Women have been around as long as men. There are approximately as many women in this world as there are men. Then why is ‘how should women be treated’ still a mystery and a topic that requires attention?

I don’t have answers to these questions. But I do have a few observations.

I am an immigrant, woman, physician of color, who came to the USA in my late 20s, with a suitcase full of dreams, fed by a steady diet of western TV and movies, created mostly by men, to propagate the illusion of ‘the land of the free’. I came from, what I thought, was an openly repressive culture toward women, to a much more subtle, veiled culture of repression and microaggressions toward women. This did not become immediately apparent to me. The recent national uprising against marginalized communities of whom ‘Women’ is one, played some part in this realization.  

During my residency training in the mid-west and fellowship training in the west coast, I was ‘fresh off the boat’ and oh so innocent and clueless. I recall simple microaggressions – despite wearing a long white coat, I was called to patients’ bedside as ‘nurse can you help me?’. I remember the nursing staff treating female and male trainees differently – female trainees were ‘bossed around’ – vs male trainees were ‘fawned over’. I have witnessed male surgeons verbally abusive tirades towards nursing and other staff and this aggression was tolerated with lowered eyes and apologetic platitudes from the abused staff. I have witnessed female attendings who have politely stated the same issue to the same staff, be written up for ‘disruptive behavior’. These microaggressions were perpetrated often by female colleagues. 

I am a petite person and have a ‘young looking’ face. Patients and peers have passed countless comments and judgements on my outward appearance during my professional career. These comments were usually well-meaning but unwarranted and un-welcome. 

‘You are so short’, ‘You look so young – like you are in high school’, ‘You have a beautiful smile’, ‘You are such a cutie’, ‘I was expecting a male doctor when I made this appointment’, ‘Are you old enough to be my doctor’, ‘ Where are you from?’, ‘You speak such good English’, ‘Where did you learn to speak English?’, ‘How did you escape from your country’, ‘Welcome to America’, ‘You did well little lady ( AFTER the patient visit)’, ‘You must be so smart to make it here’, and so on and so on…..

My first job out of fellowship was in a rural city in eastern WA. I was part of a group practice consisting of three male physicians. I have the utmost respect for these physicians, but ‘imposter syndrome’ got the best of me, and I was never able to view myself in the role of ‘practice owner’. I had never taken business classes, I didn’t understand finances, and so on and on. 

The best advice I got from a wise program director was ‘show your softer side’. I carry her advice with me to this day. Women that achieve the same professional status as men are not expected to behave in the same way as their male peers. They are judged initially on their outward appearance, and their ‘likability’. Once they ‘pass’ these standards, their competence is judged, and they are held to a much higher standard than their male peers. If a woman in power is viewed as ‘cold’ she is labeled certain choice words that I cannot repeat in polite company. A male peer in the same position is viewed as assertive and powerful. 

It has taken me two decades to work on my ‘self worth’. I am still working on ‘imposter syndrome’…. And finding my ‘voice’.