As if right on cue, a day after I wrote my little ditty about fighting micro-aggression at the hospital, I was fed a big old dose of MACRO-aggression. No that I was particularly surprised by it, but it was just timely. So, this here goes out to all those folks who don’t believe there is sexism or misogyny in medicine, or that we, a silly bunch of women, are blowing things out of proportion. Let me give you a few tender examples of what we deal with daily.
This is Scene 1: I’m eating lunch with 3 male colleagues, 2 doctors, and one NP. The discussion turns to everyone’s schedules, and how they do office versus hospital, and the topic of a recently post partum colleague comes up.
“I had to cover all her clinics!” says Dr D. (D for dickhead) “I am going to personally sew her vagina shut so that this doesn’t happen again.”
The other two males chuckle, uncomfortably, I like to think.
But I don’t chuckle.
“That’s not fucking funny,” I say.
Don’t get me wrong, I am pretty raunchy as far as humor goes, and I can laugh at a dirty joke and tell one, too, but I pretty much draw the line at sewing shut the vaginas of my colleagues.
“Yes, it fucking is,” says Dr D, “I had to cover ALL her patients!”
“So?” I say, “She just birthed a human being – just like your wife, I might add, who did it three times!”
“Oh my god,” he says disgustedly, “I feel like I have to get an ethics consult just to talk to you.”
I say, “No, you don’t. It’s easy. If it involves the words ‘sew’ and ‘vagina,’ just don’t say it. Actually, if it involves ‘vagina’ at all, don’t say it. I know you have nothing but vaginas on your brain, but just try not to let them fly out of your mouth.”
Then he asks, “Don’t you have a safe space you can to go to?”
“This used to be it until you showed up!” I answer.
He says, “Oh you think these guys don’t think it’s funny?” indicating Dr A and NP B, “These guys are just like me.”
The other two put their hands up, like, don’t get us involved in this!
I said, “Well, I’ve never heard NP B say anything about vaginas unless it involves a physical exam! And that’s because he knows I’ll tell his wife, and then, he’ll never have vagina again!”
“Why do you think we don’t know Dr D’s wife?” interjects NP B.
“‘Sewing vagina shut’ is a little aggressive,” says Dr A, who by the way, is Dr D’s department chair. That’s pretty much the extent of the reprimand.
They stand up to leave. “Bye, ‘safe space,'” he throws over his shoulder.
“Bye, vagina brain!” I say.
I fire off a bunch of righteous texts to my two female friends who work with DR D, and while they share my indignation, the commentary I end up getting back is, “That’s just him.” “It all comes from a place of insecurity.” “Deep down, he’s a good guy.” “He doesn’t mean what he says.” Which, I guess, made me feel a little better, paradoxically, especially the part where he’s insecure, bc it allows me to feel superior for a second. Poor poor insecure misogynist.
That was a few months ago, after which, Dr D and I gave each other the cold shoulder for a while, but since I’m in a different department, and he exerts zero power over me, I really didn’t care all that much.
Scene 2: Today, we’re in the same place having lunch, and this time I am with two female colleagues, the ones from the texts. Along with us is a male GYN.
“I keep asking him,” says Dr D, “if he’s done any sterilizations today! Because he needs to!”
“Huh?” I say.
“Yeah, he needs to sterilize more people! All the girls around here have their babies in the toilet at their prom! The City Name whores just can’t keep their legs shut!”
GYN said nothing, I don’t think. Or at least I didn’t hear it over my own resounding, “Fuck you!” and “Maybe it’s all the dicks that are swinging around that are the problem, maybe we should just cut them off, that would achieve sterilization great! Maybe we should cut yours off, so no more of you is born in this world!” If there is a phrase or sentiment that I hate most in sexist rhetoric, like to the point of a visceral reaction, it’s “whore,” and “keep your legs closed.” It’s disgusting.
“Here comes safe space again!” he says.
There is a silence. Then the subject is changed.
The two women I’m sitting with are friends of mine. They’re the ones I spoke with before, when the first scenario happened. Today, it’s similar. One says nothing, the other says that while she’d like to stand up for herself, even jokingly, technically, he is her boss, and she’s afraid of retribution.
“He gives me the silent treatment and doesn’t give me the shifts I want,” she comments.
“Maybe I should report him,” I say.
“He’ll know it was you,” she says.
And even though he has nothing to do with MY schedule, I still feel uncomfortable.
“Maybe it needs to be a nurse,” I say. “Administration takes nurses seriously.”
She tells me that nurses love him. They bring him coffee every morning with a little heart on the lid. They ask him for back rubs, and give him back rubs in return. He had a cold once, and they were tripping over themselves to bring him tea, blankets, and send him to nap with promises of no pages…
If he tells the nurses that the whores in their city have their babies in the toilet at the prom, they’ll say, “He’s right, it’s true, they do.” I know, because I shared that quote with a nurse, and it’s what she said.
“He’s like Donald Trump,” my friend says, “Everything just rolls off him.”
And we drop it. I won’t report him. I won’t even discuss it with Dr A, his boss, because he’ll just say Dr D is being “a little aggressive.”
Let’s discuss, folks. Two short instances out of my hopefully long career in medicine, not the first, not the last, and very routine. 3 highly educated, trained, intelligent female doctors have to sit there and endure nasty nasty talk, and not just any nasty talk, but disgusting, mean, belligerent, woman-hating talk, from a male doctor colleague, while other males say nothing, even though they clearly feel uncomfortable and realize it’s wrong. And, none of us women feel we have any recourse because of fear of retaliation, and because in spite of ourselves, we are sitting there and excusing this behavior because “Deep down he’s a good guy,” and “he doesn’t mean it.” And forget the fact that I believe that they would take a nurse’s complaint more seriously than a female doctor’s. Female doctors are supposed to be “cool with it,(bear with the add, it’s worth it)” because that’s the culture. Or maybe it’s because we should just be thanking our lucky stars for being allowed to sit at the grownups’ table, and not get too uppity.
This is a young doctor, by the way, not the “sexist dinosaur” you might imagine as the most misogynistic type, no, this guy is from my generation. He graduated med school where half his class was women. But if it were up to him, apparently, they’d have their hoo-has sewn shut.
And how do you think I felt after mouthing off to him – twice? Did I feel empowered for standing up to him? Did I feel proud that I did the right thing by womankind? Uh, NO. What I actually felt was embarrassed that I need a “safe space,” and guilty for not being one of the guys or “COOL with it.” And you know what else? Do you think any of this gave DR D any pause? I️ doubt it. In fact, I’d venture to say that all it did was reinforce the stereotype he likely already has in his head, that of the hysterical female or of the militant histrionic feminist.
I am disgusted.