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It's Hard to Be A Woman

written by Thu Tran, MD,FACOG
on Saturday, 2nd December ,2017

It has been astonishing to watch the #MeToo movement, with one public man after another stepping down from their “pedestal” after being accused of sexual harassment.  A notable exception is Roy Moore, who’s still running strong in the race for an Alabama Senate seat despite multiple accusations of sexual harassment.  Recently, a woman came forward to accuse Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was 14 years old.  It’s possible that Moore will win the race anyway, as Alabama voters are considered very conservative.  It puzzles me how different people decide when enough is enough.  I heard from a patient how a woman from Alabama concluded she would vote for Moore anyway, as a child molester is still better than a “baby killer.”  Our country’s dialogue will often stall when people reason that way. Many others will use the “What About” logic to reason why we should ignore Roy Moore’s sexual harassment scandal.  What about Bill Clinton? What about Bill Cosby? What about Dr. Larry Nassar, the former Olympic gymnastic team physician who recently  pleaded  guilty to 7 sexual assaults in Michigan? He was accused of sexual assault by more than 130 women including some former members of the US Olympic gymnastic team. 

Sexual assault or harassment is such a difficult subject for both genders to debate.  Many of  Roy Moore’s supporters, including  some women and Republican lawmakers, have asked for “proof” of his sexual assault of the 14 year old girl.  I guess, unless this teenager had a cellphone back then and secretly taped Roy Moore’s  voice or snapped a photo of him groping and assaulting her, she would have no proof to use when she comes forward as an adult.  But then, even if someone finds a videotape recording of her assailant’s voice, he still can deny it is his voice.  Didn’t we see president Trump stating this week how he was not sure it was his voice in the Billy Bush tape? What will it take for a woman to prove she was sexually harassed? 

It’s hard to be a woman.  I often jokingly tell my patients and friends how men are already ahead not to have to put up with menstrual cycles, Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), pregnancies and labor, menopause and its symptoms.  Those indeed are minor pains that women have to endure.  I recognized how women or girls were treated differently since I was young.  I often wondered at a very young age, in the intense heat of Vietnam, how my brothers were allowed to run around without their shirts on, while my sisters and I always had to fully cover ourselves.  My parents taught their three daughters to speak softly, not to laugh so loudly like the boys, and even cover our mouth with our hands while laughing.  My mother often complained how I walked too fast and thus did not look like “a lady.”  A good woman is one who can cook, clean, and take good care of her children even if she has a full time job like her husband.  Do you often wonder why we women, since ancient times, have learned to  wear make up and jewelry? Do we beautify for our own pleasure, or to please the men in our society?  Without women, the cosmetic business probably would exist.

My lady docs friends and I had a conversation online this week, about our struggles in our career in medicine.  Many of us have been mistaken for nurses, or have been addressed only by our first or last name while our male partners are respectfully addressed as “Doctor…”  Some have been called “honey” or “sweetie” by male colleagues or patients.  Even women patients often chose to go to male physicians in certain specialties  such as surgery.  Many women physicians, like the rest of working women in our society, are known to make eighty cents to a dollar as compared to our male colleagues.  We work TWO MONTHS FREE  a year at this rate.  

Many of my patients and friends agree their mothers planned for and directed most of their activities and meals when they were growing up.  My mother did so in Vietnam.  Even though our housekeeper did most of the house work, she was under the direction of my mother.  It was our mother who signed us up for foreign language lessons, music groups, and scout activities.  She even designed and had our clothes made, or went shopping for clothing and school supplies.  My father was too busy with his work, but my mother was incredibly busy with her own business activities. 

Like my mother and many of my women friends, I had to “multitask” when my son was growing up.  I rushed out of the office to take him to piano or tutoring lessons, or drive almost an hour to pick him up from various tennis or basketball camps.  I planned for evening meals while seeing patients in the office to make sure he had fresh food.  Weekends were spent cooking for several meals weekly so we did not have to order out from restaurants.  I rarely made it to most of his basketball games but saw a few, to make sure I acted like the mothers who stayed at home.  My friends and I often feel as if our children were “cheated” from their childhood with us being working moms.  We feel guilty even when we exhaust ourselves caring for our children after a long day caring for our patients.  

Fortunately, I have a husband who respects women and recognizes their value so he helped with our son’s activities and school work in many ways whenever he was back to town from his business trips.  We had an equal marriage, unlike many women, especially those who chose to stay home, whose husbands act more like the classic hunters and gatherers, the cavemen.

A few years ago, an article in the Washington Post calculated a six figure salary for homemakers, given all the tasks they complete for their household.  After reading this article, I encourage my stay-at-home patients to discuss this issue with their husbands whenever they feel unappreciated.  Let our husbands take care of the children for the weekend, I tell my patients, and they will learn how most homemakers do not sit around watching soap operas in the afternoon.  There is no magic wand to make hot meals and keep the children happy and clean for when the hunters and gatherers come home.  There is no magic wand for the children to show up for their music and sport lessons on time.  The hard work of these managers of households (who often are women) typicaly go unnoticed. 

The oppression of women in many third world countries is even more unimaginable.  I was amazed watching women in Tanzania walking in perfect form with huge baskets full of heavy items resting on their heads while little children trailed behind them.  We all have seen photos of women farmers in the fields in the hot sun.  FoodTanks.Org has addressed issues of hardship of poor women farmers around the world.  Many of us do not know that the majority of people working the fields around the world are women! They somehow manage to work and care for their children at the same time.  Women of the world share a similar fate and hardship.

It will be a long time before we resolve the issue of inequality between men and women.  I don’t know what it will take to reach that point.  Where should the process start?  Maybe lawmakers should have their mothers in mind when they draft policies to protect women.  Maybe we should all teach our daughters how to recognize inappropriate behavior from their male colleagues or bosses or partners and how to fight back.  Maybe parents should stop telling their daughters to speak softly or laugh more quietly, unless they tell their sons to behave the same way.  Do not pick a career for our daughters.  Let them be neurosurgeons, pilots, carpenters, truck drivers.  Teach them how to stand up for themselves, not like a man, but like a human being with equal rights.  

It is time to start the conversation on sexual harassment at home with our daughters, but equally importantly, with our sons.  Maybe the next generation of powerful men will think twice before they touch or grope or speak with a woman inappropriately.  We should no longer accept the ancient concept of “Let Boys Be Boys.”  We should not equate inappropriate behavior with “locker room” talk.  If these big boys can’t go pass their boyhood stage, they should stay in their locker rooms with the doors locked, from the outside, until they grow up emotionally! There should be no place for them to display this behavior, whether it is in the White House, Capitol Hill, board rooms, or sport fields.  Only grownups should be allowed to lead society out of the darkness of the caves.  Otherwise, I believe women will need to multitask even more, while sitting in the Oval Office as a leader.

Maybe I am day dreaming, but I do believe there will be a day when men like Roy Moore will be no more.  

Tags: #MeToo movement, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault

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