A sexist rant

As an alternative recognition of Valentine’s Day, I’m going to get sexist here.

Some years ago I stopped going to male doctors. Nothing to do with male eyes and hands, you understand—ging through a couple of pregnancies tends to leave a woman with little bodily modesty—but it’s to do with what comes out of their mouths.

I’d go in with a question about my heart flutter, or the sore muscle in my shoulder, or the cough that wouldn’t go away, and sooner or later, I’d hear The Question:

“Are you under stress?”

This is a question I’ve never had a woman doctor ask me, simply because any woman who’s made it through med school knows that for Christ sake OF COURSE I’M UNDER &*$#@M* STRESS HERE, WHAT WOMAN IN HER RIGHT MIND ISN’T THESE DAYS?

All in all it was easier to go with a woman doctor than to be arrested for strangling a man with his own stethoscope.

However, to be fair to the hairier sex, and at risk of offending my sisters, I will assert that there are some things men are better at. For one, male barristas make better lattes. I have, I admit, come across a few women who get the idea of putting some muscle into the process, but for the most part, the stronger the arm, the better the drink. A few years ago my local bookshop had a guy in the coffee bar with tats, piercings, bleached hair, and muscles out to there: heaven in a glass. I mourned when he left.

This sexist interval is now over.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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  1. Younger Son on February 14, 2008 at 9:39 am

    I, too, prefer women doctors. They always ask about stress. I always thought it a fair question, as I’ve found stress has a bad effect on my body, and on health-related behaviors.

  2. Roxanne on February 14, 2008 at 9:48 am

    This is an issue so close to my own heart. I am on the exact same page re: male (hairier) doctors. I found the never-ending question “Are you under stress?” stressed me out. For years (too, too many years) I was diagnosed (by male doctors) as “fragile” or “too delicate” or “emotional” or (shades of Dr. Freud) “hysterical.” We met very briefly in New York, Laurie, and I’ve not doubt you remember me not at all–but the last thing anyone would/should call me is “delicate.” The last male doctor I went to told me that “You’re a single mother; you’re supposed to be tired.” I found myself wondering if I could take him. Well, long story short, it turns out that I am afflicted with a sleep disorder and, with the appropriate medication, am just fine. Fragile and hysterical, indeed. I bet I could have taken that last male doctor.

    P.S. I had to look up “barrista.” Your writing goes a long way in expanding my vocabulary . . .

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  3. Strawberry Curls on February 14, 2008 at 11:04 am

    This made me laugh. Several decades ago, as I was approaching 40 I decided I needed to find a female gynocologist. If I had to go through menopause I wanted a guide who had to do it also. Twenty plus years later my gyno, who was only three years older than me, has retired and today I’m going for my yearly exam with a new female doctor. Happy Valentine’s Day, now lay back and relax.

  4. Marcia Diane on February 14, 2008 at 11:22 am

    Laurie, I just knew you were are coffee nut, a strong coffee nut, after reading Oh Jeruselum. No one has ever done coffee better and more consistantly throughout a book, ever. Why I hardly needed coffee as I read it, so viseral was the portrayal.

    As to boys in white, well the poor things, they are under so much stress…

    ha ha,

    M. Diane

  5. ladonna on February 14, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Sorry, have to disagree (and on my first post too!!). My first gyno was a woman (with five children) treating (yeah) me for fertility issues — we were finished when she told me that I would get pregnant if I just stopped worrying about it. Now I start off any new male doctor with the following — “Please repeat after me: I am a man and I know the mechanics but I really have no clue.” If they can’t say that I move on. Managed to get through to menopause (early and surgically induced) without strangling anyone. A doctor (male or female) without a sense of humor and humility is useless.

    And as for coffee — only in restaurants in US. I’m with Mary Russell — most situations are better with the teapot (a nice brown Betty) in clear sight.

  6. tangential1 on February 14, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    Along the vein that there are some things that men are better at: I always look for a guy when I’m trying to find someone new to cut my hair. I have a much better relationship with male hair-stylists because they are very good at giving me exactly what I ask for. I have no idea why, but just about every woman I’ve had cut my hair tries to make me look like a soccer mom. I’ve barely finished my BS!! I don’t want to look like a soccer mom!

    My current stylist has a half dozen piercings and sleeves (tattoos from wrist to shoulder) and always gives me an awesome cut 😉

  7. nkk1969 on February 14, 2008 at 1:12 pm


    [now lay back and relax.]

    There’s another thing male doctors are bad to do and female doctors never do. Females know there is no way on God’s Green Earth you can relax with several inches of cold surgical steel aimed at your Happy Place. Sheeeeesh.


    [a couple of pregnancies tends to leave a woman with little bodily modesty]

    Amen to that!

    We know Russell doesn’t like doctors, but it’s a shame her options probably didn’t include a female physician, not to mention an OBGYN. Not that she’d need the OB part, but you know what I mean.


  8. Sara on February 14, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    I just returned from an appointment today with a male doctor who sounded for all the world like Ben Stein. If I wasn’t running a fever over 101 F and my head wasn’t sloshing about, I would have asked when I could win his money.

