Feminine Charms

Sometimes I don’t like being a woman.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great things about it, and even while writing these words I feel a bit hypocritical as I am about to condemn part of a social institution that I also very much enjoy.

I don’t like being a woman, because I don’t like the fact that while I walked through the halls of the hospital yesterday I got catcalled twice (and before you ask me what I was wearing – let me tell you: Dress pants, blouse, white coat, ID badge, Stethoscope – I looked like a complete professional).

I don’t like being a woman because I can leave a yoga class looking like a total train wreck and still get harassed by 3 drunk men in the parking lot.

I don’t like being a women because apparently it gives my patients the right to comment on how “a pretty young thing like you can’t possibly be a doctor”.

I don’t like being a woman because I have been called “b****” or worse for not responding to complete strangers who have addressed me inappropriately while walking down the street.

I don’t like being a woman because I have been harassed by several men while getting off the elevator on my way into clinic and was immediately expected to blow it off, paste a smile on my face and endure 2 more hours of my following patients dropping subtle comments about my appearance.

These things (and many more like them) make me not like being a woman.

Of course, as I said earlier, there are definitely parts of this institution of appreciating women for how we look that I certainly enjoy. I can’t deny that I feel great when an attractive guy checks me out or does a double take when I’m walking by. I have definitely benefited from using my “feminine charms” to get things that I want (to be clear – I do NOT mean sleeping with my boss or ANYONE to get ahead, I simply mean that even I am not so socially awkward that I don’t know how to throw a flirtatious smile in the right direction or laugh at a dumb joke to make men around me feel good about themselves and want to help me).

I also cannot say that men don’t get harassed by us women, but I don’t think anyone can really argue that it is in the same magnitude or with the same intent that women encounter.

This intent, at least in the professional setting, is something that I recently had a conversation about with an attending of mine. We had been walking down the halls of the V.A. hospital (and all of you who have rotated through a V.A. now know why I am writing about this haha) when a man addressed us very informally and a gaze that certainly wasn’t appropriate in terms of a doctor-patient relationship. This sparked a discussion between us as to why it is that our patients seem to hit on us incessantly.

According to this attending, she believes that it has something to do with certain men being uncomfortable with women in a position of power over them. As if, even though I may be their physician and in a position of authority, they can still ‘put me in my place’ with a few words by reminding me “hey, you may be in charge, but you’re still a woman and because of that I will always have power.”

This may not be the reason for every patient of mine that compliments me (maybe some are just really nice and don’t understand social constructs. I don’t know their life) but I do think a lot of what this attending said has merit for we see it in widespread culture we well as in medicine.

A few weeks ago I was chatting with some fellow travelers at a hostel in Sydney, Australia. There was an international group of us discussing the major events that happened in 2016 – mainly, Brexit and the U.S. Election. I casually mentioned “I guess what we learned this year is that anyone can become President. Maybe I’ll be the next president.” To which one of my companions replied “well obviously you can’t Tessa, you’re a girl.”

I laughed.

I laughed because it wasn’t meant in a mean spirited way and in the context of our discussion (and knowing the personal views of who said it) it was pretty funny. But it also stung with an uncomfortable truth. I’m not saying necessarily that no woman who had run for this election would have won or that Hillary simply lost because she was a  woman.  But it’s also impossible to ignore the double standard given to women throughout our society.

How do we fix this? If you’ve read my blog before you know I don’t have the answer to this, because I rarely have any answers. What I do know, is that it certainly doesn’t help when children are raised with role models and authority figures that say things like “grab them by the p***y”. Obviously I can’t blame this whole thing on Donald Trump, misogyny was around long before him – but I can’t see how he is helping the situation.

When young men are raised in a country where it is ok to demean women who are seen as intimidating or powerful, using sexist language to put them in their place, how can we expect them to behave any other way? Simply the fact that saying such horrible things about women is excused away as “locker room talk” kind of points out the very depth of the roots of this issue.

I am realizing of late that I often perpetuate my own double standard that I hold for men. I sent a snapchat to some friends the other day with the caption saying “The struggle of trying to look good enough to get hit on by the residents but not my patients.” Of course I meant this as a joke, I try to be professional in the work environment… well, most of the time ;). So I can’t really stand here on my soap box condemning all men for hitting on me, cause sometimes I like it, and I see how it can be frustrating. Because how are you supposed to know if I will like it or not to try to flirt with me?

I don’t know what to tell you about in a social setting, except that if I express disinterest in speaking to you, that probably means I don’t want to talk to you (and the same goes for all women). There is also a super huge probability that we women aren’t hard of hearing or playing hard to get when we ignore someone catcalling us on the street. There’s an even larger probability that when we straight up say “leave me alone”that we legitimately mean it.

As far as in the medical setting, here’s a hard and fast rule: Don’t hit on your doctor, your nurse, respiratory therapist etc.

I don’t care how good looking we (or you) are, getting compliments about our physical appearance from patients is always inappropriate and unprofessional.

So, if you’re a woman reading this, join me in attempting to not hold men to different standards because of their physical appearance and in standing up for ourselves and our respect in our professional lives.

If you’re a man reading this, I already assume that you are probably not the men I am talking about here (I don’t know why I assume that, probably projecting or whatever) but I urge you to hold yourself, your friends, and your children accountable to respecting women in all areas of life, but ESPECIALLY as professionals. In this day and age, we can use all the help we can get.




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