So. After a couple of days of solid reading and writing for my thesis, I decided to take a break and get the old pearly whites cleaned. After moving away from the city centre about 20 month ago, I hadn’t yet located a new dentist. But I decided to take the plunge and call up a nice looking place within walking distance from my house. They were friendly and they had room for me this week, so off I went after lunch. It was a pleasant enough place (slippers waiting by the door!) with new and very clean stations. The teeth cleaning was thorough and there seemed to be no problems until the dentists whisked in and started calling me ‘hon.’ As in ‘move your head this way hon’ and ‘you take very good care of your teeth hon.’ Now, I wish I could say that I asked him to remove the implements from my mouth and then spoke to him about the offensive nature of calling a twenty eight year old woman, who is his patient, who he had just met, ‘hon’ – but alas, I did not. I felt uncomfortable. I froze up and I stayed quiet. And then I left. Mad. And I walked all the way home and became a little more angry with each step. And I started thinking why… Why did this dentist try to create this false sense of intimacy with me by giving me a nickname? And why did he have to choose such a patronizing one (especially since we seemed to be about the same age, give or take a few years)? And why didn’t I speak up? How can I be so mad now, but seemingly brush it off in the moment?
I also wish that I could say this was the first time something like this has happend. But alas, it is not. About a year ago, I was going for my annual physical – not particularly pleasant, but necessary. My family doctor for the past 20 years has been preparing for retirement, so my appointment was with the new doctor who was to be taking over her practice. She was a nice enough woman, about the same age as me, and we got along fine as she examined my lady parts thoroughly. That is until we started talking about the pill. I had been on hormonal birth control for a dozen years or so – constantly – and I was interested in stopping. I wanted to know about my body – my cycle, the feeling of my body and my emotions – without the pill. However, when I initiated this conversation, it went sideways. She wanted to know if I was married, she wanted to know if and when I planned to have kids, she wanted a description of the alternative birth control methods I planned on using if it wasn’t hormonal birth control. I remember stammering, clamming up, and getting a bit snarky with her, but I didn’t tell her what was on my mind. I didn’t say that marriage has very little to do with birth control. I didn’t say that the more appropriate line of questionning would be: Are you sexually active? Are you concerned about pregnancy or STIs? If so, do you need information about alternative (non-hormonal) methods of birth control? I wanted to say IT’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS – ANSWER MY DAMN QUESTION LADY! But I did not. Instead I stewed over it for a while and even requested my original physician back. I talked to my husband, my Mom, my sister about it, but I didn’t tell the doctor! Why?
After all the reading and writing I have done about feminist theory, feminist research, and women’s issues, I honestly feel like a bit of a fraud for not being able to speak out about these day-to-day occurences of sexism and patriarchy in my own life. As as educator, I could – and I should – use these instances as ‘teachable moments’ and perhaps create a new understanding or even a small change. I wrote this blog post to get out my frustration – but hopefully I can also use it to hold myself to a new standard – to speak up instead of clam up and address the issue instead of stew.
And if the dentist insists on calling me ‘hon,’ I guess I will have to just call him ‘sweetie’ and call it a day.