By KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Dr. Jill Biden, who will become first lady in January, has responded for the first time publicly to a Wall Street Journal op-ed that called on her drop the “doctor” title from her name because she is not a medical doctor.
“That was such a surprise,” Biden, a lifelong educator, said Thursday in an interview alongside her husband, President-elect Joe Biden, on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. “It was really the tone of it that I think that — you know, he called me kiddo.”
“And one of the things I’m most proud of is my doctorate,” she said. “I mean I worked so hard for it.”
The op-ed’s author, Joseph Epstein, wrote that the use of doctor by Biden, who earned her doctorate in education from the University of Delaware in 2007, “sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.”
“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 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 served as vice president in the Obama administration.
Joe Biden also expressed displeasure about the op-ed, telling Colbert of his wife’s accomplishments, “She had two master’s degrees and she kept going to school all the time while teaching at night.”
After the op-ed was published, women rallied around the future first lady, with many adding their full titles to their names on social media.
“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.
Also defending Biden was Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who will make history in January as the first female vice president and the first African American and Asian American person to hold the position.
“I was deeply disappointed that in 2020 that that kind of approach would be given any legitimacy,” Harris told ABC News’ Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts. “Because let’s be clear about it: she worked hard. She raised her kids. She went to school. She went to night school. She got degrees. She earned everything she has.”
Biden, who told Colbert she plans to continue teaching as first lady, said Thursday that she was “overwhelmed” and “grateful” for the support she received after the op-ed’s publication.
“But look at all the people who came out in support of me. I am so grateful,” she said. “I was just overwhelmed by how gracious people were to me.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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