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Star Wars: (She’s A) Rogue One: Believing Women and Creating Hope

*****CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS!!******

Please do not read any further if you haven’t seen Rogue One yet. Or read it anyway but don’t complain to me when it’s all spoilered for you.

jyn-erso

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Parenting a Gender Fluid Child/What to say to Douchey People

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Over the last 10 years I’ve seen a huge shift in the way gender is expressed in children. Where parents are less enforcing of gender binaries children are allowed the space to explore their own and other genders. I think this is a wonderful step forward for humanity. I long for a world free of toxic masculinity, (and toxic femininity), free of the strictly enforced gender binary system. a world where humans can just be humans, and can self identify in whatever way is comfortable and enjoyable for them.

I have a 6 year old son. He lives with me and 3 of his siblings 4 days a week and spends the other 3 with his dad. When he is at my house he likes to wear clothing traditionally associated with girls. I have no idea if this is a passing phase, if he is just a curious child exploring gender options or if he will grow up to be a transexual, or a drag queen (I should be so lucky!), or even if he may be transgender. I cannot know where his love of dressing up will go (if anywhere). So I treat him the same way, I don’t make a big deal out of any of it, I love him and support him and follow his lead at all times in this regard. I let him know the same message that I have been teaching him since he could understand me ‘It’s ok to be you. Live authentically. Be yourself. You are loved’. Last week he asked us to start calling him by a different name, a ‘girls’ name. All of my kids were fine with addressing him by his new name and using female pronouns. He has made it easy for us by saying that he wants to be addressed with the new name only when he is dressed as a girl.

Since then I have become more open about this to the people in our lives. The responses have been overwhelmingly supportive, bar a couple of people whom have come at me with some pretty awful stuff. These are people who would consider themselves to be fairly tolerant. So I wanted to address some of the objections that I’ve heard, as I suspect perhaps there are other parents out there in a similar situation to me, and it may be of some use to them (I hope).

