“Being a strong woman means having confidence in oneself, even if the future path isn’t certain.”

Name: Caitlin

Age Group: 30’s

Race/Ethnic Group: White

Career/Profession: Emergency Medicine Physician

1.) Have you ever been told something you don’t think a man would ever be told?

I’ve been told that I’m cute or called “sweetie” in the professional environment. I am asked my age on an almost weekly basis, almost entirely by patients, though not always older ones. That is not to say that men don’t experience such questions or comments but I do think it is more pervasive for females, particularly as a female physician that is petite in physical appearance.

2.) Has anything changed about your idea of what it means to be a woman since you were a teenager? In your 20s?

Honestly, as a teenager and in my 20s I didn’t think that there was anything that I couldn’t do because of my gender if I wanted to. Perhaps that was naive given the gender inequalities that do exist, many of which are subtle, unconscious and unintentional, that I see more clearly today. It was also fortuitous because I had less of the “imposter syndrome” that can erode this confidence over time, especially among female leaders.

3.) What does being a strong woman mean to you?

Being a strong woman is in many ways similar to being a strong man, but the female part of it requires a more delicate balance between being politely assertive and taking on more traditionally male-oriented behavior (if there is such a thing) while staying within traditional gender norms to walk this line between appealing to all genders yet staying true to oneself. This can be a hard thing to balance. Being a strong woman means having confidence in oneself, even if the future path isn’t certain. It is knowing when to say no and doing so in a way that is kind but assertive, and doesn’t undercut one’s own point. I notice that females (including myself) have a tendency to couch opinions by using the word “just” or are quicker to apologize – I catch myself doing both. I have become more conscious of when I say “I’m sorry” and think to myself if whatever I’m talking about is actually something that I should feel sorry for. I make a point of editing what I write so as not to diminish my own words with conciliatory filler like using the word “just” or “I think”. Being a strong woman means being thoughtful with how you use your words. Words are impactful and their delivery means as much as their meaning – I think someone that is strong recognizes this and is thoughtful about how she communicates with others. This also means making an effort to celebrate the successes of others and recognize those that might not be being heard. Finally, I think a strong woman is able to think beyond herself in that one is able to step back and think “What would my future self think of what I’m doing now? Would I be proud?” I think it was a cartoon that I had read, actually, that made the point that the only two people that one should be trying to impress is her childhood self (would you look up to you?) and her elderly self (looking back, how would you evaluate what you’ve said or done?) and I try to make decisions in this context.

4.) What is the most frustrating/challenging thing about being a woman today?

What I have found most challenging is simply being heard. I have recognized several instances in which I have adapted my behavior to get others to listen. On the phone I have noticed that sometimes I lower my voice and take care not to have an upward inflection at the end of a statement, so that a statement is not misinterpreted as a question or comes off as being unsure. In meetings, I am more apt to initially listen than talk and when I do speak, I do not speak over others and do so a little more quietly so that people have to listen. I will stop speaking if interrupted and/or call out interruptions. As someone who sometimes doesn’t feel recognized in this setting, I also try to make a point of encouraging those that are a little more quiet to speak, and credit others’ statements or ideas by using that person’s name (this is part of being the person that my future self would respect).

6.) Have you faced any personal or professional struggles because you are a woman?

It is hard to make this attribution specifically. I had perceived that I had not been granted a position that a male colleague had, despite being more qualified. That person may very well have had other assets that I did not, but that distinction was not made clear to me even after asking for feedback. I know that women tend to undersell themselves. I used to be timid about asking for a position, or raise, or other accolade, or advancement and have learned to assert myself better, with the philosophy that more often than not, one doesn’t get what one doesn’t ask for. Often, the worst that could happen would be to be told no, and then have to re-negotiate. I think that we, as women, could do more to help each other in this regard by acting as better advocates for our female colleagues. We could do more to talk up our female colleagues, or friends in the personal environment. If often makes me feel good to say something good about someone else, especially when unsolicited and when that person isn’t around. Isn’t it awesome to hear that someone else was talking about you in a good way? Be that nice surprise for someone else.

7.) What/who/which events have inspired you to become the person you are today?

I can think of many events and people in my life that have affected who I am today, some good and some bad. I learn a lot from observing others. As a physician, experiences with healthcare as a patient, friend, and family member has shaped how I view patients’ perspectives, which I think has made me more empathetic. As a woman, I try to take active mental notes about what traits in a person that I want to emulate and those that I don’t. You can learn something from everyone. It sounds trite but I learned a lot from my parents, kindergarten, and Sesame Street: share, do unto others as you would want done to you, be curious, be kind.

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