It sounds odd now, but my mother was actually proud to take me to her gynecologist for my first pap smear when I was a teen.
Mostly because my mother – always a very “pro-woman” figure in my life – thought it was important for her daughters to see women, particularly women of color, in important positions. She beamed as she introduced me to her long-time OB/GYN who happened to be a tiny, friendly, but extremely blunt Asian woman.
She was my mother’s first female OB/GYN and my mother had an overwhelming preference for women doctors, as her long-time primary care physician was female as well.
Before the 1980s, all the doctors who’d treated my mother were white males. Not because she’d explicitly wanted a male doctor, but because in the 1970s, there wasn’t much variety in St. Louis, Mo. So the minute she could find get some diversity, she went for it. Even the vast majority of my childhood pediatricians were either foreign-born or women.
But for her, having a female gynecologist was especially important.
“Why would I want someone down there who doesn’t even know what I’m working with,” she would exclaim. She also said she felt safer with a female doctor. There was a lot less anxiety about enduring what is already a pretty intimate procedure between you, some stirrups and the world’s coldest metal devices.
I never gave it another thought until I took my first job in Texas and a woman at my workplace who was pregnant told me how revolting she found it to see a female gynecologist.
“Touching me there?” she shrieked. “It seems wrong!”
I asked her why it seemed so wrong, being that a woman doctor has probably already seen her fair share of vagina, and she remarked her fear that a woman motivated to go into gynecology must be “a lesbian.”
She also expressed that in high school she didn’t even undress in the girls locker room, preferring to change in the bathroom stall. I pointed out the flaw in her logic by saying a male gynecologist could easily be attracted to her or a sexual predator. But she shot that down. Her homophobia was a bigger concern than her fear of sexual assault by a man.
Again though, without much thought to it, I continued to primarily only pick women as my gynecologist and had forgotten completely about the gender war of which gender is more appropriate to exam your cervix until I read this recent post on Jezebel.
The story was about a male gynecologist who’d committed suicide after being caught taking pictures of his patients for years. The story prompted an interesting debate, as readers warred over which gender makes the better gyno.
The logic tended to fall along two lines:
If you were against male gynecologists it was about fear of sexual exploitation, discomfort with an unfamiliar man seeing you naked, rebelling against past societal norms were all gynecologists were men or concern that men wouldn’t be as understanding about a woman’s body since they aren’t working with the same equipment.
If you were against female gynecologists it seemed to be all about how some had terrible experiences with female gynos who were rude, pushy, didn’t listen to them or were insensitive, whereas the better male doctors tended to over-compensate for their lack of vagina with a heaping dose of politeness.
Much of it reminded me of the different reactions my sisters and I had to our mother’s gynecologist. I thought she was perfectly fine and chalked it up to cultural differences when she, rather bluntly, would tell me I needed to lose weight. Irregular period? Lose weight. Period happening too often? Lose weight. Period has painful cramps? Lose weight. She would not be the first, nor the last, Asian woman born overseas to tell me or someone I know how fat they are. Although, I’d give anything to be that “fat” again, as I was a “fat” size 8 as a teenager.
But I never put my mother’s gynos universal “You’re too fat” response on all women OB/GYNs. And I also believe most male gynecologists are professionals who take their jobs seriously. If there were more crooked perverts than good guys it would destroy the profession.
I still feel more comfortable with a woman doctor, but it’s a preference, not a rule. Ultimately, I only care if the doctor is good at his or her job. And even ol’ Miss “lose weight” still looked for other ways to treat my temperamental lady parts that didn’t solely involve a treadmill.
What do you think? Does gender matter when you’re looking for a doctor for your lady parts?