Asking the question of marriage during gynecological examination by saying “Patients want it”, hiding behind pretexts

Paula Rego, Untitled No. 5, 1998.

Over the weekend, twitter, our blissless bliss environment, witnessed a mind-boggling debate. When a twitter user, who was (apparently) asked “are you married” at a gynecology appointment, complained (rightly) that doctors should change this jargon (and added that some doctors do this as a form of morality watchdog), of course, all hell broke loose. The reaction of the group of doctors, who have been subjected to increasing rates of violence, inequality and loss of rights in recent years, who are constantly forced to talk about those issues in every environment and whose reflexes to react collectively have gradually developed for this reason, was this time directed towards this reproach. The majority of the reactions were in the form of bringing into line that did not serve a purpose, such as “this is Turkey”. In some of the reactions, from the risk of violence that doctors may be exposed to because of this issue to the doctors sued for vaginal examination, and to issues related to professional difficulties were mentioned, which of course should be discussed in the context of health policies. There were also doctors who were justifiably concerned that if they asked the patient this question, he might put the woman in a difficult position. However, the majority of the reactions on the part of the doctors consisted of the finger-wagging answers stating (in a rather patronizing manner) that the Twitter user was not a doctor and she could not know how difficult it was to ask this question, so it would be better if she did not express her opinion too clearly . Some doctors, on the other hand, took it one step further and said, “When you stop saying ‘I’m not married’,” and easily moved on to the content accusing the patient/woman/victim. (Aside from the simple fact that these two responses do not come from the same person, a response that does not hear both voices, has no intention of hearing anyway). In the meantime, unfortunately, we were not surprised to see that the age, veganism, lifestyle and sexual life of the woman who posted the first tweet came into the discussion. (I should add that this woman tried to respond to all the tweets from doctors, except the insulting ones, with kindness and justification). Some even suggested that she should go to Europe/be deported!

Meanwhile, the expected deontological approach came from a female medical student. The woman, a doctor candidate, said clearly that “asking the question of marriage because patients want it is a pretext to hide behind and that the right thing to do is to ask the most appropriate question for medical ethics – that is, to ask about patient’s sexual history in a straightforward way, but in a way that the patient can understand.” I don’t know if it did others’ hearts too, but it did my heart good, and a fresh summer breeze blew. However, instead of bringing the discussion to the right plane, this brave step must have shaken some bodies to see the reaction from the medical world, both from a young person and a woman, and this time it was the female student’s turn to be targeted. She was called by her first name by older-male-surgeons-doctors, fingers were shaken at her, she was put in her place, given a lesson, threatened, accused of trying to be a Twitter hero, attacked on the basis of her physical appearance, mocked and made joking matter.

No need to prolong it. There are two young women in the middle, a patient and a medical student. They expressed their reactions in the area that they saw as problematic, in a very proper and courageous manner. One has to give them a standing ovation. To encourage. Let’s at least like it. Let’s think about it at least a little bit. No, ears are blocked again. The bodies are not able to stomach even the risk of the slightest bit of truth in what has been said. It’s more comfortable to ignore. It is more comfortable to say that I am just following the truths of society and what I should do. Because what you isolate yourself as the truth of that society is actually your truth too, but your bodies that you put above everything do not allow you to express it. That’s why it causes aggression mixed with nausea, saying that what you insist on normalizing is not normal, it is a form of oppression. Deep down inside, you don’t accept the state of being a woman, women’s body perception, the fact that women can have sexual preferences, let alone blaming it on society, hiding behind excuses – just like the medical student woman said. You are one of the reasons why these women continue to suffer from the system, because as long as you don’t face it and you play the helpless role, you keep running the system and you don’t feel any discomfort about it. Even if someone tries to make it feel, that pointing finger comes out immediately, you don’t want to face it, you don’t want the power you have established, the information hegemony on which your power is based, to suffer the slightest damage. At the slightest threat, you turn to violence, just like the ones you criticize. And again, by using gender inequality, that you don’t want to know, see or hear about, to the fullest, and by putting young women in their place. If these women are so openly subjected to violence on social media, especially by doctors, shouldn’t we first of all discuss how objective the medical environment, which you think is so objective and above all, is?

Of course, there is much more to discuss on this issue, but in general, the fact that women are exposed to masculine behaviors in outpatient polyclinics of gynecology and obstetrics in every way, that these examinations, which are already a very difficult process, are often made even more difficult by health personnel, that women are shamed in various ways about their sexuality and their bodies, are actually known facts, even though some of us bury our heads in the sand. It is also one of the unwritten rules of medicine that being a woman in the lower ranks of the academy means that you will not be listened to most of the time (if not always). It is thought to be normal as it is normalized. Rules that are harder to raise a voice against as they become normalized.

I’ve been a doctor for over 15 years, and I think I’ve seen the good and the bad. I do not mean that the medical world should be a pioneer in society. I know/we know that the medical world is what society is. Just as masculinity is effective in society, it is also effective in the medical world. It feels important to put that aside and accept it. Because it’s the only way to face the patriarchy inside us. After that, maybe it will be possible to calmly try to understand what is being said without getting defensive and raising our shields, to face ourselves, to think about how we reproduce the masculine reactions of society by acting according to them. If we accept this, we will be able to look for ways to build our own methods, and we will not need to make excuses. As long as we realize that we are in a spiral of violence in order not to lose the comfort of ignoring. As long as no one is captured by the laziness of saying that society is like this and there is nothing to do.

Let me end with the words of a third female twitter user: “What should society do if doctors are like this”. There is no place isolated from patriarchy, and there is no end to the struggle with patriarchy.

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

Translator: Gülcan Ergün

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan


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