I almost always start to have a moment when a woman who doesn’t work and chooses to stay at home begins a sentence with the following openings
“Children are more important. Career isn’t as important”.
“I will be asked for my kids by Allah. Allah will not ask about my profession”.
” I’m giving quality time to my kids. All my time is for my kids. I know women who work don’t give their all to their kids.”
Or a range of similar-sounding, subliminal insults that I’m sure don’t end up making these women feeling too great about themselves either.
I have had many arguments with family and friends over this. Their questioning of my priorities has baffled me. People who question choices live in absolutes. To them, something is either right or wrong. To them, a working mom can choose to stay home but is choosing not to. To them, they’ve figured out a way to be which is successful. They have cracked the code to happiness by staying at home and tending to their kids. And they might’ve but their judgement of working moms, particularly working physician moms, is not OK.
Medicine is a profession. Medicine is learnt with the aim to practice. At least the hundreds of American doctors and half of the thousands of Pakistani doctors that I’ve ever met went to medical school to practice medicine one day. Some of these doctors actually go to medical school with a lot of loans and then pay a pretty hefty interest on the loans. They also finance their own weddings and date their way through many bad relationships in order to find the one. They’ve been paying for independent living for a good part of their lives. Add it to the total cost that they’ve brought upon themselves.
But then there’s a subset of physicians, mainly women, who choose to stay at home or have various circumstances that they can’t circumvent to practice medicine. They want to but they can’t. They want to break into the profession that they gave their sweat, blood and tears to and are slowly watching themselves inch away from their profession. These women have my heart. I would love to see their empowerment one day.
A subset still is of women who have quietly and honestly accepted that learning medicine and practicing medicine are two different types of liabilities. That going through a training program is tough and they may lose themselves in the process. They admit openly that they aren’t quite sure that medicine is what they want to do ultimately. Or they’ve found their joy elsewhere. In motherhood, housekeeping, a domestic life is where they’re the happiest.
A subset of women have actually diversified into other fields sometimes more demanding and might I add, stimulating, than the practice of medicine.
A subset of women however is what rubs me the wrong way. The subset that is open in its maligning of the system. The subset that openly says that they think that child bearing and child rearing is a more important job than their profession. That the practice of medicine doesn’t hold any light to what they do at home, which, mind you, is what I do at home too when I’m home. This is the subset of women who come guns blazing when a debate of this sort is started. They openly antagonize working moms and tell people of their own disadvantage. They lament over the fact that they aren’t acknowledged for their “mothering” work. They say that in the age of patriarchy and misogyny, women themselves don’t get their fellow women’s work as mothers which according to them is their calling in life. And I want to sympathize with them but I’ve found it difficult. Why?
First of all, I find it hard for someone to go to medical school on a seat that was meant to be occupied by a future practicing physician and then say that they always wanted to raise kids. I would like to know why they felt that in order to raise kids successfully they needed to go to medical school?
My respect and appreciation for their work goes down a few more notches when they try to embarrass me by comparing a “homegrown”, “organic”, “nonGMO” version of a child to my daycare going, nanny-raised child. Do you think you’re a better mom than me? Then by that token I’m a better physician and community member than you because my work extends well beyond my family and my home. Please don’t tell me how you’re raising a great child who will prove to be an asset to their community. We will talk about that in twenty years.
My consideration for them sees new low’s when they try to tell who ever would listen that they’re actually doing what women are actually supposed to do. If you think myself and most working women don’t get it then you’re sadly mistaken. Your sarcasm is cheap and very easily understood by your target audience.
And I could’ve found some common ground with them had it not been for the constant complaints about the lack of acknowledgement that they have in life. How they’re shortchanged constantly by their family. How no one commiserates with them. How no one gets that they’re truly doing a job without a certificate or a paycheck.
But as mundane as this debate might seem to some, in the context of Pakistani women physicians who go to expensive medical schools sometimes and then choose to sit at home, it has some grave implications and conclusions.
When women go to a professional institute and have to choose to not practice for whatever reason afterwards, there could be a range of reasons for that. All plans capsize when life happens. We all know that. I can see how wistful some women are about the loss of a career they once thought they had.
But when Pakistani women go to professional institutions, particularly medicine, and then choose to live a domesticated life afterwards, I’m compelled to consider a few points in the motivation and reasons to do so.
1. Someone paid for their education and they graduate out of medical school debt-free. An American physician couldn’t do this if they had loans. They might choose to change career tacks later but for the duration of loan payment they can’t consider dabbling in work that doesn’t pay like being a mother or a wife (unless their husband is willing to foot the payments which are sometimes as much as a house would cost).
2. Are some women going into medicine under pressure from their parents because their siblings and parents are physicians too? We know that our country has a disorder of creating dynasties. Could this be another manifestation of this thinking?
3. Are some women becoming physicians to score better proposals? There’s no shame in admitting that. But…… if we admit this then we endorse the whole match hunt in Pakistan that I don’t endorse. If this is a motivation to get into medical school then this doesn’t seem to be what women are fighting for.
4. Are we so ashamed of pursuing our dreams that could be of becoming a teacher, a seamstress, a makeup artist, a stylist, a fashion designer, an actress that we are actually pursuing more acceptable dreams? Are we dreaming on cue? Are we dreaming only what’s allowed and suits society’s narrative of successful women?
I think we need to rethink our whole medical college craze and hype. This isn’t for women who go into it knowing that they won’t ever practice. This isn’t for women who go into it knowing that they can’t see blood, deal with psychiatric issues or be able to solve clinical enigmas. Because chances are that you’ll see one of these in your lifetime as a physician. This isn’t for women who don’t have the highest regard for this profession and its demands. When you don’t respect this profession even when you’ve been to medical school then you don’t respect physicians either.
I know this is a tough topic and one that would never be penned by a woman physician who works and refuses to see women physicians who happily choose to stay home as some damsel in distress. I don’t see them as better moms than me. I don’t see them as better wives than me. I empower physician moms who miss their profession and want to re-enter or if not re-enter then at least not degrade their profession by casting aspersions on the women who practice it. I can’t stand with women physicians who say ” I went to medical school but I never wanted to be a doctor. Taking care of kids is a woman’s real job”. Sorry but I’m not clamming up and shutting down in the face of your brazen antagonism.