Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Thinking About Feminism

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 19, 2013

I started medical school in 1986, a year in which there was a quota for women. The class had to be 33% female. Now, medical schools are 50%, without a quota. How did this change take place, in, what feels to me, to be such a short period of time? The answer is the second wave of the women’s movement, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminist_movement,

“Amongst the most significant legal victories of the movement after the formation of NOW were a 1967 Executive Order extending full Affirmative Action rights to women, a 1968 EEOC decision ruling illegal sex-segregated help want ads, Title IX and the Women’s Educational Equity Act (1972 and 1974, respectively, educational equality), Title X (1970, health and family planning), the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (1974), the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, the illegalization of marital rape(although not illegalized in all states until 1993 [26]), the legalization of no-fault divorce. A 1975 law requiring the U.S. Military Academies to admit women, and many Supreme Court cases, perhaps most notably Reed v. Reed of 1971 and Roe v. Wade of 1973. However, the changing of social attitudes towards women is usually considered the greatest success of the women’s movement.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-wave_feminism,

These politics allowed me to have my profession, and yet, although I was aware there was a quota, and that made me joke with many of my female classmates that we should get shirts which said  “we would have gotten in, if we were men,” I still did not have the perspective that I was benefiting from my foremothers. In fact, I had issues with the women’s movement. I felt that the demands on women were too great. It was not possible to work one hundred hours per week and have a family. I mean it was physically possible, but emotionally quite taxing. There was a never-ending feeling of not doing enough. The blending of work and domestic life was challenging, and although there was a generation of women before me who served as examples, the medical training system, at the time,  was male dominated and so role models were hard to find. Although working with people, for so many  hours, can create deep friendships, I envied the women at home who could have tea with their neighbors, and spend hours getting to know each other. It seemed that the women’s movement forgot about the value of female friendships, which served to create a network of closeness and warmth which is tremendously valuable to women, to society, and to families.  On the other hand, I cannot imagine women not having the opportunity to go to professional schools, so I owe my foremothers a debt of gratitude. Having said all that, I resonate with Debora Spar, http://www.glamour.com/inspired/2013/08/why-women-cant-have-it-all-according-to-barnard-college-president-debora-l-spar, who says that women cannot have it all. Each choice involves a loss of other possibilities, as every maturing adult realizes, who has to choose a path in life. The women’s movement felt to me to be misleading, but perhaps it represented an idealization, which, inevitably, as time goes by, becomes more like everything else in life-a step forward, but still a compromise.

See also…https://shirahvollmermd.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/the-pathology-is-political/

7 Responses to “Thinking About Feminism”

  1. Ashana M said

    I think that sense of having more to do than is really possible is part of being a normal, healthy adult. This is new for middle class women, but it has always been the reality for working class women. Western society has been able to exist in a kind in a kind of fantasy world–as probably other cultures have been–because it was based on having groups of people available for exploitation. We didn’t have family leave policies because the wife, grandmother, or a domestic could handle that. We didn’t think about how to attend meetings until 10 pm and still make dinner and help the kids because the wife or a nanny could handle that. This sense of there being far too much to do is about having a fairer society, in which less work is pawned off on women and often on much poorer women–who then do not have the time or energy to devote to their own families. Men cannot have it all either.

    • Thanks, Ashana. I think men do not try to have it all, as they do not aspire to run the family or the household, generally speaking.

      • Ashana M said

        I think more and more fathers would like to spend more time with their families, and it is partly in response to the demands of men–rather than of women–that we have better work policies around this issue. Men also feel terribly guilty that they can’t be more involved in the lives of their children, and there are a lot of dads that resolve to be better fathers than they had. What they are spared is guilt over keeping the house clean and the laundry done, which is probably why we are seeing an uptick in demand for domestic employment. But the result of that is actually more pressure on men to earn higher wages, which keeps them out of the house and away from their kids, and exacerbates the problem. It isn’t sustainable.

  2. Shelly said

    Shirah, “I envied the women at home who could have tea with their neighbors, and spend hours getting to know each other?” Seriously? Was that what was missing from our childhood? Was that the reason you-know-who ostracized us? Because our parents worked? “On the other hand, I cannot imagine women not having the opportunity to go to professional schools, so I owe my foremothers a debt of gratitude.” With this statement, you claim that all women who get advanced degrees and then work outside the home do so by choice, which is simply not true. Some of us do it because we have to, we have families to support. “In fact, I had issues with the women’s movement. I felt that the demands on women were too great. It was not possible to work one hundred hours per week and have a family. I mean it was physically possible, but emotionally quite taxing. There was a never-ending feeling of not doing enough. The blending of work and domestic life was challenging….” While I agree that medical interns and residents put in an inordinate number of hours away from their families, medicine is not the only profession in which women must work sacrifice their families to the god of work: law and accounting are two others that come to my mind. I dunno, for some reason, this blog touches a nerve in me.

    • Interesting. I certainly did not mean to say that medicine was the only field which is demanding. I was just using my own experience as a way of relating to the women’s movement. I think that all work is a choice. I know it can feel like there is no choice, but there is still a choice. I know the choices may not be good ones, but in a free country, there are options. Generally speaking, we often box ourselves in corners without understanding that we gave ourselves this box. On the one hand, I am sorry that I irritated you with this post, and on the other hand, I want to hear more about that irritation.

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