Archive for March, 2009

We belong

March 5, 2009

Something that’s surprised me about medical school is how heteronormative/gendernormative the teaching is.  The environment at my school is pretty hip, and I get the impression that the higher ups have worked hard to foster diversity.  A significant portion of my class is gay, which I adore.   (Although I have noticed more gay men are out in my class than gay women.  Only two women other than myself are out.)

Progressive thinking is very much encouraged.   I’m not saying everyone gets it right all the time, but it’s clear that, as a school, we are big into research.  Science is exalted.  The professors are careful to call a fetus a fetus, and women are very much encouraged to become awesome doctors, not awesome female doctors. (Get what I’m saying?  I’ve only been here seventh months now, but I feel like I’m being pushed to be a great doctor, and my sex or gender isn’t bantered around as an adjective that will modify my doctor-ness. *  My superiors aren’t aching to tell me how to managing my career and motherhood, thank goodness, because it makes me want to throw up every time I hear that phrase.  It’s not my duty, as a person in possession of ovaries, to pop out babies.)

But then there was the class on the female sexual response.  The male sexual response was taught to us as an isolated event.  Arousal, erection, bam — that was that.  But the female sexual response was taught primary as something that accompanied male stimulation.   The female’s partner – and she had to have a partner, of course, as masturbation doesn’t exist for women, apparently – was assumed to be male, and there was a subtle hint that the entire thing was aimed toward pregnancy.  Now, this could be the professor’s bias. (She was a PhD who did research! I expected more!)  But it was still uncomfortable to me.

Then, just recently, we began neuroscience.  As a joke, the teacher showed us cartoon illustrating the female middle schooler’s brain versus the male middle schooler’s brain.  And, of course, gender stereotypes were abundant – girls talk on the phone, shop, and betray their friends.  Boys obsess over sports and hurt girls’ feelings.  The rest of the class chuckled good naturally, and I stared at the professor in disbelief.  She was another PhD, and a researcher.
I wonder why both of these women decided to teach their classes in such ways.  Is it because they broke into a historically male dominated field  (medicine/research/whatever) and they feel like they have to prove that they know how gender/sex “really works?”  It’s confusing to me because I come from a wonderful college with a wonderful womens study department with wonderful women professors who felt no need to apologize for who they were.

They were scientists and they were writers and they were theorists and they were themselves.  They weren’t women scientists – they were scientists.  They had nothing to apologize for.  They were brilliant.
And it’s probably very patronizing of me (and maybe I’m misinterpreting all this anyway), but I really want to tell my professors to shape up.  Accept themselves as scientists and don’t apologize for a thing.  Women fought their way tooth and nail into this world of science and medicine.  And we belong here.

*I know that doctor-ness isn’t a word.  Can you believe I was once an English major?  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  My profs would be ashamed.