Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published a sexist and condescending piece (we hate referencing dumpster fires, but here’s the link if you want background) about Dr. Jill Biden.
The article, written by Joseph “not a doctor” Epstein, starts on a low note and spirals from there, arguing her use of the honorific ‘Dr.’ is “fraudulent” and “comic” because she holds a Ph.D. in education. He then calls a 69-year-old woman ‘kiddo’ and suggests only individuals who have delivered a child should call themselves a ‘doctor’.
That’s a basic summary, and even here we see obvious flaws. For starters, even if we were to reserve the term ‘doctor’ for those in medical fields, many doctors don’t deliver babies. Dentists, ophthalmologists, and numerous specialty surgeons, for example.
Second, ‘doctor’ comes from the Latin word ‘teacher,’ as Merriam-Webster pointed out in this glorious subtweet:
SOCIAL MEDIA FIRESTORM
The article spread across the internet like wildfire, prompting countless women with PhDs to edit their social media handles to include ‘Dr.’
Everyone who has the grit, determination, and work ethic required to obtain a Ph.D. in any field should, upon graduation, celebrate this monumental achievement.
But this is especially true for women, who are socialized at seemingly every turn (see the WSJ) to keep quiet about well-deserved credentials.
This is even more true for women from historically-excluded groups, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Check out the statistics in this tweet, shared by organizational psychologist Adam Grant:
“Women’s qualifications are less likely to be mentioned by men,” he says.
“[In a] study of 300+ intros of MD/Ph.D. presenters: Men introduced 72 per cent of men as ‘Dr.’, but only 49 per cent of women as ‘Dr.’ Women introduced speakers as ‘Dr.’ regardless of gender. Respecting women shouldn’t be this hard.”
** Ed. note: We made slight grammatical edits to the quote to improve readability.
LET’S BREAK IT DOWN BY RACE
Women need to celebrate their accomplishments and we need to keep the conversation going about this.
But we would be remiss if we failed to examine the demographic breakdown of Ph.D. distribution in the U.S.:
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According to the National Center for Education Statistics, when looking at PhDs across all disciplines awarded to women in 2017/2018, nearly 59 per cent went to white women. Black women made up about 9 per cent of the recipients, Hispanics 8 per cent, and Indigenous women 0.4 per cent.
When we drill down to STEM PhDs, the numbers get even smaller. National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics from 2017 suggests that worldwide, only about a third of all doctoral degrees in science, engineering and/or health are held by women.
Another thing, an emphasis on gender erases non-binary scientists, a group so marginalized that it’s difficult to find relevant scientific literature on a given topic that documents their experiences.
The ‘Dr.’ discussion pops up regularly on social media and, like we’ve said before, it’s an important one.
But it’s also important to understand that much of academia remains a space centered around the white, non-disabled, and cis-gendered experience.
Despite what the WSJ says, there is nothing fraudulent and comic about a woman with a Ph.D. assuming the title of ‘doctor.’ But celebrating this without acknowledging the racial disparities and systemic barriers present in many academic institutions ignores one of the reasons why such ‘debates’ are necessary in the first place.
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