    My best friend is in her last year of med school and I have always rooted for her. She has lots of women in her class too, and it makes me very appreciative of how this, for my generation, was never not an option. Of course girls can want to be doctors. How very lucky we are.

  9. Cathy on February 14, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    I actually had an argument with my five year old daughter a few months ago because she didn’t believe it was possible for men to be doctors. I realized that:

    1. all the medical doctors that she has met have been female (my choice because they’ll actually listen to what you’re saying rather than what they think you’re going to say)
    2. I have a Ph.D., so she knows that Mommy’s “big name” is Dr. So and So.
    2. All my girlfriends are from grad school, and thus called Dr. Such-and-Such, etc.

    I thought it was hilarious. But we have now established that boys can, in fact, be doctors. And they can also do ballet — if they want.


  10. corgimom on February 14, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    My gay male doctor, who is also my son’s pediatrician, is quite good and gentle and really never sexist. He’s the only male doc in my own experience that I can say that about.
    The latte thing (sorry Laurie) sounds like the visual impacted the oral in a synaesthetic sort of way.

  11. Kerry on February 15, 2008 at 9:57 am

    I have several doctors, myself. I didn’t originally insist on a female ob/gyn, but the guy I initially went to after we moved here was just a jerk; I love my new doc. Both my neurologist and gastroenterologist are men; they did me the courtesy of learning that I hold a Ph.D. in biology, always address me as “Dr.”, and never talk down to me; my GI doc, in fact, loves to tell me about the latest research and to hear what’s new in science teaching. On the other hand, I go for routine stuff to a “doc in a box” place, where one physician referred to me, without batting an eye, as “the little girl in Birkenstocks.”

    Talk about nearly strangled with his own stethoscope . . .

  12. KathyElliot on February 15, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    “All in all it was easier to go with a woman doctor than to be arrested for strangling a man with his own stethoscope.”

    …can I make t-shirts out of this? Please?

    Joking aside, I’ve had much the same experience exactly a year ago. After a very bad case of stomach flu, I was rushed into the hospital the second time in as many weekends, being totally unable to breathe. It turned out later, as I spoke with a doctor friend of mine (female, married, three children who are never anything less than perfect, and on ER), that I had a bad case of Wet Pleura, where the infection moved to the coating around my lungs. The doctors in MY ER (male, I’m afraid) wrote ‘stress’ on my medical card. Should I say more, or is that quite enough? I tend to think so.

    Hope you had a lovely Valentine (Doctor free, for all our peace of mind!)

  13. MaryL on February 18, 2008 at 11:36 am

    OK- I’m a female Family Medicine doc, and the comments here are very interesting. In all fairness to my male colleagues, I do wonder if it’s ALL male MDs, or just a few insensitve ones? I ask BOTH my male and female patients the stress question, as it can impact how I treat the pain-that spot in the back near your shoulder? It’s real, it hurts and it’s a classic place for stress to hit you–you need pain pills, exercises and maybe some insight into why it happened now, and what can you do to prevent recurrence. Now in terms of labeling all the females as stress or psych illness when it’s really MS or pleurisy or Congestive heart failure or heart attack, I think some fellows are guilty of this. I do try to make sure all the students who rotate through this office understand that stereotyping the women as “hysterical” will get them into a lot of trouble, that listening is an art you get better at as you age and are “seasoned” and until then, keep asking the patient to describe, be open to the non-textbook presentation of disease and just LISTEN-the patient will evntually tell you what’s wrong. OK-enough of the lecture.
    Can I also put in a word for a “Medical Home”? If you have an ongoing relationship with a Family Medicine (or Internist) doc, it is easier to sort out the really serious stuff from the the just-going-to-make you-miserable-for-a-while illness, and also the urgent care “doc-in-a-box” is geared to “treat and street”, not undertake ongoing care.
    To sum up-there’s a doctor out there who is suited for you, in temperment, responsiveness, length of explanations, whatever it is that you need. Just keep looking, remember one size doesn’t fit all, and that we’re human too-we are all different, and we don’t always bond with every patient…keep looking!

  14. Laraine on February 18, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    Ok, I’m going to come clean here: I practice Traditional Chinese Medicine (acupuncture, herbal medicines, etc.), and this discussion has me both laughing and remembering encounters such as the high-level endocrinology specialist who told me in ’92 or so that my serious illness, which he refused to recognise or diagnose, was a consequence of my not having sufficient sex. Small wonder that I sought another opinion. I’m happy to report that many male practitioners of TCM exercise more thoughtful and attentive care than that guy (and the interns I supervise most certainly will!!). On the other hand, I left a woman gyno when she became hysterical at my refusal to use hormones, fluttering her hands and warning me that I would be more vulnerable to cancer if I didn’t take them. A few research studies have since proven her wrong. But, on the whole, when I have a health issue that needs diagnosis or care from the Western side of things, I do tend to seek out women practitioners. The rest of the time, my acupuncturists take care of me just fine.

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