How I measure up.

My male colleague once said, “Medicine used to be all men.”

Even now, certain specialties such as orthopedics and neurosurgery are pretty much exclusively men, secretly and sometimes outspokenly against women joining their exclusiveness. White older males perpetually dominate key positions in medicine, and their defense is, “Bring us the qualified women!” with no intention to hire a woman. How can women enter a leadership position when men are not providing opportunity into their exclusive club? 

Women are “the other sex,” the “second sex,” the “sex to be further explained.” My anatomy training in medical school featured a male body. It is the model and norm. The study of entire organ systems modeled a male body in 90% of our anatomy studies and a woman’s body introduced as the “different reproduction system,” as if a woman’s breast, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, vagina, and vulva are aberrant and complicated organs. 

Researchers, usually males, further identify women with an ever-so-growing phenomenon of syndromes with mostly problematic connotations attached such as premenopausal (PMS), menopausal, superwomen, imposter, and battered women syndromes. The implication is that women are deficient and should measure up to what is considered “normal.”

This concept extends further by saying since women are hormonally dependent on their mood with a monthly cycling “problem.” Ironically, these speculations are tested to not be true that hormonal imbalance will lead to irrational behaviors. It places the burden of adjustment on women. Countless books and conferences have existed to “fix women” of their inferiorities while mostly men published lists of their problems. If women did not fit, it was their own fault.

A woman often faces a “double bind,” frowned upon for being too aggressive but weak if she is too sensitive or cries in public. What is wrong in showing emotion? Just because most white male leaders are stoic does not mean female leaders must act and dress like them and meet the same expectations in social behaviors.

Men are still the standard against which women are judged. A woman leader who acclimates well to the male norm of being outspoken, decisive, assertive, self-confident, independent, and courageous is often described as a “bitch” who lacks feminine qualities of kindness, consideration, warmth, pliability and her gaudy display of female emotions. No wonder many women struggle to find balance in the workplace as a leader. They have a double standard. The values of females become “deviant” when the measurement definition starts from males. No wonder why females often fail to measure up. 

I define good leadership as:

  1. excellent communication
  2. sound decision-making
  3. integrating connection
  4. empathy
  5. emotional cue-taking
  6. consensus-building and 
  7. mutuality

However, these leadership values become misconstrued as a “less-than or weaker” leadership style which clashes with the dominant male culture of charismatic leadership, top-down authoritative style of leadership. This is reflective of our social and family culture; he respects his father’s authoritative voice, and he runs to his mother for consolation. 

If the society’s value system were to flip and emphasize what is wrong with males, the problem lists might include an inflated or overly confident identity, unrealistic self-esteem, rigid and selfish, offensive sense of humor, insensitive, aloof, autonomous, uncooperative, angry, linear in thinking and a pathologic inhibition to express their emotion, suppression of pain, guilt, shame, remorse and fear of losing control. 

Currently, women outnumber men in college and medical schools—they account for about 55%. Women tend to have higher grades and drop out less frequently than men. Yet according to a study sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, women hold only 4% of leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies.

I became a leader physician believing that the mission is to serve patients by offering excellent care, to transform health care by innovative research, and to teach the next generation with knowledge, transparency, and compassion. The mission is clear which both genders are equally capable to achieve. But I came to realize throughout the centuries, women are seldom seen as chairman of the department, chef, conductor, pilot, president, CEO, dean, astronaut, ship captain, sports coach or any other visible leadership position. Women do not need affirmative action requiring women in leadership positions to fulfill an institution’s public image, and to meet a diversity quota. We do not want the job as a leader for the social sympathy and endure suspicion that we are in the “inclusive program project.” We want to be a leader based on merit and talent. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

Women doctors share inspirational and heroic stories to successfully navigate sexism or discrimination in medicine, overcome impostor syndrome, or powerfully stand up for equity.

All of these stories are empowering and inspirational. But this too is measuring up to someone else’s standard; a mere illusion of being the winner. In truth, there are no winners or losers. No tombstones ever mention how much one worked and stood up for inequality. The writing merely says BELOVED WIFE, or MOTHER.

In the end, it is about who you loved and who loved you when you lived in this place called earth.

Being truthful to oneself and living comfortable in one’s skin in honesty may be the most heroic and meaningful story.

Read more about women in medicine in my new book, FORGIVE TO LIVE.

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