I have never felt as though my gender has affected my ability to succeed in medicine. I have never received “the short end of the stick,” and I have never felt discriminated against in any way. My medical knowledge and clinical reasoning have never been questioned because I am a woman, and no preceptor has ever doubted my career aspirations, no matter how grandiose they might seem. I may be lucky in this sense, because I know that many of my female colleagues have not had the same experience and do not feel the same way. However, as my wedding, residency, and “real life” draw nearer, I have been thinking more and more about how being a woman influences my life plans.
Traditional Indian culture sets forth many expectations from women, not limited to the following:
Women should be married and start having children in their early 20s. Not married yet? Why not?
Women should avoid putting their children in daycare. Why would you want a stranger taking care of your child? Your parents or in-laws can just move in with you instead!
Women should be willing to put aside their careers for their children, for any amount of time necessary. Won’t it be better for your kids if you’re around? Your job will always be there.
Women must put food on the table for all meals, regardless of their other obligations. If a woman doesn’t cook, then what will the family eat? Don’t know how to cook an Indian meal before you get married? You should have learned.
It is a bit daunting to me to think that after spending over 25 years of my life as a student and resident in order to fulfill my career goals, these are the questions that will dictate how, where, and when I work.
I grew up in a household in which both of my parents worked full time jobs (and still do), and always seemed to have more than enough time left to spend with me and my sister. We took lots of family vacations, spent most weekends together, and ate dinner together every single night. My parents have always been my number one supporters, especially when it comes to my career. They never worried about how having a career in medicine would affect my ability to be a wife and a mother, it just wasn’t an issue for them.
At the same time, I think about some of the more traditional ways in which my family operated. My mom did get married and have her first child in her early 20s. She moved from India to America after she got married, leaving her PhD half completed when she was told that she should start a family instead. My mom only started working full time after my sister was born, when I was seven years old. Even then, she would sometimes leave work early so she could take us to our extracurricular classes, pick us up from school when we had to stay late, and cook dinner for us every night. She made sacrifices that my dad was not expected to make, both in her education and in her career. Whether it is openly acknowledged or not, in Indian culture, men must work. For a woman, having a job is optional, and if she happens to work outside the home, that tends to fall second to everything else. I often wonder if there will ever come a time in my own life when I will have to choose one over the other.
Indian females are not a minority in medicine. Many Indian female physicians navigate all of the traditional expectations laid out for them by cultural norms, while simultaneously balancing the demands of their career. To be honest, the traditional views of what women “should do” have never bothered me until now that I am further into my career. It does scare me that these ideals could potentially prevent me from fulfilling my career goals. I would love to hear from readers about whether you’ve ever thought about what your culture expects of you, and how you plan to balance the classic “expectation versus reality” dilemma.