Thursday, 15 March 2012

This isn't what we're paid for

I went to pick my father up at hospital yesterday, after some exploratory surgery to investigate possible cancer. He was glad the horror of having his body poked, prodded and cut was over for now at least and told me about everything he could remember.

It was a difficult day, frightening for both of us, and triggering, because hospital based, of the recent death of my mother.

But extraordinarily, what Dad told me pushed me back into angry feminist mode, even on a day when I'd needed to cry by the sea after I left him there in the morning.

Dad described all the tests he'd had before they came to give him general anasthetic. He talked about how nervous he'd been. And then he told me what the surgeon (a white man in his fifties or sixties) had said to him, as he chatted with Dad before the needle was inserted.

"Just look over there, Mr **, at all those pretty nurses. That will take your mind off it," Surgeon smiled.

I've never seen my father sexualise or objectify women to "put us in our place." Ever. He said he replied, with remarkable composure given the situation, "Oh, I don't think that will do it."

Now there's the creepiness of someone holding institutional power offering up his professional colleagues for judgment on their (entirely unrelated to job performance) attractiveness. There's the nudge nudge, wink wink nature of attempted male bonding over objectifying women, which I imagine with some male patients is taken up with gusto. And there's the fact that every nurse I saw there was younger than I am. So my father - nearly seventy - was being encouraged to ogle women in their twenties and thirties.

Dad told me this, knowing I would react. It took both our minds off how frightened we were. But I'd happily give up that respite from worrying about my Dad's health to know the nurses in that workplace were free from sexual harassment, every day of their working lives, just as we all should be.


Beerbaron said...

Sorry to break it to you hun but Men of all ages from 8 to 80 plus like looking at attractive young Women...its natural and it never stops...why should it?

Maybe you need to stop manufacturing faux offence so much and deal with life as it is...

LudditeJourno said...

Oh Beerbaron, really? That's what you've got?
Go troll elsewhere please.

A Nonny Moose said...

Beer, you do realize the more you open your mouth, the bigger a creep it makes you look, right?

Here's the point: It ain't about you. If a woman says they don't like being harrassed and objectified, YOU LISTEN TO THE HARRASSED AND OBJECTIFIED, not the person trying to claim back their right to harrass and objectify. By claiming your right to "ogle", as you so gently put it, you show your contempt for women. You don't see them as human.

But hey, thanks for showing your contempt and squirmyness for someone sharing their feelings on a particularly hard day in their life.

I say good DAY to you sir.

Matthew said...

As a guy I confront such "subtleties" often - and it always makes me uncomfortable, and resentful, as I feel pressured into viewing other people in ways that I don't want to. So, to Beerbaron, I'm sorry, but not all men do think that way, and they don't like it being implied that they do, nor do they like being made to feel like they should, nor do they like the implications of such off-hand suggestions (such as is pointed out, the devaluing of the female staff). So I'm a bit weary of, rather pissed off at, other men telling me that I'm not working properly as a man. I'd much rather have a world full of faulty men like myself, than the postulated authentic ones.

(Though, with a handle like "Beerbaron", he/she may not think I'm a proper man anyhow because I've never consumed alcohol, but I'm probably making rash and unfounded generalisations here ... when will I ever learn?).

In fairness though, if I had been in the position of LudditeJourno's dad, the surgeons remark probably would've had the desired effect, because I'd switch to internal fuming ranty feminist mode, and promptly forget about the needle and situation. Though I can imagine afterward they would say to my friends/family 'the operation went well enough, though at one point we were worried he didn't have enough anesthetic, as he started groaning about "smashing the patriarchy" or something - yeah, I don't know what that means either'.

Muerk said...

Yeah, my husband hates the way some men talk about women too. I suspect many men are uncomfortable about the way some objectify and demean women.

Herp said...

" If a woman says they don't like being harrassed and objectified, YOU LISTEN TO THE HARRASSED AND OBJECTIFIED"

So what did the nurses think of this?

Scuba Nurse said...

