You might say that words don’t make a difference. In some ways, you’re right. But there’s a funny thing about words – they hold magic and power. They have the ability to bring things to life. And this is exactly what the #MeToo movement is doing.
A friend recently shared a #MeToo story that broke my heart. She went back to the events in her life leading up to a significant life-altering incident, and detailed how her outlook and personality changed as a result. As she chronicled the sequence of events, I counted back the years until I met her at the intersection that was her crossroads. I played it back in my head. I see myself, blind to what I know now, ignore signs that are flashing lights. I play it again. And now I extrapolate that to every woman I’ve known. How many other signs did I miss because I didn’t know what to look for? How many signs have we all displayed that others have missed?
You can’t see the picture when you’re in the frame. So let’s step outside.
In medicine, it has long been known that women have unique struggles related to gender. In certain specialties such as surgery and emergency medicine – typically seen as ‘boys clubs’ – this is more prevalent but less discussed. If it weren’t for my female colleagues and mentors sharing their own stories, I may not have been as willing to come to terms with my own. Some of these words I share are touching air for the first time. It is infuriating and heartbreaking. But it is also freeing and I know I’m not alone in that.
I remember the first time a male attending looked at me in the OR and shook his head after he threw a retractor in my direction.
“That’s what I get for having the girl scrub in.”
I remember being told to wear a skirt and heels for rounds and then being reprimanded because I was wearing a skirt and heels and it was provocative.
I remember being excited for a research meeting with an older, well-known scientist…and then walking out of that meeting feeling disgusted. The feeling of his hand on my knee lingered far longer than his words that made me equally as uncomfortable.
I remember being proud that I was chosen to get involved in a special hospital project – only to later find out that the man in charge of the project hoped that it would “bring us closer together”.
I distinctly remember being the only female in a room full of men. I’m told not to question it. I’m told I belong there. I try to believe it. But how can I, when these experiences keep creeping in?
I remember the first time someone told me about imposter syndrome and I realized that it was a bright thread woven through my entire career. I was so used to trying to convince the rooms full of men that I belonged because of my work instead of my face, that now I was trying to convince myself as well.
My voice has grown louder because sometimes it has to be in order to be heard. You might say that gender doesn’t matter. But in this reality, it does, and so do our words. You can’t recognize something if you don’t know what you’re looking for. And you can’t prevent something if you don’t know how it starts. We can learn from each other; there’s incredible value in that.
I’m lucky to have a chorus of equally outspoken women to add my voice to – sometimes it’s a cacophony and others it’s a symphony. But there’s beauty in making this music.