  1. Why does he only do this at your house?                                                                                        I think he only does it at my house because he only has access to dresses, make up ect at my house. Also he feels comfortable to do it at my house. He used to wear nail polish to pre-school but the other kids made fun of him and now he refuses to wear it in public. He LOVES wearing nail polish and has loved it since he was a toddler. I believe he feels comfortable and safe and accepted in my house which is why he chooses to dress in a feminine way when he is with me.
  2. You  must be doing something to encourage him. That is irresponsible. Trans adults wouldn’t be that way if they’re parents hadn’t encouraged them when they were little. (Yes someone actually said that to me.)                                                                              I am encouraging him, this is true, but not in the way you think. I am encouraging his natural expression of himself. I am supporting him in the choices he makes for himself. I am not standing at his bedroom door suggesting he wears dresses or asking does he want me to do his make up. I follow his lead. I feel this is the responsible course of action. I want all of my children to feel supported in how they choose to express who they are. As for the idea that transgender children are a result of overly liberal parenting I can only say that science disagrees. Gender Dysphoria is the medical term. Look it up.
  3. This is a result of your hatred of men and masculinity.                                                             This would imply that trans people are part of an Evil Feminist  conspiracy to wipe men from the face of the earth. As far as I am aware, no such conspiracy exists. Also I love masculinity. I love (a lot of) men. I greatly dislike toxic masculinity. I was raped and abused by toxic masculinity. I see toxic masculinity as the poison of the modern age. It hurts everyone it touches, most especially the men who embody it. Just because I love equality doesn’t mean I hate men. I have so many beautiful, strong, caring, loving, heart-opened men in my life. I love them. I have 3 sons. I do not have a crazy agenda to try and turn my sons into women. Sigh.
  4. You are creating a drama about this when there doesn’t need to be one (ie. discourage this and it will all go away)                                                                                                                  I agree there doesn’t need to be a drama. It’s a 6 year old child who likes to dress up. It may never be more than that. What is the big deal? I will not discourage any of my children from pursuing their truth. I would consider that to be horrendous parenting. I don’t see any of it as being a big deal or a drama. No matter where this goes all I can deal with is what the present moment is offering – and that is a small child who likes to dress up, and that’s fine with me.
  5. Gender Fluid children just lack good strong male role models. (Yep, I know again, can you believe it. Someone actually said that to me.)                                                                    Oh dear, where to start with this one. Everything cannot be explained away with Freudian theory? Now I am no where near to being an expert on gender fluidity or Gender Dysphoria. I know shamefully little about the subjects. But I do know some gender fluid people (probably more than the person who said this to me) and I see them as harbingers of the future. People who are here to lead us and show us a way out of the strictly enforced gender binary system. I admire them their bravery and strength in being who they are in a world that very much would like them to sit in this box over here please and don’t get out. Second to this argument –  why is it that it is just the lack of male role models that concerns? Is there a study somewhere to show that children raised with ‘good male role models’ never grow up to be gender fluid? Can anyone point me to any evidence at all that would support this strange conclusion?
  6. He is just doing this to get attention from you. You mustn’t be playing boyish games with him enough. This is him reaching out to try and get your attention by doing things he thinks you like, like dressing up and make up.                                              There’s a lot to plough through here, firstly it is very sexist to assume that all I am into is clothes and make up. Make up would be very low on my list of interests and while I do like to get dressed up myself I have very little interest in talking about it, or dressing others. Most of the activities I do with my kids are things that ALL of us will enjoy, so we bake together, we go to the beach and build sand castles, we read stories, we make stories, we watch movies, we give each other foot massages, we make art (a lot of art), we play ball games and frisbee and do gardening. These are the things I do with my kids. These are the same activities I did with my older 4 children and none of them have magically turned into gender fluid or trans people  as a result. I do not think there is a logical correlation  between having a mum who doesn’t play much lego with you and choosing to wear dresses. Also the effort to apportion blame (on me) indicates a belief that there is something wrong with him dressing this way, which I do not agree with.
  7. He will end up socially ostracised and it will be your fault for encouraging him.             I believe that hiding what we truly are causes sickness and sometimes suicide. I do not want that for my children. I want them to live authentic lives, rich with love and support and ease. I know that the world hasn’t quite caught up with accepting everyone for who they are and so I try and teach my children resilience, for no one, not even the most privileged escape the inevitable cruelty of others. Emotional intelligence, resilience and self love are things I try and teach my kids, so that when someone is a douche to them they can handle it. It is the best I can do to prepare them for a sometimes cruel world. I also wouldn’t want friends for my kids who wanted them to be something they are not. I wish for true friends for my children, the kind of friend who sees exactly who they are and loves them for it and stands by them. If I had to choose for my kids between them hiding their  true selves to fit in and living authentically and getting shit for it – living authentically would win hands down everytime. 

 

Taryn De Vere is an eccentric dresser, a writer, mother of 5, a conscious relationship coach for Love With Ease Please http://www.lovewitheaseplease.com, a performance artist https://www.facebook.com/A-Chaotic-Embrace-113263035681066 , and a sex positive parenting educator https://www.facebook.com/sexpositiveparenting 

Photo by Eamonn Brown Photography

“He’s sound on economic issues” – Hypocrisy around misogyny on the left

CN: for sexual violence

A Craiglist ad posted on a friend’s facebook account caught my attention the other day.

craigslist ad

 

I laughed and promptly posted it on my own page. In isolation, it’s funny, and given that I and other feminists regularly have men message us on twitter and facebook asking the most basic googleable questions of us, it wouldn’t be surprising this person exists. It also shouldn’t be surprising that there are a lot of broke feminists and gender studies experts who would happily take on the task of teaching some bloke they never met Women Are Equal 101.

Hell, most of us are doing it for free anyway.

However, it then came to light via a piece by Ruth Graham on Slate yesterday that this was not a mother looking to help her chump of a son out, but a man called Nader Kashani who is well known for harassing women online who concocted a fictional profile in order to make contact with feminists. The Slate read is disturbing. Kashani’s views on rape even more so.