It's funny this came up, because the other day an older gentleman came in for a prostate surgery and spent the last ten conscious minutes in the OR making objectionable comments about the nurses uniforms/looks vs. their capability and lots of "back in my day ladies didn’t work" BS comments.
Once he was asleep the Anaesthetist looked up at us all, smiled and said "Does he REALISE that you are about to operate on his penis?"
We all pissed ourselves laughing.
Like any workplace we have our thoughtless assholes, and to add to that nursing has a long cultural history of sexualisation and servitude.
I like to think that the operating room is one of the places where nurses, doctors and other specialists work as a truly equal multidisciplinary team (within the surgical time anyway), but there are aberrations within that.

As a side note, I often tell the patients (male and female) to look at me while the doc is doing something “because I am much better looking”, it normally gets a laugh and I don’t think it undermines my professionalism (I’m hoping) because I’m in control of the joke and it isn’t a minimising phrasing or wording, or reliant on a gender difference. We do get on automatic pilot in our patter, and the older docs have probably been using the same lines since the 1960’s

LudditeJourno said...

Matthew, thank you, I love hearing men talk about how to unravel sexism :-)
A Nonny Moose :-)
Herp - I'm not sure. Given all the people (mostly women) I've talked to about sexual harassment in the workplace though, it usually makes people feel devalued, unsafe and belittled.
My own experience - 17 year old retail staff member, boss asked me to attract more customers by "going out the front and showing a bit of leg" I spontaneously told him to fuck off, then became worried I might lose my job. Astonishingly, he apologised for being out of line, and I apologised for swearing but told him I didn't like what he'd said. So sexual harassment for me made me angry.

Herp said...

" I often tell the patients (male and female) to look at me while the doc is doing something “because I am much better lookin"

How does the doctor feel about this?

"Herp - I'm not sure. Given all the people (mostly women) I've talked to about sexual harassment in the workplace though, it usually makes people feel devalued, unsafe and belittled."

I guess the important thing is to realise that it's sexual harassment even if the nurses are OK with it because it made you feel uncomfortable. And even fi they are OK with it it's probably for bad reasons.

Scuba Nurse said...

Herp, The doctor who works with me is in on this particular line and is often far more attractive than I to our straight female patients. Hence the joke.
You appear not to care what we say, and although it has been covered from both patient, onlooker, and the demanded nurse's opinion, you find our points irrelevant.
Perhaps if you genuinely don't care about this issue, or those involved's opinions, then you go away and let those who do get on with changing the world around them.

In case I was unclear it is NEVER ok to harass staff members in a workplace environment. As a nurse I DO NOT LIKE IT.
Enjoy your bridge.

Herp said...

"You appear not to care what we say, and although it has been covered from both patient, onlooker, and the demanded nurse's opinion, you find our points irrelevant. "

How can you tell me that I find the doctor's viewpoint irrelevant when you only just told me what his viewpoint was? I find it extremely relevant because he's the one being told he is less attractive.

Also, your situation and OP's situation are different situations and not both have been covered from all viewpoints.

I would find what you say to your pateitns uncomfortable, if not actual harassment.

I am sure none of your patients have expressed dismay before but perhaps one day one will.

Remember it's easy to see one's own behavior as harmless especially when it's intended as humor... but I am sure the doctor in OP's example intended humor too.

LudditeJourno said...

Herp, it strikes me you're picking a fight here because you don't actually believe what I have described is sexual harassment, hence your earlier comments. I think we might just have to agree to disagree - and stay on point, thanks.

Brandy Alexander said...

Seriously? You are offended that a straight man may be attracted to younger women? And you think pointing this out somehow means the doctor is implying that that's all the nurses are there for? In my opinion, you are reading way too much into this situation. Am I depoliticising your experience? Yes, yes I am.

Sometimes I wonder why men these days are too terrified to approach women - if they fess up to having some kind of sexual attraction, they might get labeled as a male chauvinist pig!

