Since I read Cheryl Sandberg's book Lean In last summer, I have been hyper-aware of the ways in which men and women in medicine behave differently. I've noticed how men speak up more during lectures and stay at the microphone even after they've been told that the question period is over. I've seen how male residents give orders to nurses while female residents make requests. I've witnessed the self doubt of smart and talented female medical students contrasted with the cockiness of some not as smart and talented male medical students*. It saddens and frustrates me to see, time and time again, women reflexively and unconsciously making themselves smaller because they've internalized the message that they are somehow lesser. (And men making themselves bigger because they believe that they're greater.)
This morning I went to an educational session in which these gendered behaviour patterns were on full display. The session was led by one male physician and one female physician, both of whom are well-respected in their fields and have similarly impressive CVs. Although they were supposed to be equal co-chairs, the man completely dominated the session. He read not only his introductory slides, but also hers. He answered all of the questions without even acknowledging that his co-chair might have an opinion that she wanted to add. The few times that she managed to start answering the question before him, he interrupted her to finish the answer. And then, partway through the session, he deviated from the planned presentation and, without asking permission from his co-chair, started showing his own set of slides on his area of research.
I was livid! I couldn't believe how blatantly disrespectful he was to his colleague. And the worst thing for me was, I suspect I was the only person in the room who noticed. We're so accustomed to this pattern of male dominance and female submission that we don't even bat an eye at it. Even though the voice of another smart and talented woman was completely silenced in the process.
I'm still livid.
*In case it needs to be stated, I don't think that female medical students are inherently smarter and/or more talented than male students. I've simply observed that women in medicine tend to underestimate their abilities, while many men do the opposite.