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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Sexism and Heterosexism in the workplace (make me so angry....)

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Author Topic: Sexism and Heterosexism in the workplace (make me so angry....)
eryn_smiles
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I wanted to write about my experiences (over 2 years) as a junior student working in hospital. Have you experienced sexism like this or worse? How did you react? How did others react? How do you feel about it all?

One fine surgeon refers to his female team as the knitting circle or sewing circle. On hearing that one of his junior staff is on leave, he asks whether she has gone off to get married and have children. He makes jokes about dumb blondes, about women's inability to iron their husbands collars, about how women who fail exams should learn how to cook and clean, about how women who wear 'slacks' look funny. His colleagues say nothing or nervously make a joke about men ironing their own collars.

One day, he comments about a patient to me..."look how dirty this child is! you're going to be a mother one day, would you let your child look like this?" I laugh and say no. "this is what happens when we encourage women to become doctors and lawyers" he mutters. I stand there and feel sick inside. He notes that now because we allow women to become doctors, the women who would have become nurses in the past now become doctors and the women who become nurses are stupid.

On recieving an inappropriate referral from a GP, he says it must be from a women GP. He says that she must be good with "psychiatric crap" but not with surgical problems.

Another surgeon (the one in charge of my attachment) is teaching me in his operating theatre one day. He calls me honey and sweety. He calls my colleague doll. He says i have a strong grip, that i am getting excited. He asks me, what is the name of the gland that makes you excited? I am flustered but i manage to blurt out the thyroid. He asks me, would you like to drill sweety? I say yes and i do it. On hearing that a new nurse is joining the team, his colleague asks if she is hot. At the end of the day, he tells me that i have done very well and passes me. The next time i see him he talks to a group of us students about careers in surgery- he tells us its a good job for women, that working hours are changing and are more flexible now, that work and family can be balanced. He says we need more women in surgery. This man confuses me.

Another doctor who has initially highly impressed me by stepping out of a muslim woman's room so she can put on her headscarf without a man present proceeds to ruin it all later: we are about to see a woman in her early 20's with 4 children and he laughingly says that some women just cant keep their legs closed. I glare at him. No-one on the team says anything.

Yet another doctor (the head of the team), on hearing of a patient with a sore under her bra-strap, says that this is a job for "one of the chicks".

A psychiatrist (normally very compassionate towards me and everyone) refers to the patient we just saw as a horrible narcissitic bitch and laughs. I say nothing.

An elderly male patient calls me and my supervisor a couple of fat tarts (he is not demented!). We laugh it off. Another male patient asks me if his woman doctor knows what she's doing as the last time he had a woman doctor, his injection site hurt for weeks. I assure him that his doctor is excellent and very experienced.

My own female colleagues advise me to keep quiet and not take the surgeons' comments so seriously or personally...after all, these people mark us. When one student complains about a surgeon who comments on her breast size, he receives a minor "slap on the wrist". She gets gossiped about by colleagues. Future students starting surgery receive a lecture from the head of department regarding how some surgeons are rather "old-fashioned" and that some people deal with the emotional difficulties of being a surgeon by making crude comments. In other words, we should tolerate this behaviour if we want good teaching.

I am angry that all this still happens in our developed country. I am angry that people dont say anything (right up to the most senior doctors). I am angry at myself that i dont say anything. Mostly i am angry that i should have to say anything. Why cant we just appreciate each other as people and as equals? What is so threatening about women as equals? And i havent even gone into the racism, ageism, homophobia....

I know this all sounds pretty pessimistic but i have only focussed on the bad side. I have also experienced countless instances of really tolerant, inclusive behaviour towards women and their advancing rights. I havent talked about this in detail because in my mind, it should be the norm.

Phew! If you have read this far, bless your soul! What do you think?

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cool87
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I was reading your post and all along I was like WHAT ? I just seriously think that some of the comments that have been made are just far beyond innapropriate. Seriously.

I've never experienced that much sexism to date, at least not in an hospital/health clinic setting and thank god I never had to, at least not yet. There might have been some once in a while but never that much. I get that is on a two-year period though so that might be why but I'm just so shocked to hear all that.

The woman who becomes nurses are stupid ? What ? I really don't know how his relations with nurses are at work but his patients seriously are likely going to suffer from that. And assuming all women will want to become doctor instead of nurses : what is he talking about ?

I'll just stop here and won't discuss the other things that has been said.

I'm seriously hoping that those doctors don't make those kinds of remarks when talking to patients or when near them. Because if I had a doctor acting this way and making this kind of remarks around me, I probably would just find a new doctor.

