Old Question Rears Its Head AGAIN: What’s in a Name?

3 02 2009

Or in a title.

Poor Doctor Jill Biden.
Stupid editorialists.

More posturing about “respect” from people who clearly just don’t get it. Words matter, and more than clothes make the man, words make his meaning.

This is the dawning of the Age of Intelligence, hopefully replacing the ages of class warfare, male dominion and blind faith doctoring up freedom. Surely working journalists noticed the presidential campaign and the election results? The literate, thoughtful professor types won and the tacky, simplistic-minded, drivel-spouting, action-craving, fighter-pilot, shotgun-shooting, megalomaniacal good-versus-evil ol’ boys (including Sarah Palin) lost.

And the title “doctor” applies to ALL fields and types of minds; even the best students aren’t all alike.

I’ve always lived in college towns where the title “doctor” conveyed universal academic authority first, with medical authority just one subset of all doctors on campus and stereotypically at least as deserving (if not much more so!) of doc-mockery as any other bearer of that academic title, for taking themselves and their doctor status too seriously, as superior beings deserving of unquestioned deference in all things big and small, as the only “real” doctors.

This is not to diss individual men or individual docs in any field, including medicine, many of whom are my friends — it’s just to criticize the meme of playing “who’s the real doc?” as a mean-spirited way to disrespect educational endeavor and achievement, even medical, until and unless it’s about competition, exclusivity, active performance and very high pay. Women will always be disadvantaged in such a system, even those who heal the sick.

Take the (male) Washington Post language expert as a case in point:

Newspapers, including The Times, generally do not use the honorific “Dr.” unless the person in question has a medical degree.

“My feeling is if you can’t heal the sick, we don’t call you doctor,” said Bill Walsh, copy desk chief for the Washington Post’s A section and the author of two language books.

Funny a pompous ass like this quote makes him sound, is secure enough in his masculinity, to say it was his “fee-ee-ling”. . .and what if it’s my feeling, with degrees in both journalism AND education, that if he can’t lead a native nation into battle in full headdress (or earn a presidency or his own Fortune 500 bailout boondoggle) then we don’t call him “chief?”

Although admittedly, I don’t see the feminist angle of this Media Matters rebuttal quite the same way — Condi Rice for example was called “doctor” in the media just like Henry Kissinger, and senator slash medical doc Bill Frist deserved less public sector R-E-S-P-E-C-T than Dr. Rice or Dr. Kissinger, for his public intellect and accomplishments imo, despite being a doctor of medicine (remember his godbot video diagnosis of Terri Schiavo) — and less than Dr. Biden, too.

Doctor Seuss wasn’t EITHER kind of academic doctor but no one disses him for using the title much less for fraud, probably because he clearly mastered power of story for mind rather than body, you know, like Jill Biden — and as Favorite Daughter aspires to do??

Religion is a power of story field too, certainly not medical science (Bill Frist notwithstanding) so what about Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. or, ahem, Doctor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church? I respect one and mock the other, but neither the respecting nor mocking has to do with their common theological title of doctor.

The doctorate originated as a university teaching title of ultimate accomplishment, authority and therefore respect, long before medical students took it off campus and claimed it for their own to convey (dubious!) authority among the unwashed masses, to gain submission to various well-meant bleeding and hole-drilling barbarities. Don’t major media minds taking themselves so seriously they can criticize any earned title of respect, at least know how to use Google and wikipedia?

And let us note Dr. Biden received her degree in midlife, when it was traditionally awarded after decades of proving oneself in academe. She really earned it, the old-fashioned way in every sense of the title, long after she actually needed it. Of course she wants to use it!

I was too young to fit the traditional doctor mold, sort of a doogie howser. When I completed my education policy doctorate as a female still in my 20s, I was already working professionally in public administration and legislative affairs, and it mattered that I be called Doctor. Otherwise I was disrespected as mere intern or secretary, in their board room mainly as eye-candy and male enabler, usually by much older men with far too much life experience in um, anatomy and biology.

In our unschooling life of course, I haven’t needed the authority of that title. Most folks I know now don’t realize I’ve been an academic doctor my whole adult life. I remain female but I’ve gradually taken on the authority of age and experience, and considerably more physical presence (heft! lol) than in my willowy youth. When I’m occasionally called Doctor JJ now, in my 50s like Doctor Biden — also blonde and happy, except about twice her size — I still like it. And I have EARNED it.



10 responses

3 02 2009

Good for her – both using the title she earned and not letting her husband’s career sidetrack her own.

I’ve also lived me entire life in university towns and have listen to discussions of what the title means.

3 02 2009

I should’ve mentioned that if the WaPo journalism desk guy was a fire chief, that would make him legit. And I am proud to say that our capital city’s fire chief is a woman, Cynthia Dick. 🙂

4 02 2009
Crimson Wife

The press also generally refers to Maya Angelou by the title “Dr.” even though her degree is only honorary…

4 02 2009

First I’ve heard it! . . . weird.

6 02 2009
Crimson Wife

She told USA Today last year that she prefers to be called Dr. Angelou because she’s an autodidact.

I’ve never heard anyone in the press dare to call her “pompous” for using the title.

6 02 2009

It really doesn’t sound as pompous as “autodidact” come to think of it. 😉

24 07 2009

I’m annoyed listening to the MSNBC coverage of the race-case press conference, to hear a TV correspondent call his studio host “Doctor Nancy” — because she’s a medical doctor only! I know more about this than she does, as a former professional public communication specialist . . .

17 09 2009
Joe “the Immigration Attorney” Wilson — Isn’t « Cocking A Snook!

[…] what’s in a name, right? (At least it isn’t HUSSEIN!) Do facts and context matter? Does learning more give you […]

19 08 2011

New on this:

Not a Doctor
Murphy reports, “Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Bachmann traveled [Minnesota] as an education activist, she went by ‘Dr. Michele Bachmann,’ even though she had never obtained nor sought the advanced degree that’s a prerequisite for the title.” Guinea Pig Kids, her 2002 movie opposing a state education law, identifies her as “Dr. Michele Bachmann.” Bachmann worked with the activist group Maple River Education Coalition, which put out a news release celebrating her nomination as a Republican candidate for the state legislature in 2000 that said, “Dr. Bachmann herself, who arrived at her convention with no intention of running, was shocked by her victory.”

Murphy explains why that’s not okay:

“Dr. Bachmann” might have given the activist a bit more gravitas, but it was not an appropriate title. Bachmann received a J.D. — the standard law school degree — from Oral Roberts University, and an LL.M. in tax law from William & Mary in 1988. … But while J.D. (juris doctor) has the word “doctor” in it, it is not accepted practice for J.D.’s to refer to themselves as “Dr.”

15 11 2011
Who Are Doctors Who? Not That Kind of Doctor « Cocking A Snook!

[…] What’s in a Name? Or in a title. Poor Doctor Jill Biden. Stupid editorialists. More posturing about “respect” from people who clearly just don’t get it . . . the title “doctor” applies to ALL fields and types of minds; even the best students aren’t all alike . . . […]

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