Honestly, if I had a penny for every time some man questioned my seriousness in a thing based on my gender I’d be a goddamn millionaire. And yes, for those of you who don’t know me, I hold a PhD. I also hold an MA, an MSc, two BAs and a certificate in ethnomusicology. (It was the only way I could justify listening to classical Turkish court music. Yes, I’m weird. Let’s move on.)
I suppose we should start with some backstory here. Dr. Jill Biden has a doctorate. She, like me also holds two master’s degrees. I do not know how many bachelor’s degrees she holds. Anyway, predictably, some absurdly up-jumped old man decided to go on a misogynist rant over her daring to have said title, and the Wall Street Journal took it upon themselves to publish the exercise in self-immolation in their op-ed section. I won’t link it because despite it being the centre of this discussion it oddly doesn’t add anything to it and — as the handful of people who hate-read my stuff will be disappointed to discover — there is no algorithm which distinguishes hate-reading from normal traffic. I don’t think the author (if we can call him that; it seems “fraudulent and comical,”) or the WSJ should earn anything but infamy and lost subscriptions for this.
Before we get too far into this I want to make a little clarification: doctorates are not restricted to MDs and outside of the weird historical kerfuffle in the United States where dumb people got confused and conmen got creative it’s basically always been the case that someone titled “Dr.” might be a medical doctor but also might be a nuclear physicist or something. Also, the oft cited calling for a doctor on the plane scenario is a fabrication. Medical professionals travelling on a plane will be noted on the various lists the flight attendants carry. If there is a medical emergency they consult that list and then go to the seat where that person should be and ask them if they can help. They don’t get on the intercom and tell the entire plane that zomg someone’s having a heart attack!! So if you have a problem with PhDs or EngDs or EdDs and so forth using the title Dr. then I guess you’re just historically and situationally unaware with a heavy dose of damaging naivete.
My personal deal is that I should be generally referred to by my first name outside of a professional setting. If a person intentionally mispronounces my name, tries to tell me they’ll just use a different first name for me (yes, it has happened multiple times), or tries to call me “Miss” or “Mrs.” then I do make them call me Dr. Schulz. In the former situations I do it to remind people that even if they’re trying to disrespect me, the rest of society values me more than it values their attempts to dismiss or diminish me. And in the latter I use it because it makes much more sense to title me based on my own work than it does to associate me with some man you probably haven’t even met. Weirdly, I’m not the only woman who feels this way.
Outside of a gynaecological exam or an obstetric event the status of my uterus is not relevant.
Which brings me to another truly lovely, “point” in this absurd little op-ed. After getting through just paragraphs of unambiguous misogyny and his whole foolishness about how he doesn’t really understand what “doctor” actually means he actually unironically writes the following:
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.”
Firstly, if you want to eliminate all men from the business of being titled “Dr.” then I can’t really complain given the history here, but I do need to point out it is technically what is sometimes erroneously referred to as “reverse sexism.”
Yes, I know I’m being intentionally dense here, but it’s just a very poor choice of examples when the point of your article is to denigrate educated women. Are we to believe that this guy thinks heart surgeons aren’t doctors? I choose to interpret this to the most ridiculous extreme, because the alternative is just deeply depressing.
But also, I really REALLY need to ask who this probably fictitious person he’s quoting is. Because a wise man once told me that if you’re referring to a statement by saying that a “wise man,” made it, then either it wasn’t a terribly wise statement and they don’t wish to be associated with it anymore, or you’re making it up.
Also, just to be clear, and as better bloggers than I have pointed out Dr. Jill Biden has delivered a baby.
I’m not really here to pick apart every logical fallacy and circular argument in this joke of an “essay,” but I will say, in the process of denigrating doctorate degrees in general and stating that their quality has diminished over time due to the inclusion of women and people of colour in higher education the author mentions that he never earned a doctorate, held a position for which he readily admits he was not qualified, and yet still is called “Dr.” Maybe he can get his doctorate by writing a thesis on the relative quality of doctorates over time.
My point, in case it wasn’t writ large in spite and sarcasm, is that he’s being a massive hypocrite. Apparently, he was given an honorary doctorate (and he himself freely admits that the man who nominated him shortly thereafter lost his position), but while he doesn’t ask people to call him “Dr.” they do and therefore women who have properly earned their doctorates shouldn’t use the title. Because he, a man with no doctorate but recipient of basically all the white male privilege and often incorrectly styled as “Dr.” does not feel comfortable using the title, women who have earned it should not.
Methinks he doth protest too much.
This guy is 83, so I think what’s happened here is he grew up a white man in a time when women and people of colour were largely barred from academia and when his competition in academia was considerably less trying. Now he’s looking back on his life regretting not earning advanced degrees when he might have been able to and feeling resentful of the women and people of colour who fought their way through.
Yeah, so anyway, his editor decided that the reason we’re all mad isn’t about sexism but about ethics in games journalism. No, I’m not kidding. Well, I sort of am. I mean, it’s not Gamergate 2.0 but he did say that this was a coordinated attack organized by the Biden campaign. I look forward to my sweet sweet shill check.
I mean, dude, we specifically collectively and repeatedly said this was about sexism. Women from all different walks of doctorate life recognized the op-ed as incredibly misogynist. Even if you are big-scared of our advanced degrees you can at least recognize that we know sexism and paternalistic language when we see it. We’re smart. We’ve got doctorates.
But lastly, I just want to comment on how hard any doctorate really is. The reason MDs aren’t jumping on the “shit on EdDs/PhDs/EngDs” train is because besides it being a really bad look an MD is also a doctorate degree and we all sort of collectively know what one another has been through.
I’ve got a PhD in Palaeopathology and my thesis was on proximal long bone morphology relative to inter and intra population variation. I used a statistical method to calculate true shape without using linear measurements and I had to be able to diagnose disease and severity of disease in bone. Once you finish writing upwards of 100,000 words on an obscure topic like that and then argue it in gory detail to a committee that may or may not be pissed you didn’t cite them sufficiently doing it again isn’t all that daunting. But I gotta say that first time someone hands you a box full of bones and says “figure it out,” you better hope you’ve got nothing in your intestines.
The point of the process of earning a doctorate is to give you a baptism of fire. Academia, science, medicine, education, and all the various things you might need a doctorate for are serious and do generally require a certain amount of rigor. Publications can be accepted from people not in possession of a doctorate degree, but the point of the exercise is to sort of put you through the worst possible experience while teaching you the field. And then on top of that there’s piled all the bigotry our culture still hasn’t sorted.
If you don’t have a doctorate, you just don’t know, man. I mean, some people do. My mom did. But while I’ve met a lot of people who tried to disparage my use of the title “Dr.” or some other woman’s use of it as somehow elitist or snobby or pretentious mysteriously none of those people had earned doctorates. I also know a lot of people with doctorates who do not use the title, but they would never tell another doctor not to title themselves “Dr.”
The author of the op-ed wrote it trying to disparage an accomplished woman. But rather than looking like Mr. Darcy he just looked like a resentful old bigot who was beginning to recognize that he’d wasted his life. Oh yeah, and the University he was so proud to have lectured at for 30 years has disavowed him.
A doctorate doesn’t make you a great person. It doesn’t even necessarily make you a good person. There are evil people now and in the past who hold doctorate degrees. Depending on other attributes you don’t even necessarily have to be “smart” to earn one. But it is an accomplishment. And anyone who earns one should be proud of themselves.