‘When will the doctor come?’ the woman in the Westside kurti with perfect make up wrinkled her nose at me impatiently. Oh no! I said to myself, not again. I blinked to ensure I wasn’t rolling my eyes; then cleared my throat and spoke up, ‘I am the doctor!’
The older me would’ve been indignant, irritated or even amused in the later stages of my medical college days; but now I just sigh with resignation. It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone that we had Anandibai Joshi and Kadambini Ganguly to shine a light for Indian women more than 150 years ago by forging ahead in a medical career. Surprisingly, this peculiar behaviour has no correlation with the perceiver’s financial status or education or even gender – the third standard pass sweeper of the very medical college I studied in must have seen so many females zooming in on their scooters each day, but still he insisted on telling us, ‘Oh Sister (implying nurse), please park on that side!’ but he addressed all the boys as doctor. Mind you, all of us wore the mandatory white coat. And the generalisation sweeps through all fields, finding the maximum humour in in the matter of women drivers. Say the word ‘surgeon’, ‘firefighter’, ‘cricketer’, ‘CEO’ – why do people visualise a man first?
Are you aware that in 2016, researchers at Harvard School of Public Health found that if treated by a female physician, a patient had a 4% lower relative risk of dying prematurely and a 5% lower relative risk of being readmitted to the hospital within 30 days? But, interrogate the layman or woman (shocking!) who’s posted for surgery and ask who they would prefer to cut them open and we know they’d say, ‘a man!’
While I shout myself hoarse on the topic and preach to anyone who will listen, my own husband would prefer to walk home rather than sit beside me while I drive. Yes, we laugh at the stereotypes, but we do a great injustice to the (better) half of the population by perpetuating this belief or even remaining silent on this issue.
Time to say no, time to say stop, it’s not funny and call out your family members, friends and colleagues on the issue. Let’s begin by supporting each other first, by opting to trust our women doctors, airline pilots and chefs to do a fabulous job. I’m not suggesting you insist on finding a woman to do the job, though that’s a fabulous idea, but merely let the best person do the job and not remark or judge whether it happens to be a man or a woman.
Dr. Shraddha Sahi