As a mom of two daughters, I often think there’s no better time to be raising girls. In 2020, women have cracked through most of the glass ceilings that our mothers and grandmothers dealt with — with one glaring Oval exception. I adore the fact that my girls think nothing of the fact that I work while their dad stays home with them. I fully believe that they can do anything they set their minds too.
At times, when I’m feeling optimistic, I allow myself the fantasy that we’ve overcome the more egregious impacts of the patriarchy, at least on our day-to-day lives.
But then, on a slow Sunday morning, I open social media and click a link that I’ve seen shared widely. I come across a horrible op-ed, demanding that the incoming first lady drop her title of “Doctor,” and settle into being defined by her husband’s position.
The Wall Street Journal op-ed was written by Joseph Epstein, an author who, as he readily admits in the article, does not hold a doctorate. He opens with a condescending tone with classic mansplaining: “Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice,” Epstein writes.
He goes on to educate Dr. Biden — who, let’s remember, is more educated than him — about the fact that her doctorate in education is the product of a system that’s meaningless. He alleges that a PhD doesn’t hold any academic merit, and that Dr. Biden is putting on airs by using her title.
Along the way, Epstein chides Dr. Biden for having “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.’” Presumably Epstein sees education — women’s work — as less valuable, especially when it comes to the education of community college students, who are more likely to be students or color and from lower socio-economic brackets.
Epstein ends by telling Dr. Biden what women have been told for millennia: that she should shut up and step into the shadow of her husband.
“As for your Ed.D., Madame First Lady, hard-earned though it may have been, please consider stowing it, at least in public, at least for now,” Epstein writes. “Forget the small thrill of being Dr. Jill, 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.”
Honestly, I had to read the piece twice because I was so utterly blown away by it. The audacity of a man to tell a woman how she should identify, and whether or not she is entitled to use a designation that she earned, is simply stunning. As a writer, who is deeply familiar with the barriers that women, people of color and other marginalized groups face in placing an op-ed in a national publication, I was equally stunned and frankly disgusted that the Wall Street Journal chose to elevate this voice spouting patriarchal, outdating nonsense.
I’m lucky to know many female doctors, both personally and professionally. My sister-in-law is about to complete her doctorate, all while dealing with pregnancy and devastating nausea. I’ve seen the time, effort and passion that she and other women have put into their doctoral degrees, whether they are doctors of medicine or anything else. I know that they have earned the right to use their title whenever they wish. In 2020, I’m so deeply disappointed that we even need to consider otherwise.
A doctorate will never be in my future. Unlike Epstein, I respect the work that goes into an advanced degree, and I’m frankly not willing to take it on. But should my daughters ever pursue their PhD, I will unabashedly celebrate thier accomplishment. In the mean time, we’re all looking forward to Auntie becoming the very first Dr. Burch — an achievement her grandmothers never would have envisioned. I hope that she and other female doctors will embrace their title and use it daily in a society that still believes that women aren’t free to flaunt their successes.
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