The Status of Women, 1999-2019

IMG_1282

What happens for men when women speak Feminism?

I intend to ask this question to more men in my life from now on.  What do you hear as Feminism?  Where do you think it comes from?  What do you think women are trying to accomplish by talking about equity and representation?  What moves a man to ally with women in this movement?  What keeps him from doing so?  What are the risks, costs, and benefits for us all when he does and does not?

AP QUICK HITS THE 99ERS S SOC FILE USA CA

Women in Sports

The US Women have just won their fourth World Cup Soccer title, kicking balls and ass, I like to say.  What an accomplishment, and how far they’ve come since winning the first ever Women’s World Cup in 1991, the year I graduated high school.  I don’t follow soccer, but as an American woman, this victory carries meaning for me.  At halftime this morning I read about Brandi Chastain, the 1999 US World Cup champion midfielder who famously, spontaneously, took off her jersey in unadulterated celebration after firing the winning penalty kick in double overtime against China to win it all.  The New York Times featured her story yesterday, commenting on the evolution of our perceptions and treatment of female athletes over these 20 years:

In that pivotal moment of arrival for women’s team sports in the United States and around the world, viewers saw Chastain removing her jersey and twirling it like a lariat, spinning around and falling to her knees, pumping her arms in exultant triumph. What resulted was perhaps the most iconic photograph ever taken of a female athlete, a depiction of pure spontaneous joy.

It was a moment of freedom and liberation, Marlene Bjornsrud, a longtime women’s coach and an influential sports executive, once told me. She called it a “casting off the burden of everything that kept us down and said, ‘You can’t do that because you are a woman.’ It was a moment that screamed, ‘Yes, I can.’”

Title IX was signed into law by President Nixon in 1972, one year before I was born.  So I took it for granted that girls could play sports just like boys in school—not every sport, but most.  I also took for granted the inherent assumptions about women in athletics—that we cannot be as fast, as strong, or as competitive as men.  I have so much more appreciation now for icons like Billy Jean King, Martina Navratilova, and Pat Summitt. I think about the WNBA, and women coaching in the NBA, NHL, and NFL, and I marvel at how far we have come.  Take a look at this timeline of women’s sports in the US to get a fuller perspective.  I know many will say we have a long way yet to go.  But today, let us joyfully celebrate all that we have accomplished already.  Wahoo!! [fist bump and dancing woman emojis]

 

Ortho women residents 1999-2013 jbjs jan 2012

Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, January 2012

Women at Work

I’m thinking about the culture of orthopaedic surgery.  In the twenty years since I graduated from medical school, I see more and more women in this field (as well as other surgical specialties), which makes me proud.  While women comprise only 5% of practicing orthopaedic surgeons, 15% of American orthopaedic residents are now women, which is roughly double the percentage in 1999.  But what’s it like to be a woman in orthopaedics?  How do these women present, perhaps differently, at work compared to in their personal lives?  Is it truly safe for them to be themselves as surgeons?  The American Orthopaedic Association held their annual meeting recently.  My orthopod friend returned from the conference and commented that the rare women leaders in his field seem ‘fierce’ and ‘tough’—but in a good way?  It struck him to wonder if they are just like that in general, or do they have to be that way to navigate their male-dominated specialty.  He wondered how they would be seen if they displayed sensitivity and emotion, “because a man can be seen as sensitive and kind” and not only does it cost him nothing, his social status is likely to be elevated because of it.  My friend was not sure this is the case for his female colleagues, and he seemed both empathetic and powerless at the idea.  Looks like gender parity may take a bit longer in medicine than in sports.

At work in general, women’s status varies considerably.  But research points to common issues such a 22% pay gap and too few women in leadership (5% of US corporate CEOs), though these are improving.  One need not look far for abundant evidence that having more women on the corporate team improves earnings and morale.  Much is also written on strategies for improving gender equity at work.  Two of my favorites are exit interviews and work-life balance initiatives for all employees, not just women.  But as I wrote last week, it’s not just about including women as participants in the workforce.  It’s about truly appreciating the diversity of experience, biology, and contribution that women bring to any group they serve.

