Many women said Joseph Epsteinâs suggestion in The Wall Street Journal was blatantly sexist and underscored the way men often dismiss womenâs credentials.
One writer in The Wall Street Journal seems to think so, at least when it comes to Jill Biden, who has a doctorate in education and calls herself Dr. Jill Biden.
In an opinion piece published online on Friday, the author, Joseph Epstein, addressed Dr. Biden as âkiddoâ and offered her advice on âwhat may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter.â
âAny chance you might drop the âDr.â before your name?â he wrote. ââDr. Jill Bidenâ sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.â
If the reaction from Dr. Bidenâs spokesman and from legions of women in academia is any indication, the answer is: not a chance.
âIf you have a doctorate in pharmacy or education or biology, it doesnât matter: Call yourself a doctor,â said Sarah H. Parcak, a professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who has a Ph.D. in archaeology from Cambridge University. âYou worked your rear end off for years to earn that. Shout it from the rooftops, if you want to. Itâs your right.â
Dr. Parcak, along with many others, said the suggestion that Dr. Biden not use the honorific was blatantly sexist and emblematic of the way many men question or disparage womenâs credentials.
âSome men are so threatened by educated women,â said Audrey Truschke, an associate professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University, who called Mr. Epsteinâs piece a âmisogynist, self-absorbed screed.â On Saturday, she was among a number of women who added Dr. to their names on Twitter in solidarity with Dr. Biden.
Michael LaRosa, a spokesman for Dr. Biden, called Mr. Epsteinâs piece a âdisgusting and sexist attackâ and urged The Journal to remove it and apologize to Dr. Biden. Mr. Epstein declined to comment for this article. The Journal did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday evening.
The raw nerve touched by the piece underscored the enduring power of the title â two letters that convey accomplishment, respect and authority.
In the 19th century, the title was widely contested, and people were sued for using âdoctorâ on calling cards or advertisements if they hadnât graduated from a recognized medical school, according to Naomi Rogers, a professor of the history of medicine at Yale University.
When women began graduating from medical schools in the middle of the 19th century, they called themselves doctors, she said. But newspapers and critics gave them a more dismissive title â doctoress â indicating that they were women.
ââDoctorâ came to be prized as a unisex honorific,â Professor Rogers said. âThat was the word that women M.D.s sought.â
Professor Rogers, who has a Ph.D. in history, doesnât often use the title Dr. herself, she said, but understands why others with the degree would.
âIâve certainly encountered a number of doctors in my professional life who are uncomfortable using the honorific term Dr. for anyone who doesnât have an M.D.,â she said. âBut I would call that an old-fashioned view. I donât say this out loud to any of them, but I think: Which of us studied for longer?â
Judith Martin, better known as the columnist Miss Manners, said her father, who had a Ph.D. in economics, insisted on not being called Dr. and implored his fiancÃ©e, Ms. Martinâs mother, to print new wedding invitations after the first version included the title.
âAs my father used to say, âIâm not the kind of doctor who does anybody any good,ââ Ms. Martin said in an interview on Saturday. âHe didnât feel it was dignified. I am well aware that this is a form of reverse snobbery.â
Still, Ms. Martin said, âI donât tell people what to call themselves and Iâm aware that women often have trouble with people who donât respect their credentials.â
(The New York Timesâs house style allows for anyone with an earned doctorate, such as a Ph.D. or Ed.D., to be identified by the title on subsequent references, provided it is âgermane to the holderâs primary current occupation.â)
Mr. Epstein, 83, an essayist, author and former editor of The American Scholar, has been accused of advancing offensive views before. In a 1970 essay about homosexuality in Harperâs Magazine, he called gay people âcursedâ and âan affront to our rationality.â
âIf I had the power to do so, I would wish homosexualityâ off the face of the earth, he wrote.
Writing in The Washington Examiner in 2015, he lamented that the essay had often been mentioned â usually by âprofessional gay liberationistsâ â any time that he writes something controversial.
âMy only hope now is that, on my gravestone, the words Noted Homophobe arenât carved,â Mr. Epstein wrote.
In his piece this week in The Journal, Mr. Epstein said that he had taught at Northwestern University for 30 years, even though he held only a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Chicago.
Addressing Dr. Biden, he wrote, âYour degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title âStudent Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Studentsâ Needs.ââ
âA wise man once said that no one should call himself âDr.â unless he has delivered a child,â Mr. Epstein added. âThink about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc.â
Dr. Biden, who holds two masterâs degrees and a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware, is clearly proud of her job as a community college professor.
When her husband, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., takes office next month and she becomes first lady, Dr. Biden plans to continue teaching at Northern Virginia Community College, where she has been an English professor since 2009.
Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, said Dr. Biden had earned her degrees âthrough hard work and pure grit.â
âShe is an inspiration to me, to her students, and to Americans across this country,â he wrote on Twitter. âThis story would never have been written about a man.â
News – An Opinion Writer Argued Jill Biden Should Drop the âDr.â (Few Were Swayed.)