I’m a doctor in the same way that Jill Biden is a doctor.
In other words, yes, I am actually a real doctor.
Like Dr. Biden, I have a doctorate in education. Also, like Dr. Biden, I earned my degree after years of teaching experience and years of doctoral study, as a married, midlife woman with children. (I was in my late thirties; she was in her mid-fifties.)
No, I’m not going to link to Joseph Epstein’s sexist rant in the Wall Street Journal asking Dr. Jill Biden to stop calling herself a doctor even when she is by any definition, in fact, a doctor. (Epstein — who is, by the way, a guy with a BA — does not deserve the click and if you’re reading this, you’ve probably read it anyway.)
If you do need a tiny bit of a refresh, here’s the first paragraph of the op-ed, in all its misogynistic glory:
I am going to explain why this very specific form of sexist diatribe against Biden is unsurprising and resonates with so many.
At first, when I read the op-ed, I wasn’t sure that many other people would be as outraged as I was. It’s obvious why I’d be appalled (as a woman with the same degree). Yet judging by the reaction on social media and, well, everywhere, lots and lots of people have lots and lots of feelings about that piece, not just me.
Academics, teachers, feminists all shared their disgust with the op-ed. Lots of men spoke up as well.
And predictably a whole bunch of conservatives made clear that the WSJ op-ed reflected exactly how they felt about women like Dr. Biden.
There’s already been a lot written about the blatant misogyny of the op-ed. I mean, really, any article that calls a 69-year-old year old woman “kiddo” in the first paragraph doesn’t need much from me in the way of explaining its general sexism.
What I do want to point out is the gendered attack on education and educators in this piece.
It’s a cliche to state that our society devalues education and teaching. Teachers earn considerably less than their similarly educated peers. They’re blamed for any number of societal ills, from poverty to unemployment and decline in traditional values.
For many, teachers aren’t “real” professionals. Instead, teaching is viewed as a feminized “semi-profession, like nursing or library science. Teachers aren’t “real” experts. And they, even once they enter academia, certainly aren’t real scholars. Here’s conservative radio host Jesse Kelly proving this point:
Teaching in the United States is devalued for whole host of cultural and economic reasons, and one of primary ones is that teaching is viewed as a “feminized” profession. While historically this wasn’t always the case, today most teachers are women (76%), and this gender imbalance shows no signs of changing. As the president of Teachers College at Columbia University stated,
“I do think it’s a vicious cycle. Women went into it without other options and it was a low-status profession that was associated with women, and the fact that it’s now dominated by women inhibits the status from increasing.”
The gender gap persists in higher education. Women make up about 69% of students awarded doctorates in education.
If teaching itself is viewed as a lower-status profession, it should not be surprising then that the education doctorate is perceived as a lower-status doctorate. (I’m not going to get into the precise ways in which an Ed.D. may differ from a PhD in terms of requirements, exams, dissertation expectations, etc. For the most part, these differences vary by institution and by concentration.)
I have first-hand experience in all of this. You see, after college, I had no plans to become a teacher. I had won a fellowship to a PhD program in sociology and had vague notions (at 22) of becoming a professor or a scholar or a researcher… or something. I excelled and earned straight As, but I wasn’t feeling it. I was too young to commit to a program that might take seven or eight years or more.
I decided to use my master’s degree to become a secondary school teacher. Not as a permanent career choice but just as a way of earning money while I figured out what I really wanted to do.
I had grown quite close to my PhD program adviser and wrote to her, after leaving the program, about my next plans. She was aghast, as if I had confessed to her that I was running off to join a cult.
“You cannot enter the female ghetto of teaching,” she told me. “You’ll never get out.”
The attack on Dr. Biden was sexist, yes. But it was also a brand of sexism that devalues education as a profession because women make up most of that profession.
On social media, in the flush of excitement after (finally) receiving a doctorate, I changed my profiles to “Dr. Jessica Smock.” I learned quickly about that special form of misogyny reserved for women with education doctorates in twitter threads in which my degree was mocked. I am ashamed to confess that I eventually took off the Dr. title.
Today, like thousands of other women with doctorates, in honor of Dr. Biden and because we are proud of our accomplishments, I changed back my Twitter profile.