 

561204_3707569082371_72213499_n

Women and Men

There is no way I can do justice to this topic in the remainder of this post.  So let me just share some ideas and resources I will continue to explore in the months and years to come.

I asked at the beginning what happens for men when women speak Feminism.  A corollary question is what happens for all of us when we hear the words ‘toxic masculinity’?  My guess is men get defensive and women get aggressive.  Personally I love the phrase because it’s so incisively descriptive.  But it can also be a flashpoint phrase, one that immediately incites conflict and emotional hijack.  Let me be clear: toxic masculinity does not imply that men and manhood are toxic by nature.  Quite the contrary, the phrase refers to a culture of expectations of men that is just as toxic for men as it is for women.  Male surgeons may well benefit from being sensitive and kind, but not too much so, lest they be seen as weak.  This is a vast oversimplification, by the way; the history and complexity of toxic masculinity are explored articulately here.

Readers of this blog know how much I love Brené Brown.  Her explanations of how shame (where toxic masculinity is born) manifests and organizes around gender—and why it is toxic for both men and women–are the most poignant and real.  Read her first hand comments to Ms. magazine here, and a stay-at-home dad writer’s interpretation of them here.  If you seek a nonjudgmental, objective, and real-life exploration of the complex dynamics between men and women, read The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.  Sister (she’s not old enough to be Aunt) Brené’s books are the most accessible form of evidence-based, all-around relationship advice I have ever read, and I’m so grateful for her.  From the Ms. Interview:

What role do you think vulnerability played in the #MeToo movement?

Know what I love about the #MeToo movement?—and, me too—I thought until I was 25 or 30, that sexual harassment was just the price of entry.  The greatest casualty of trauma is the ability to be vulnerable. So this #MeToo movement is re-defining and re-claiming vulnerability, and putting vulnerability in the context it belongs in, which is power and courage. 

 What gives you hope?

The thing that scares me about the world today is the same thing that gives me hope. I believe we’re witnessing white male power over. It’s making its last stand right now. And it’s scary because last stands are dangerous, and people get very backed into a corner. I think this is the last stand, and that we’re going to see a shift, mercifully, from white male power to inclusive power with it too. And I think from that paradigm, we can do anything, change anything, and be anything. 

And it’s not just women who can claim agency against misogyny and sexism.  Men who identify as feminists serve as allies for gender equity and respect.  But men can also help themselves and each other break free from the restraints of machismo and chauvinism.  Movements like The Good Men Project and Evryman give men a forum for honest, vulnerable emotional expression and connection.  Just like women surgeons and corporate executives, all men need inclusive spaces where they can feel true belonging, where they are free to be all of themselves—hard emotions and all—for all our sakes.

Men I admire in this space include Nate Green, Ozan Varol, and David Brooks.

* * * * *

To lift my spirits here at the end of this long post, I’m listening to a song on repeat: Woman, Amen by Dierks Bentley.  It’s such a shining anthem of a man’s unabashed love and appreciation for his partner.  I can also imagine modifying the lyrics and hearing Faith Hill singing about her man Tim McGraw.

Thanks for reading to the end, friends.

Our relationships kill us or save us, and we really need to be better at taking care of each other, locally and globally.  We, men and women alike, are all in this together, inextricably, in sickness and in health, forever.

Only Love can save us.  Let’s get on it.

 

Insight While Driving to Work

IMG_4426

Training for Better Angels, it occurs to me:
Confidence in excellent communication skills in order to enter difficult conversations without bailing or lashing out… is akin to the core stability required to get into and out of a deep squat.
It’s the bending down, feet flat, head up, in control and not falling over, that is the challenge—not the forcing up in a quick, mindless burst of brute strength. Bearing the load all the way down and standing back up gracefully, without causing or suffering injury: that is where our real power lies, in the gym and in conversation.

See, Do, Teach

IMG_4409

NaBloPoMo 2018:  What I’m Learning

When did you first notice you were led well?  Who was it, what was the circumstance?

