Come August in Florida, no one would blame you for moving to Nantucket.
By this point, your “sun’s out, buns out” summer enthusiasm has suffocated. What remains is meltingly passive-aggressive commentary about Boston’s expense and uninhabitability, and the privilege of an olympic-sized pool at your back door. Both of those things are lies. Because once upon a summer in Boston, you made snobbish-aggressive commentary about Florida’s heat and uninhabitability, and the privilege of a walkable city at your front door.
Come August in Florida, you start scrolling Zillow in ‘Sconset.
The universal August theme between North and South Nantucket (as I would like to rename Nantucket and Palm Beach, respectively) is the feeling of fresh starts. That means new goals, a refocus for the year (a refocus that didn’t occur at the half-year, due to aforementioned Buns Out.)
My new (school) year’s resolution: stop making myself small.
It began in elementary school, as all social neuroses must: dutifully lacing “like” and “totally” into my speech after the 5th grade alpha girl declared she didn’t want “a dictionary friend.” (A dictionary definition of a friend, or a friend that was a dictionary?) She was eager to report back to “The Girls” that I was Actually Nice, as they “wanted to hate (me) for being too pretty.” (Ah, how medical school elevates the passively attractive into “Too Pretty.”) When going to parties during residency, I saw the surprising discomfort when someone found out I was a neurosurgeon at Harvard… so I began saying I was a yoga teacher instead.
Is it odd that this whittling away still continues? In an era when actual basket-weavers are knighted as “Female Founders,” haven’t we “Leaned In” past such belittling mentalities? Aren’t we all #GirlBosses?
Last year, I changed my call schedule for a woman who unironically hashtagged herself that way. She was an employee in a medium-sized company with a sometimes administrative assistant, and she was coming in from out of town. I gleefully told her that my schedule was (literally) cleared for her; when she decided not to show up, I wished her well. She later revealed that she disappeared because I failed to display “enough enthusiasm” about the visit– only for me to jokingly admit: the actual highest amount of enthusiasm a doctor can display is changing the sacrosanct call schedule.
In startling reply: “Well, boo hoo that we all can’t be Fancy Doctors like you.” This phrase failed to make conversational or logical sense, but it did humiliate me: it was a deliberate tactic to put me in my place. I still wonder exactly why my doctor-hood bothered so, why another woman believed I should be ashamed of it. And what did it say about my self-awareness, that I, for an instant, WAS ashamed of it?
I wonder if all women undergo this profession-shaming. I know of one stay-at-home mom who brazenly shares at cocktail parties that she “went to graduate school” for some type of esoteric poetry, then gets offended when asked for clarification. She applauds herself for belittling businessmen, by saying that an orthopedic surgeon would never just call themselves a doctor. Aside from the concept that practicing as a double-subspecialty-trained professional isn’t the same as doing a masters a decade ago, no one I know would say anything other than “I’m a doctor” if asked. (Well, amongst other doctors they would say “I’m ortho” in ultra-shorthand, and, if they are charming at all, they will play the Med School name game with you.)
Does this happen to you? Lawyers, hedge-fund managers, professors, Googlers? Is there such a thing as reverse-profession shaming, in proportion to stereotypical prestige? Is this for women only, for (medical) doctors only, or is everyone just an absolute boor these days?
Setting aside those questions, in the past I was ultra-sensitive to avoid giving insult. Like the Bhagavad-Gita, I believed pride was horrifically devilish. I did everything I could to socially shrink away my CV, as if it would once again make me that “dictionary friend.”
I was recently involved in a situation with my son that was not playing out fairly, either financially or educationally. At long last, I propelled myself into the full strength of my convictions. I stopped caring if I came across too strongly. I stopped caring if I was bragging or intimidating. I stopped caring about the former Worst Trait of All: Not Being Pretty. It required my procreation to stop caring, and perhaps that reflects negatively on my character, but that is the honest twist to my plot: The Baby. My son has pulled me into a previously shirked position: an eyebrow-raised, steel-souled erectness of posture and self-assuredness.
Maybe this is THE transformation of all womanhood, and my nonchalant writing-off of the above #GirlBosses was too abrupt, hypocritical. Maybe they were doing exactly the same: reaching up to their own fullest extent, in a world that wants us to be smaller, prettier. Is this just another instance of Boston vs. Florida, with professions instead of locations?
Maybe we all need to rise to the full stature of our station: confident, un-manipulable. I certainly will name-drop and credential-drop PRN. I suspect that, out of long-standing habit, I’ll watch out for the sin of pride in myself. However, now I won’t change myself to accommodate the sin of pride in another.
There is a chance that I will be deemed “not pretty on the inside”, but aren’t I too old to be worried about that?
Yes. I’ve graduated from last year, and I look forward to the new (school) year ahead.
I can definitely relate to feeling that I need to apologize for being educated, a psychiatrist, and having independent educated opinions.
Tammy— you have my child with your reply. Especially someone who addresses such important issues as mental health, we need to lift up women like you! Please keep up your strength and dignity, and know that I am right here with you! -giannina
Sometimes it feels like you can’t win. As a mom you are criticized for having a career and then those who give up their career to stay home are criticized as well. We need to stop shaming and judging one another and just be true to ourselves. These are such individual choices. And no one solution is right for everyone. Thank you for a great article, Giannina.
Archana- you honor me with this comment— I am so appreciative of your reply! It is so true— motherhood in particular opens you up to criticism. I didn’t mention it in the article, but your intuition is 100% correct: some of the strangest comments I have received happened after I gave birth! Almost as if my motherhood exposed me to more criticism either way— thank you for identifying this additional angle! It is such a pleasure to be part of this community with you!
Oddly enough, choosing not to and/or being unable to have children seems to draw untoward judgments and criticism from those who are parents. You’d think that as much as many people dislike being criticized for however they choose to parent, they’d figure out that non-parents don’t appreciate those demeaning comments regarding their life choices either.
Kari I find what you say so interesting– especially the “being unable to have children” part, which breaks my heart.
I have not experienced the comments about those life choices, so I can’t speak to that personally, but the way you phrase it strikes me as so right: “demeaning comments regarding life choices” is absolutely right… and almost, I am wondering, does this AGAIN goes back to profession shaming in women?? As in: shaming you for NOT being in the profession of motherhood!!!
Thank you so much for giving me additional perspective: that is the beauty of connection!