The thing that made Kashani’s Craiglist ad and the Slate piece so remarkable is that Kashani got caught out, and the internet gasped as we all wondered what exactly the motivations were. It’s almost the two year anniversary of the Isla Vista shootings in which Elliot Rogers gunned down six people in retribution for his hatred of women. The conclusions that many came to about Kashani’s motivations and commentary that the whole incident was “terrifying” were certainly not unreasonable. There was too much effort put into it for it to be simply written off as a bad joke.

The thing that struck me about this was the amount of left activists of all genders, who shared the Slate piece commenting on how threatening it seemed. It’s heartening to see people acknowledge that these types of men *are* a threat to women. On the other hand, it was disappointing nobody (that I’m aware of) made the connection between a random dude on the internet posing as someone needing to learn about feminism (or at least representing themselves as not being actively hostile to it) and the men who walk among us posing as feminists or pro-feminist activists that eventually turn out to be abusive misogynists.

Suzanne Lee spoke at the Anarchist Bookfair over the weekend about her experiences in feminist struggle. If you haven’t seen her contribution, you should watch it (Suzanne begins around 23:24 in to the video). She makes the valid point that there were people who couldn’t attend a panel on feminism because they’ve made the decision that they can’t engage because the activist community still welcome certain known abusers in to their circles. I’m not pointing to any one particular group or organisation here, because as far as I have seen this action crosses political differences and factions but a lot of the time it’s common knowledge when someone is “dodgy” but it is women who are expected to be the ones to avoid places and disengage from the situation.

It is a sad reflection on Irish activism that there are women who can’t go to anti-domestic violence demonstrations because the last time they went to one they were faced with their own abuser standing shoulder to shoulder with the others attending – and it certainly wasn’t because they saw the error of their ways. There are men who tried to force their partners to have abortions against their will wandering freely at pro-choice demonstrations. There are men who have been violent towards their partners welcomed in or left in activist circles without comment. Women who are open about their illegal abortions are expected to get on with the work of fighting austerity alongside those who march against them in anti-choice demonstrations. I have literally lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard allegations of rape and sexual assault and domestic violence being made about male activists, and I’ve lost count of the number of times their victims have been branded as “mad” “liars” and “bitter” as a result.. Everyone knows these men are abusers and nobody says so. Meanwhile women quietly leave the room – and their activism as a result – and their abusers revel in the knowledge that these women will likely never engage with the architecture of the state system of courts and justice and they do the same thing all over again. I doubt there are many men on the left who text ahead to a friend or comrade to see if a certain person is at the meeting, demo or event they want to go to. It’s ok to criticise Nader Kashani because he’s very far away, but when a man who harasses or abuses women is in the meeting/ on our demo/ holding our mic everyone else is very quiet.

I don’t have any answers to this. I don’t know how this can be addressed. I do know that this post will be seen by many as an attack on the left, when the “real enemy” is elsewhere, but ultimately there isn’t much difference between a man like Kashani using feminism in order to abuse women and some pseudo-lefty who uses feminist activism in order to perpetuate their own brand of misogyny.

The result is still the same; women being abused.

 

@stephie08

 

After #ge16, where to now for #Repealthe8th?

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The results from count centres across the state are slowly trickling in as I write this, and Labour activists and supporters are shouting that #Repealthe8th is dead as quickly as their candidates are dropping out of the race. They need to stop.

I presume they genuinely believe what they’re saying, just as they believe that we wouldn’t have marriage equality were it not for the Labour Party, but peddling that view damages the pro-choice movement.

Labour might have been confident that they could deliver a referendum on the eighth amendment, but pro-choice activists of all political stripes and none haven’t forgotten that they delivered legislation on X to allow for abortion where a woman would be a risk of dying that contained a 14 year jail sentence penalty for inducing a miscarriage, and the horrifying case of teenage refugee pregnant as a result of rape enduring what was ostensibly a forced c-section at 25 weeks, despite medical professionals acknowledging that she was suicidal. The #Repealthe8th campaign exists in spite of Labour, not because of it. Perhaps Labour in government after #ge16 would have delivered a referendum, but what would that have looked like?

