The Wall Street Journal is facing lots of criticism after it published an op-ed that called on soon-to-be first lady Dr. Jill Biden to drop the “Dr.” from her title when she moves into the White House. Joseph Epstein, a former Northwestern University professor, claims in the piece that “ ‘Dr. Jill Biden’ sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.” He also opens the piece by speaking directly to President-elect Joe Biden’s wife: “Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo.” Epstein cites an unnamed “wise man” who supposedly said “no one should call himself Dr. unless he has delivered a child” and then goes on to ask Biden to “think about it.”
Jill Biden is a university professor with two master’s degrees and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Delaware. In the op-ed, Epstein dismisses Biden’s dissertation to obtain her Ed.D., saying it has an “unpromising title.” And he seems to repeatedly praise himself for not allowing others to call him Dr. when he was a professor, even though he outright admits he only has a bachelor’s degree and an honorary doctorate.
The backlash came very quickly, as many panned the op-ed as sexist. Northwestern University issued a statement saying it “strongly disagrees with Mr. Epstein’s misogynistic views” and emphasizing that he hasn’t been a lecturer there since 2003. Jill Biden’s spokesman, Michael LaRosa, blasted the op-ed and said the paper and its editor in charge of the opinion pages “should be embarrassed to print the disgusting and sexist attack.” Kate Bedingfield, the president-elect’s communications director, characterized the piece as “patronizing, sexist, elitist drivel.” Hillary Clinton also tweeted about the piece with a simple message: “Her name is Dr. Jill Biden. Get used to it.”
Many other Democrats joined in on the criticism of the op-ed. Chasten Buttigieg, husband of Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, said that Epstein “could’ve used fewer words to just say ‘ya know in my day we didn’t have to respect women.’ ” Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President–elect Kamala Harris, wrote in a tweet that “this story would never have been written about a man.” Others also spoke up, including Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., who addressed Biden on Twitter: “My father was a non-medical doctor. And his work benefited humanity greatly. Yours does, too.” Even the dictionary got involved in the controversy as Merriam-Webster issued a tweet noting that the “word ‘doctor’ comes from the Latin word for ‘teacher.’ ”
The piece also hit close to home for many female scholars, who took to Twitter to express how the op-ed was a reflection of how much harder they’ve had to work to gain the respect of their peers and how men often question women’s credentials. “Some men are so threatened by educated women,” tweeted Audrey Truschke, an associate professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University. Like many other women with doctorates, Truschke added “Dr.” to her Twitter names in an act of solidarity.
The Washington Post’s Monica Hesse, meanwhile, took particular issue with the way Epstein ended his column. “Forget the small thrill of being Dr. Jill,” he wrote in the last sentence of the piece, “and settle for the larger thrill of living for the next four years in the best public housing in the world as First Lady Jill Biden.” Hesse writes that last sentence was what sent her “over the edge” because it implies that “Jill Biden’s own accomplishments should not be as important as those which are conferred by her husband. She should accept this marital title and eschew her personal identity.”
After all the criticism, the Journal published several reader letters under the headline “The ‘Dr.’ Is in—the Next First Lady Earned It.”