Wall Street Journal denounced after ‘sexist’ article calls Jill Biden ‘kiddo’

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Jill Biden says writer of opinion article is ‘diminishing’ the achievements of women as presidential transition team demands apology

Jill Biden arrives to join operation gratitude to assemble care packages for deployed US troops, on 10 December in Washington DC.
Jill Biden arrives to join operation gratitude to assemble care packages for deployed US troops, on 10 December in Washington DC. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images
Jill Biden arrives to join operation gratitude to assemble care packages for deployed US troops, on 10 December in Washington DC. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images
in New York

First published on Sun 13 Dec 2020 16.37 EST

The Wall Street Journal has come under a torrent of denunciation for publishing a “sexist” opinion article that calls Jill Biden, the first lady-in-waiting, “kiddo”, and questions her right to use “Dr” in front of her name.

The article, written by a former adjunct professor at Northwestern University Joseph Epstein, purports to offer Biden “a bit of advice”. Opening on the provocative note of calling her “Madame (sic) First Lady – Mrs Biden – Jill – kiddo”, the author goes on to recommend that she drop the honorific of “Dr” before her name.

“‘Dr Jill Biden’ sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic,” Epstein writes. He justifies his condescension towards her title on grounds that it referred to an “Ed D – a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware”.

On Sunday night, Jill Biden tweeted: “Together, we will build a world where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated, rather than diminished.”

Biden’s director of communications Elizabeth Alexander denounced the piece as “sexist and shameful”. Michael LaRosa, Biden’s spokesperson in the transition team, went further and demanded an apology, saying the newspaper should be embarrassed by the “sexist attack”.

On Sunday evening, the Journal’s editorial page editor defended Epstein’s piece, saying the criticism of a piece about a “relatively minor issue” was “overwrought” and accusing the Biden camp of media of politicising the matter.

Over the weekend, a groundswell of criticism built into a tidal wave over the haughtiness of the piece and its sexism and racism, such as where the author suggests as a simile for rarity the phrase: “Rarer than a contemporary university honorary-degree list not containing an African American woman”.

Hillary Clinton put her reaction most pithily: “Her name is Dr Jill Biden. Get used to it.”

Other prominent public figures also waded in. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, tweeted at Biden saying: “My father was a non-medical doctor. And his work benefited humanity greatly. Yours does, too.”

Doug Emhoff, who is destined to become “second gentleman” as the spouse of the vice president-elect Kamala Harris, said that Biden had earned her degrees through “hard work and pure grit… This story would never have been written about a man.”

Perhaps the harshest criticism came from Epstein’s old employer, Northwestern University, which tartly noted that he hasn’t taught there in almost 20 years. In a statement, the English department said it rejected his opinion on Biden “as well as the diminishment of anyone’s duly-earned degrees in any field, from any university”.

Epstein’s profile on the Northwestern website, where he had been listed as an “emeritus lecturer”, was apparently later taken down, the journalist David Gura reported on Twitter.