Besides, Labour aren’t in government now, and unless there’s some kind of divine intervention over the next twelve hours it doesn’t look like they will be. They had five years to work to hold a referendum and didn’t. We can acknowledge that Labour were in government when the Marriage Equality referendum happened but it was won because people mobilised and worked their rocks off to get it passed; People who were never involved in politics before came out alongside grassroots groups and got Ireland to a place where it said yes to valuing people as equals. So instead of throwing the toys out of the pram and acting all hard done by, Labour activists would do better to channel their energies into the pro-choice campaign and work for a repeal of these laws. There is nothing to be gained by trying to undermine the positivity of pro-choice campaigners by getting in a huff, throwing hands in the air and saying we should all just forget it now.

That said, it is difficult to ascertain just how much of a deciding factor abortion was in this general election given the number of Fianna Fail TDs that have been returned and their unwillingness to commit to a referendum – but there have been huge returns for independents and political parties who are very much in favour of holding a referendum. The people of Dublin Bay South waved goodbye to Lucinda Creighton, one of the most staunch anti-abortion voices in the Dáil and while this is to be welcomed, this is not a time for pro-choice activists to rest on our laurels. Clare Daly has championed reproductive justice and been returned to the Dáil alongside Joan Collins. Ruth Coppinger, Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd Barrett and Gino Kenny are all pro-choice. Sinn Féin have a policy in favour of repeal the eighth. There is a recognition, even amongst conservatives such as Leo Varadkar and Frances Fitzgerald that a referendum is inevitable. It is easier now to be pro-choice than it ever has been before and thanks to the work of pro-choice activists and an increase in public support, the stigma surrounding the subject is ebbing away. Now is the time to send a clear message to the returned members of the new Dáil that a commitment to repeal the eighth amendment must form a part of any new Programme for Government. Women must no longer be blocked from accessing appropriate healthcare. Public opinion on the need to repeal the law and provide legal abortion for women is far more progressive than what is represented in the Dáil now, even with the addition of the large range of socialist, republican and left of centre voices. This public opinion needs to be converted into action on the ground.

We must make no mistake, the anti-choice groups that are happy to see women die for want of medical care, will consolidate their efforts in order to keep the eighth amendment in place. They will continue with their bitter newspaper columns full of demonisation and blame, and their shaming billboards and they will continue their misrepresentation and campaigns of outright lies against people who provide women’s healthcare in Ireland. Their attacks on the IFPA and others are not about women’s healthcare, they are about muddying the waters so that they can portray themselves as being something other than religious fundamentalists who want to keep women in the dark ages. They have no intention of stopping so we have an onus to build our movement, to keep up the pressure no TDs and tell them in their clinics, in the streets, in the courts, and in their media streams that they must fight to repeal the eighth. We can’t only depend only on TDs to argue these points in the confines of the Dáil chamber; there is an onus on us to keep speaking to our families and friends to reduce the stigma, to help women accessing abortion care, to publicise information and to counter the outrageous propaganda and lies bandied about by anti-choice activists. We must organise and march in the streets and stand shoulder to shoulder with others campaigning for free, safe and legal abortion.

Pro-choice groups are ready for this fight. Are you?

#Repealthe8th

@stephie08

House of Lads: Subconscious Misogyny on Budget Day

When Mary Lou McDonald TD gave her contribution on Budget 2016 yesterday evening in the Dáil chamber, Taoiseach Enda Kenny sat across from her and punched the palm of his hand with his own fist as she spoke.

It’s that move that eight year olds do across the playground to indicate that they want to knock lumps out of each other. It’s also an action that many women who are victims of domestic violence will recognise as a precursor to a beating. I am not for a second saying Enda Kenny was actually consciously threatening Mary Lou McDonald – but I would like to know what exactly was he thinking when he sitting there smacking his hand? Was he thinking anything at all? Does a speech from a member of the opposition outlining the effects of austerity not warrant even the most basic level of brain engagement from the Taoiseach?

The clip below lasts all of twenty seconds but the body language is clear. I mentioned the mocking and sneering from Government benches in this piece on Budget 2016 from last night. If you watch the clip you’ll see junior Minister Sean Sherlock briefly turn and look at what the Taoiseach is doing, then he smirks and goes back to reading what I can only presume is the Budget document (but there’s nothing to say that he doesn’t have a copy of the Beano stuck inside).

