To continue the discussion from yesterday:
To refresh your memory, an Australian vascular surgeon, Dr. Gabrielle McMullin, made the following comment during a promotional event for her book on gender equality in medicine:
“What I tell my trainees is that, if you are approached for sex, probably the safest thing to do in terms of your career is to comply with the request.”
Let me start by saying that I was never propositioned for sex by an attending physician while in training. Did it happen and I just didn’t realize it? Maybe. I have a history of being terribly oblivious when it comes to that sort of thing. It typically has to be spelled out for me before I get it.
There were times when my shoulders were rubbed or my hands were held or a body pressed up against mine during a procedure in such a way that I wondered. A look or a glance over a surgical mask. A promise of a spot in a program…
Am I reading too much into it?
Deflecting that kind of attention without escalating it or hurting feelings and without making it seem like you think you are suspicious because what if it really wasn’t about you? It becomes an art form…
Surely he did not mean that in that way? Why would he want ME, anyway?
Does it happen to other women, the sexual proposition? I am sure it does, though no other female physician has ever owned up to me about it.
The quote by this woman in Australia is upsetting, though, because of two implications: That women at the top likely slept their way there and that all men are sexual predators. Was this her intent? Or was she making a point about the current state of affairs?
Oh, there were a few med students and residents that were sleeping with attendings by choice, we all knew who they were, but none ever indicated that they felt it was coerced. It was an effective way of getting what you wanted. If you were sleeping with an attending you were protected. Suddenly, no one messed with you. Did these women lack confidence in their ability to make it on their own? Were they afraid? Lazy? In it for the excitement? Power? Driven by their competitive nature? Was the sex good? Dunno. At the time, it was maddening, but the truth is they were a tiny minority.
I am not convinced that demands for sex happen any more frequently in medicine than they do in other career fields or even really that the response is different necessarily because no matter where you work, reporting unwelcomed advances is a sticky situation. It is also important to understand that male physicians are not all rutting pigs… that is the exception rather than the rule. Almost all of the male physicians I know are truly honorable men. What makes medicine unique, though, is the isolation from your non-medical spouse (they never see you and when they do, they do not understand your stories and to get them to understand is so exhausting sometimes you would just rather not talk about it at all) and the certain degree of false intimacy that occurs with others around you when you are working so many hours in such a stressful environment.
I ask myself what would I do if it had happened to me? Hard to say. I would like to believe that I would report it, stand up for woman-kind everywhere, but truthfully I would probably have deflected it quietly and swept it under the rug because as this surgeon pointed out, reporting would have made me a target. I worked too hard to get here. But taking the step of giving the blow job? Hell. I am not putting my mouth around just any man’s penis. THAT just is not gonna happen, career or not.
What I did experience, and often still do, though, is a sense that as a female physician I am second rate professionally when compared to my male colleagues. In the words of a fellow resident, a man mind you, “Medical education is wasted on women…”
More on that tomorrow.