“I have spent many years of my life in opposition, and I rather like the role."
- Eleanor Roosevelt
Sexism is Alive
Does talking about something make it an issue? I can vividly recall being told as a medical student that sexism was just something that women chose to see in everyday life. That is was not really an issue; it was one that we chose to use as an excuse every time things did not go our way.
I can actually remember thinking that this MUST be true. I mean, here I was, a woman in a class of medical students where HALF of us were women! How could sexism really exist? It certainly wasn’t holding me down! I thought that women who were victims to this were just that--victims--weak women who were victims of their own personalities or fears. At the time, I refused to join AMWA or get a key to the ‘women’s room’ that women students, residents and faculty could seek out as a private ‘sexist’ refuge. I told myself that if I segregated myself from men by reminding them that I was a woman, I would be contributing to the problem.
I am not sure when my beliefs changed. Maybe it was when a chief resident opened the top button of my shirt in hopes that it would help the chauvinistic interventional radiologist give me our study. Maybe it was when I realized that a lot of the female nurses DID treat me differently than my classmates who were male. The realism that sexism could also come from women was an eye-opening and depressing experience. Or maybe it was just the natural progression of realizing that male faculty whom I KNOW believe in me and support me still DON’T REALLY understand the challenges that women face. In fact, they often, albeit unintentionally, place them in our way.
Whatever the reason, I know that sexism exists. It is not because I choose to see it where it isn’t. It is not because I talk about it. It is because the world in which we live has socialized us to believe that men and women SHOULD be different. And when we, as women, try to take on stereotypically “male” roles, attitudes or personality traits, I think it makes people uncomfortable. This is the inherent reason why strong women are considered to be too aggressive or pushy or, god-forbid, the B-word, while men are just doing their job and somehow gain respect.
We need to accept that there is a double standard. There SHOULDN’T be! But there is. It’s there. Now. . what are we going to do about it?
Linda Regan, M.D. is an Attending physician at Johns Hopkins University Hospital and author of the blog column, Skirting the Issue, which discusses issues facing women in the field of medicine. She may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org