Once More Into The Breach
I’m afraid, dear readers, that I am going to have to wade into the women-in-medicine-or-women-in-the-workplace discussion. The three prominent female writers on this topic, Meyers, Sandberg and Slaughter, have had their say. My dear blogger friend Karen Sibert has had her say on her excellent blog A Penned Point. Linda Brodsky, another blogger friend, has discussed the subject on her eponymous blog. Even the Shambhala Sun, a buddhist magazine I sometimes pick up out of curiosity, has an article this week on women as Dharma teachers. I guess I should have my say too. If you are sick of this subject, which I am myself, feel free to move along. It’s my blog. I can write whatever I want. Warning to my female medical student readers: This post will NOT help you figure out work-life balance. I don’t think such a thing exists.
I will risk the ire of women worldwide by suggesting that men and women are different. I have three daughters. Through absolutely no effort on my part they are girly girls. They are drama queens. They love cinderella. They can sit for an hour with paint or pretend jewelry stickers. They like to “read” in bed. My oldest will only wear dresses. I have many friends who have boys. Through no fault of their own my friends boys are, well, boyish. They can’t sit for 5 minutes with a sticker book. They are obsessed with the car channel. They play with sticks and pretend they are swords. My girls like to play swords too, but they’re more likely to be warrior princesses than dragonslayers. The differences between the genders in children is so genetic, so instinctual, so hard-wired, that I find it hard to completely buy into the gender equality argument. Yes, women can do anything they want. Yes, they should get equal pay for equal work. Sure, you can use traditionally female attributes to contribute to your work in unique ways. And yes, women can bring useful skills to the corporate ladder climb. But I argue that women can, if they want to, choose to embrace their innate woman-ish-ness in a more traditional sense. I wish they could do this without judgement.
I have done almost a 360 on this issue by the way. In my teens and twenties I had an absolute horror of all things child and domestic. I swore I would never have kids, strived to excel in school, never looked to anyone for financial support, and was fiercely independent (or stubborn, as my mother says). I looked with contempt at my well-educated contemporaries as they procreated and fell out of the “work force”. When I was 35 years old, I fell in love and decided suddenly that I wanted to have a child. I had three in rapid succession. I found out to my and everyone else’s surprise that I’m pretty good at mothering. Who knew? I fell out of the work force too. I embraced being woman-ish. There can be profound fulfillment in following the “traditional” gender role of wife, mother, homemaker. You are creating a home and a life for your family, and you are the pivot point, the center, of that home and life. That’s empowering.
Being a wife and mother has made me feel much more like a woman than all that clawing through medical school and residency ever did. For me, embracing woman-ness went much further toward establishing my sense of self than all the successes of the work place did. Many people would say that my medical school education was wasted. Well maybe. There’s really no way of knowing when you’re 21 how you are going to feel about life, work, kids, and gender when you’re 40. When you’re 40, you’ve finally realized that you can’t “have it all” and you don’t want to. Most people experiment with many different things before they settle on a life that works for them. I have been a woman doctor. I have been a woman mother. Being both doesn’t work for me. The woman mother thing does.