Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Skirting the Issue

By Dr. Linda Regan

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: skirtingtheissue@gmail.com


Anonymous said...

Ah, but there are multiple double standards. How about trying to be a male on an OB-GYN rotation?

James said...

Honestly, I think the women's movement has already tread as far as it ever will. Men and women are often held to different standards - I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing, just reflective of gender roles that continue to evolve with style and culture. It's true what you said, a woman has a hard time being assertive without being called a b#%@. A man has a hard time being into fashion or theater without being called a f#%. But I think that's ok - men and women are physically and psychologically different. The point is, nobody's keeping women from voting these days, or from becoming doctors, or from becoming president.

James said...

Sorry - one more thing I wanted to mention (to the other commenter). I spent a year and a half as an OB resident and the only sexism I experienced was, ironically, from another male physician. He wouldn't let me scrub on his cases if I had too much stubble because "men in this profession are held to a higher standard."

AJ said...

Wow. Those first two comments are such typical responses to this kind of post that I'd think they were planted if I didn't know better.

Anon: Yeah, and isn't that wrong? And think about it: doctors who are women face in all fields of medicine; men face it in one.

James: So women should just be happy they are allowed to be doctors and presidents and vote; we have no business expecting some kind of respect? And please keep this in mind: throughout history, whether referring to segregation or slavery or sexism or any number of human wrongs, there have always been the people sitting back and saying, "But I think that's okay." Remember, their used to be a whole field of "medicine" based on the idea that people with Western European physical attributes were superior to anyone with non-Western European attributes. Luckily, there were people back then who weren't willing to just sit back and say, "Well, things are as good as they've ever been, so why bother trying to make them better?"

Dr. Regan, thank you for bringing this up. Feminism has practically become a bad word, and it's only by people like you willing to continue the discussion that we can find a way to make things better than they are now.

Emergency said...

great comments. Thanks for writing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

whether it exists or not does not matter. we should be focusing on truly pressing problems in the world- hunger, war, death. real things whose obvious catastrophic consequences r so obvious they would not have wasted all the energy it took you all (and me) to discuss this. (btw, I am an accomplished female physician)

Linda Regan said...

I'm sorry you feel that this is an issue which is a waste of time. I don't think anyone would seek to compare the issues you raise with the ones we are talking about. However, it seems that many women, especially the more junior women, benefit from discussing issues which may hinder their advancement and productivity. Kudos to you for not being affected by these issues. However, I don't think it is appropriate for you to say which things are worth someone's time. Simply having more 'life-threatening' issues in the world does not negate the daily issues that many women face.

Anonymous said...

A lot of very life threatening, global issues are directly related to feminism and women's rights. I'm surprised that's not obvious to someone who seems so concerned about these things.

Ann said...

Anonymous, Seems like you have a problem with the author. Maybe you should spend less time insulting her for sharing her thoughts and experiences and more time focusing on these "life-threatening" issues. If this is so bothersome to you, then why are you still reading it. Stop hiding behind your anonymity and email Dr. Regan to talk about the issues you have with her. . . or better yet, stop "wasting your energy" as you put it and let the rest of us read the column in peace.