Monday, December 14, 2020

Call Me by Your Title?

My next blog post was going to be funny. And then I got busy and haven't written it yet and now I'm mad about something else entirely. So, funny is coming. In the interim, in case you happen to be female, an academic, have a terminal degree in your field in something other than medicine, or all of the above, this is for you. 

I was largely offline this weekend, which meant I was a bit behind on the news when I played catch-up at o-dark-hundred this morning when I wasn't sleeping, which I hear is what normal people do at that time. So, I am slightly behind on blowing my top at the weekend's helping of sexism, but just in time for the follow-up quotes.

The Wall Street Journal published an Op-Ed on Friday written by a man who taught at Northwestern in the English department for God-knows-how-many years. In it, this man spends an inordinate amount of time chastising Dr. Jill Biden for (clutch my pearls in horror) using her earned title of doctor because she didn't study or practice medicine. This, coming from a guy who admits he only has a bachelor's degree he "earned in absentia from the University of Chicago because he was also serving in the Army in the 1950's." Meaning, he's never gotten a terminal degree himself.  He claims he never needed an advanced degree, which can only be described as the penultimate in privilege, afforded exclusively to white men of a certain era. Also, he's old. I think the intentional inclusion of the 1950's was supposed to infer that he has the wisdom of years, but it turns out that "old" in this sense just means "rotten." 

Here's the bull he opens his op-ed with:

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. Any chance you might drop the “Dr.” before your name? “Dr. Jill Biden” sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic. Your degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title “Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students’ Needs.” 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.

The "kiddo," the "bit of advice" and the "Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc" is so obviously condescending-old-man-misogyny that I cannot understand why the Wall Street Journal chose to publish such drivel. If that weren't enough, they then defended their choice as "controversial" and went on to blame the Biden campaign for "playing the race and gender card" as if it wasn't the Journal's card of choice in the first place! If I were the editor, I would have stopped reading at "kiddo" and put this piece in the circular file where it belonged.

Mr. Epstein, dinosaur from an era where men were never called on the carpet for their bad behavior, goes on to say that a PhD just isn't the same as an MD, even though he WORKED AT A UNIVERSITY and presumably most of his colleagues, would have earned one. Especially in the heyday of student-professor formality during which we would have been employed, he and his colleagues would have insisted that PhDs be referred to with the appropriate honorific.  

Next, as if to throw a bone at those colleagues I'm sure he used to smoke cigars in the university lounge with whilst drinking brandy as their wives were at home preparing the meatloaf, he says PhDs USED TO BE A THING. However, now academia is now been infected with malaise and since Dr. Biden only got her EdD 15 years ago, it no longer counts. He also thoughtfully includes a brief mention of olden times when a "secretary with a pitcher of water on her desk" sitting outside the convening rooms of PhD exams at Colombia University to be ready in case any of the (white male) candidates "fainted" due to the pressure of the exams. The subtext here is obviously that since women started having the gall to leave the kitchen and get their own degrees, clearly they don't mean anything anymore.

Epstein throws in that HE has an "honorary doctorate" - as if that were REMOTELY the same thing as a PhD. It's not, and we all know it. He also note that he was sometimes referred to as Dr. Epstein, and "On such occasions it was all I could do not to reply, 'Read two chapters of Henry James and get into bed. I’ll be right over.'” However, clearly he was able to restrain himself, even though "In contemporary universities, in the social sciences and humanities, calling oneself Dr. is thought bush league." Having some experience myself working and volunteering for contemporary universities, I would like to note that the academics I have encountered with terminal degrees are referred to by others as "doctor," and use their degree initials in their signatures. Not all is as he claims. However, I think I have found something else that might match Mr. Epstein's description more aptly: allowing yourself to be referred to by an honorific you didn't earn, and then disparaging someone for using the title they did earn. Bush league indeed.

The rest of the op-ed is behind the Journal's paywall and given their comments over the weekend, I am clearly not going to start subscribing. I safely assume the balance of the editorial was more of the same. Epstein's personal discomfort with a woman who has so clearly out-achieved him is so blatant it would be laughable if he hadn't also double-downed to CNN this morning that he had nothing to add except he wrote this as "light humor piece, but I fear there isn't much humor in the world, especially for the politically correct." To be clear, there is nothing, and has never been anything, humorous about a white male soothing his fragile ego by publicly denigrating a smart, capable woman. Unfortunately, in his dotage, I believe he is confusing "humor" with "being able to act like a jackass with impunity."

This old man needs to go gentle into that good night (which hopefully he understands in the context of the original Dylan Thomas poem from which I paraphrase; he was an English professor after all). No one needs any more of his age and rage. I should also note that Northwestern has issued a statement distancing themselves from this guy, and has removed his bio from their website. How's that for "political correctness?"


Megan the MSW, care to read my master's thesis, "Juvenile Firesetters: Typology and Treatment Options"? or my bachelor's thesis, "Romanian Students and Their Attitudes Toward the Future: 10 Years Post-Communism?" Or maybe you prefer to just pick at the "unpromising" titles?

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