And that surgeon, the way he acted with you by calling you sweety and honey, unless you are really close to him, I personnally think that was inappropriate too and that is certainly not something that I would have been comfortable with. I don't really know what he was trying to achieve but I get and idea.

I'm really not comfortable whenever I hear sexism remarks and so I generally just totally ignore them. And when it comes to having a partners do that, that is just an instant turn-off for me generally.

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Heather
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You know, this is the kind of environment and response to it that fueled women back in the 80's and 90's to organize and create the protections we DO have now for sexual harassment and sexism in the workplace.

In other words, yes, a lot of this is horrendous and no, no one just has to put up with it, even though it can be common, especially with male doctors. Anyone telling you you have to put up with it is either a) enabling the system or b) benefitting from it. And depending on what your hospital's policies are about this, THEY may be breaking policy in telling you not to file complaints.

Do you have a guidebook for your hospital's policies? If not, HR can likely fill you in. You may also be able to simply send letters about the offenders to your local or state (I don't know where you are) medical boards, and you can even do that anonymously for now.

I'm of the age where I was able to watch, first-hand, women like Anita Hill taking on the whole freaking world with this kind of thing, and I took it very much to heart. Seeing what women like that went through to change things has always kept me motivated to never put up with stuff like this, and to organize in any workplaces where it was happening, file reports, etc. other women just worked too hard for me to take their work for granted, you know? Plus, we do a little work to change something for one woman, we often make it a little better for all women, which is a pretty big deal.

SO sorry you're dealing with this, regardless. Things like this are always the worst kind of reminder that in many arenas, while yes, times have changed in that women are allowed to work in areas they were not before, and some things are better for working women, in many places and fields, we still have a LONG way to go, and the conditions under which many women have to work are nothing close to equal. It also is a terrible thing to have to try and do the work you love and want to do so badly under these kinds of conditions, where the "price" you have to pay to be allowed entry is to be demeaned and degraded.

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Frogmite
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That completely sucks. You should try to find a way to anonmously file a complaint of some sort.

I had to put up with some sexism when I was working for a professional wrestling company (setting up and taking down the ring and such). There was a lot of "honey" and "sweetie" and a helluva lot of "Let me get that, you stand there and look pretty." In short, everyone was far too amazed when I started doing the same work as the male wrestlers and the rest of the (male) crew.

When I brought these things up (which I did often), it was always laughed off and explained away as "They're southern men, it's what they think is polite."

But what always bothered me the most was that this company had one or two woman wrestlers and they never helped out (all the men did). Nothing makes me angrier than women encouraging sexism because it somehow "benefits" them.

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eryn_smiles
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These doctors usually do speak more professionally in front of their patients. But there are exceptions. An Asian colleague of mine was on a ward round with a couple of Asian junior doctors and a Caucasian consultant(?attending). The consultant asks a question that none of the juniors can answer. He looks at the patient and says, "this is what happens when you work with foreign doctors". Man, talk about prejudice and discrimination, who knows what the patient must have thought!

Unfortunately, many of the people who make these comments are very experienced doctors and teachers. Even I would take my child to a sexist surgeon if he was the best in the country at performing that procedure. And although they speak in this manner, they very rarely discriminate in their teaching methods.

The main way i deal with this stuff is to make light of it and laugh about it with my colleagues. It is said that no-one can insult you if you are not willing to be insulted. I also know that the worst of the harrassment and discrimination comes from the older people who are nearing retirement. The health professionals who are qualifying nowadays are much more aware of equal opportunities and tolerance.

I have read our university harrassment complaints procedure. It is not anonymous. And it may be confidential on paper but it is not confidential in reality. A student is supposed to document dates and details of incidents and present them to the student affairs dean. The dean acts as a mediator to resolve complaints between staff member and student. At best, this could result in an apology from the staff member to the student concerned. At worst, there is no outcome for the staff member but the student is gossiped about and gains a bad reputation in that department.

Right now, I am not prepared to put myself out there and complain. These doctors, I need them to think well of me and pass me. I need their commending references. And we all need them to teach us.

I did some reading about Anita Hill, pretty damn inspiring.

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hunnybunny888
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well I'm probably gonna get bashed for this post, but here goes:

It sucks when the guys are in charge and they're making the sexist comments and such so even if you are uncomfortable you can't really do anyhting, But what you just said about laughing about it is really , I think, the best way to go around it.

