Sunday, August 01, 2004

Economics and Gender: A Woman Tells it Straight,

One of the refreshing things about getting news from over the pond in England is sometimes they're frank when Americans would not be as frank about certain facts of life. This is coming from the Independent, UK.

02 August 2004

The medical profession is in danger of losing its power and influence because too many women are scaling its ranks, according to the female head of Britain's most influential royal medical college.

The astonishing warning is made today by Professor Carol Black, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, only the second woman to hold the post in the college's 500 year history.

Medicine has a reputation as a chauvinistic profession led by powerful male consultants with giant egos. But it is changing rapidly. Over 60 per cent of new doctors are women and they already dominate the lower echelons of the profession. In less than a decade, women doctors will outnumber men, Professor Black said in an interview with The Independent.

While most observers have seen this as a positive trend, leading to a more caring, humane style of medicine, Professor Black is the first female leader of any profession to suggest that the increased involvement of women may be damaging. "We are feminising medicine. It has been a profession dominated by white males. What are we going to have to do to ensure it retains its influence?

"Years ago, teaching was a male dominated profession - and look what happened to teaching. I don't think they feel they are a powerful profession any more. Look at nursing, too."

Although the competence and skills of women doctors are not in question - and many patients prefer being looked after by a woman - the status of the profession is at stake, she said.

"In Russia, medicine is an almost entirely female profession. They are paid less and they are almost ignored by government. They have lost influence as a body that had competency, skills and a professional ethic. They have become just another part of the workforce. It is a case of downgrading professionalism."

Professor Black had spent two years "banging on doors" trying to persuade people to listen to her concerns, she said. Meetings with senior government figures had now taken place. "At last, people are taking this seriously. I have actually taken it to the top," she said.

This has already happened in American vets - animal doctors. It used to be a male dominated profession and had a great deal of status. As women have begun to dominate the profession however pay has slid and the status of the profession has declined. In an earlier era, executive administrative assistants used to be almost entirely male. As women came to do it more and more, it went from being a prized profession to being a much diminished job as far as pay and professional status.

Please don't let anyone send me hate-mail. I'm not against feminism, however we have to be brutally frank. Whenever professions come to be dominated by women they tend to be valued less. This leads me to conclude that the societal expectations are deeper rooted than people think. For instance, people tend to think and write about how parenting and care-giving at home is an undervalued social role and this unfairly discriminates against women who do the majority of it.

I would reverse the logic. I would say that if men started doing more of it, it's status would rise. And that conversely any profession that comes to be dominated by women would tend to see its fortunes sink. Sickening? Reality.

This is why I don't consider classical feminism to be a viable or signficant social movement. Alternatively I don't consider it significant enough to criticize. Why spend one's time criticizing about a wholly ineffective social philosophy? For instance I didn't consider Trotskeyism significant enough to criticize even though I perceived many flaws amongst its "real communism hasn't been tried yet," supporters. That is until they resurfaced in the Revolutionary neo-liberal and neo-conservative axis that got us into this bloody Iraq war.

Women's movements really do best when they emphasize gender-blind competition and are careful to keep their participation in a profession reflective of their proportion in the general population. Is that unfair? Yes. However the simple fact is that a profession needs a representative population of men in order to establish its prestige and obtain status.

However cruel that reality sounds, that's the facts of life. You get status in life, just by having a Y chromozone. That's true across all cultures and ethnicities. I don't think that you should get special privileges for being a man or have extra hurdles for being a woman, but the fact is that if secretaries and nurses had a higher proportion of men in their ranks they'd be respected more. Just because there were men involved.

The reason why I'm able to mention this fact of life without fearing getting blasted is because that smart woman across the Atlantic has recognized this basic fact of life. On the other hand, I think there are some professions such as CEO's who need to come down to earth and could do with a higher percentage of female participation. Professions that become dominated by men tend to become overbearing and autocratic in nature, politics and medicine and big business all being good examples. I don't believe that women being in a profession by itself betters it simply because they're women, but it is true that the dynamics change. We are best served by equal gender opportunity professions where-ever purely physical requirements do not bar equal representation by women.

Too little and we are actively sexist, while with too much engenders passive sexism.


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