I recently attended a seminar for Women in Surgery, which was a very nice set of lunch meetings geared for young female med students/residents considering or already starting careers in surgery. Events like this always end up making me more apprehensive about the future—I’m too far from a career or a family to have real perspective of what it will be like, so I briefly freak out.
Something that doesn’t help me calm down is the fact that I often feel as though I’ve failed before I’ve even begun. Why? Because in addition to having more family woes as a female physician, I also hear that I won’t make as much money as male doctors do. So–not only will my children hate me for never being around, but I won’t even be able to support them as ably as I would were I a man?!
Well, the money part is true. It’s impossible for a girl to go through life and not hear that she is destined to peer up at her male counterparts from beneath the glass ceiling. (That typed sentence sounds a little weird, if only because now I’m imagining looking up at dudes walking on glass floors. But I digress.) Anyway, this is obvious, I’m not breaking any ground by saying that on average in the U.S., women make less money than men. You all know this. Seventy-seven cents to every dollar. Doctors aren’t the exception, either; this survey of over 8,000 doctors in New York shows a gap of almost $17,000, or 18%, in male-female starting salaries. Starting salaries, i.e., similarly qualified doctors entering jobs out of the same class of residents. And our keynote speaker at that seminar told me something I didn’t know—these figures come after the data for women taking maternity leave and switching to part-time have been pulled out of the equation.
She left us with another tidbit: a woman who graduated high school in 2006 (which is all five of us on this blog, as well as many of my medschool class), over the course of her lifetime will earn on average two million dollars less than her male classmates. “Say it with me,” she scolded us over the microphone. “I want my two million dollars back!”
But wait! This isn’t a rant about gender inequality or being subjugated by The Man. I’m not one for identity politics, and I’m not here to rail against sexism keeping me down. In fact, the “glass ceiling” irks me partly because it’s supposed to inspire so much righteous outrage on our part. Women…get…paid…less! And we’re…expected…to…HAVE BABIES! Outrage indeed. And part of me does get indignant that I might get offered lower starting pay than a male resident coming out of the same program. It is unfair that women are more often expected to take on the greater parenting role than their husbands. Dr. Michelle Au puts it beautifully when she says, “Male doctors have children too, don’t they? So why is it, in families where the mother is a doctor, that she is made to feel like the one who has to strike the balance, the one with the elaborate juggling act, the one who has to make a choice?”
So what’s keeping me sane? Why won’t I let this bother me (except when I’m wallowing, as we all do at times)? To put it shortly, I simply don’t believe in statistics*. (I also don’t believe in jinxes. Get at me, Fate.) I refuse to be penned in by data that say I’m doomed to divorce, or that my children will hate me. And getting paid less than a man? I don’t care about being paid less than that guy over there; I care about getting paid less than I, with my own unique capabilities and talents, deserve.
Maybe I’m being idealistic. After all, sexism exists and is a very real force in the lives of career-seeking women everywhere. But I can’t help but think (now, while I’m not actually slogging through the job search and the salary negotiations) that it can only affect me as much as I allow it to. And that is: not at all.