Hospital, especially surgery situations are pretty intense, sometime traumatic things, doctors and nurses are working long and hard in close quarters. Also, everyone is nervous, students learning are nervous, patients coming in are nervous. And yes, it would be nice if they used a less crude form of humor, but i really think they're main reason is to try to loosen up the atmosphere a bit and help everyone relax and such. I always find people calling me hunny and such annoying, but people do it, men and women, waitors, nurses, doctors, teachers. Some people just like to do that, I don't know why, but I wouldn't take it personally.
Maybe they have a hint of sexism in them, but theyre not showing any discrimination in their teaching or anyhting so i doubt it is enough that they really care. I highly doubt they really think women should just be in the kitchen popping out babies, but its just a stereotypical joke to make. Not in the best of taste, but then again, they don't need to worry as much about taste because they are in charge, so if people don't like their jokes they must laugh anyways.
when i recently got surgery the anesthetic made a sex joke about the operator to me, and it relaxed me a bit, i thought it was funny.
I know me and my friends often make very sexist jokes, if we fail like failing out of uni or something, but at the same time, sexist jokes hit the guys just as much too. For you, since its mostly men in authority places you don't have that balance so it can get a little overbearing and offensive. But really if the doctors have to start sensoring their jokes they might be a little grumpy. I guess I don't really understand because I really don't get offended easily but i can definately understand where you are coming from, and its always hard to tell if people are serious when they make a joke, but just try assuming theyre not.

SO yes go on bash bash bash

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Heather
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It's pretty passive aggressive to post a comment you know is opposing and state that anyone who takes issue with it will then be bashing you, hunnybunny. And for future reference, doing that kind of thing tends to kill threads or make it difficult for anyone else to continue their conversation unless they simply ignore your comments outright, or agree with you, and not because of your opinions, but because of framing them in that way. See what I mean? If you don't, maybe imagine if I made a post and opened by saying "Everyone is going to love this," and finished with "So go on, show me the love." It defines other people's responses for them.

But I digress. Really, experienced doctors and surgeons aren't all that nervous. Most are actually pretty darn confident, some can even be cocky, and after time, aren't usually any more nervous doing their jobs than most other folks are theirs. And work situations have a very different power dynamic and very different issues than friend situations do.

Anita Hill, for instance, could have "laughed off" what Clarence Thomas said to her, but it would have meant that she had to try to go to work every day knowing she would be harassed, knowing other women -- and only women -- were being harassed. It would have meant she was agreeing to have her job be harder than her male colleagues simply because she was female and he was not. The power dynamic would have been such, had she accepted it and not fought back, that part of her job description would have been whipping girl. She didn't sign up for that, and certainly wasn't compensated extra for it. And the guys in charge, with more power, who got paid more than her already (and likely would even if she had the same job they did), would not.

It's unprofessional, it's not a work environment, and I assure you, if the shoe had been on the other foot, Clarence Thomas would not have just laughed it off. When men are not in positions of power based on their gender and women, as a group and a class, are over them, it's not so funny to them anymore.

And if Anita Hill had, or the women at the Eveleth mines in Minnesota had, millions of women would still be without any legal protection when it comes to being harassed sexually or based on their gender in the workplace. Those legal protections massively changed the workplace for women (and it's easier to see how if you dig into some of the history of women's labor, and see what happens when that stuff runs wild and is simply accepted as a precedent). In short, it's probably easier for some folks to feel comfortable laughing it off simply because those women did not, since we now have protections we did not have before to fall back on. It's likely more funny if and when you know that at any time, when you can't take it anymore or it escalates, you have some recourse. Just think about it.

I can also assure you that were the shoe on the other foot at eryn's workplace, were women in power over the male doctors, the men likely would not be doing anything close to laughing it off.

It's also unlikely their main aim is to help people loosen up: what's more likely is that their aim is to make clear -- in a way which makes them look blameless -- whose place in whose, and that theirs is on top.

All the same, this isn't a situation between friends, it's someone's workplace as well as someone's education, both places where they should be treated as an equal, and FEEL like an equal when we're talking about the basics. And with something like healthcare, that's even more important than usual because healthcare is team-based work, and the patient relies on everyone in the team having a good workplace where they feel safe in every sense of the word, and where they are encouraged -- not discouraged -- to feel capable, and to be a truly cohesive body.