This is the disdain with which women in the Oireachtas are treated. Regardless of anyone’s politics, it is highly inappropriate that the head of government can sit literally punching his own fist in absent minded disgust as a woman from the opposition speaks. Actions speak louder than words sometimes, and these actions are repulsive.

 

@stephie08

Breda O’Brien, clickbait and being devoid of empathy

Breda O’Brien, clickbait and being devoid of empathy

Breda O’Brien has a regular, offensive clickbait column in the Irish Times where she gets paid actual money to peddle her narrow, bigoted view of the world that doesn’t tally in any way with actual evidence of what happens in real life. She goes to great lengths to portray women who’ve had abortions as being at best cold and indifferent about their experiences and at worst, callous, unless they are members of Women Hurt. For Breda, the only time it’s acceptable for a woman to talk about her experience of abortion, is if it is in the context of being a negative experience in your life. Ideally, the more torment connected to it, the better – because it will be the only time that your experience has any value at all. It doesn’t matter for her or even the Irish Times, that her stories are possibly not actually true, it just matters that some people will believe them. If you throw enough stones, eventually you’ll hit something.  Today’s offering is no different.

O’Brien opens today’s drivel by saying that Irish women talk about their abortions all the time with her. Maybe there are women who talk to O’Brien about their experiences but she is hardly the most likely of people you would confide in;

“Breda, you are a well known anti-abortion activist so I need to tell you, I was raped at 14 and had an abortion at 6 weeks.”

“That choice was morally wrong and is exactly the same as drowning a three year old child. ”

“Um, thanks Breda. I’m glad I got that off my chest by talking to you.”  

Given the exposure Tara Flynn and Roisin Ingle’s stories got in the Irish Times last week, it’s hard not to read O’Brien’s piece as a direct retaliation towards these courageous women. It’s basically an eight hundred word fuck-you to Roisin and Tara.

She also says that women have told her of going for post-abortion counselling in a pro-choice organisation only to be told, “you did what was right for you at the time. Put it behind you and move on.” But I find it a stretch that any pro-choice organisation would simply tell a woman “move on” after she said she found her experience difficult to deal with or that she had regrets. Because that is not how pro-choice people or organisations operate. That is a fiction. Unlike O’Brien, we recognise that women have different experiences while noting that the vast majority of women who have terminations do not regret them.

O’Brien says that these women feel dismissed and diminished, while not for a second noticing the irony that women who do *not* regret their decision are dismissed and diminished by O’Brien and her Iona cronies who are given a national media platform on which to do so. No person’s experience should be diminished, but the women who allegedly seek comfort from O’Brien should not be taken as representative of the sum total of women who have had terminations – just as the women who do not regret them are not the sum total, we merely note that they are the overwhelming majority. O’Brien goes to great lengths to couch her language in terms of pseudo comfort and “common humanity” and then denies to other women the capacity to make decisions for themselves believing that she knows better.

She  decries those of us who speak of cells and the right to choose and implies that we are the same as Roman men who left babies to die on the side of a hill as we dehumanise the “victim.” At no point does it register with her how she dehumanises women who make the decision to abort without regret; women who terminated because of the suffering that continuing the pregnancy might bring, or the risk to their health or wellbeing, or because they were in a violent relationship, or because they simply did not want to be pregnant.  If pro-choice feminists who advocate a woman’s right to choose are for O’Brien, like the Roman men who leave babies to die of exposure on the hillside then what does that make the women who actually choose to abort? This of course is the woman who is a spokesperson for the people that carry signs at their rallies saying “Abortion is Witchcraft” (forward to 2:52 of this video). Does that sound like empathy to you?  

