In June 2003, when my predecessor handed me the first cover story that would print with my name listed as editor-in-chief, I nearly died. The big feature he had slated for that month was called Optometrys Glass Ceiling: Have Women Broken Through to Assume Leadership Roles? The irony wasnt lost on me; you could cut through it with a butter knife.
You must be kidding, I thought. I worried incessantly about what readers would think of me. It looked so contrived. There I was, Reviews new female editor-in-chief, running a story that many would say pits the sexes against one another. I thought that you, the reader, would assume that I was on a mission to infect optometry with feminism.
So, once that article was behind me, I shied away from the topic of women in optometry as best I could. I didnt want you to jump to conclusions about my objectives or accuse me of pandering to female readers.
More importantly, I didnt want you to think of me as a woman. I wanted you to think of me simply as editor-in-chief of the best-read optometry magazine. If you saw me as a woman, you might think I wasnt capable. After all, even I wasnt certain I was capable.
That was more than two years ago. The percentage of female optometry graduates reached 56% last year, according to ASCO. And yet, even now, I find myself hiding behind the illusion of what optometry used to be.
So why do I do it? Let me take you on a journey of the past 27 months. After I ran that story, the phone started ringing like mad! And it hasnt stopped. It never ceases to amaze me how candid people will be on the phone (that is, until you ask them their namethen, the line goes dead). Here are some of the highlights:
If I wanted to be surrounded by women all day, I would have brought my wife to work.
How old are you?
You women think you can have it all, but youre ruining independent optometry.
Whats a nice girl like you getting mixed up in optometry for? Maybe you should go work for a tabloid or a womens magazine.
All the female graduates go to work at chains. They keep popping out babies and never really commit to the profession.
If youre a male reader, you might brush this off, assuming that these are the opinions of a dwindling number of stone-age O.D.s. But ask yourself this: What do you think of female grads who go to work at LensCrafters?
Im sure you know that many men turn to chains right out of school because they have bills to pay, they need experience, and they command higher salaries than many independent practices can pay. But, when you see a woman at a chain, do you assume thats what she wants for herself in the long term? Im certain that more than a select few men think this way and feel more than a little resentment about how this perceived trend will affect the profession.
So what do we do about it? If youre a man, do you just not talk about it because its taboo and hope that things turn out for the best? And, if youre a woman, do you hope that men will see you as a colleague and not as a womanthat is, as a professional who aspires to great things and not as a woman who, heaven forbid, might secretly be planning her life around 2.5 kids? Call me misguided (as Im sure many of you will), but I think both these solutions stink.
Women: I point a finger at myself as well when I say, How very sad it is that we feel like we have to distract attention away from who we are. You dont want to be thought of as a woman; you want to be thought of as a doctor. But why? Being a woman makes you no less capable. However, pretending your someone youre not will likely make you feel that way.
I cant bring myself to apologize for the politically incorrect question posed in the headline: What will women do to optometry? Sadly, its a question that a lot of O.D.s are asking and one that I wont shy away from any longer. In the coming months, I hope youll join me in a candid discussion about your colleagues perceptions of what women will do to optometry and your own predictions of what women will do for optometry.