Laughing At Sexism In Med School

April 07, 1986|LAURA CASTANEDA | Associated Press Writer


Several female medical students sit in class and pass around a picture of a nude male, much to the embarrassment of two men in the room. Suddenly, one woman decides to tack the centerfold on the blackboard.

"Hey, not bad," says the female professor when she comes in and sees the beefcake shot. "I think I'll take this home and make a slide for my next lecture."

Fade out.

The skit is one of five in "Turning Around: Sexism in Medicine," a movie that shows sexism with a smile by depicting men--rather than women--in medical school as victims of chauvinism.

"Humor is the best way to reach people," said Dr. Maureen Longworth, who made the film when she was a medical student at the University of California, San Francisco.

"I think it's really ineffective to change anything as insidious as sexism by attacking people. Allowing people to laugh at themselves strikes home in a much more powerful way," she said.

Longworth, 35, is a second-year resident in family practice at San Francisco General Hospital. She made the 18-minute color film in 1984.

"Turning Around" has since been used by several organizations and schools to point out sexist behavior. At UC San Francisco, it is required viewing for the clinical faculty, she said. Longworth's fellow medical students performed and filmed the skits at a cost of about $1,000, donated by the university and a few pharmaceutical companies.

Every skit is based on an actual incident. In other highlights, a male lecturer is jeered and ignored, and a medical school applicant is asked by a female interviewer whether he plans to marry and how he could be a good father as a doctor.

Women are encouraged to become surgeons, while men are told to take up the piano because of their "beautiful hands." A woman doctor orders a complete checkup for a woman with a headache, while a man with a severe head injury is prescribed Valium for "hysteria."

"What we are socialized with is a lack of respect for women," which is transferred to female patients, Longworth said. "Men patients are treated much more seriously than women patients."

Longworth has been involved in women's issues for several years. While in medical school, she helped found the San Francisco Women's Medical Student Assn. and the Women in Medicine Retreat.

She said the idea for the film came when the skits were enthusiastically received after live campus performances. Longworth decided a film would make it possible to point out sexist behavior in other medical schools.

Longworth believes it's important because the number of women entering medical school is growing. According to the American Medical Assn., there were 9,786 women in medical school in 1975--18% of the total. For the 1984-85 school year, the number jumped to 21,287 women--about 32%.

But she says that individuality was not encouraged for women when she was growing up in the San Fernando Valley. She excelled in science, but no one ever suggested medical school. She earned a psychology degree at Loyola Marymount University instead, she said.

After graduation, she moved to Berkeley and worked for a women's health collective. It was there that she first seriously considered medicine, after meeting her first female doctor at the age of 28.

"It's hard to imagine that someone who once called herself a 'Valley chick' made a film about sexism," she said.

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