Empowerment is a familiar concept for Marian students, as it’s one of the core values taught to students over their four years. Since the school’s founding in 1955 by the Servants of Mary, women in the Marian community have been lifted up for their skill and talent. However, outside of the all-girls environment, not every woman is treated as such. Females have historically had drastically different expectations than men, and their success can be seen as a threat, when it should be celebrated. However, one particular woman has taken great steps forward for feminists everywhere.
Dr. Jill Biden has begun to revolutionize the role of women in the White House. She has decided to keep her “Dr.” (Ed.D—a doctorate in education) title for the duration of her time as First Lady, as well as continuing her teaching career at Northern Virginia Community College. She hopes to give a voice to educators across the country and identify herself with the working class. This is a historical first for the wives of the President, as they have traditionally been expected to drop their careers in favor of the duties that accompany being the First Lady.
As women continue to take strides forward and break down gender roles, it only makes sense that this would be reflected in the presidency. It’s become almost uncommon that the roles of men and women are maintained in our society as they are in the White House. As Dr. Biden takes these strides forward, she’s working to make the idea of the submissive housewife disappear altogether.
Students have been inspired by seeing the values they are taught in classes reflected in the world outside of Marian. “It gives a great example of progressive feminism and speaks to the fact that you don’t have to put your life on pause just because your partner advances in their line of work, even when it’s one of higher authority,” freshman Kenadie Rudloff said. “Her willingness to go against the pattern of the past really helps to break down stereotypes around women in places of government power, and even in the home.”
“I’d just say more power to her,” Dr. Renee McGill commented on the issue. She hopes that Biden will “keep wearing the hats that are important to her and being that role model for those of us who do choose to juggle the different job titles and find fulfillment in that.”
Dr. McGill started teaching English in 1993, then started her PhD eight years later. “For me, my title means that I accomplished a goal that I had set for myself.” It was no easy feat for her to earn, and the process ended up spanning nine years, as she was also raising her four daughters and continuing to teach parttime throughout the process of earning her doctorate. “Those years were really fun for me because it was flexible, and I got to have more time with the girls, believe it or not.”
Her situation was not unlike that of Dr. Biden, who also made the decision to return to school while she had young children at home. She’d been active in continuing her education, earning two master’s degrees while teaching at various schools on the east coast. When she married Joe Biden and took on the role of raising his two sons from a previous marriage, she definitely had a lot on her plate; however, she continued to make her own education and passions a priority, finally receiving her doctorate in 2007.
An article published by the Wall Street Journal in December of 2020 only served to fuel the fires of controversy when author Joseph Epstein criticized Dr. Biden’s decision to keep her title while her husband is in office. He said that the title “sounds and feels fraudulent,” and repetitively compared her title to the honorary doctorates he received during his time in academia.
“I thought [the article] was really problematic and very patronizing,” Dr. McGill said. “I mean, here’s a woman who cares about access for education for everybody. She cares about retention and keeping people in community colleges. And he’s making fun of that?”
The position that Dr. Biden now holds is invaluable to educators everywhere. “I do think that there’s a belittling of educators going on. You know, she’s just a teacher, so of course she would step down when she got to be First Lady,” Dr. McGill said as an example.
However, in this day and age, it’s become increasingly less expected for a wife to defer to her husband. So, why is it different at the presidential level? In a country where things are changing and developing all the time, our leaders need to move on from tradition and focus on where our true values lie. Working women shouldn’t be shamed for doing so at any level, and Dr. Biden’s case is no different. As she tweeted herself, “Together, we will build a world where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated, rather than diminished.”