Women's Studies 30

RS is a 49 year old, Asian-American woman who has been living in a suburb of Boston for many years. She is a pathologist who practices at a small suburban community hospital . She is married and has two male children who have both graduated from college.

RS completed medical school in India and then moved to America to practice medicine and to raise a family. She made a conscious choice to forgo a time-intensive career in academic medicine in order to fulfill her dream of having a family. As the mother of young children, RS took the spotlight off her career and focused more on raising her children. As they grew up, she gave more time to her career. The decision to postpone career development stemmed from her sense of priorities and not from external pressure or guilt.

RS did not experience biases in her field caused by her status as a minority but she did feel some prejudice against her as a woman. This prejudice was almost exclusively from older men in pathology. She mentioned that she seldom, if ever, noticed any bias against women physicians from patients, although it is true that female patients tend to look for female doctors. RS feels that medicine as a profession is now much less hostile to women than ever before. This is important because of the large numbers of women seeking female doctors. To illustrate this point she added that "40% of an average entering med. school class is female."

Schooling is an issue that often plays a role in discussions about career choice and gender. It is often asserted that girls in school are discouraged from pursuing the sciences. Although RS has not experienced this discouragement, she acknowledges its existence as a reflection of a deeply entrenched social construct. RS went to an elite, all-girls high school in India where everyone was expected to study all possible streams of education. Although she later went to a coeducational college where very few women were involved in the sciences, she was not discouraged.

Technology has affected RS' life in the workplace more than her life at home. She feels that the rise of technology, especially computers, has increased the quality of medical care for patients. Specificity of diagnosis has increased and the time required to pronounce these diagnoses has decreased. RS cited cancer as an example. Technology such as mammography has aided early detection and has therefore increased the chances of a patient's survival. The development of pharmaceutical technology, particularly in the form of more superior chemotherapeutic agents, has also increased survival rates. But the development of pharmaceutical and diagnostic technologies of all types is dependent upon research. This research has not always been directed towards women and their particular health issues.

RS believes that the increasing awareness of women's issues and the rise of the feminist movement have served to equalize gender biases in scientific research. Early medical research focused on men's health issues such as cancer and heart disease in men because most researchers were male. As the number of female researchers has increased, female health issues have received more funding and attention. RS believes that this is true for reproductive technologies as well. The rising number of women physicians /researchers who do not treat their career as secondary to marriage, who care about women's issues, and who are vocal in society are the true instruments of change. RS believes that, "[I]n the past there was no voice in congress to demand funds for research into women's issues, so little was done." Although she believes the situation is improving, RS sees this improvement as having taken a long time.

"There is a glass ceiling [in society] for women and [women] have broken it to some extent, but it is still there," says RS. She believes that women are forced to work much harder than men to achieve the same recognition, and sometimes even less. The comparative discrepancy between hard work and pay-scales for women still exists. RS sees society as the cause of gender differences. Although she acknowledges a fundamental, inherent difference between men and women, she does not see this as affecting a difference in intelligence and ability between the two. Whether this inherent difference is seen as genetic or evolutionary, it is social at its heart: "It is still a man's world out there."

How did RS handle playing the roles of mother, wife and career-woman? "It wasn't easy." "But," she says, "I have no regrets - the choices I made were happy choices."


KB is a 49 year old Asian woman who has spent her entire life in India. She is a gynecologist who practices in New Delhi in her own private clinic that caters to primarily to the middle class. She is married and is the mother of two sons who have graduated college. RS and KB went to the same medical school. Their friendship has endured many years of living at virtually opposite ends of the globe.

KB lives in a joint family, with her in-laws. Her mother-in-law is also a physician and works with KB at the same private clinic. KB got married and had her first son while she was still in medical school. Her second son was born after she had completed medical school and had started practicing. She took a year off so that she could spend more time with her children: "The mother in me took over the doctor in me and I wanted to be with my children more." This was her own choice, one that was made easier by virtue of working at her own private clinic. The notion of working at a private clinic was also a conscious choice on her part. She decided against working at a teaching hospital because that would take away time from her home and family: "I was not going to put my family in the back seat - I was very clear about that."

Although KB agrees that more and better technological innovations have cut down on the number of hours spent doing housework, she does not feel that this was a factor in her decision to maintain her career. This is partially due to the fact that domestic labor is very popular in India so her household burdens were thus decreased. The second factor that affected this decision was the joint family system. Having her in-laws in the same house provided KB with child care within the family. Having a supportive family network also prevented KB from feeling any guilt or pressure regarding her role as both career-woman and mother.

KB does not feel that technology in the workplace has had much of an effect on her life. This is probably due to her work in a small, private clinic where complicated procedures are referred out. KB has not encountered prejudice by virtue of her being a female doctor. Gynecology in India is a field that has many but not exclusively female practitioners. KB also went to an all-girls school (although different from the school that RS attended) and perceived no bars towards women wanting to enter the sciences. KB feels that she is privileged in having had support for her career and personal choices by virtue of being born and married into urban, educated families. She believes that this is not necessarily the norm.

Does KB have any regrets? She seems to agree with RS in this respect: "Not at all, in capital letters."

Madhuri Bhasin

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last updated 11/2/98