Proposition

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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.

Who me?

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.

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94 thoughts on “Proposition

  1. I’m oblivious too, as I mentioned yesterday. But I have (or HAD) found it fairly easy to deflect unwanted advances by ignoring it or by icy stares. Ridicule, of course, is the best.

    I can’t help but wonder, though. Aren’t there as many downsides of sleeping around (not just in medicine) at work? When things go south, so can one’s career …

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I worked with a guy who was very touchy feely towards all the women in the office, putting his arm round them, giving them cuddles or tight hugs with a lot of verbal innuendo. It made me uncomfortable, but my colleagues didn’t seem to mind it. He tried it with me once, and I told him quietly to take his hands off me and not do it again as I did not like it, I did not welcome it, and from him, I did not want or enjoy it.
    He left me alone, and I noticed many of the other women too after that.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There’s that sense of “false intimacy” (although I’m not sure how false it really is) in the traditional workplace too especially if working on high-pressure projects together. Yes, I had my share of opportunities to “advance”, I suppose, but for the most part, as you observe, my male co-workers were really great guys.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess if it feels real it is real? The intimacy? You get a closeness that seems real, at least enough for some to act on it and yes you absolutely can extrapolate that to any stressful situation!

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      • I think so. We had dinner the other night with a surgeon who was describing efforts of his team to save a four-year old gunshot victim. The aftermath I can only imagine leads to some sort of intimacy – based as it is on shared trauma.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I had situations in grad school–one time with a professor, a much older married man–who subtly propositioned me. I deflected these attempts, but they did make me very uncomfortable. In the situation with the professor, what I thought was a friendship and mentoring situation, was forever altered.

    As you said, there is a difference between deflecting and complying, and hopefully, deflecting works most of the time. I can understand not wanting to jeopardize one’s career, but seriously, I can’t believe that that doctor said women should go along with coerced sex with superiors. What century is this?

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  5. “Medical education is wasted on women…”

    Oh, but it’s wasted on men too! Y’all should have been a nurse. Sorry, couldn’t resist. 😉

    That idea of being compelled to sleep your way to the top or of feeling victimized by advances is a real surrendering of your power as a woman. It’s kind of sad that women would feel pressure or vulnerability, because pity is a more natural response. It’s somewhat pathetic to encounter a man who would have confused power with sex, who feels so small inside he’s compelled to try and exploit and control women.

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  6. In 50 years of teaching, I was never propositioned by any faculty or student. While working at a hospital during grad school, I was backed up against the cabinets in the med room by a nurse. She must have been looking for something that she thought I had. I was simply there to gather the trash on the 11-7 shift… However, to this day, I feel one job I was never offered after the interview was because I was not wearing a dress…. Get the point there. It had to do with sexual equality and distribution of faculty. I was just a man.

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  7. “Medical education is wasted on women…”

    Sigh. My dad feels that way too, and I always love to point out that the absolute best doctors I have seen have been women. Just a coincidence, I’m sure there’s nothing that would make a female a better doctor than a male (and vice versa), but that whole notion that women should all be nurses is so stupid.

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  8. What a Fucked-Up-World we all live in…really! I just can’t wrapped my simple mind around why people are so hateful toward other people based on gender, race, etc. Just don’t get it. Never will. I’m glad – waste of energy in my insignificant opinion.

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  9. Being oblivious works. No one wants to be rebuffed and a “Oh, I had no idea you had that in mind” could work as well. As far as reporting it – that could be deadly career wise. However, an out and out rape deserves serious action.
    Leslie

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  10. “reporting unwelcomed advances is a sticky situation”… snerk
    (moist towelettes are useful)

    What?

    Anyway. :::smoothing dress demurely::: I have to wonder what the reality is, and how much it varies from region, from country, etc. Medicine is still male dominated, but so are a lot of industries. I think the Australian surgeon was purposefully provocative in her statements and if that is the situation, her situation, then I’m glad she was not quiet and was not demure and waved it out there for folks to see in broad daylight… where it makes people squirm. People and systems tend not to change unless there is a lot of uncomfortable squirming involved.

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  11. Yes, the post makes me angry (not at you – I LOVE that you’re so honest about the man vs woman world of medicine or any career). I think back to the times I was propositioned. When I was younger, I was oblivious, like you. Fortunately I was rather sheltered in my upbringing and wouldn’t even think that a man would try to use his ‘station’ in our profession to encourage me to have sex with him. When I was older, I deflected it and was oh-so-careful to not hurt feelings. URGH. Not fair, but the way it is in sexual gender relations. Most important message? Raise our daughters to say no.

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  12. “Medical education is wasted on women…” – Whew. I have to say that i am surprised that someone actually said that in this day and age. 100 years ago when there were few women doctors, perhaps that argument could be put forward as there was no proof otherwise. Today, it is obvious that women doctors are at least as competent as men if not more so (I find many women doctors more empathetic and hence more effective).