I absolutely agree with what beerbaron is saying - it seems as though you are manufacturing faux offence - a favourite pastime of the privileged and bored.

Call me a troll all you like, but hey, I am a woman, so supposedly my comments are welcome around here...

Brandy Alexander said...

Oh, and what relevance did the fact that he was white have in this situation? Don't you think randomly pointing out someone's race is a bit, um...racist?

LudditeJourno said...

Brandy Alexander, comments are welcome here, not on the basis of gender, but on the basis they engage with debates with respect.
I feel like you're having a convo with yourself - none of the points you've raised are things I said in the post, so I'm afraid I'm not going to get into defending myself over things I haven't said.
Re: the surgeon being white - relevant only in the sense of privilege. Everything about him, in this situation, gave him privilege - his institional position, his seniority, his gender, his (expressed) sexuality, his skin colour. And yes, I'm politicising all of those ways of holding institutional power, here and elsewhere.

herp said...

Luddite, even if the nurses weren't offended, it was still sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is any sexual behaviour that causes discomfort. It doesn't have to cause discomfort to the person it is directed at.

It obviously caused discomfort to you and to your dad, so therefore: harassment.

I was just commenting that it would be interesting to get the nurse's perspective. We can guess at what their perspective would likely be but I think it's important not to speak for their experience.

Brandy Alexander said...

But whether or not "privilege" as you define it kicks in depends on the situation. Here, it seems like the "privilege" issue would be one about gender, not about race; the idea that a man historically has privilege over a woman. So I think it was kind of strange and out of context to criticise his actions because he was white.

I'm not arguing with myself, my point about people being scared to approach women is based on the fact that you are finding fault with a natural phenomenon - men generally (except for maybe about 10% of them) enjoy looking at attractive young women. And I think this kind of attitude that it's wrong to "objectify" women has made it hard for men to approach women, for fear of being thought of as a "creep" or a "sleaze". Which is basically what you're implying that the surgeon was.

LudditeJourno said...

Hi Brandy - but we are talking about different things. Approaching someone you're attracted to, to see if they might be interested in you, is tricky and scary and fraught I agree. It's not the same as commenting on a group of people's attractiveness while they are at work and unlikely to be able to challenge that behaviour easily. Especially when the person doing the harassing has structural power.
Which brings me to the second point - this surgeon's skin colour - I still believe that our entitlement in the world, for most of us, is a complex mesh of class, race, sexuality, gender, (dis)ability, age etc etc etc. So would a man of colour behave in exactly the same way? I don't know, but I don't think the white privilege thing is EVER not relevant to how people exert power. I'm not criticising him because he was white, I'm criticising him using institutional power to sexually harass his colleagues.

LudditeJourno said...

Herp - I agree, how people targetted feel about sexual harassment is important. I'm just not as sure as you are that the nurses were all good with it. Nor am I sure that talking about why sexual harassment makes the world a less safe place for women in general is very well understood, or safe to talk about, for women. Look at how much negative comment this blog has attracted - from people telling me it's not sexual harassment to have your attractiveness commented on in the workplace by someone with institutional power over you.

Herp said...

" I'm just not as sure as you are that the nurses were all good with it"

Missing the bit where I said I think the nurses were good with it.

Probably the most likely scenario is that they were not even aware of it and so had no feelings but if they were aware would have been unhappy... and if they hadn't been actively unhappy it would have been due to resignation rather than generally being happy with some guy treating them as sex objects.

But my speculation is only speculation. I'm not a nurse, don't know what it's like to be nurse.

As A Nonny said, we listen to the harassed and objectified.

I do have some issues with what Scuba Nurse talked about but no issues with the OP.

LudditeJourno said...

Herp - I'm glad to hear you explicitly say you're not assuming the nurses were all good with it. I'm not sure I agree with your "most likely" scenario either, based on how women who are routinely sexually harassed talk about it (which I've described above), but we don't know in this specific case, as you say.

Herp said...

Thank you LJ, I'm glad to have a chance to say it.