Anti-choice ideology ignores that fact that legal and medical structures that deprive a woman of full control over her own reproductive system condemn women to being second class citizens. O’Brien attempts to portray herself as being understanding, attempting to make us believe she empathises with women in crisis pregnancies by saying if she had become pregnant as a teenager, she is “not sure what (she) would have done.” Perhaps that’s true. She wouldn’t be the first woman to be against abortion until faced with a crisis pregnancy and had she accessed a termination, she certainly wouldn’t even be the first anti-choice woman to terminate and subsequently stand outside that very same clinic and denounce the women who enter it.

But you are not empathising with a woman in a crisis pregnancy when you actively campaign in favour of laws that compel women to endure a forced pregnancy, a court ordered c-section, and then tell us that she should have been made to carry that pregnancy to term. Being empathetic does not mean heaping judgment on women who had abortions and telling them their decisions was morally wrong. Since when did empathy extend to stigmatising and criminalising women and advocating that they go to jail? You cannot attest to empathise with women in crisis pregnancies when you deny them a choice in their medical care that will literally result in their death.

O’Brien also carefully adds a sentence about Aylan Kurdi so that there is to be no misunderstanding as to where she stands –  comparing the drowned three year old to the terminated weeks old foetus. She could have written a column about how Europe should open its borders to the refugees, or about how Hungary is treating the thousands walking through their land, tired, cold, and hungry, searching for a better life. She could have even spoken about the reasons why women choose abortion and acknowledged that if you want less abortions, you need to make it easier for women to have children. That would be the logical thing, but this is not about logic, this is about curtailing women’s choices because Breda O’Brien views them as vessels and nothing more.

The majority of people in this state are pro-choice despite all of us of child-bearing age having never had our say on the Eighth Amendment. My own mother wasn’t even old enough to vote when the Eighth Amendment was passed. Prochoice activists acknowledge that abortion can often be a difficult decision for a woman. We also acknowledge that the decision to terminate can be a source of great relief to many. The difficulty for anti-choice activists is that they cannot contemplate, due to being completely devoid of empathy, why it would be a relief  for many women and why not every woman struggles with it, so in order for them to understand it they must portray these women as uncaring monsters like the Roman patriarchs or of course, witches.

Anti-choice activists do not understand, much less care, that when a woman is pregnant, she is more than a receptacle to carry a foetus to term, with thoughts, feelings, financial pressures and very often, other children to take care of. Just as it would be wrong for a woman to be compelled to terminate against her wishes, it is wrong to compel her to carry a pregnancy against her wishes. Women are more than the contents of their wombs and their existence has more reason than bearing children, and if we want to talk about moral value, then we must acknowledge that an embryo does not have the same moral value as a living, breathing woman who bears it, simply because it has the potential to become a human being. The inability to empathise at the very core of anti-choice beliefs is the reason why there is a woman on trial in Belfast for supplying her daughter with abortion pills, and it is the reason that a woman who has an illegal abortion in this state will get 14 years in prison. Reducing a woman’s humanity and placing it on a par with a week old embryo is not empathy, it is stomach-churning fanaticism. Perhaps had O’Brien actually been faced with a crisis teenage pregnancy, she may believe that had she taken certain decisions that she should have faced 14 years in prison, although at that time it would have been a life sentence (presumably for her own good), but that is not empathy.

Believing that because you never had an abortion that nobody else should have one either is about as far away from empathy as you can possibly get.

#Repealthe8th

@stephie08

Sexism in Medicine: Try not to talk about it

*Dr. Madeleine Thomas is the pen name of a GP working in Ireland.

When asked to write a piece in reaction to comments made recently by Dr. Gabrielle McMullins, an Australian Vascular Surgeon on the topic of sexism in Medicine, which attracted much controversy, I must admit I had to stop and think carefully before agreeing to do so. I am an Irish, Irish educated female doctor. I graduated from Med School nearly 7 years ago. I have never before written about my experiences working as a female medic, I simply vent to poor unfortunate friends & family instead.