    So, I suspect that in sandwiching the topics of sexual abuse in the workplace together with the question of women’s competence, you are making an association implying a larger umbrella concept. I’d be interested in hearing what you consider that overlying concept to be. Is it objectification? Or perhaps second class citizenship? Or perhaps….? Please do tell. 😀

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  13. I wonder if the female surgeon who brought this issue up is really being clever as a fox. If she were to simply say “men in positions of power sometimes demand sex from women who are subordinate to them and this is bad” this oft repeated mantra would be lost in the din of multitudes of obvious statements that do not really encourage engagement (sadly). By framing her observations and conclusions in such a provacative way the issue is being looked at, debated, and focused on, in an almost unprecedented way. In any writing, or the presenting of an argument, angle and context, can make all the difference in getting the recipient to sit up and pay attention. She is going to sell a lot of books and at the same time open up a public discussion on the matter. If this is her intent then the woman is a genius.

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  14. “Being totally oblivious” is great. Don’t change. It really means you expect only good from people and can’t believe someone would propose such a thing.
    Of course being a fat woman, I did not get too many “hits” in my life or maybe I just did not see them either. :::sigh::: who knows how “lucky” I could have been…. 😉

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  15. I’m sorry, but her comment does not deserve any of my time. No one who goes to school, works, educates themselves, goes through the trainings and certifications needed to be in any fields needs to comply with any request for sex to advance in their field. So, what did you have for dinner tonight?

    Liked by 2 people

  16. This article made me rage – both as an Australian (this is not representative of views Down Under) and the father of a 1 yr old girl (what the hell message is this to young girls and women?).

    “Comply with the request?” The suggestion is that this is a standard request which might then feedback into a person’s performance rating. I can’t even…

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  17. What Dr McMullin said caused a huge burst on talk-back radio here. And when you hear her, and other women, the point becomes obvious. She was defending a female surgeon who brought sexual harassment claim against a senior surgeon. She won, but has since been unable to get a position in any public hospital. Even one of the senior members of the College of Surgeons told her she shouldn’t have worn such sexy clothes. .Dr McMullin wasn’t saying it was a good thing. It is a bit like telling a rape victim to give in because the alternative could be fatal. It sometimes takes a gutsy women to tell men what’s expected of them.

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    • Exactly. That is what the BBC article points out. She is referring to that incident but what she says is that she advises her trainees to give it up. Now, this has barely gotten any press on this side of the world, so I am curious to hear what people in Australia think of it. Is she calling out a messed up system? Sure. Is her advice bad? Depends on how you look at it…

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  18. What a dope. The shame of my gender. I never used power or influence to try and seduce women. I was perfectly fine with expensive dinners and incessant begging until their resolve crumbled. I was shamefully old until I realized begging isn’t a legitimate aspect of foreplay.

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  19. To be perfectly honest, there is a predator in all of us. I do not mean that is necessarily wrong except as in your case where those fantasies are acted upon. And guys will rationalize so completely that we will not see coercion for what it is. Then we have the part is natural and welcomed, sexual fantasy grounded in reality. But this kind of seduction has to be mutual and not fear of reprisal if you balk and the reasonable expectation that a workplace is safe from coercion of any kind.

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      • and this includes girls from 17-90. us boys of the same ages fall for the exclusivity of age compatible relationships. but if that is true, then why our duplicity and the excuses for being jerks ourselves? I have been stupid and short-sighted/ I have undermined myself and those I have loved. Somewhere between idealism and reality we lost the way. Love means trying your best. not the quote from Love Story which was and is, a best case scenario.

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  20. I can’t believe this was said in modern times either. But I can see how she meant it as ironic. I have a background in Nursing and want to point out there is nothing wrong with being a Nurse. Nursing is a separate profession and Nurses are not second class doctors like some of the comments seemed to indicate. I think when women were more of a minority in medicine they did get a lot of disrespect. I know of many women doctors today in California and I have never gotten any inking of sexual harassment of women doctors here or second class status either.

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    • Thank you for making the points about nursing! Ask the female physicians that you know if they have felt sexually harassed. I don’t think that sort of thing is going to occur out in the open so observation is probably not the best tool, though as I said I am not sure it is as pervasive as the statement by Dr. McMullin would seem to indicate. Out of curiosity, did you ever feel sexually harassed by physicians you came in contact with?

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      • I do not think it is pervasive where I live. It is the impression I get from the doctors here, male and female, is that they respect each other. My brother- in- law is a doctor and he went to school with many women doctors and still has them as friends. I thought about myself and my experience. I was in Nursing for many years and I never experienced that kind of harassment from physicians. There were a very few who would be inappropriately angry with the Nurses but not sexual harassment.

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  21. Pingback: My Article Read (3-16-2015) (3-17-2015) | My Daily Musing

  22. It’s sad this still happens in this day and age. Men still get paid more, and can control office politics by weird inappropriate behaviors. Figures like taylor swift and other celebrities showing “women rule the world” are just an illusion created by men to appease the feminists.

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  23. I trained in the late 80’s and I was never propositioned. Although I was married and had two sons in residency (yes, it was hard and yes I made up every missed day so I wasn’t a burden on my fellow residents) My education was not wasted And I am a successful mother, physician and wife. We can do it all and do it well. I think it’s a travesty for the Aussie to say, spread your legs and just take it. Makes me want to vomit! She’s in the wrong sisterhood.
    Rant over, Tracey

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