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Treatment Of Women In The Medical Field

Essay, Research Paper

Throughout centuries there have been millions and millions of people overlooked and shunned for reasons that are not concrete. Yet, these same persons that were overlooked centuries ago because of reasons such as the colour of their hair, eyes, skin, or sex, are still overlooked in today’s society. Women have been at the hands of “oppressors” since the beginning of documented time. What is scary, is not so much that they are being oppressed, but the persons that are their oppressors. The oppressors are not from a different planet, or a different society, or a different town; the oppressors are the women’s own brothers and fathers and doctors- they are men they know and trust! The works of Sylvia Plath and Margaret Lawrence have exposed the tyrannies that exist in women’s lives today. Through their words, these two author’s reveal society’s failure to recognize women as individuals by classifying them in terms of class, age and gender. Throughout their novels, The Bell Jar and A Jest of God respectively, they have created an atmosphere for the reader to settle into, and see, if they have not seen already, the downfall of the medical profession and its treatment of women. Clearly the medical profession categorizes the female antagonists in The Bell Jar and in A Jest of God , as being females that have no serious problems in their lives. In the novel The Bell Jar, Esther’s experience with her male psychiatrist clearly represents this stereotyping. Dr. Gordon begins his first interview by asking the suicidal Esther to assess her problem, ” Suppose you try and tell me what you think is wrong. What did I think was wrong? That made it sound as if nothing was really wrong. I only thought it was wrong “. (Plath 137) Dr. Gordon obviously believes Esther’s problem to be only a matter of her faulty perception and shows no concern for concrete factors leading to her depression. He does not conduct the interview in a proper medical fashion, demonstrating the, ” collection of data, assessment, diagnosis and plan ” (Schultz 76) Instead, he spends most of the interview reminiscing about the girls he had met at a WAC station during the war. His attitude towards women is blatantly superficial, “…My, they were a pretty bunch of girls” (Plath 138). Evidently his hypocritical attitude towards women has not changed. After reminiscing about the WAC station, Dr. Gordon dismisses Esther by saying , “See you next week, then” (Plath 138). He fails to treat Esther as a patient deserving respect, having real concerns, fears and needs. Instead he has categorized her as one of the “pretty girls” (Plath 138) who could not possibly have any substantial thoughts to require therapeutic counseling, and almost immediately sends her for electric shock therapy. Shock therapy is for those persons with, ” major mood disorders with pronounced physical deterioration and risk of suicide, severe mania and some forms of schizophrenia that have not responded to medication.” ( Rawlins, Williams, Beck, 268) Esther has been given no medication to respond too, therefore Dr. Gordon is taking Esther to level of treatment that she should not be at. This course of action can further danger the state of Esther’s mind. Unfortunately Dr.Gordon overlooked this detail. In the same fashion as Dr. Gordon fails to treat Esther with respect, Dr. Raven in A Jest of God does not respond adequately to Rachel’s concerns, as a result of stereotyping her to the common notion about ” old maids” (Lawrence 219). This is evident when Rachel tells him that she missed her period. He responds by saying,” at least we know there’s no question of one thing, anyway, with a sensible girl like yourself. That at least can be ruled out, eh? Can’t say the same for them all, I’m afraid” (Lawrence 218). Dr. Raven, assuming there is no possibility of Rachel being pregnant, instantly puts his patient at risk for being misdiagnosed and limits the boundaries of the patient-doctor relationship. Thus, in both novels the main characters are sentenced to confining their fears to themselves. In both novels, the medical institutions demonstrate behavior which suggests they view women as being inferior to men. In The Bell Jar when Esther goes with Buddy Willard to the hospital to view the birth of a baby, a third year medical student says to Esther, ” You oughtn’t see this, you’ll never want to have a baby if you do. They oughtn’t let women watch. It’ll be the end of the human race” (Plath 71) This medical student is implying that women could not handle viewing the birth of a baby even though most women are capable of giving birth. In other words, women are mentally weaker than men and are thought to be incapable of handling such a sight- even though throughout the centuries mid-wives have successfully been delivering babies and the human race still continues to grow and exist. Moreover, the head delivering Doctor says to Mrs. Tomilillo, ” push down, Mrs. Tomilillo, push down, that’s a good girl,…”(Plath 72). Referring to Mrs. Tomilillo as a good girl signifies the doctor’s patronizing attitude towards women. This same attitude is allotted to Rachel, during her stay in the hospital while she is having an operation completed. In A Jest of God, Rachel narrates to the reader her feelings after her operation, ” They said I was a CO-operative patient, to lie so still. How did they know? They thought I was worried about having cancer.” (Lawrence 223) Rachel carried her fear of being pregnant through the entire duration of her stay in the hospital without any doctor realizing her true concern. Rachel’s lack of self-esteem, due to her inferiority to men, leads her to not question Dr. Raven’s diagnosis, or even seek a second opinion prior to the operation. Instead she allows the doctors to perform surgery when she thinks perhaps she may be pregnant, thus not having the suspected tumor at all. All these thoughts and fears that Rachel brings forth, portray the attitudes that exist within society. Though all Rachel’s thoughts are a work of Margaret Lawrence’s mind, they still do exist reality. The leading feminist, Betty Friedan quotes one women’s depression and the doctor’s response to it in her prized book, The Feminine Mystique; ” ‘A tired feeling…I get so angry with the children it scares me. I feel like crying without reason.’ ( A Cleveland doctor called it ‘the housewife’s syndrome’).” The doctor in this case is not taking the women’s problem seriously, for he just brushing it off as, “the housewife’s syndrome”, therefore, taking away the possibility that it could be a real problem, that needs a real cause of action. Thus, consequently once again, a women is placed in danger due to a lack of seriousness on a doctor’s part.

