I mean, everyone loves a good laugh, sarcasm, and witty violence but where do we draw the line? Some of these side remarks may be well intended, however ‘the road to hell is paved with good intention’. So yes, you didn’t mean it that way, but what did you actually say? How was it perceived by the person you said it to?
What we say is generally a reflection of what we think - our mindset. So what you said, which is a joke to you, could lowkey be a fruit of your belief system. You may just be in denial about it.
Gender bias isn’t a myth; as much as we’d all like to think it is! This bias comes in many forms and today I want to address the subtle offhand comments that women still have to deal with even in 2021.
I spoke to a number of women about issues they face at the workplace solely based on gender. One of the interesting conversations I had was with Mosun - a final year medical student at UNILAG.
She touched on some of the comments that her lecturers make often which she finds annoying:
“Why is it only the girls that are answering questions?”
“When we were in school many of the girls were studying nursing or other courses… they weren’t around for ward rounds; it was just us guys doing all the work”.
“I don’t understand why it’s mainly girls applying for medicine these days”.
The problem with offhand comments is how seemingly harmless they are. The words quoted above, of themselves, may seem fine and void of damage. However, if you look closely, the underlying and potentially detrimental mentality comes to light.
The statements made by the lecturers beg the question: Why? What’s the relevance of reminiscing about how things were back in the day? Especially to students while teaching them. Do they still expect and wish that medicine is a profession that men will continue to hold as some sort of exclusive trophy that can never be won by women, because they are somehow not as intellectually capable?
She also narrated a time during her surgery rotations where she experienced, what probably wasn’t intentional, discrimation that stuck with her.
There was only one male in her unit and he wasn’t in attendance for a particular surgery rotation. Mosun and her female colleagues asked the surgeon in charge if they could help out with the scrubbing procedure. This request was met with an “I don’t want to stress you ladies because it is a complicated surgery”.
The unhumorous joke is - the moment there was a guy in sight, albeit from another unit, he was called upon to render help. Mosun called the surgeon out on this and his response remained “it’s a complicated surgery and I didn’t think you were up to it”.
The competence of the female gender is constantly being questioned solely on the basis of gender. This is ignorant, to say the least, and should be vehemently prohibited.
Somehow, it has been ingrained in our minds from a young age that there is a difference between male and female that isn’t just a physical or physiological one. Mosun traces this conditioning as far back as primary school.
“The girl who wants to be the class rep isn’t allowed to, because ‘nobody will pay attention to her and she’d be too emotional to effectively lead’ and so they pick a guy who actually doesn’t even want to be a class rep”.
The fact that ‘nobody will pay attention to her’ is an acceptable excuse, for denying a female a leadership role, is preposterous. What are we actively doing about this?
Mosun continues, “It’s still happening now! Subconsciously patients seem to be more cooperative and respectful to male doctors than their female counterparts”. She goes on to make an audacious “even you!”
After our conversation, I had to do some self reflection to check for bias that might subconsciously be rooted deep in my mind. And this necessary call for reflection isn’t exclusive to males.
So what should we do?
“If you see your female colleague being disrespected by a patient, stand up for her. Not by making excuses for the patient. Don’t say ‘you know that’s how they are’...“Let me attend to the patient on your behalf’. That’s not solving the problem… that’s actually being condescending. It might seem helpful but what you’re indirectly saying is, she’s not good enough and so there’s a need for you to step in and take over. As if only men are capable of solving a patient’s problem”.
“Come to my defense but don’t mansplain. Treat me like your colleague, not like your female colleague. I’m not more special than you are neither am I less worthy. Let me decide that a task is going to be difficult for me rather than you making that assumption based solely on the fact that I’m female”.
Mosun is full of hope that things will change by the time she graduates and starts working. But will they?