By KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — The reaction from women was swift over the weekend after a controversial op-ed in The Wall Street Journal called on future United States first lady Dr. Jill Biden to drop the “Dr.” from her title.
The op-ed’s author, writer Joseph Epstein, urged Biden, who earned her doctorate in education from the University of Delaware in 2007, to drop her title because she is not a medical doctor.
“A wise man once said that no one should call himself ‘Dr.’ unless he has delivered a child,” wrote Epstein, who began the piece by addressing Biden as, “Madame First Lady — Mrs. Biden — Jill — kiddo.” “Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc.”
In response, women took to Twitter to encourage others with degrees to add them to their name.
“Are you a woman with a doctorate? No matter your discipline, drop a picture here to show that we are here, we exist, and we won’t drop our title for any mediocre man’s comfort,” Dr. Claudia Antolini, a U.K.-based astronomer with a Ph.D. in cosmology, wrote in a tweet that received more than 5,000 comments and over 63,000 likes.
“To all women who are PhDs: In solidarity with @DrBiden and to stand against the sexist @WSJ op-ed about her, please consider adding ‘Dr’ to your twitter name to show how many of us there are. We deserve respect. You earned your PhD,” wrote Dr. Rana el Kaliouby, an expert in artificial emotional intelligence.
“In solidarity w/ @DrBiden, I’m adding my title. I’m a proud 1st-gen Latina immigrant who worked hard to earn a PhD in [America.]It wasn’t easy. I sacrificed. Therefore, I won’t drop my title for #JosephEpstein mediocre comfort,” wrote Dr. Glicella Salazar-DeSimone, who earned a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology.
“Today I added “Dr” to my profile name. Thanks WSJ for the nudge,” wrote Dr. Laura Scherer, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Medical School.
In addition to her doctorate, Biden, who has been an educator for more than three decades, has two master’s degrees, according to her official White House biography. She taught at Northern Virginia Community College during the eight years her husband, President-elect Joe Biden, served as vice president in the Obama administration.
Biden has not publicly confirmed her future plans, but told CBS News in August that she hoped to continue to teach, a move that would make her the country’s first first lady to hold a paid job outside the White House.
The future first lady tweeted Sunday what appeared to be a response to Epstein’s op-ed, writing, “Together, we will build a world where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated, rather than diminished.”
A spokesperson for Biden called for The Journal to remove the op-ed, writing on Twitter, “If you had any respect for women at all you would remove this repugnant display of chauvinism from your paper and apologize to her.”
The op-ed, which The Journal’s editorial page editor has vigorously defended, comes at a time when the accomplishments of women continue to be diminished in today’s world, data shows.
Women continue to be left behind when it comes to leadership positions in the workforce, and in the past 10 months, more than two million women have left the workforce, according to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).
A 2018 study that looked at introductions at medical conferences found men used formal titles when referring to other men 72% of the time but just 49% of the time when they referred to women. Women used formal titles 96% of the time, regardless of their colleagues’ gender.
“Sexism is pervasive in our society and women are judged by a different yardstick, especially women in the public domain,” said Dr. Pragya Agarwal, a U.K.-based behavioral scientist and the author of Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias. “As soon as a woman becomes visible, they are subject to much more scrutiny and monitoring than a man usually is.”
Agarwal and other experts on unconscious bias say it’s critically important for future generations if women are forthcoming about the titles they’ve earned and their worth.
For the past decade, women in the U.S. have actually outpaced men when it comes to earning doctoral degrees, according to a 2018 report from the Council on Graduate Studies.
“Any individual should be able to share the credentials that they’ve earned,” said Serena Fong, vice president at Catalyst and an expert in building inclusive work cultures. “For women, particularly women of color, because there are so few of them in these leadership positions, and [because] we know the importance of role models, it’s important that they display the credentials that they have and be celebrated for that.”
She added, “Women are constantly having to prove their worth, therefore to be told, ‘Don’t do that,’ is counterproductive to fighting against the biases.”
Former first lady Michelle Obama showed her support of Biden, with whom she worked closely on issues including education and military families during their time as first and second ladies, in an Instagram post.
“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,” Obama wrote in part. “We’re doubted by those who choose the weakness of ridicule over the strength of respect. And yet somehow, their words can stick—after decades of work, we’re forced to prove ourselves all over again.”
Biden also received support from Douglas Emhoff, who in January will become the country’s first second gentleman.
“Dr. Biden earned her degrees through hard work and pure grit. She is an inspiration to me, to her students, and to Americans across this country,” Emhoff wrote on Twitter. “This story would never have been written about a man.”
Bernice King, a minister and daughter of civil rights activist the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., also showed her support for Biden, noting that her father, who earned a Ph.D. from Boston University, was a “non-medical doctor” too.
“Dear @DrBiden: My father was a non-medical doctor. And his work benefited humanity greatly. Yours does, too,” King wrote on Twitter.
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