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Dr. Jill Biden Earned Her Title

He doesn’t use his, he offers, even though, while he was a lecturer at Northwestern plenty of people wanted to call him doctor despite only having the honorary version of the degree. This is deeply irrelevant, since, I repeat, he is not a doctor. Jill Biden is. And the use of doctor as teacher far, far predates its use for medical practitioners. 

Epstein’s column is a series of one absurd claim after another. He attacks the doctorate itself, belittling the labor, academic acumen, and perseverance to achieve one. “It was easy,” said no academic ever about the Ph.D process. The casual dismissal of the hard work and labor of scholars around the world is not just infuriating but dangerous. Perhaps a bit more respect for those doing analyses of, say, the cultural contexts of science might be useful right about now?  

There is much wrong with the academy, absolutely: the hard work of those within it is not one of those things. As a scholar who has supervised many graduate students and overseen others who decided not to complete their degrees, often to protect their own mental health, I can confidently say that conducting sophisticated research, writing a dissertation, and satisfying the requirements of an exacting dissertation committee is challenging personally, emotionally, intellectually, and, for many, financially. 

But “no one should call himself a doctor unless he has delivered a child,” Epstein whines. (Note the “he.” It’s not accidental.) By that criterion, the world has suddenly gained countless doctors, including midwives, nurses, partners of laboring women who didn’t arrive at the hospital on time. And, of course, women themselves. Who have been delivering babies out of their own uteruses since there were women—and of course, trans men—many of whom have probably acquired a hell of a lot of medical knowledge in the process. Heck, I’ve done it myself three times – can I add three additional doctorates to my name?   

Epstein’s condescending attempt to convince Dr. Biden to drop the Biden in favor the “Mrs.”, which he opens by saying “Madame First Lady — Mrs. Biden — Jill — kiddo,” is actually just an attempt to belittle her. And to belittle all women who have the audacity to display their legitimate credentials, which, once again, they have earned

The message is clear: her identity doesn’t matter. Her achievements are irrelevant. Her intellect is offensive. She – and all women – should stay in our lane, which is to be happy assuming the title of wives to our husbands. That’s his endgame.

The most enraging part of this rant is his attack not just on academia itself, but on Dr. Biden’s actual research. Her dissertation explores ways to retain community college students. Epstein dismisses this as “not promising.”  It is not just promising but vital.  Dr. Biden’s research is deeply worthy, highly relevant, and vital to the future of our nation. Epstein’s dismissal of community college students and indeed community college professors, of which Dr. Biden is a proud example, reveals an elitist, classist, and myopic view of the nature of education and its value. So who the hell is he – with his honorary doctorate and his BA – to dismiss it?  Who the hell is he to claim expertise on anything to do with her research at all?  I know he is a man, but Dr. Biden is a doctor of education. Trust me, on this (and many other things), she knows more. 

The pandemic has taken a deep toll on everyone; female academics have been particularly hard-hit compared to their male counterparts. We also understand what motivates Epstein’s article, and it’s not a concern that someone will mistakenly turn to Dr. Biden in a medical emergency. Epstein proudly rejects a title he did not earn, even as he resents the conferral of honorary degrees on, in particular, Black women. Every woman who has ever earned a doctorate and been asked for coffee or directions to the professor’s office has met a man like Epstein. There are too many of them. I don’t imagine they will go away any time soon. But, with one of the most visible women in the country proudly using her title and inspiring so many other women to insist on theirs, perhaps our chorus can cause him and others like him, including the WSJ editors who continue to support the article, to just for once shut the hell up and listen to the experts: the women with doctorates like me and Dr. Jill Biden.