My Father Taught Me to Fight for You

Our bodies, our choice.

Last week, I fired my new GI doctor after waiting six weeks to see him. He was the second referral I received. The first doctor scheduled me but canceled all new patients six weeks later. Did I have high expectations of my “second choice” referral? I did not. Did I at least hope this doctor would address my health issues professionally? I did.

I met an arrogant, antagonistic man who did not listen to me and treated me like an ignorant child. I explained that in the absence of a doctor’s care, I learned “self-care.” I consulted a professional nutritionist and other people on my care team who I trusted and were knowledgeable about my health issues. The plan I came up with was working: I was finally able to eat solid food again, my reflux was gone, my weight was dropping in a steady, healthy way, and while my gastric system was not perfect, it was improving.

In strongly spoken language, the doctor informed me I was at fault for everything that was wrong with my body. He instructed me to “stop everything you are doing and from now on do everything I tell you to do and exactly as I tell you to do it.” He then passed me on to his appointment scheduler and left the examination room in a huff.

My father raised three daughters to be strong, self-reliant, and respectful. He did not prepare me for men who are brutes, nor for the many women in this world who support and defend them. I did not expect to be raped, date-raped, groped, leered and whistled at, diminished, treated like a second-class citizen, and marginalized.

At the age of twenty, I took a few shifts in a cocktail lounge when my summer job on that restaurant’s sidewalk cafe ended. One evening, I served a group of men from IBM who were enjoying happy hour. Unbeknownst to me, they made me the focus of a speculative betting pool. I asked what the joke was that they were all laughing over and was told, “Oh, we have a betting pool going over whether or not you are a virgin or have you ever had an orgasm. Would you like to determine the winner for us?” Struck speechless, I shook as I returned to the service end of the bar. I told the bartender what had happened. He immediately routed the entire group out of their seats and banned them from the establishment. But others had heard the exchange, and as I turned my back after serving one table after another, sniggers followed me all evening.

Over the next ten years, I built my career in the restaurant industry. At 25, I became the chef-owner of a country inn in Loudoun County, Virginia. I encountered surprise and disbelief that I was in charge. I often experienced disrespect. I threw boxes of less-than-good quality fish at the SW Washington fish market across the loading docks, rejecting them all. I did not return to my restaurant until I had the clear-eyed fish I had ordered packed in the trunk of my car. Countless food and liquor purveyors entered the back door of my kitchen expecting a man in charge. Blanching when they learned they had to deal with me, they turned on their charm and called me disrespectful endearments–sweetie, honey-pie, sugar–“Oh, listen, missy, trust me. I will make sure you get a good piece of beef!” “Not a chance,” I would reply as I signaled the dishwasher to usher them out the door. Things improved, of course, and not everyone needed schooling. I met many fine professionals and customers who judged you on your work, not your gender.

Years later, in my career as a college administrator, I sat in a meeting called to resolve our crisis regarding who would manage the phones at the front desk when our receptionist was on her breaks. As the only woman in the room, I was incensed when the only solution suggested was assigning the task to female staffers–up to the executive level. I pointed out that we had several men in support staff positions who could flex their schedules and responsibilities more efficiently. I lost my temper for the first time in my professional career, accusing my co-workers-I-viewed-as-my-peers of chauvinist viewpoints and practices. I told them I would not support their plan or allow any female staff in my department to assist unless an equal number of men also helped.

I have fought hard to stand up for myself and other women and to educate the men I know about the importance of treating females as equals. I did not always succeed. But I married a good man, raised an open-minded and respectful son, and a strong-willed and intelligent daughter who fights the good fight and supports and protects her female tribe like a lioness. Gender is only a preference in their world, not the measure or identity of a person. And everyone deserves the same opportunities and rights.

I fired the doctor who wanted to be “in charge” of my body. Had I the power, I would fire all the justices and members of governing bodies who seek the same ownership. The only control I have is my choice, voice, and vote. Even if this issue does not matter to you, or you disagree with my viewpoint, I will fight for you. I vote to protect your bodies and your rights. I will speak up and show up. My father taught me to do so.