See

I was in 7th grade math class.  The teacher was Joe Alt.  I met him 33 years ago, when I was 12, and I still consider him one of my greatest and most important mentors.  He could teach anything and make it interesting, and we learned not only math and science, but how to be good people.  In a class that included both uber-nerd me and ultra-headbanger dude, he helped us both to see each other as people and get along so we could all learn.

Later I would find leadership role models in my athletic coaches, professors, program directors, committee colleagues, and hospital administrators.  At their best, these people were/are:

  • Attuned
  • Empathic
  • Reflective
  • Articulate
  • Intrinsically Motivated
  • Actively Engaged
  • Personal
  • Approachable
  • Genuine

I have also studied on my own, seeking guidance from sources like Benjamin and Rosamund Stone Zander, Simon Sinek, Brené Brown, Daniel Goleman, Chip and Dan Heath,  Rachel Naomi Remen, The Harvard Business Review, most recently Anthony Suchman, and, soon again, Marcus Aurelius.  I’m always looking for the next new or old related idea, the next dot to connect in order to draw my leadership map with more depth and detail.

Do

Recently I asked a new mentor what books he likes to read about leadership, organizations, etc.  He said he reads some, but prefers to simply do, always learning, adapting, applying, and evolving along the way.  I have had small leadership roles at school and work, in my professional society, as well as in my community, over the years.  They have all given me tremendous opportunities to practice what I read.  More and more, I see the value in getting my nose out of the books, looking up, and stepping forward.

Teach?

I spoke with a high school freshman athlete recently.  She plays two sports, both teams comprised of both upper and lower class(wo)men.  She contrasted the coaches’ personalities and styles, and how she learns about the respective sports as well as teamwork, integrity, etc.  We noted how much better it feels when the coach knows you personally, and pays attention to your state of mind as well as your performance.  The team with the less attuned coach will soon choose a captain for next year.  It’s usually a senior, perhaps regardless of leadership skill or potential.  She described the various candidates to me, and why she thought they would be good captains (or not).

I asked her whether the team feels like a true team, or more like just a group of individuals.  She said right now, it’s the latter.  I asked how she would show up if one of the less desirable candidates were named captain.  She had not really thought about it other than to continue working on her own sports skills.  I then found myself offering copious unsolicited advice:

You have a few choices, I told her.  First, you could remain an individual, holding your own goals as primary.  You may or may not improve, your team may or may not do well, and your personal contribution to the success of the whole will be proportional to your own individual performance.  Second, as you progress in your skills and newer kids join the team, you can help teach and mentor them.  You could observe the new captain, identify her weaknesses. If possible, and if you’re so inclined, you can fill in the gaps for the team—lead from within the pack.  You could help build morale, create a true team from its inside, cultivate relationships that will make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.  You could set your sights higher than your own personal achievement and really help the team succeed.  Third, you could take it to the next level by cultivating an advisory relationship with the captain herself.  If you have her trust, and exercise tact, you could help her see and maximize her strengths, navigate around her weaknesses—you can ‘coach up.’

The latter choices are, obviously, harder and more labor intensive.  I would also argue that they would make membership on the team exponentially more meaningful for everybody.  By serving as a connector among teammates (with boundaries, realistic expectations, and self-care, of course), this young athlete could make connectors of her teammates, too.  And a few years from now, if she herself is tapped to lead, she will have already earned her peers’ respect.  They’ll follow out of course; it will feel only natural.  And, they may then already be the cohesive team that she really wants to serve as leader.

IMG_4564

These ideas poured forth in a torrent of consciousness, forming sentences before I could actually think them.  As happens so often, I found myself saying words, advising someone else, that I myself needed to hear at exactly that moment.  Most of the time it’s about eating, sleep, or exercise.  This was an A-ha! moment on my personal leadership journey.

Now I see the true meaning behind the phrase, “See one, do one, teach one.”  It’s not about becoming a teacher.  It’s about always remaining a student, because the best way to truly understand anything is to try teaching it.

See, do, teach.  It’s not linear.  It is, no question, completely cyclic.