We live in a day and age where the glass ceiling above women in various careers is slowly disappearing. One of these careers is undoubtedly medicine and surgery. While women have in fact, been involved in the medical and surgical sciences since the ancient times of Egypt and Greece, it has only been a relatively recent development that women have participated in medicine to such a degree as they do now. Of course, with this gendered history of the medical profession, the question remains; “What are female surgeons called, exactly?”
A Linguistic Perspective
Technically speaking, the English language does not gender the word “Doctor”. “Doctor” is a gender neutral word that can be applied to all genders, and the best way you can highlight a female doctor’s gender is by simply adding a feminine honorific before her name like “Miss” “Missis” or “Ma’am”. So, in short, female surgeons are simply called “doctor” with the option to address her as “Miss” or any other female honorific when referring to her by name. However, other languages use a gendered variation of “Doctor” such as the Filipino word “Doktora”, pertaining to female doctors and surgeons.
But It Goes Deeper Than That
So there you have it, right? “Doctor” in English is ungendered, and now we have no problem referring to female surgeons as such. While it is tempting to write it home at this point, there are still many important sociological factors to consider when it comes to tackling the gendering of medical professions.
Despite the world making genuine strides in giving more opportunities for women everywhere to achieve their dream jobs, women still face discrimination, harassment, and bullying in almost all workplaces, and unfortunately, the same goes for the medical world. Many female surgeons have reported to have been undermined by their male co-workers, with their knowledge and expertise being doubted and belittled by them. Despite female doctors going through the same stringent training as men, women’s abilities are still doubted.
It Takes More Than Just Technical Definitions
While topics and questions such as these are often expected to be cut-and dry with technical answers and definitions, the harsh reality is that issues like these are inherently political, and to ignore the more nuanced explanations and ideas for answers to these questions, is to ignore the inherent social strife that these good female doctors are facing. And by ignoring these, you disgrace these brave individuals who have worked extra hard in order to be taken seriously by their male peers.
It’s A Systemic Problem
According to shocking research findings revealed in numerous publications, both medical, and otherwise, which have since been corroborated by many people in the medical profession, gender discrimination, bullying, and sexual harassment was practically the norm in the field for decades. It has been a plague that has destroyed the careers of many innocent female surgeons, and has driven many victims into deep depressions of which they will never recover.
And while it is easy to assign blame on old, misogynistic coworkers who hold steadfast in their outdated beliefs, the hard truth is that the problem goes beyond these individuals. It has since become a cultural thing, which has been reinforced by decades of behavioral patterns which have been twisted as part of “tradition”. A “culture” that is rooted in a power imbalance that men would very much like to keep tipped in their favor in order to keep perceived threats like women down, and in “their place”. The culture also extends to other males who may not necessarily share the same outdated sentiments towards women, but choose to remain silent, or worse, to become an enabler in order to maintain their job security.
Another extension of the problem is the rendering of feelings of powerlessness not just to the women, but to anyone in general who knows and feels that it’s wrong. In a lot of cases, young women surgeons would complain to their female superiors, hoping to find an ally in someone with power, only to be disappointed when the female superior simply tells them that it’s “Just the way it’s always been”. At best, this would drive a female surgeon to simply leave her workplace, and go somewhere else. But at worst, this defeatist way of thinking becomes the new default way of thinking for the young female surgeon.
What Can Be Done?
Thankfully, this pattern of behavior’s days are numbered. In today’s age of social media, the formerly voiceless marginalized groups now have as loud a voice as ever before thanks to social media. Movements like the #MeToo movement have sparked a groundswell of women finally finding the courage to speak out against the injustices they face in the workplace. While the fallout of the #MeToo movement is more seen in entertainment and media, make no mistake that the benefits of the #MeToo movement have also reached all other sectors, including medicine.
Thanks to these movements, many problematic men in various professional sectors have been outed as predators and misogynists, which then resulted in the subsequent firing of these individuals. Fortunately, this has also reached the medical profession as well, with many hospital administrators, and medical school faculty members getting fired due to their unprofessional and discriminatory conduct.
Additionally, thanks to these new, progressive sensibilities, many hospitals have ended up dedicating training for their staff members with regards to gender sensitivity and anti-harassment and anti-discriminatory measures. These solutions are sure to help many women advance in their careers without the fear of being discriminated against, and will surely foster a much safer space for women, inspiring more young girls to enter the medical profession.
The short answer is, a female surgeon is a doctor. But so much more can be taken from that simple statement. A female surgeon, as a doctor, is a doctor both like, and unlike any other. She is like other doctors because she has gone through the same 4 years of medical school, and the same 5-9 years of residencies and fellowships. But female surgeons are unlike other doctors because of the additional hardships that they faced due to their gender, making their title of doctor all the more earned.