Catherine Fox: A Stop fixing women update

By Catherine Fox, Director of Diversity at WLA 

Barely a week goes by without another classic example of the 'fixing women' approach to modern gender dynamics in action. All the usual faulty thinking and victim blaming is regularly on display, often backed by little data or even basic logic.

Sure it irritates me mightily. But make no mistake, we need to keep calling these out because it continues to negatively stereotype and send women backwards at a rate of knots.

So let me turn to one of the latest SFW (stop fixing women) specimens to come to light.

Senior specialist Professor Hans Peter Dietz and his 2018 internal Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation emails in response to reports of bullying of junior doctors published in the Sydney Morning Herald are vintage.

According to the good Professor, the medical workforce is increasingly vulnerable because it is increasingly female and women doctors are ill-prepared to deal with adversity.

Oh, and women are more expensive to train because they work for fewer years and are more likely to fall ill and drop out.

These awful consequences appear to defy the statistics which show women have been graduating from medical schools in growing numbers for decades, and in 2017 outnumbered men as general practitioners (50.2% members of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners) for the first time.

The old furphy about women dropping out of paid jobs is just that – in fact Australian women’s overall workforce participation rate has increased in recent years. And this includes women with children under five years of age.

Are we also to conclude from these pronouncements that male doctors don’t get sick or leave the profession? Some data would be handy here.

If there are so many women GPs and they are so likely to flee the profession or take sickies it would seem odd the entire fabric of healthcare in this country hasn’t frayed away entirely. Or could it be that women GPs are actually sticking to the job and presumably providing the services required by patients?

But of course there’s more than one aspect of Professor Dietz’s comments that deserve a little forensic SFW analysis.

How about the assumption that women medics aren’t resilient as these very comments reveal the amount of bias and hostility they are facing? And an array of Australian studies in recent years have concluded sexism and bullying of women in medicine, particularly directed to those hardy few who try to become surgeons, is rife.

If women are really so fragile it’s a wonder they continue to enter medical school, graduate and practice as GPs in such high numbers.

And anyway, decades of research has found the way to effectively address bullying is not to blame the victim or tell them to toughen up but identify and tackle the cause. Enclaves of protected male privilege which effectively govern themselves might have something to do with this behaviour to ‘interlopers’.

Underneath these kinds of outbursts is a howl of outrage that women are increasingly and successfully infiltrating a world once designated men-only. Realms of power, status and money.

They may even be there because they are as good or better at these jobs than men because they are women. Which reminds me of when my male obstetrician told me childbirth didn’t hurt that much. He was wrong – and his credibility was limited by default.

And my woman GP? Thirty years of excellent treatment even while she was having her three children.

Women in medical jobs bring invaluable experience to their work, and their women patients, and know that mimicking a traditional male model is a hiding to nothing. They don’t need fixing, they need emulating.

More from WLA: 

Catherine Fox on the importance of women coming together

Suzi Finkelstein on the power of amplification

2020 Australian Women's Leadership Symposiums