As you know, I do a lot of corporate speaking on gender inequity. For the most part I write fresh talks for each keynote speech, and unfortunately, I never have to look far for new instances of gender inequity and misogyny. It is always easy to find examples. Sometimes, all you have to do is look at the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal.
Should we be surprised when a WSJ editorial last week suggested that Dr. Jill Biden should stop using the honorific “doctor” before her name? This is the same editorial page that routinely aggravates its news division with its choice of op-eds. This is the same editorial page that published an op-ed from Paul McHugh, the psychiatrist who, much to the chagrin of his colleagues, has actively and ignorantly worked against transgender rights. When I am looking for examples of male privilege, I can count on the Wall Street Journal editorial page.
There are at least four things wrong with Joseph Epstein’s editorial. First, the author has no advanced degrees, which means he has no personal experience with the amount of work it takes to complete a doctorate. Which apparently, according to the WSJ editorial committee, qualifies Epstein as just the sort of person who should be writing an op-ed on the subject. The logic of that decision escapes me.
Second, after a weekend of being skewered by half of America, instead of apologizing for their misguided op-ed, the WSJ editorial page doubled down on Epstein’s article, accusing those who complained about it as having embraced cancel culture. Seriously? Let’s examine what it means to have an earned doctorate.
Doctorates are terminal degrees within their respective professional fields. An individual who is a doctor of medicine, doctor of education, doctor of ministry, doctor of psychology, or doctor of social work is a person who has earned the top degree attainable within their field. A doctor of philosophy degree is different in that it is focused on original research and is therefore the desired degree for university professors. All earned doctoral degrees include the option, if not expectation, that in formal settings the recipient of the degree will be referred to as doctor. Acknowledging that truth in opposition to the op-ed is just using facts to right the wrong done by the op-ed. Calling it cancel culture is a cheap shot.
The third problem with the op-ed is that it was written by a man writing dismissively about a woman, as if we don’t have enough of that already. I have a doctor of ministry degree, and as an ordained minister, when I was a man I was routinely introduced as Reverend Doctor Williams. (The “reverend” honorific always precedes any other.) As a woman, I am rarely introduced that way. Unless it is on a curriculum vitae, resume, or business card, I do not use honorifics. But that does not mean I should not be asked whether or not I’d like to be introduced with the proper honorific. It is but one more example of the subtle and not so subtle ways in which a woman is assumed to be less than a man.
The fourth problem with the editorial is its timing. Last Friday was the day in which the nation was waiting to see whether or not the Supreme Court was going to agree to hear a ridiculous lawsuit that over 100 Republican Congressional lawmakers had joined that would have subverted our democracy in favor of minority rule. It was the most egregiously inappropriate action in opposition to our democracy since the Civil War. Thank goodness our judicial branch held strong where our executive and legislative branches did not. With their unanimous decision to dismiss the case, the Supreme Court saved our democracy. But we did not know that early on Friday. So, while the world was waiting to see whether we are a democratic society or not, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal decided it was the perfect time to question Dr. Jill Biden’s use of an honorific. Go figure.
If this year’s election has shown us anything, it is how much systemic racism and misogyny are baked into the fabric of our nation. We are making progress, but it is painfully slow. But hey, at least democracy was saved – this time. And kudos to the Wall Street Journal for focusing on what really matters – the use of an earned doctorate as an honorific. You can’t make this stuff up.