Nevermore. It’s time to get uncomfortable

This blog post by medical student Jamie Katuna (who does wonderful creative work!) cites 20 anecdotes of things that women in medicine hear.

It’s prompted lots of additions on Twitter, in which friends and colleagues have added spins to the comments from their own experiences. Some of these additions have been perhaps more egregious than anything cited in the original blog post.

Reading these comments, as well as recently hearing stories from women in training about ongoing flagrant sexual harassment at a variety of institutions, has me in a place that falls somewhere between rage and disgust. Sure, there are some physical things that men can do and women can’t and vice versa, but the modern social professional contract accepts that there should be equity in opportunity and equity in pay, and that gender, race, and other defining characteristics should not be limits. Nor should these defining characteristics provide a basis for degrading commentary or debasing actions from those who are threatened with the changes occurring in the professional power structure.

Yet here we are in 2018 with exactly those things continuing to occur.

Before we go any further, I’ll state that I know that MANY very good people who stand up routinely for those who have less power, who believe in social justice as something we have to actively pursue every single day. You know who you are, and I see you and appreciate your efforts.

Yet here we are in 2018 with people in positions of power who continue to deny opportunities to those who threaten their comfort zones and their world order.  After all, we can’t have too many women in charge, can we?

Here’s something for you that’s not exactly a secret:

Sexism and misogyny are not just a women’s issue.  They’re an everybody issue.

Here’s another not-so-secret idea:

Racism is not just a minority issue.  It’s an everybody issue.Yet here were are in 2018, in which many are uncomfortable with sexism and racism AND have a fear of disapproval if they try to change the narrative.

How do we change this?

For those in positions of power and leadership who “get it”- you have to make sexism and racism unacceptable. Zero tolerance. And you need to “help” those who are sexist and/ or racist and have power by removing their power.  It’s hard, it’s scary, and they’ll be angry.  Without action they won’t change because so far they haven’t had to do so.  Call. Them. Out. Use your power for good.

For those who are not in positions of power and leadership, you can still make a difference once you choose that the outcome (dismantling unjust systems) is of value. What small things can you do?

  • Ask someone to repeat their comment.  It’s easy enough to throw the, “I must have misunderstood you…can you please repeat that?” card in a non-confrontational way. If they repeat something that seems mind-boggling to you (“General surgery is not an appropriate field for women”), another non-confrontational response might be, “Help me understand why you think that because I know of many successful women in general surgery.” Oh, and feel free to report your discussion to someone who has power over them and who understands why this isn’t okay.
  • Step in if you see someone in an uncomfortable or awkward position.  If you don’t want to look at the person causing the issue and say “This seems very uncomfortable” it’s easy enough to shift things by coming up with something you need to discuss privately RIGHT NOW with the person being victimized. If you can, get their whole story and share it with a powerful ally who has influence over the perpetrator.
  • Was there something you wish you had said in a situation? Remember it and use it later!

What other ideas do you have for how we can create a climate that is fully respectful of our differences, both in little ways and in big ways?  Please share here, or @ me on Twitter (@AmaliaCochranMD). What have you seen done well? We must do this together.

And we must do it together NOW.