To recap, Dr. McMullins, who Irish media pointedly referred to as having studied in Trinity College Dublin, for reasons I’m not sure why, (was it there that her view of gender in the workplace was meant to have been corrupted?) was attending the launch of her book entitled ‘Pathways to Gender Equality: The role of Merit & Quotas’ when she made comments that referenced the case of Dr. Caroline Tan, an Australian surgical trainee who, after successfully winning a sexual harassment case against her boss at the time, Dr. Chris Xenos, subsequently failed to secure work in her chosen area of speciality in any Australian public hospital. Dr. Tan herself, in an interview made to an Australian paper, in light of the furore surrounding the comments made by Dr. McMullins, reported that she had been shunned by her fellow colleagues following the case and had been overlooked for positions, she feels as a direct consequence of speaking out. Her previous boss, Dr. Xenos continues to work in the hospital where Dr. Tan was sexually harassed.

But what did Dr. McMullins actually say? Ok, admittedly it doesn’t sound good on first reading: “What I tell my trainees is that, if you are approached for sex, probably the safest thing to do in terms of your career is to comply with the request.” I confess, I initially read this quote as presented, almost entirely out of context and was shocked. But is that what she really was trying to say? She went on to further clarify her comments after the headlines had been grabbed and condemnation had come from everywhere. “Of course I don’t condone any form of sexual harassment, and the advice that I gave to potential surgical trainees was irony, but unfortunately that is the truth at the moment, that women do not get supported if they make a complaint. It’s not dealt with properly: women still feel that their careers are compromised if they complain, just like rape victims are victimised if they complain.”

The reactions of condemnation from Australian Medical Training Bodies to her comments were swift and predictable. Michael Grigg, President of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS), said the idea female surgical trainees should “silently endure sexual harassment (was) disappointing and quite appalling”. He said complaints about sexual harassment were taken seriously by the college and “investigated and acted upon at the highest level”. Kate Drummond, chair of the RACS Women in Surgery committee, told ABC that sexual harassment does happen, but she said the idea that speaking out is a career-ending move is incorrect. So was this simply a case of a doctor with a book to sell overstepping the mark and encouraging a culture of silence and submission or was she trying to call out the sexism that she feels still clearly exists within Medicine? It’s all very well to encourage women to be vocal about cases of sexual harassment in the workplace, but if there is no practical, robust response to such complaints, nor adequate support for those who have been victims, how could anybody have any confidence in the systems that are meant to ensure equitable working conditions and career opportunities? Is there a fear that by speaking out, you’ve effectively isolated yourself professionally and irreversibly damaged your career in the process? In other words, can we honestly say that case of Dr. Tan is an isolated event? Sadly, I believe it not to be.

Of course sexism exists in a variety of workplaces, but Dr. McMullins specific reference to sexism as experienced in medicine resonated with me as a female doctor. Have I ever encountered examples of sexist behavior in medicine? Of course I have. Have I personally ever experienced sexual harassment? Straight up, no I have not. Have I made career decisions that have been in some way influenced by expectations of gender? I don’t believe so. Do I know others who have? Certainly. Have others said to me on numerous occasions that my chosen area of speciality training, General Practice, was a good choice for reasons of starting a family, that “it’s less hardcore than surgical training” or “hospitals are tough for women”? Yes, many times.

Where are these attitudes born out of though? There are more women in medicine than ever before, yet still there are few women holding senior medical academic posts and completing training in disciplines such as surgery in proportion to their male colleagues. There is a growing debate, albeit mostly from UK based media sources, about the feminisation of medicine. In an article by Professor J Meirion Thomas, a self described feminist, (probably part of the ‘but I love women! Some of my best friends are women’ club) “Why having so many women doctors is hurting the NHS: A provocative but powerful argument from a leading surgeon”, he argues that because there is now a gender imbalance within the NHS, continuity and delivery of service is being steadily hampered by female doctors having the temerity to choose part time work in order to facilitate selfish lifestyle choices like, raising a family and pursuing post graduate academic careers, among others. He even states that “Women in hospital medicine tend to avoid the more demanding specialities which require greater commitment, have more anti-social working hours, and include responsibility for management.” Of course, he also references the great British taxpayer in his piece, questioning whether they should accept such a flagrant waste of their money in training these female doctors, only for them to go off and have families and not want to spend every waking hour entrenched at the coal face of hospital medicine, the very cheek. As it happens, female doctors often do spend every waking hour working in hospitals, it’s called being ‘on call’. We even work weekends, just like our fully dedicated male colleagues.

