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25 November 2014 @ 12:21 pm
LJ Idol Season Nine: "Without A Doubt"  
Without A Doubt
lj idol season nine | week 29 | 777 words


While I never wanted to follow in my mother's footsteps of becoming a doctor, I always admired her strength and grit in achieving that for herself. My mother was part of only the second generation of female doctors in the United States, and it was an uphill battle all the way.

There were only a few respectable careers for women in that era: teaching, secretarial work, and nursing were the professional options. My mother knew she wanted to be a doctor rather than a nurse, and timing was the only bit of luck she had: it was a few years after the end of World War II, and so many men had detoured through military service and delayed getting their undergraduate degrees, that the medical school had spots available.

Still, there would always be those among the faculty and other students who firmly believed that women did not belong in medicine.

There was the anatomy professor who announced in front of the whole class that he would give my mother an 'A' if she slept with him, and flunk her if she didn't. She said he'd have to flunk her then, and while he didn't, he marked all her work for 70%, the lowest passing grade. One of her classmates used to gleefully compare her answers to his, which were often identical – except that her paper had a nonspecific "-5" written on it every time. She wondered if the classmate was checking to see if she'd started sleeping with the professor, but regardless, it was a spiteful thing to do. He certainly didn't defend her. She couldn't go to the Dean, who worked off-campus and was never in his office—and had she tried, would it even have helped? Women were considered trouble, if for no other reason than that they "caused" men to misbehave, and the safest option was usually to just keep quiet.

Web research (because yes, I am Google-spying on my mother) tells me that she received a small women's scholarship throughout her undergrad work, which was fortunate. The Depression hit her family hard enough that she began picking beans at age ten to help pay for food and rent. She kept that up through college, along with working as a carhop (roller skates and all) to earn money for medical school. There really was no part of becoming a doctor that was easy for her.

My mother has a much thicker skin than I, and a knack for decoding passive-aggressive hostility disguised as camaraderie. It's hard to know whether the classmates (all men) who brought her a birthday cake in the middle of cadaver lab were testing her, or whether the prank was a sign of acceptance. Either way, she managed to eat it, although she never touched spice cake again after that.

I don't remember many stories about her residency (at a Catholic hospital, run by nuns who may have admired or resented her—or both). When she entered into practice as a radiologist, she found herself working long hours (with two young children) and doing double the work of the other doctors in the clinic, all of whom insisted that any complaints about her schedule meant she wasn't serious about medicine. My father's profession, psychiatry, was understandably more interesting than radiology, so she left the practice and went back into residency—in her mid-forties—to change specialties. She was the oldest student in the program, a situation possibly more awkward than before.

Two years later, the man who administered the psychiatric boards threatened to flunk her if she didn't sleep with him, a bitter echo of all those years before. That might have been the same set of boards she took while fighting off nausea that would later turn out to be hepatitis. Whether it was one attempt or two, she eventually passed and became licensed.

By the time she got her psychiatry practice underway (sharing an office with my father), it was almost the mid-1970s and the world was a little different, though there was still a long way to come. But the road to getting there was a long, hard slog that few people would be willing to undertake.

Still, if you asked her, I doubt my mother would think her story was remarkable. She had a classmate who was the daughter of migrant farm workers, and who had picked up her education a little at a time wherever she happened to be. She later put herself through medical school by working nights at a nursing home and virtually forgoing sleep.

That woman, my mother would insist, was the one whose journey was impressive enough to be worth telling.

-- / --

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bleodsweanbleodswean on November 25th, 2014 08:47 pm (UTC)
What a great story - both the way you told it and the way your mother lived it!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 25th, 2014 11:25 pm (UTC)
She had such determination. It makes a real difference that it was her dream and that she wanted it so badly, because there was no lack of discouragement all the way through. :O
reckless_bluesreckless_blues on November 25th, 2014 09:49 pm (UTC)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 25th, 2014 11:27 pm (UTC)
Late 1940s/early-mid 1950s society was not as "nice" as people like to imagine. Nice if you were the right sex, the right color, and the right social class. If not, sometimes it was just a matter of what people thought they could get away with. :(
(no subject) - n3m3sis43 on November 29th, 2014 12:49 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on November 30th, 2014 04:14 am (UTC) (Expand)
adoptedwriteradoptedwriter on November 26th, 2014 05:38 am (UTC)
Becoming a doc is hard enough! Wow! Bravo to your mom! AW
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 26th, 2014 07:59 am (UTC)
She sure worked hard to get there, and she was the only one who even thought it was a good idea!
fodschwazzle on November 26th, 2014 08:24 am (UTC)
These deeply established male roles (the Dean, especially) that your mother faced remind me entirely of Ron Burgundy from Anchorman, in that it seems like the whole setup of a male run world wanted to keep women out because they were scared of actually having to do their jobs well. Which is ridiculous, because women desired equality.

