"Women Can't be Doctors"

Kim Kastens
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published Aug 1, 2009
Yesterday was the 18th birthday of my older daughter. Inevitably, my thoughts drifted back over our years together. A vignette flashed through my memory.

We were getting ready for nursery school. Completely out of the blue, Holly announced, "Women can't be doctors."

I managed to assemble an astonished response, "Yes, of course women can be doctors....Honey, your own doctor is a woman." Superimposed thoughts and emotions flew through my head: thanks that I had insisted on a female pediatrician, anger that someone could have told Holly such nonsense, hypotheses about who it might have been.

It took a while for the mis-statement to hit me as a personal affront, rather than as an abstract generalization. And then I stumbled on: "Holly, I am a doctor, your own mother is a doctor."

Now she looked at me askance, without speaking, skepticism growing on her face. I suppose she must have been recalling the books, papers, maps, computers that she had seen in my office--and the lack of stethoscope, scale, medicine or any physician's tools.

"You're not a doctor."

"I am a doctor. Not a medical doctor, another kind of doctor." I reached for words to explain to a 4 year old what a PhD is, what I did to get my PhD, why that made me "Dr. Kastens."

Holly was quiet for a long time. I waited, scanning her face for some indication that I had made sense, that I had adequately countered this first attack of the culture on her vision of women's possibilities.

Finally, she spoke. "I get it," she said, "You're a doctor who takes care of the Earth."


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