Eryn, I'm off to work right now (and thankfully at a feminist clinic where the male doctor is totally supportive of his almost entirely female staff and no woman at work there would ever have to worry about this kind of thing), but it really stinks that your reporting process doesn't allow for real anonymity. One thing you could do, if it's a choice between finishing your education and having it become a living hell, would be to simply document things on your own, keep your own records. When you're done with school, if you're feeling courageous, you could easily assemble a report then.

[ 01-02-2008, 07:58 AM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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Willowy Girl
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quote:
its always hard to tell if people are serious when they make a joke, but just try assuming theyre not.
I don't think anyone should feel they have to try to overlook offensive jokes or behaviour and stress certainly shouldn't come into play as an excuse. Sexist jokes are still sexist, the same as racist jokes are still racist. The problem with shrugging them off and simply laughing at them is that people will feel those kind of views are acceptable (if even in a small way).
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orca
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Ugh. My mom worked as a nurse in labor and delivery for several years and I remember her coming home really pissed off at the doctors a lot. She said the male doctors, both young and old but especially old, would act like god for bringing in the baby, as though they did all the work. Sometimes they'd even talk about the patient behind their back, calling them stupid for not listening to them during the delivery and pushing at the wrong time. The young residents were the worst, though. I know there was one she always complained about on the phone with her friends from work. I don't know if she ever made a formal complaint, but I know for certain that the attitude among her and the other nurses was not to "laugh it off" but to get really upset about it. The sexism was one of the reasons she quit and turned to teaching (along with the long hours).

As for the patients saying sexist things, I'm afraid you're just going to have to ignore that and act pleasant towards them. No, you don't have to take it from your colleagues, but you will have to take it from the patients. It definitely sucks, but you are serving the patients and you can't hope that they will all be wonderful, or even decent. It sounds like your hospital could definitely benefit from a sexual harrassment training session (er...as in how to NOT sexually harrass people, not how to sexually harrass people [Smile] ).

I am sorry you have to deal with that though. From what I've heard from family members in the medical field, hospitals seem to be some of the worst places in terms of sexism. It's sad that nursing is still considered to be a lowly job, especially considering that the nurses do the most work in the hospital (and they make pretty good salary, more than teachers in most places). I wonder what that doctor would have said about men that become nurses, if he would have felt the same way.

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Narwhal
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quote:
Originally posted by orca:
She said the male doctors, both young and old but especially old, would act like god for bringing in the baby, as though they did all the work.

Heh, reading that gave me a wicked chuckle. Actually, I probably WOULD laugh if I heard a doctor talking like that...But I would be laughing AT the doctor, not with him. [/maniacal laughter]
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eryn_smiles
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Argh. Today the surgeon tells us that two of his female house officers "went down on him in theatre" last year. Everyone smirks.

A simple play on words (ie fainting) or inappropriate sexual innuendo?

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sundial
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Hi Eryn Smiles,

Yep, I totally know what you mean. I have heard *way* too many analogous comments in a large law firm setting -- most often snarky double entendres like you describe in your last post, but sometimes overtly sexist/inappropriate comments (typically directed to me when noone else is around).

I can tell you that these comments make me very angry, but, like you, I understand that the only path by which a junior woman can succeed/progress in that typ of environment is to tolerate those comments, preferably with a smile on one's face. I find that reality to be very demoralizing, particularly because I have expended so much effort, time and money on my education. It's appalling to me that I worked so hard to get to the so-called top tier in my field, and the reality for women there is far worse than I could have imagined. (And I went in knowing the reputation that large law firms can be "rough on women", but had no idea what that translated to in day-to-day terms).

Why does it happen? I don't really know. It feels really deliberate to me, like someone is trying to get under your skin on purpose rather than someone who says something inappropriate but has no clue that they are being offensive. I have a sense that it is about the men with the power/status flexing their muscles, and totally enjoying it that you have to sit there and take it -- but that just raises the question why?

In one case I was told that those type of comments just resulted from having an "informal" style of relating to women (yeah right!). In another case a junior male colleague told me that he thought that men treat women that way in the workplace because they are displacing frustration and anger about their marriages. This same colleague told me that he thinks most men older than 40 also have grown to "hate women." I am not saying I buy this, but I was pretty shocked/intrigued to hear this theory from my friend. (I don't know what this means, but I have noticed that many of the men who have treated me this way have wives that have chosen to stay home to raise children and take care of the household -- that could be a coincidence, though, because it could be that the time demands of a career in a big law firm make it difficult to have a family life unless one partner chooses to stay at home).

Well, Eryn, I don't know if any of this helps or makes sense to you, but I can certainly relate to where you are coming from. I'm sorry that it happens, and I guess that we just have to decide eventually if the situation is one that we want to be a part of on a long-term basis.

