How the medical profession advanced women’s rights

by Ted Bacharach, MD

The physicians as a group have been accused of many things. We have been blamed for the high cost of medical care, the depersonalization of physicians and the discontinuity of medical care.

If there was any situation in which we have performed exceptionally well but not been realized by the public, it would be in the are of “Women’s lib”.

When I first entered the practice of medicine one of the more common complaints was “frigidity” in women. Like the dinosaur this complaint has past into history. The lack of women’s rights was accepted as was a low glass ceiling.

Our gigantic strides in this field are often overlooked. The main reason for the end of discrimination against women and the responsibility of the “two income family” has been the work of the medical profession. The first step was the introduction of the diaphragm. Not completely effective in birth control it did free women to work without the same fear of pregnancy and the employer was much more able to rely on the continuity of work in his female employees. “Bra burning” was started. Further liberation and increased equality for women was delayed until the “pill” made pregnancy a controllable event.

As you can see we as physicians can take credit for at least a few things. Things such as increased life expectancy, decreased infant mortality and control of infectious diseases are only a few of the more obvious advances. Our role in “Women’s Lib” is often overlooked. Women’s rights are among our most significant advances.

Ted Bacharach is a physician who blogs at the Placebo Journal Blog.

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  • EG

    I think this article takes for granted some of the reasons WHY women were accepted into medicine before other professions: because, much like nursing, being a doctor can be seen as an extension of the “woman’s role” in the home to care for people. Women working outside of the home was couched in the terminology of extension of their domestic sphere, and I don’t know if that is something that the medical profession can take credit for…

  • ninguem

    Kevin, here’s a case you might want to cover, it’s a good story. Maybe I should say an important story.

    Not the nurse’s suicide per se.

    The nurse was despondent over what happened and she killed herself. A tragedy, two needless deaths, the child, and now the nurse.

    Thing is, there was a string of medication errors at Seattle Children’s, follow the links. All this is in the papers, public documents. No secrets.

    This is a systemic fault, IMHO, that got blamed on individuals.

    At least one individual took it so badly that she killed herself.

  • soloFP

    There are still many male dominated specialties. Most surgeons and specialist are male in my area. The main female doctors, where 40-60% are female and paid less than the male counterparts are in peds, FP, IM, and ob/gyn.
    A sad article recently was posted on views of a leading general surgeon about women and semen through unprotected sex helping their moods at

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