Wall Street Journal writer sparks backlash for calling Jill Biden 'kiddo,' suggesting she drop 'Dr.' title

Elise Solé
·7 min read
A Dec. 11 Wall Street Journal opinion story encouraged future First Lady Jill Biden to retire her "Dr." title in public. (Photo: REUTERS/Nicole Neri)
A Dec. 11 Wall Street Journal opinion story encouraged future First Lady Jill Biden to retire her "Dr." title in public. (Photo: REUTERS/Nicole Neri)

The writer of a Wall Street Journal opinion story that encouraged Jill Biden to drop “Dr.” from her title, drew backlash from celebrities, politicians and teachers. Now, the author tells Yahoo Life that the public reaction is "surprising."

“Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.” reads the title of the Dec. 11 piece written by Joseph Epstein, the author of Gallimaufry: A Collection of Essays, Reviews, Bits” which was published in October.

“Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter,” he wrote. “Any chance you might drop the ‘Dr.’ before your name? ‘Dr. Jill Biden’ sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.”

Epstein pointed out that Biden has an Ed.D., a professional degree to teach education, which she earned at the University of Delaware. Biden has worked as an English professor at a Virginia community college for years, which she hopes to continue doing when her husband becomes president (just like she did as Second Lady during the Obama administration). According to the New York Times, Biden was known for grading papers on Air Force Two and carrying formal clothing to work, so she could transition from the classroom to White House events.

Related: 4 things you may not know about future first lady Dr. Jill Biden

Biden said if she made it to the White House, she hoped to keep teaching. “It’s important — I want people to value teachers,” she told CBS Sunday Morning in August.

As Epstein wrote, “A wise man once said that no one should call himself ‘Dr.’ unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc.” He also claimed that doctorate degrees have lost prestige, adding that Northwestern University, where he formerly taught, doesn’t require one.

He concluded, “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. 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.”

Criticism came fast and “kiddo” and “WSJ” trended on Twitter. The reaction was unexpected to Epstein, who tells Yahoo Life, “The stream of truly ugly hate mail has been surprising.”

Meena Harris, who is the niece of Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris tweeted, “As if it weren't bad enough, the WSJ op-ed opens by calling Jill Biden ‘kiddo.’ How disgusting and sexist.” And Doug Emhoff, who is married to Harris wrote, “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. This story would never have been written about a man.” Emhoff is due to become the first U.S. second gentleman.

“The author could’ve used fewer words to just say ‘ya know in my day we didn’t have to respect women,’” tweeted Chasten Buttigieg, the husband of former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

While actress Rosanna Arquette tweeted, “I’m so proud of Dr Jill Biden it’s going to be so wonderful to have a graceful wise intelligent Elegant compassionate First Lady.” Television journalist Keith Olbermann slammed the WSJ, writing that Epstein’s “degree envy is just pathetic” and Pink shared a screenshot of the text writing, “Please read this bullsh*t.”

Much of the backlash came from educators themselves, who called the sexist nature of the piece too familiar. According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health, when introduced by men, female doctors are less likely to be referenced by their professional titles than male doctors. “It gets down to perception of expertise, perception of competence,” Dr. Julia Files, an associate professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic told the Washington Post that year. “We know that in other settings, choices of words really impact women’s progress in careers.”

The study found that when women did the introducing, they used professional titles to reference both men and women.

A spokesperson for the Wall Street Journal did not return Yahoo Life’s requests for comment.

“Mr. Epstein was never a tenured professor at Northwestern and has not been a lecturer here since 2002,” a spokesperson from Northwestern University tells Yahoo Life. “While we firmly support academic freedom and freedom of expression, we do not agree with Mr. Epstein’s opinion and believe the designation of doctor is well deserved by anyone who has earned a Ph.D., an Ed.D. or an M.D. Northwestern is firmly committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, and strongly disagrees with Mr. Epstein’s misogynistic views.”

The university’s department of English also issued a statement: “The department is aware that a former adjunct lecturer who has not taught here in nearly 20 years has published an opinion piece that casts unmerited aspersion on Dr. Jill Biden's rightful public claiming of her doctoral credentials and expertise. The Department rejects this opinion as well as the diminishment of anyone's duly-earned degrees in any field, from any university.”

Dr. Biden’s spokesperson Michael LaRosa tweeted at the outlet, “If you had any respect for women at all you would remove this repugnant display of chauvinism from your paper and apologize to her.”

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