I typically don’t think of myself as a feminist. To clarify, I mean I’m not usually one to be aggressively all “women’s rights!” and “burn all the bras!”. Thanks to the sacrifices and advocacy of our mothers and grandmothers we’re fortunately moving into an enlightened era where I am considered on equal footing with my male colleagues. Usually.
However I tend to slide into feminism when I get placed and labeled as a different category because of my chromosomes and not my abilities.
In dental school I first lived in a small house in the suburban ghetto. It was great and the price was right, but after two break in attempts and one major break in where a lot of my stuff was stolen and trashed I gave up and moved to a cute apartment within walking distance of campus. A couple of my guy classmates helped me lug all the heavy furniture in the morning and in exchange I helped them with their own move between apartments later in the afternoon. Teamwork! Also I think we were procrastinating studying for a radiology final.
When we were moving the last of their boxes in the landlady showed up to do some supervising. As I was struggling under some poorly packed items she asked which one of the guys I was dating. “Oh no ma’am, none of these guys! We’re classmates.” I tried to keep my Oh no to a not horribly disgusted tone. Dating any of these guys would be like dating my brother. Ew. She nodded like that made sense. Later on I overheard her asking some of the boys in the kitchen, “So is the lady going to be a dentist too?”, she seemed incredulous. “Really? Like the dentist doctor? Not the teeth cleaner?”. Nope ma’am, like the lady dentist doctor. You know, I forgave her ignorance – an old lady from the South, it’s almost to be expected. Prejudice dies hard around there. I mean, my deeply southern grandparents still refer to black people as “coloreds”, so I can’t even be surprised.
Since then Jeff has endearingly referred to me as his “lady dentist”.
A couple of weeks ago I was supervising in the pre-doctoral clinic where we have dental students from the University of Washington come in to do cleanings and exams to learn more about pediatric dentistry. The typical flow involves the pre-doc student treating the patient and then the attending or resident comes and checks everything again to make sure they didn’t miss anything. Kids get impatient, so I try to be ready as soon as the pre-doc is done so I can scoot right in and finish the appointment. As I was getting ready to sit down for one wiggly patient the mom explained to her 5 year old girl why she couldn’t get out of the chair yet, “No wait hunny, the woman doctor needs to look at your teeth.”. Woman doctor. Not just regular doctor. Woman doctor. Like lady dentist. I’m pretty sure no one calls her woman mommy.
Last week I bought a bicycle off of craigslist and the time the seller and I had arranged to meet meant that I needed to go straight from work. When I pulled into her driveway to check out the bike a woman about my age greeted me and then took one look at my scrubs and immediately said, “Oh you must be a nurse”. Way to help the cause sister. If I’m wearing scrubs, couldn’t I easily be a doctor too? We do ourselves a disservice when we make gender imposing assumptions. She could’ve said “Oh you’re in healthcare” or “Oh do you work in the hospital?” just as easily.
Three women, three different generations and in different locations all made similar assumptions. Ladies, we’ve got to be just a little bit better, especially to ourselves. If we’re going to break through any glass ceilings to find completely equal footing with our XY counterparts it’s got to start with us. Most days this is a non-issue and I’m very thankful for that, but it’s that last little smidge we’ve yet to erase that occasionally raises its ugly head and irks me.
I’m not perfect, I catch myself making gender assumptions all the time. I awkwardly trip over police officer instead of policeman. Mail carrier instead of mailman. Firefighter instead of fireman. But I’m trying. I try to talk to little girls about their favorite books or sports, not their favorite dress or shoes. Gender equality is just a muscle that needs to be exercised often enough until it’s second nature. If we do it enough, maybe our daughters won’t have to.
Let’s love and think highly enough of ourselves to do that, okay girls?