I guess the same thoughts continue towards today, when women ask for equal pay and some men, mostly powerful ones, simply idle the day away. Or women say feminist and mean one thing, and certain (dumb) men say it and mean something else entirely. Your mother sounds like a phenomenal woman, and your piece quite eloquently shows her development.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 27th, 2014 08:20 am (UTC)
The fact that she wanted so badly to be a doctor must have really helped fuel her through all the obstacles she encountered. The fact that there were a few other women who had the same goal and confidence must have helped all of them against the repeated insistence that they were insane or incapable of achieving what they wanted.
cindy: misc fictsuki_no_bara on November 26th, 2014 02:16 pm (UTC)
your mother was one determined woman. that's some real passive-aggressive (and just plain aggressive) shit right there. i think any woman who successfully breaks into a male-dominated field when so many people are trying so hard to make her fail deserves so much credit.

my grandma likewise went to medical school (altho earlier than your mom - i swear my dad told me she graduated in 1924 but that seems kind of early) but her class was all women, and i wish i'd thought to ask her about it before she died, because i'm really curious how they were treated. i can't imagine much changed between her classes and your mom's.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 27th, 2014 08:24 am (UTC)
An all-female class might have been easier-- the class as a whole is forwarded or hindered, but not from within. My mother was born in 1925, so she went through all of this in the late 1940s/early 1950s. I don't know when the first generation (i.e, more than one or two women over several states) happened, but I think there was a fair gap between the two groups. Though maybe a similar situation, with World War I happening and men being in service then, leaving spaces until they returned and entered college in a large chunk?
i_17bingoi_17bingo on November 27th, 2014 08:10 am (UTC)
My mother has a much thicker skin than I...

Than most, really. I am incredibly fascinated by the women from that era who were tasked with running the country while the boys ran off to play soldier, and then treated subhuman when the boys returned. So many women from that time were powerful and determined, and I have had nothing but utter admiration for them.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 27th, 2014 08:25 am (UTC)
I think this is true of that generation as a whole, really. Whoever called them "The Greatest Generation" labeled them well-- they grew up during the Depression, then went to war, and just did what needed to be done without complaint and through a lot of adversity.

Hard as their lives were, they had fortitude and grit (and often humility) that I wish we saw more of today.
(no subject) - dmousey on November 29th, 2014 09:36 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Donnellejexia on November 28th, 2014 09:41 am (UTC)
Good on her, and good on you for telling her story so well.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 28th, 2014 10:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you! She accomplished so much, and it was a very difficult path. But she has never regretted it. :)
Teo Sayseternal_ot on November 28th, 2014 01:13 pm (UTC)
Wow!..I admire her for going through it without complains and yet being modest about it. My standing ovation to such a lady..:)Reminded me a lot of Eric Segal's "Doctors" as I was reading this..Wonderfully written and thanks for sharing it..feeling inspired..<3
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 30th, 2014 04:17 am (UTC)
So glad you enjoyed it! A history such as this makes everyday obstacles seem so much smaller in comparison. :)
dmouseydmousey on November 29th, 2014 09:33 pm (UTC)
That women still have to fight for their place in any profession and any workplace irks me greatly!

Your mother has my complete respect. Thanks for sharing this. :0)
uncawes on November 30th, 2014 03:54 am (UTC)
Mouse, there are some places, notably government roles, where overcompensation has put women in senior positions where they may not have been the best choice. Not only causes resentment among men who were overlooked, but also damages women's causes when these women screw up. Because, sadly, there are those who wait for the chance to point out when senior women stumble.
At least, that's how it works here in Oz. Maybe the US is different and the glass ceiling remains?
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on November 30th, 2014 04:21 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on November 30th, 2014 04:19 am (UTC) (Expand)
uncawes on November 30th, 2014 03:48 am (UTC)
I would say both your mum and the migrant workers' daughter are remarkable women.
Their stories should be told. Often.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 30th, 2014 04:22 am (UTC)
Thank you!

There was some talk of the migrant workers' daughter telling her story through a ghostwriter, and I hope she does. Getting an education and making it through medical school against those odds requires more determination than you would find in a given small city!
Laura, aka "Ro Arwen": Grey's Anatomy 101roina_arwen on November 30th, 2014 06:48 am (UTC)
This was very illuminating of the era and a very positive read. Bravo for your mom!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 30th, 2014 07:50 am (UTC)
I am so glad things were not that tough when I was making my way in the world, and they're even better for my daughter. My mother was a rock. :O
suesniffsgluesuesniffsglue on November 30th, 2014 02:54 pm (UTC)
Good for your mom; what an inspiration!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 30th, 2014 10:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you! In her mind, it's too bad I didn't want to be a doctor, but with such overwhelming passion for it herself I think it's hard to see that it isn't everyone's dream. Hers carried her all the way through, hard as it was to get there.
Es'kaeska818 on November 30th, 2014 09:44 pm (UTC)
Your mom is an inspiring woman!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 30th, 2014 10:24 pm (UTC)
She is! Still sharp and on the move at 89 now, too. :)
Jemima Paulerjem0000000 on December 1st, 2014 06:58 am (UTC)
Congrats to her -- such a difficult journey, but certainly worth it to be doing what one loves to do.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 1st, 2014 07:38 am (UTC)
She really enjoyed being a doctor, aside from the obstacles in getting there (and with her radiology partners). She finally retired for good at 80, so overall it was a long and successful career. :)
crisp_sobrietycrisp_sobriety on December 1st, 2014 08:30 am (UTC)
From the shoulders of giants...

Seriously, the heroic efforts (and they ARE heroic) of women like this are the reason girls today have as many freedoms as they do, even if there is still such a long way to go. It's inspiring! Hats off to her!

(Less inspiring: given any degree of control and the chance they might 'get away with it,' people --often men-- become disgusting pigs. This was certainly a harsh reminder of that little fact).
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 1st, 2014 06:12 pm (UTC)
I think in general, a lot of people will press for whatever they think they can get away with. It shows a complete lack of character, but people are not as concerned with that as they should be. :(