#89 A call to arms in the fight for gender equality (and a thank you to the women and men in my life)


18 July 2019

I was recently talking to my dad and brother about the legendary women of the world who have fought endlessly for our rights. All of the women who have loudly demanded equal pay, or boldly faced a harasser, or endured protests and shaming and egging to ensure we all have reproductive rights. Each big win in feminism we owe to bold women who refused to accept inequality and prioritised the needs of our entire gender over the needs of one person. That is enough for me to be unashamedly fierce in my own feminism and wholeheartedly embrace the woman that I am. 

I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by extraordinary feminists. At the top of the list, of course, are my parents and my brother. My family is the definition of supportive. They are vocally proud of their radical feminist daughter, identify themselves as feminists and will disapprove (loudly) of any injustice or inequality they see. Our family text chain receives a daily ode to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Kamala Harris (dad). International women’s day is celebrated more than my birthday (mum). A feminist Facebook page was created to interview men and women about ideas to improve gender equality (brother). I recently got told off by my dad for introducing myself to a media outlet as a ‘woman scientist’. “You are a scientist,” he said. “What does gender matter?” What I thought was a pro-diversity statement was actually undermining my message and he was right. I certainly don’t call myself a ‘woman doctor’. 

I am also blessed with a group of extraordinary friends within and outside medicine. My best friend (a man) is a paediatric registrar who is passionate about minority rights and calls out racism, sexism and homophobia whenever they cross his path. He does the right thing and refuses to accept anything less than complete acceptance and tolerance from everyone in his life – colleagues, friends and family. It is inspiring and joyous to know someone with such a fierce moral compass. My other best friend (a woman) is a surgical registrar who is a practising Muslim in a hijab. Consider how difficult that might be. She mentors all of her interns and residents daily and dotes on them like a mother duck. Any inkling that her junior doctors of any gender have experienced unfair treatment, harassment, discrimination or unequal pay and my friend will take charge like a lioness.

At the university where I work, I share an office with a friend (a man) who is as passionate a reader as I am. We have a Whatsapp message group with another academic GP friend and every day we exchange articles and book recommendations that are increasingly inclusive, diverse and thoughtful. I estimate that about 75 per cent of the articles our male friend enthusiastically sends us has a feminist overtone. One of the things I appreciate most about this friend is that he carefully considers his opinion on an issue before he engages in a discussion. He once entirely declined to comment in a conversation about women feeling unsafe at night because he felt it was more important for him to hear the perspectives of the women in the room. This kind of respect is rare. 

The inevitable point I am trying to make is that the world is a kinder and more supportive place for women when we are surrounded by feminist men. And I mean men who are proud to call themselves feminists because they understand the true meaning of the term. It isn’t enough for men to not be the harasser; we need you to help us call it out when it happens. Don’t doubt the woman or offer a justification of the perpetrator’s behavior. If a woman tells you she was uncomfortable or felt unsafe, be brave and ask her how you can help. If you hear inappropriate comments or locker room talk, be brave and shut that conversation down. If you know your resident or registrar is being unfairly treated because of her sex, then be brave and make it your business too. If you know you are receiving more pay than your equally qualified woman colleague, be brave and tell her and tell your employers. 

Having a reputation as ‘the feminist’ is not a source of shame. Be our ally. As women, we can spend years and decades trying to campaign for our rights because ‘it’s a women’s issue’ but that’s unfair and it’s exhausting. The generations of women doctors before us had to fight this on their own and we applaud them; but it’s 2019 so roll up your sleeves and help. Come to our Women in Medicine events. Listen to the challenges faced by the women around you. Make friends with your women colleagues; and understand there is no obligation for that relationship to be anything more. Be openly passionate about improving gender equality. Make a bit of noise. Make a lot of noise. 

I’m done with feminism being a women’s issue because, as the saying goes, “Equal rights for others doesn’t mean less rights for you. It’s not pie”. So thank you to the feminist men and women in my life who share the burden of equality equally. It is because of you that I am safe and happy.

Dr Pallavi Prathivadi
Secretary, AMA Victoria Women in Medicine Group
Academic General Practitioner

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