Regrets…I’ve had a few. And with this past Saturday being IWD – International Women’s Day – I’d like to take a moment to admire someone from my past. I’ll get to the regrets part a bit later.
Those of you who follow my blog know that being a psychotherapist is a second career, and that I practiced as an Optometrist for 15 years. When I went to Optometry school – back in the dark ages – women health professionals of the doctor kind were not in the majority. Indeed, my graduating class had 25 women and 116 men.
Much different from today’s schools of medicine, dentistry, optometry and chiropractic where the classes tend to run 50% men and 50% women, or thereabouts.
Back when we women of a certain age were paving the way for the fairly equal percentage of gender distribution in the health professional classes today, we were up against a fair amount of discrimination. [...and my son wonders why I occasionally have some difficulty with men in positions of authority...] I had one professor actually tell a close friend of mine that women did not have the aptitude for the math involved in the optics courses spread through the 4 years of optometry school and that we belonged in the home, “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.” That same professor (they were not all possessing of a Neanderthal mentality; indeed, I highly respected most of them) said that since we would undoubtedly get married, have children and stop practicing, we were taking up a seat that a (cave)man could fill. In other words, someone who would practice in the profession until his dying breath.
Which brings me to a regret of mine and a woman to be feted for IWD.
Although at the time our optometry school was considered the most prestigious in the country, with the most up to date equipment, etc., these were the days of projectors and slide carousels in the classrooms. [In fact, I remember in my sophomore year in undergrad, when my parents bought me a calculator, I was one of the first in my organic chemistry class to have one. So much for that period of state-of-the-art technology.] One day in our Gross Anatomy class (keep the class title in mind; it’s entirely appropriate for what’s coming up in this story), the professor got his class materials ready and turned on the projector. On the first slide was a Playboy Centerfold in all her buxom glory.
Really. A nude woman.
The professor was delighted with the sudden boom of male laughter that rolled across the silent women in the classroom. So pleased with the result, the professor advanced to the second slide. You got it – more of the same. I was flabbergasted at his audacity and embarrassed by the picture. Anger about the entire episode didn’t come until later.
But I sat still, not saying a word, stunned. While the guys laughed. And the professor smiled.
I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye and saw Michelle, a fellow student, carefully grab her books, place them into her backpack and slowly – proudly – walk out of the classroom without so much as a glance at the front of the room.
And ever since that day, I have regretted not getting up and following her out of the room. Instead, I kept quiet, sat through the entire class and was grateful that there were no more juvenile slides.
And ever since that day, I have regretted not approaching Michelle to shake her hand in appreciation of her protest in the face of such disrespect of women.
Regrets…I’ve had a few.
Those of you who know me personally probably find my behavior back then hard to believe. If this happened in one of my classrooms today, I’d be the first one to lead the charge and demand that the pictures be removed, the professor reprimanded, and anyone who laughed dressed down for their disrespect.
But back then, for whatever reason(s), I chose to stand back when I should have taken a stand.
So, Michelle – I salute you on International Women’s Day. And even though this is some 30 years late, I here-by shake your hand and say loudly, for all to hear, “well done, lovely lady. Well done.”