Ling celebrates uniqueness, rejects pigeonholing

I have just read the First Person article by Dr. Susan Brothers Peterman. I am profoundly depressed by her message. Throughout history, society has been plagued by repressive attitudes toward those considered "different." Racism, sexism, ageism -- all are manifestations of the tendency to simplify the world by assigning predictable characteristics to subgroups. Thus, we have been taught over the years that the Irish are drunkards, that Jews are money-grubbers, that Asians are cowardly, that African Americans are violent. Stereotyping is the intellectual belief which justifies discrimination.

I am then disturbed to find that in Dr. Peterman's world, we are to regard women as "soft, fluid ... nurturing, creative." In contrast, she views the role of a physician as defined by its maleness: "cold, rigid ... objective, better than human." Her proof is in her refusal to train her residents abusively, in her ability to nurture her children through "tummy aches and scraped knees." As woman, she "brings nurture and an inquisitive spirit to ... creative endeavors to heal."

As a physician, as a "person of color," as a father of two children whom I love with great intensity, I reject these stereotypes. I am not Dr. Peterman's "man physician," any more than many of my female colleagues are "woman physicians." I know callous, abusive female physicians. I know male physicians who are at the forefront of efforts to incorporate the "humanistic" aspect of medicine into their practices. I know female physician-researchers who are eminently comfortable in a world of enzymes and DNA. I know my devotion to my children cannot be exceeded by hers. Let us agree that we are more than our titles: not just man or woman, or physician, or any other "group identity." The wonder of life is in the uniqueness of us all: that is what we should celebrate, rather than finding new ways to pigeonhole each other.

Mark Ling
Department of Dermatology

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