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sundial
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Just to clarify, when I said

(I don't know what this means, but I have noticed that many of the men who have treated me this way have wives that have chosen to stay home to raise children and take care of the household -- that could be a coincidence, though, because it could be that the time demands of a career in a big law firm make it difficult to have a family life unless one partner chooses to stay at home).

my comment was NOT intended as a slight against women who choose to stay home to raise children and manage a household. That is not what I meant -- I am supportive of a woman's right to structure her lifestyle in any manner that is right and best for her and her family.

As I struggled to understand the reasons why men in the workplace might choose to treat female coworkers in a sexist manner, my male had friend suggested to me that this sexism may have something to do with the man's home life (a comment which came as a surprise to me). I was trying to figure out what in the home life might contribute to this. I think that this question is complex (and off topic, and generated from a generalization I've made about these men and their families), so I will leave it for now, but I didn't want to do so without taking a moment to apologize for what might have been interpreted as an insensitive comment in my prior post.

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eryn_smiles
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Hry sundial, thanks for your replies.

Sorry you're experiencing the same types of problems. It feels pretty deliberate to me too. Like the bosses enjoy watching us squirm. Or they want to emphasise who's actually in charge.

I've also heard the theory about men taking out frustrations about about their home lives. A classmate tells me that Mr X's wife "wears the pants at home" and thats why he comes to work and acts like he does. But whatever the reason is, theres no good excuse to act like this, you know?

I have no idea how people deal with this in the long-term. I guess they must concentrate on the job at hand and try to ignore whats going on at the side. I've thought for ages that I want to escape to commumity practice after completing basic training. Im sure it will have its own difficulties but at least there won't be hospital hierachies and hopefully less of this kind of behaviour from colleagues.

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Heather
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Well, as I've said, no one has to deal with sexism and/or harassment long-term. Seriously. If everyone had, things would be a LOT worse than they are now because we'd not have the legal and cultural changes people have fought so hard for.

But you're right: there's no excuse, and even if someone did have gender imbalances in their home life, or resented their wives based on gender, that's still sexism there that is the likely problem. You're also right in that much of the time, it is a very deliberate powerplay, someone trying to make clear to you that you are lesser than them and that they resent you thinking you are not by wanting to be their colleague. Hatred is usually all about fear, and a lot of any kind of sexism or sexual harassment is about one group very deeply afraid that the other will dip into the privilege they enjoy having.

(And I got what you meant the first time, sundial, but it was cool of you to come back and clarify in case it came off the wrong way.)

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PenguinBoy
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I'm shocked to hear all that of a law firm... not surprised of the sexist views necessarily but of the actions definitely.

I know someone very high up in a law firm and his integrity is questioned almost every minute of the day, reputation is everything... Many of the big strides in gender equality are IN law, those people should be fully aware of how they should be behaving. Surely their actions go against the company policies? Saying these things should be putting their jobs at risk, surely.

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eryn_smiles
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Argh!
I'm back working in the surgical wards and it is such a "boys club". Different hospitals but same atmosphere.

Since when is it okay to call grown women "girls"? "The girls at the desk". "The girls in the ward". Have you noticed that some of those "girls" are approaching 60? My resident, on seeing me and the student approaching- "Here come my girls!". My other resident- "I've heard about *you*, young lady".

I'm sorry, but I'm no girl.
Nor a "young lady"
Not a sweetheart,sweetie, honey or dear.
Oh, and I'm not going to cook for you.
Nor do I want you to buy me dinner.
And by the way, my marital status is *none of your business*!
If I were a man, what would you call me?
You would use my title or my name.
Why is that so HARD?!
Honestly, I would rather you called me fool, idiot or worse, than use this sexist rubbish.
I just want to be treated like a colleague.

And it's really hard to say that to someone who is five or ten years senior to you. Someone who is a boss. Even if they're an otherwise kind person. Maybe they're not trying to be demeaning..but it *is* demeaning.

Then there's a different kind of sexist. My boss once said to a patient, "My female intern will come back to do your breast exam." The patient had not indicated or implied in any way that she would prefer a woman to examine her. Okay. But don't male interns need to learn this exam? Isn't it even more important for them to be comfortable with the female anatomy that they don't share with us? What if I hated women's health and my male colleague wanted to specialise in it? Interesting isn't it, that you'd never say, "My female intern will come bsck to do your spinal tap/ insert your chest drain"..

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"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."

Audre Lorde

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