The medical profession’s failure to listen to female patients in The Bell Jar and in A Jest of God is another factor that demonstrates women are not being treated as individuals deserving respect. In A Jest of God when Rachel gets the courage to tell Dr. Raven that she thinks that she may be pregnant, he interrupts her speech, assuming that he already knows what she is about to say, ” Look, before you examine me, I wanted to say- It’s all right, Rachel. What is it? Don’t be nervous, my dear. This is nothing (Lawrence 219). When he reminds Rachel that she has had an internal examination before she comments, ” I don’t mind- it isn’t that”; yet, instead of asking Rachel what her fears are, Dr. Raven simply reminds her to “just relax”, consequently ignoring the present anxiety of his patient and thus forgoing perhaps what could be valuable information (Lawrence 219). This disregard for Rachel is seen again by the medical profession during her post-operative time in the hospital. During the morning rounds the surgeon comments to her, ” You are out of danger “. She responds by saying, ” How could I be-I don’t feel dead yet” and also noting to herself, ” And he looked at me for the merest flick of an instant, only curiosity, and then he passed on to another bed.” (Lawrence 225) The surgeon, as with Dr. Raven, fails once again to give credibility to Rachel because she is a female. Similarly, in The Bell Jar the medical profession is depicted as not listening to Esther during one of her stays in the hospital. On one occasion, the medical students ask Esther how she is feeling this morning. Esther responds, ” I feel lousy”…”I can’t sleep” (Plath 216) She narrates to the reader, ” They interrupted me…The people in the group had turned from me and were murmuring in low voices to each other. Finally, the gray-haired man stepped out and said Thank-you, Miss Greenwood” (Plath 217)Esther feels that she is not being listened to by the doctors. The importance of being heard is very important to Esther and this is noted when Dr. Nolan, her new female doctor visits her in the hospital. Doctor Nolan asks Esther if she smokes and Esther replies, ” No ” (Plath 213). Esther thinks to herself if she smokes perhaps Dr. Nolan will stay longer. (Plath 213) The need for someone to stay longer is evidence that Esther still feels the need to be heard regardless of the number of doctors she has already visited. Thus, the male doctors encountered by Rachel and Esther all exhibit egotistical attitude of superiority; while Dr. Nolan, a female exhibits a personality that is responsive to the needs of Esther. Unlike the male doctors, Dr. Nolan judges Esther’s problem as a real problem, and not as a female problem which needs to be practiced much more if women are going to receive the help they need. The fault with the medical profession is that it does listen to the concerns of females. With the growth of women in the work force today, hopefully this will be changing. Though both novels, The Bell Jar and A Jest of God were written in the 1960’s, this does not mean that they do not apply to the lives of women today. Women are still being categorized by their gender, their age and their status within society. The proof lies in the context of the ” wonderful little drug, prozac”. The drug itself is not disastrous, but rather it is the of use of the drug by the medical industry. Women now, instead of being giving shock treatment, are handed a drug. There is no in-between. Women are still not being listened too; their concerns are still not being heard. When the day finally comes when both genders are equal, with their differences aside, then all, both male and female can join in the fiestas, for then, we will be a human race, united.