Over this past weekend I went to visit a friend of mine who is also "older" and is in her 1st year of medical school. I went to spend time with her (as she is one of my most favoritest people ever) and to see the school because I am interested in applying this coming cycle. Because I have kids, it is important to me that I look at the area the school is in and the elementary and high schools that are in the area. I very much enjoyed the trip and I needed the time to recharge, rejuvenate and reevaluate. There is a lot to be said about being able to enjoy and be enveloped by a comfortable silence with people you care about. The fantastic wine was amazing as well!
I was able to tour the school, participate in a 5k and got to sit through the first couple of lectures on neurology. I was also able to attend an AMWA (American Medical Women's Association) meeting. The speaker for the day was a woman who is a trauma surgeon and has 2 small children. She was great to hear speak as she told us that, as women, we should constantly be encouraging and supporting other women. She spoke about feeling that she tried to be very careful with her choice of words when speaking to pre-med and medical students because she understood she had to be aware of the impact her words could have on other women; she never wanted to be the person to crush someone's dream. She then continued to speak about following your dreams despite what other people might say about your life choices. I felt very inspired. Then she opened it up to questions. There were quite a few questions about being a mom and doctor. She was specifically asked about how she manages household and family duties with such a demanding job. She began by saying that she handles all of the duties to manage her household and the things for her kids. She then went on to say that most of the women she knows, whether doctors or not, fall into the same roles. And this is where she lost me. She then said that she takes on this role because that is just what is expected in our society and as women, we just have to accept it. She told a room full of women in their 1st year of medical school, most of whom are not even married yet, that they should just accept the gender roles that society has set for them because that's just how it is. Despite the fact that they are already pushing back against gender roles because of the profession they have chosen to pursue. Despite that fact that she just warned them about the difficulty and complexity of gender roles when you are a female doctor, she tells them to accept this part.
But it gets better. A couple other young ladies asked about the best time to have children, which she answered. So I decided to ask about any experiences she had seen with women who had kids before going to medical school. She said that she knew of a lady when she was in medical school who had 3 children, the oldest daughter was in high school. That daughter got pregnant and decided to keep the baby. Money was tight in their family and the mom decided to pick up some ICU shifts because she had previously been a nurse. She then started to fail her medical school classes and eventually failed out of school. She then said, "She never finished. It was sad." And that was it. End of story, she just moved on and changed the subject. After all of the talk about not being a dream crusher and uplifting other women and following your dreams, that's the story she told and that is how she left it. The woman sitting next to me during this meeting happened to have a child and a very supportive significant other who stays at home with her child. I looked at her at the end of the meeting and said, "We need to give her better stories to tell." After this talk I had a 6 hour drive to ponder her words. The further I drove, the more the anger in me grew. I decided that I needed to write her a letter. I do not plan on sending it but I need to express what grew inside me when she spoke those words and I had time to really marinate in those words. This is what I have to say to her.
Dear Dr. Surgeon Lady,
I found some of your words so inspiring and uplifting. The words about encouraging fellow women and sticking together. The words about being purposeful with your words and realizing your impact. And the words about pursuing what is in your heart despite what other people might say or think. I was excited and fired up.
But then you told a room primarily made up of young, unmarried women who trust you because they learn from you and trust your experience because you are doing what they have alway aspired to do, that they should conform to the gender roles that our anti-feministic and misogynistic society places on them. You told them that no matter what obstacles that these ladies had to go through to reach the title of Dr. and to be respected in their profession, they would still have to conform to those gender roles because that's just what our society dictates. You then went on to essentially tell me that because I have 3 kids, becoming a doctor is an impossibility. It's too hard and too demanding for someone with a house full of kids.
How dare you! How dare you tell those young ladies that they must conform to the rules of the society. How dare you tell them that they should expect that from the man they marry, that he should not partake in running the household as though it is not their responsibility as well. How dare you assume that they should set those expectations for themselves and their spouses or significant others. How dare you assume that everyone else in society actually believes in the parameters you have set for yourself and your family.
And another thing, HOW DARE YOU say that my dream is impossible! You insinuated that it is too hard and attempted to crush my dream. How dare you attempt to set my personal expectations so low and destroy everything that I have been working towards the past 7 years. How dare you!
But it was only an attempt because clearly you don't know me. My husband currently stays at home with my kids, cleans the house, makes dinner most nights, picks the kids up from school and takes them to most of their doctor appointments. My husband knows that once I get to medical school this current 60/40 (him/me) household burden will dwindle to 80/20 or 90/10 and might even frequently be at 100/0 because that's what it takes to get where I want to get. He knows that he will have to do that while working and will need to get help from our older kids who are also preparing themselves for that time. My 2 older kids (who are boys) are well aware of what I am about to embark on and the need for them to help out around the house so I can follow my dreams and demonstrate that they can follow theirs as well. While some men do conform to their gender roles, other men, like mine, fight against it and are as much a feminist as me. And my guys are not the only ones, more and more men are wanting to leave the idea of gender roles behind and teach their daughters and sons that girls and boys are equally capable of doing whatever they put their minds to and getting paid the same amount for those endeavors. I have made a concerted effort to make sure that my boys are aware of this constant theme within our society and can identify and defy it. I have made the effort to make sure that they understand that their little sister is just as capable of doing the things that they do and play with "boy toys" because in reality toys are toys and colors are colors. The only way to change society is to change the thought processes of the members of the society.
And lastly, I am so glad that your opinion does not matter to me, that I hold no value in the weight of your words. I am sorry for that lady that you knew who did not make it through medical school. That is a sad story but for every 1 story like that, I can think of 2 and 3 that made it through. Perhaps you should broaden your horizons and grow your circle because the stories of mothers who have completed medical school are far more vast and numerous than you are apparently aware of. Whether you meant to or not, you have lit a fire, a huge motherf%&@in' fire! You challenged me and I have accepted that challenge. You will have a different story to tell in 5 years when the next mom who wants to be a doctor asks you. I'm here, I'm ready and I'm coming.
(Soon-to-be) Dr. Andrian Q. McGhee