Reflections on an Experience with a Male Doctor by Annie Ryan

A week ago today marked my first visit to the emergency room, a visit I reluctantly made after a day’s worth of unexplained pelvic pain. My own experience has not given me particular reason to distrust doctors. I have, however, learned to be constantly aware of the various ways the medical industry can be a dangerous place for women, as it is driven by profits and characterized by a long history of exploitative doctor-patient relations. To be more self-reflective, I was afraid of being manipulated by a doctor.

My appointment with Ken, the emergency room doctor, sadly confirmed the reasons for my wariness. His disinterest in my concerns was unmistakable in our initial dispute over an IV, apparent in his impatience with my questions about inserting one. The whole meeting was a series of miscommunications at best (microaggressions more appropriately) where he dismissed all of my questions with jokes or intimidation. He was obviously annoyed by my assertions of agency in the appointment or what he might have considered “testiness.”

Our appointment was fruitless mostly because of the way he treated me; I refused to sit silently while he explained his medical agenda and he refused to take me seriously.   After spending $100 to be belittled and invalidated by a man who seemingly mistook me for a mannequin, I decided to walk out of the appointment with the support of the friends who accompanied me.

Angered by his impatience and condescension in the moment, I am now able to reflect on the meanings of our meeting on a whole: Ken assumed the rights to my body. While I was certainly interested in sharing some rights with him (otherwise I wouldn’t have been at the emergency room), my admission to his office did not consequentially mean he had unquestioned access to my body. I have the right to deny (or at least inquire about) having an IV inserted, getting a CT scan, and having a pelvic exam. My childhood doctor, a woman, had a markedly different approach: she always treated me respectfully and always according to my permission. I began to understand, on a deeper level, my own discomfort with male doctors, a discomfort shared with so many other women in my life.

Just as is often seen with rape, male doctors often assume unconditional access to women’s bodies based solely on their presence. Ken’s actions were micoaggressions because they were rooted in his own assumption of power and reflect a greater cultural invalidation of women’s rights over their own bodies. Next time, I’ll have my fingers crossed for a doctor who treats my concerns—and my body—with respect.

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