Rebecca Elia's Blog

All about Feminine Health, Healing, and Greece

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Walk Like a Man. Talk Like a Man."

I’m feeling discouraged today, discouraged by the old stuff that women hang onto. My generation has had to try so hard to make it in the male world that we’ve taken on the same imbalances. We’ve learned to value independence to the extreme. We had to, because it was what was respected and expected. It has surprised me, especially when I encountered this in the medical field. One would think that we would naturally ask one another for help, that we would work together. Wasn’t that the advantage of working within a group of physicians? But my residency experience was just the opposite. Although we as residents would help one another, we were expected to do it all on our own, often times juggling several different roles. For example, when we covered labor and delivery at night in our hospital, we were responsible for all of the admitted laboring patients, the evaluation of urgent pregnant patients, and all of the gynecological, prenatal and postpartum in-house patients. This amounted to a lot of patients. There was one other resident in house, covering gynecological emergencies and surgeries, and an attending physician; however, the more we could do without their help, the better.

In retrospect, it was a bit ridiculous. This plan was justified by the fact that it was essential that we learn how to prioritize, that it would prepare us for similar circumstances in the future. Some defended this system by citing the additional experience the sheer volume would provide us over a specified number of years--four, in this case.

I remember, though, what bothered me the most --when women did not help other women. Thankfully, this was rare. I worked with a group of excellent female physicians and ancillary staff, who were very supportive. Occasionally, however, there would be a woman who worked in the hospital that treated the female residents worse than the male residents. Today, I spoke with a Greek friend who is doing his surgical residency in Scotland. He reminded me of this when he said that his fiancée is experiencing the same discriminatory behavior from some of the female nurses at their hospital. This is still happening, twenty years later.

We, as women, have taken the masculine trait of independence to the extreme. We are threatened by and in competition with other women, still. Some part of us continues to believe that it is better if we do it all on our own, without anyone’s help. Then, when we have accomplished an extraordinary amount, we hesitate to extend a hand to another woman, because we are still competing and because we sacrificed so much to achieve our goals. This is such a strange unnatural behavior for women. I understand why it has happened, but it saddens me immensely.

I could not have survived my medical training if it weren’t for my two female friends, who were also residents. They saved my life.

Nothing great has ever been accomplished alone. What will it take before we trust one another again?

I thank all of you, women and men, who have trusted me and supported me. None of my accomplishments in life would have occurred without you. More important, you have kept me sane and made my goals meaningful.


  1. I have always thought that women are much crueler to each other than any man is to another man. I don't know why. Competition? Women can be the most generous and lovely beings when they want to be, the problem is there are a lot out there that don't want to be!

  2. It makes me sad. I've come to believe that we have learned the masculine values almost too well--like competition, productivity, independence--because this is what our structured world supports, but I also believe that it has to do somewhat with personal esteem and power. It is often those who feel the most powerless that abuse this power. Unfortunately, I've observed a lot of men and women who take on leadership positions in order to feel more powerful.

    I hope that we, as women, remember our natural gift to create community and support. We are so incredibly powerful when we act together and support each other! I am thankful for all of the wonderful women and men in my life. As I said, I would never have accomplished anything of meaning without them.

  3. Thanks for this. I've always had this feeling that women are especially viscous to each other because they feel that there is only so much room at the top for women, and so we've got to knock the other women out to get our shot. It's it funny that while men are competitive, they can be respectful doing it? Why can't we? It's sad.

  4. Thank you for your comment.

    You speak for many women. I just addressed this in my forthcoming book. The short answer is that men are free to be competitive while still maintaining their comraderie, whereas women are not. I've observed, (in the medical field, in particular) the same guys being fiercly competitive and an hour later enjoying each other's company over drinks.

    Bottom line? Not only are men and women different, but many (perhaps most) women do not yet carry the same power (both internally and externally) that men do.

  5. i've always joked that the real thing behind penis envy is a mans ability to pee anywhere.

    it's odd how women are... with the huge bond we have of uterus and an innate sense to nurture, our communication skills and ability to work in teams... we still will turn on each other. when a man cheats on his partner, she will turn on the other woman... not the man. i never understood that.

    i was fortunate to find strong women friends when i hit my 30's... they've helped me through much in my life.. and will continue to do so.

    great post.