Stand on My Shoulders, Sisters
Is This Tale Familiar To You As A Female Physician?
After worrying and worrying, not knowing what to do with all that worry, I caused myself double suffering by making myself wrong and inflicting various types of self-punishment for falling short of perfection. Only now, when I look back twenty years, can I see, really, how brave and determined I had to be to: First, get into medical school; second, do a residency in a competitive specialty; third, survive said residency; fourth, I had four children during my education and training, and lastly, not lose my mind a whole lot earlier than I eventually did!
I now appreciate how resilient I had to be to get out of bed every morning to take more unpleasantness and soul crushing aggressions. In fact, I would really, really like an apology for the mistreatment from several male professors and attendings. I still have words (in my imagination) with my residency director and he passed away several years ago! I would like him to understand: It wasn’t his fault per se that he was ignorant of inequity from the comfort of his maleness. We (as in colloquial “we”) have all learned how blind we can be to inequities that exist as we judge from relative safety and comfort.
Once noticed, there is a responsibility to apologize and make it right, and then use that privilege for the highest good. Damn you, Dr. Patriarch Program Director, you’ll never be able to realize your ignorance, apologize, or work to effect change, or make it up to me for the career lost to burnout (and very nearly suicide). You might actually need what I have learned from the experience of being female in a patriarchal, hierarchical male world; learn what I know as a woman, and let me educate you on my scholastic expertise in topics of being human. You might want to learn higher level communication skills and be facile at positive relating and bring awareness to the dynamic of power differentials. A tsunami is on the horizon – a tsunami of empowered women in medicine.
Why do women in medicine STILL have to worry so much? It seems like there is so far to go! I sometimes forget how rapid change has occurred at significant times in history. Birth control pills were only legalized for married women in 1965 and it took an act of the Supreme Court to make contraception legal for unmarried women in 1972. 1972! Thank goodness I was not born ten years earlier! That was not that long ago. It follows that women were criminals for having sex outside of procreation. Unbelievable. (Don’t get me started on the continued fight for women’s reproductive rights!) I can see now that I took those rights for granted and forgot how hard fought those rights were. We stand on the shoulders of women who fought, protested, boycotted (including their marital bed), and spoke out to power – male power. The men making all the decisions for a weaker sex.
A Little History
The second wave was in the 1960s-70s. Defining supreme court and legislative action gave women the right to contraception, privacy, and equal rights although the Equal Rights Amendment is still not ratified by the necessary 38 states. The second wave of feminism focused on equality of citizenship rights, employment, birth control, and defining marital rape legally. Shirley Chisolm became the first African American woman in Congress (1968) and the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president. Abortion was legalized.
The third wave began in the 1990’s and sought to redefine the portrayal of gender, gender roles, beauty, sexuality, and womanhood. New feminist icons were sexy and unapologetic. Sexual morals shifted. There was significant movement in the LGBT movement.
The fourth wave began around 2012 with renewed interest in feminism and focused on justice for women, condemnation of sexual harassment, and violence against women. It started with empowerment in the community with use of the internet. Focus was on intersectionality of gender, race, class, sexuality, and physicial appearance that were two sides of the same coin, discrimination and privilege. It has continued with the “me too” movement, and reexamination of societal misogyny as the old balance of power is challenged.
Wait, wait. WAIT! What happened in the late 80s-2012, between the 2nd and 3th waves?
Where were we during this time?? Where was I? Well, as a woman physician, I was one of the millions of women who were determined to make it “in a man’s world;” to infiltrate traditionally male careers. This path was not easy! The struggle was real. Those that came before me made “I can do anything,” and “do it all” (common phrases of the times) possible. There is actually a perfume commercial jingle in the 1970’s that I swear put feminism in reverse. Imagine a tall and thin beautiful woman, dressed in a slinky white long dress and holding a frying pan, singing and moving suggestively, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, never let you forget you’re a man. You’re a woman...”
At Story Within A Story
Let me tell you a story within a story. You say the phrase “old white guys” to me, and I can picture at least a dozen male academic attendings that I tangled with. From the surgeon that insisted I wear a scrub dress and panty hose (I did NOT and walked), to the attending that refused to call me by my name because, “I don’t believe in hyphenating names, Dr. Hay.” (I went to the Dean of the medical school on this one and was told to “pick another rotation if you object.”) I tangled with my neurosurgery attending and the dean (again) when I was pregnant with my second pregnancy. Working 5 am to 10 or 11 o’clock at night, throwing up in snow banks and every bathroom in the hospital, I could not physically continue such hours. The neurosurgeon, “Dr. Patriarch” was not flexible and neither was the dean. “Dr. Patriarch” Dean of the medical school told me I would have to sit out a whole year. There was no other way. I lost that baby at 16-17 weeks and because I missed four weeks of the student surgical rotation, I couldn’t go back that year. There was no accommodation. This was just my second year of medical school!!
Someday I’ll write all of my stories – so I can help women physicians and their male counterparts recognize the misogyny and abuse by these Patriarchal doctors who had and still have the power. “Dr. Patriarchs” had the power completely over my time, my reproductive life and ultimately, my health and the health of my pregnancies. They had all that and my career in their hands. You get the gist.
Could I have advocated for myself more? I don’t think so. I am one powerful bitch to be able to have a career as a doctor at all. Please! Stand on my shoulders for the next generations of women in medicine.