“Sister, can you please stop the IV line, I think the ‘glucose’ is over.”
Probably one among the many infuriating statements that I’m sure all women doctors have had to endure on a more than regular basis. There’s only so many times a person can plaster on a fake smile and turn to a patient in an attempt to educate them of the fact that not every woman working in a hospital is a nurse. I won’t lie, many a time, I’ve caught myself impulsively bringing out my inner Darth Vader, saying under my breath, “I am NOT your sister.” Alas, all attempts are futile, and one must turn a deaf ear to what can only be called ignorance.
Yes, I am a doctor. While we live in an age where countless women are meritoriously slaying in the medical field and breaking barriers every day, it’s as though some things never change.
To bring a little context to my situation, I’m presently at a very naive stage of my career, fresh out of the oven of MBBS and eagerly awaiting the frying pan that is post-graduation. It’s an interesting limbo phase wherein for some reason or the other, everyone has an opinion on whatever it is you want to do. While my interests are surgical, it seems as though everyone has different plans for me.
“Don’t choose anything hectic where you have to be up all night operating, what about something like paediatrics? That seems quite suitable.” Now, anyone in the medical profession would realise that this uncle of mine has no idea what he’s talking about considering how hectic a field paediatrics actually is. It’s the same plastered smile and deaf ear I have to turn to for respite because I genuinely don’t see myself pursuing paediatrics (considering how brave you actually have to be to deal with another person’s child, kudos to these guys). So, I subtly grind my teeth and somehow change the topic of conversation because even I know, nothing I say is going to move the old rusted cog wheels in his noggin.
By now you’re thinking, “Yeah, well he isn’t even a doctor, how would the man know?” Either that or you’re going to blame it on his age. While it’s nothing less than a bogus excuse, I wish stereotypes were restricted to just senile misinformed men.
A patient with a wrist fracture at a hospital where I worked as a casualty medical officer returned on follow up at the outpatient department, and the consulting orthopaedic surgeon caught me at the end of a night shift to compliment me on a good reduction and documentation. I was thrilled as you’d imagine! After all, a little recognition goes a long way when you’re at the bottom of the food chain professionally. To my dismay, it didn’t last more than two minutes!
I went on to tell him that orthopaedic surgery is among my interests for post-graduation, and it all went downhill from there. He told me that it wasn’t a “good field for a girl.” My heart sunk. It didn’t end at that, there was an elaborate explanation as to how I wouldn’t be able to find time for taking care of my kids and home in such a busy field and how I’d have a tough time lifting heavy limbs, etc. By now you can imagine that my face is aching from the fake smile and my deaf ear could very possibly need a hearing aid. In a matter of minutes, the man had married me off and given me children! So I just walked away flabbergasted. What I’m trying to say, is that misogyny is not restricted to the elderly uneducated person (or cricketer).
It’s almost as though no matter how hard you work, or far you go, someone will mistake you for an incubator who’s sole purpose is to manufacture progeny and maintain them till they can fend for themselves (basically till you die). It’s completely beyond me why the presence of a phallus or lack thereof dictates a person’s role in society.
Before the male-bashing accusations start, I’ll have you know that I come from a home where child-rearing was shared and flexible to the point that my father would play with my sister and me, care for us and truly endure me so that my mother (who happens to be an amazing surgeon and mum) could take time to study for her DNB exams. While mum was doing night duties at the hospital, my dad was up at night burping me, and if that’s not teamwork, I don’t know what is. So yes, I know that not all men have a misogynistic outlook because I grew up in a house with a man who has dedicated everything to empower us.
Boys, you’re going to love this bit. Who said misogyny is a male practice?
“Oy ladki!” (Hey girl)
I promise I’m not making this up. I turned around in the casualty to see an elderly woman point at me while I was examining a patient. My fake smile morphed into a frown, and my deaf ear could miraculously hear once more, but I can’t remember what she said next because I was busy transitioning from Bruce Banner to the Hulk. Safe to say, she regretted it. On the bright side, this definitely made ‘sister’ sound better.
These are just a few of the countless instances I’ve personally dealt with at the very infancy of my career, and I’m not going to pretend things are going to look up any time soon. We could spend all of eternity blaming it on stupid things like people’s upbringing, having had a mother who was a happy homemaker, or even prolonged breastfeeding- but what’s the point?
It’s become a matter of enduring the professional ridicule that comes free with a uterus and to show people that your MBBS degree was not just to get a concession on dowry or to find a more ‘well-to-do’ husband and ‘settle nicely’ with a football team of babies. It’s for you to be able to take charge and stand up on your own two feet like the independent and self-made woman that you are and be the best at whatever you decide to do. No doubt this is an uphill battle, the question is – Are you ready to do what it takes to prove them wrong?
About the Author: Dr Kiyana Mirza is a medical superwoman! When she isn’t slogging in the hospital, she’s running marathons, playing football and basketball or windsurfing in warm climes. She graduated from St. John’s Medical College and is now preparing for the cauldron that is NEET! In light of the conversations taking place across the world, it’s commendable that these stories are finally getting out there rather than being swept under the carpet.