Female Privilege in Medical School (1): Background
With contributions from Maryam Awofeso
Navigating through medical school is highly challenging. From spending your entire day at school, standing through rounds and theatre sessions often times with a growling belly; to the mental gymnastics that comes with adapting to multiple personalities that are your senior colleagues in each department – medical school is one hell of a ride. The heavy workload, fast-paced curriculum, and stress often lead to mental distress among students. It is said that one has to develop new coping and study skills to meet the demands; and when they fail, one simply has to develop new ones to survive. In the face of the plethora of stress-inducers, could certain groups enjoy ready-made coping skills by virtue of their tribe, gender or religion?
Female privilege in medical school is a topic that has come up in private and public conversations amongst medical students and former medical students. Pendical, a platform for medical personnel to share their experiences, once discussed “Favouritism in Medical School” on their YouTube channel, featuring medical students in the University of Ibadan. There have also been times when it came up on social media, spurring conversations on whether female privilege does exist in the first place, and if it does, if females can be said to benefit from it.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines privilege as “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favour”. The concept of gender privilege is not a new one. However, the topic of discourse is usually “male privilege” as women have mostly been thought to be at a disadvantage when compared to their male counterparts in different facets of society.
An At Issue Book Series on male privilege defines it as “the sociological concept that men are automatically granted certain privileges and advantages in politics, society, and the workplace based entirely on their gender”. Female privilege, on the other hand, is not widely discussed. This may be because female privilege is not considered a thing or because male privilege is considered the bigger issue.
In Medical School, there are certain ‘advantages’ that are bestowed on female medical students. They range from things like letting them sit while their male counterparts stand when seats cannot go round, to signing them off for duties promptly while delaying the male medical students for longer. We cannot say whether these are simply acts of ‘chivalry’ or if like one of the tweets above suggested, female medical students, are just generally more serious. Regardless, one begins to wonder where the line is drawn between kindness and favouritism, and if these ‘favours’ are completely harmless. There is also the recipient factor to consider: do female medical students like receiving these favours or do they find them discomforting? How do their male counterparts perceive this presumed disadvantage?
An article by Everday Feminism titled, “7 Reasons People Argue that Female Privilege Exists – and why they’re mistaken” talks about Chivalry, which is usually the factor that underlies most acts that are thought to contribute to or count as female privilege. The article reads, “the pampering part of chivalry can verge on being unsolicited, which actually means the social constructs women supposedly enjoy are really just positive encouragement for men…The irony rests in how chivalry is begrudgingly considered a female privilege, yet it is men who bestow the act“. This is relevant in this case, especially since most of the senior colleagues who are thought to be a little partial towards female students, are of the male gender. So, if it is unsolicited and generally bestowed by the male gender, can we truly call it ‘female privilege’?
Not to digress too much, the best people to talk to about female privilege in medical school are the medical students themselves. Consequently, ABH Press reached out to male and female Brownites to get their perspectives on the topic. Subsequent articles would feature some responses gathered from medical students. While you wait, you can share your opinions on the topic in the comment section. Do you think female privilege exists in medical school? If it does, what are the reasons for it? Are males at a disadvantage? How do females themselves feel about female privilege in medical school?