It is one of the most clear memories I have from early on in my career. Some friends were over and asked how long we had lived in our home. When I answered, my eldest, in the sincerest of voices proclaimed “Mom, that’s not true. Dad and I live here and you live at the hospital!” It’s pretty hilarious now but at the time I was crushed. CRUSHED. I remember the days in residency when I felt like I hadn’t been home in forever. Let’s be honest. Sometimes it still seems that way. Home in time to eat and sleep and then back up before everyone else and off to work.
September is designated as Women in Medicine month by the American Medical Association. One third of our nation’s physicians are women. Many of these women chose medicine as a career during a time when they had very few role models who were women. Many of them delayed starting their own families to learn to care for the families of their community. I have the privilege of training with, working with and knowing some incredible women physicians. These women spend many years training for a career in which they will give countless hours to improve the health of others. Most do it for a salary that is less than their male counterparts. They juggle rounding and homework and office visits and basketball practice and charting and so much more.
Women are under-represented in leadership in medicine; and a recent survey of physician mothers revealed that most women have felt discriminated against because of pregnancy, breastfeeding or motherhood. Does this make men at fault? Certainly not. But we work in systems that have long overlooked that its workforce is changing. Fortunately, physician moms are working to improve policies and procedures so the women that come into medicine after us have the opportunities to lead their communities to better health.
So here’s my shout out to women in medicine. You are some of the toughest, smartest, most caring and passionate women I know. You will change the future of health. And you are unstoppable.
I grew up in a household where I didn’t know that I might be disadvantaged in life because I was a girl. I don’t remember being told “you can do that even though you are a girl.” I don’t remember being told “you can do anything your brother can do.” I remember feeling that I could do and be anything I set my mind to. Period. I remember being the only girl at a basketball camp I attended in the 5th grade. I remember being the youngest and the smallest. I remember shooting a hundred three-pointers and not making any of them. I absolutely remember that this was the first time that I wasn’t sure I belonged because I was a girl.
Not long ago I told one of the church girls that I am a modern feminist. It was in the midst of me telling a story where I was in a meeting and presented an idea. A gentlemen across the table from me repeated my idea about 2 minutes later as if it was his own. I wish you could have seen my face. The craziest part was that everyone just moved on like it didn’t happen. Why? First, I think because it’s a sad but common occurrence. Secondly, I don’t think anyone feels empowered to say anything. I read a recent article where women at the White House repeat each other’s ideas and give the author of that idea credit to ensure it is heard. It’s a genius and embarrassingly necessary idea. I attended a town hall meeting of sorts with two women in local politics. They both said they were “recruited” into running by their community. I couldn’t help but think that maybe these women needed a group of people to lift their voices before they could be accepted into the political arena.
And don’t think that men in our culture are the only ones who limit the ability for women’s voices to be heard. Many women still believe a wife “allows” her husband to commit infidelity by not engaging in enough sexual activity or being too busy at work or caring for children. Many women and men believe that a large amount of alcohol or a small amount of clothing “allows” women to be the victim of sexual assault. These men and women have bought into the lie that women must change in order for the culture to change. I just don’t buy it. It’s not a woman problem. It’s a world problem. I shouldn’t have to dress or talk or walk or do anything differently to not be treated like I matter less. Our culture says “Women, just be different and the world will then recognize your worth. Stop screwing things up for yourselves by some of you wanting to work and some wanting to be stay at home moms; some wanting to be single and some desperately wanting to be married.” These statements aren’t blatant of course. They are inherently biased in so many of the arenas we live and work in. The subtle and subversive notion that if only my voice was less loud and not so high pitched then maybe I would be “heard” more often. The creeping feeling that my outfit or my hair is noticed more often than my skill as a surgeon or my innovation as a researcher. The indignant feeling I get when the men in the room during a delivery seem surprised to see me take excellent care of their wives and partners. We all have inherent biases and until we are brave enough to admit them we will never move forward.
Why do I believe I am a modern feminist? Because when I read the Bible I am drawn to the women who were incredibly faithful and brave in a culture that did little to acknowledge their existence or worth. A young Mary who bravely accepted the calling of being the mother of Jesus. The women who faithfully stood by Him during his trial and execution. Who took him down to be buried and showed up to tend to his grave. Who knew He could change the world because the poor, the widow and the orphan were just as valuable to Him as the priest, the tax collector and even the king. Because I want my Christian community to take up for the most vulnerable and recognize that women in the modern church can and will do the praying, the preaching, the spiritual disciplines and the heavy lifting required to move us toward the Kingdom of God. Because the church girls, my patients, my sister in law and my coworkers deserve better.
I have two daughters. God bless the pastor. When Pastor Jason is at a golf tournament with our oldest there is no “you can beat those boys” talk. Instead, he reminds her that she has the best golf swing he has seen in a 9 year old. Better than her dads. And that she can beat anyone. Why? Because it’s the truth. And the pastor knows that she is more valuable than to be compared to a reference group of men. My 4 year old believes she can do anything. And from the short time she has been on this planet I’m not convinced she isn’t correct. Our world will closely reflect how we treat its women and its most vulnerable. I want my daughters to live in a culture where no one has to repeat their ideas for them to be valid. My greatest hope is that my daughters will have a voice at the table. A voice in the classroom, the boardroom, the operating room. This modern feminist believes women have the ability to change the world.
(photo credit: smart physician moms plus the internet plus the tribute to the holocaust victims and survivors in Boston)