despite this publication’s effort to discount the academic achievement of women, it brought swift contempt, not only from Dr. Jill Biden herself, but from other women who voiced support for her. For example, Michelle Obama quickly defended Dr. Biden and used her powerful platform to stand up for her friend. She powerfully wrote: “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 skepticism, even derision...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?” What I know for a fact is that this most certainly is not anything that I want for the next generation nor for ours today. 

The well-deserved achievements of women, like Dr. Jill Biden, are constantly discredited. What allows them to rise, time and time again, is pushing back on toxic masculinity and working to overcome its repulsive effects on their lives. Dr. Jill Biden’s response, along with others who rightly acknowledged the ridiculousness of this WSJ article, is much stronger than any male chauvinist who attempts to degrade the personhood of another woman. In using her voice, in being loud, and in taking up space, Dr. Jill Biden showed the world that she will not be defined through a man’s tongue but rather through her own.

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