The reality is that his is not a singular opinion. The face of the Medical Workforce in Ireland is changing, just like in the UK. In a report by the Medical Council of Ireland, the proportion of female doctors registered on the Medical Register has risen from 37% in 2008 to just over 40% in 2012. Interestingly, amongst graduates from Irish medical schools, there is a higher proportion of female versus male graduates in all age groups up to the age of 45. There is no doubt that this will present challenges for workforce planning in the future, but is it necessarily a bad thing that the status quo, which in some cases has previously taken the form of a boys club arrangement, will stand to be changed?

Is there really a boys club mentality still in existence? Surely not, it’s 2015 and female doctors, as Professor Thomas has indicated are basically ruling the roost, right? Well, not quite; In terms of where women fit into the medical workplace, there are still huge barriers to female doctors working in the specialities they have chosen. Undeniably the training path of a surgical trainee, for example can at times be arduous and punishing, with demanding workloads, 36 hour shifts on a regular basis and the pressure to maintain academic pursuits. Many, if not most trainees will be expected to complete Masters degrees and PhDs in order to be considered for Consultancy posts. The notion of achieving any form of work/life balance after all this can, for the most part be just that, a notion. But hey, this is the life we signed up for and sympathy is hard won at any rate. What really stings, is when it can transpire that at times, you’re just not really on the same playing field as everybody else when it comes to long term career prospects. Not only did you not get to tog out to go on the pitch, but you’re not even going to be invited for the post match drinks.

Of course Ireland is a small country, the Irish medical community is even smaller and job interviews can sometimes take the form of a casual word of mouth process. It is for this reason that I fear doctors of both genders can often be reticent to call out mistreatment or inappropriate behavior by a colleague or superior. People need solid references in order to progress unhindered in their careers and when you have people striving to gain a position that they have spent anything up to a decade or more of their lives working and studying to achieve, when they have families to support or student loans to pay off, the stakes are undeniably high. Nobody wishes to become the difficult member of the team, to be spoken about in hushed terms, to not be considered for a post because of their attitude and thus often behavior that on paper would be considered to be reprehensible often goes unchecked. I think this is really what Dr. McMullins was trying to highlight, although I feel she, as a Senior Medic would have preferred to have conveyed her argument more constructively.

As a GP trainee, I have overall had incredibly supportive male colleagues and mentors, but nearing the end of my training I am faced with the prospect of interviewing for GP jobs for which I may not be considered as equal as some of my male peers. Irish GP practices are primarily run as Small or Medium Enterprises, or in other words, as businesses. A female GP is more likely to work on a part time basis than a male colleague for reasons such as maternity leave and family commitments. I’m not saying my male colleagues are any less dedicated to raising their children, but the creche or child minder probably has Mam on speed dial and as for the maternity leave, well, I know I’m the doctor here, but you don’t need me to explain that to you right? GP practices can often have to arrange expensive locum doctor cover to replace any doctor that is on leave and this can affect the running of the business and concurrently the income generated. Whilst you could never question a job candidate openly about her family life for fear of being hauled in front of an employment tribunal, there’s no law preventing you from thinking that it may. As a Practice Manager once told me, it would be easier just to hire the male candidate.

A female colleague I met at a conference told me how she had recently discovered that a male doctor who started work at her practice at roughly the same time as her, was at the start of his employment, offered a three year contract with the prospect of partnership in the business. She, who was equally qualified, was offered just a one year contract. Whilst women’s presence in medicine is stronger than ever before, the glass ceiling for women, just like in other careers, definitively exists. With still relatively few women in senior positions, especially in leading academic roles in universities and colleges, is there any hope of meaningfully challenging gender bias and the status quo? Will we, in years time be reminiscing over Dr. McMullins comments and denying that there was any basis to what she was saying, or will we have acknowledged that an open discussion about issues such as sexual harassment, discrimination against female doctors, and the career paths open to women in Medicine needed to be had? Being a doctor is tough enough, but try not to be difficult about it, ok?