Monday, March 9, 2009

At least I didn't have any cavities

As someone with a vested interest in the scientific method, I would LOVE to know what studies have been done on the topic of sexism in the medical profession. I'm not talking glass-ceiling/glass-elevator stuff; I'm thinking more specifically about sexist attitudes/entitlement among male medical professionals. I bring this up not only because of my prior experience with male medical professionals (and that guy wasn't the only one who behaved inappropriately in that office), but also because of what happened to me at the dentist today.

I haven't been to the dentist in about two years (you can imagine how psyched I was to finally get the layers of barnacles scraped off my teeth), so I was a new patient to this particular dentist. Therefore, keep in mind that the following things he said to me/in my presence were all things that he was saying to a total stranger. He ACTUALLY said these things to me.

  • "Rhianna and Beyonce kind of look alike. Well, Rhianna has the black eye, I guess!"
  • "I'm going to guess some things about your boyfriend, and you tell me if I'm right, okay? At night, you put your clothes neatly in the hamper, and he leaves his over the floor. You drink nice diet sodas and drinks and he drinks straight from the milk carton (me: No...he puts his clothes in the hamper and I don't drink diet drinks of any kind, and I'm the one who drinks from the milk carton). No? Really? He's gay!"
  • "Before I got married my idols were Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi...After I got married my idol was OJ Simpson!"
  • "Hey girlie!"
So...first he started with a joke about domestic abuse, then he attempted to insult my boyfriend because he *gasp* is a neat person, then he sandwiched that comment with ANOTHER domestic abuse joke, and then he topped it off by addressing me with a diminutive name when I returned later for my forgotten insurance card.

I will, obviously, not return to that dentist (on top of this, he was also quite rough with my teeth). Now, I know that this sort of sexual discrimination--the "trivial" stuff, as opposed to the more obvious sexual harassment/pay discrimination, etc--is something we encounter everyday, regardless of occupation. It's on the street when a stranger tells you to smile; it's at work when your boss calls you "sweetheart." But I can't help but notice that it's very, very pervasive among male medical professionals. EVERY male doctor I worked with at my old job seemed to be either patronizingly paternalistic or an alpha-male chauvinist. Nearly all called me "sweetie" or another diminutive on a regular basis (and my status as the youngest has nothing to do with this...a male of the same age in the same job would not be the office sweetheart). Many seemed to think that they could say things to me that were profoundly unprofessional, and which they would not say to a male employee. And now, I have this dentist, acting in much the same way.

If my anecdotal evidence were scientifically examined in a study comparing rates of daily discriminatory behavior across professions (I think I'm forming a thesis idea...), would it hold true that something within the medical profession produces or promotes these undesirable actions and words?

Perhaps, given their status in a male-dominated field that undervalues women, male doctors feel more entitled to behave this way than men in other fields. Perhaps they can say these things to the new patient or front-desk girl, because she will find their brazenness "charming." She won't say anything or even think to be offended, because in this world of men in serious lab coats and women in puppy-dog-printed scrubs, the men are untouchable. The fact that women in domestic abuse situations are "stupid" to the point of being hilarious; that young women enjoy being your "girlie" or "sweetheart"; that men are MEN who don't pick up after themselves and women are ladies who watch their figures with diet drinks for the benefit of the men...are these the symptoms of a profession that remains one of the great microcosms for greater societal gender inequities? What is happening between high school and med school that produces these behaviors among our pediatricians, dentists, and obstetricians?

More importantly, how can we stop it?


Herding Cats said...

I wonder if he actually thought he could get away with saying those things because he had a razor sharp object up against your gums. I don't use this term lightly but .... that bastard.

Lucy said...

That made my skin crawl.

I feel for you. He should be reported. Yuck.

Stopping it, is really up to us women not putting up with it and unfortunately we tend to do it because you pointed out so nicely we are not sure about where to draw the line.
When is it 'flirtng' and when is it sexism? Well, when your skin is crawling, hello, the line has crossed and the man knows it!

f.B said...

Maybe it's tied into the idea that many doctors already have a "god complex," that they already see themselves as so unnaturally important that they think they're also allowed to ignore other social rules? I don't know.

But I agree with Lucy: anyone who doesn't know the line between flirting and sexism is choosing to be ignorant about the difference.

Baba Taro said...

I agree with f.B that it may well be tied into their 'god complex'.

On the other hand, I've never experienced anything so blantant, and *never* from a dentist. Generally my opinion of dentists is miles above MDs.

But then, when I was young enough that men might have wanted to flirt with me, they had been raised as gentlemen. That doesn't necessarily seem to be the case anymore. They might talk down to me and ignore what I had to say, but they never insulted me in the ways this dentist did to you.

I think the only way to begin a process of stopping this sort of thing is to do as you did - vote with your pocketbook by going somewhere else. But if there are other dentists in the office, they should know why you've left.

But I agree with Lucy: anyone who doesn't know the line between flirting and sexism is choosing to be ignorant about the difference.

Yep. Agree with that one too.

Phoebe Caulfield said...

God complex, indeed. True about the line between flirting and sexism. Which begs another question: does that line even exist outside of an overtly social environment (for example, a date)?

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