Vital Times 2017 - 73

Sexism, Harassment, and
Women in Anesthesiology
By	Rita	Agarwal,	MD,	FAAP

I

t seems that almost every day there is a new revelation
about a powerful man committing some horrible,
criminal, bizarre, or at the very least, stomach-turning
act of sexual misconduct. Harassment and even assaults
seem to be rampant. Time magazine's editors awarded
the "Silence Breakers", the women who spoke up about
their harassment, their coveted title of 2017 Persons of
the Year.
The national conversation is loud and relentless. Most
news stories have focused on famous men in politics
and entertainment committing sexual misdeeds, but the
truth is that this type of behavior is pervasive in many
environments. Lately, the lay press, medical blogs, and
social media have featured articles on how hard it is to
be a woman in medicine. While overt sexual harassment
may be rare, prejudice, bias, and micro-aggression seem
to be common.
I am part of the generation of women who started
medical school in the 1980s. The women I knew were
fearless, ambitious, strong, and believed firmly in our
equality. We suspected that we would need to work at
least twice as hard, and be twice as smart, to get the same
level of recognition as some of our male colleagues. We
expected and prepared for bias, harassment and possibly
even misogyny. We assumed we could deal with it, and
looked to our predecessors for examples of how to cope.
We were lucky; we weren't the first to forge new
entryways into the House of Medicine. Although we were

still a minority, women in the 1980s entered medicine
in increasing numbers. Approximately 30 percent of all
medical school admissions at that time were women. We
had some, although not an abundance, of role models,
and some, although not an abundance, of support.
I didn't realize it at the time, but I was luckier than many.
I had supportive classmates and faculty (both male
and female) throughout my training and career. I had a
progressive, forward-thinking, and brilliant residency
director who celebrated pregnancy and life, and never
made any female resident feel bad for "screwing up
the schedule" by getting "knocked up, grumble, rumble,
mumble...curse words...damn women in medical school."
In fact, I didn't realize that my program was not the norm
until later, and after discussion with others.
So, what has changed? Unfortunately, not much. The
issues women faced 30 years ago appear to be the same
now. Despite the fact that women now constitute 50
percent or more of entering medical school classes, they
still hold a minority of leadership positions nationally.
How is that possible? There are plenty of articles by
erudite writers who have addressed this topic. Is it that
that we don't "Lean In" enough? That women still carry
a disproportionate load of the household chores and
child rearing duties? Is it because, on average, women
physicians work fewer hours in hospitals or clinics than
men physicians? Or that a greater percentage choose to
work part-time? All of the above? None of the above?
(continued)

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