Women in Medicine Part 4
Can women "have it all?" That is, can they be good mothers, wives, daughters, friends, neighbors, and still be good doctors?
Are women as competent as men?
Are women achieving their potential?
What can women do to achieve more?
Q: Have you ever thought about the differences between men and women? Specifically, I refer to the fact that while women have the same IQ as men, they seem to do rather little with it and must therefore have fundamentally different motivations in life. I want the truth, not feminist dogma!
Answer by Kevin Pezzi, MD: Nothing like a hot potato topic to inflame half my readers . . . . Let me preface my comments by saying that I would not have the courage to broach this contentious subject had you not been a woman who, I think, fundamentally agrees with me on this matter. Obviously, some women are very intelligent and successful in their careers, but the range of their demonstrated abilities seems to me to be narrower than those of men. That comment might infuriate some people, so I will back it up with facts. Let's confine this discussion to non-workplace activities because some women possess advanced degrees, such as an MD—but so do I. What female and male physicians do at work is comparable, but to get at the heart of your question, it is revealing to see what women do in their off hours. I've never known a woman who did any of these things (some of these will be repetitious after reading the preceding page, but they need to be included so the rhetorical effect of my response is not lost):
1) Invent a new printhead that is small and lightweight and uses very little power and is easily fabricated and is economical to manufacture (i.e., cost < 1¢) and does not require complex interface circuitry and has a long life and is capable of producing excellent graphs.
2) Fix a furnace.
3) Make a robotic lawn mower that is far more sophisticated than the ones now on the market, which just wander aimlessly. By "sophisticated," I mean mowing in perfectly straight rows, knowing just where every row was, turning itself around at just the right time, possessing a variety of accident-avoidance sensors, compensating for the growth of trees, bagging the grass and dumping it (in a bag, nonetheless) at a predefined location and knowing how to return to the exact spot it left off before it detoured to dump the full bag of grass.
4) Develop a new technique of fractional multiplication.
5) Develop two ways to achieve radar transparency.
6) Make a beautiful hand-carved door from scratch.
7) Make spectacular cupolas from scratch.
8) Build sheds that are actually attractive works of art, not the usual backyard eyesores.
9) Do a substantial portion of building a house, from clearing hundreds of trees on the building site with a chainsaw to nailing up the last piece of trim.
10) Make a custom candy bar that looks as if it was produced in a factory.
11) Invent things that would terrorize terrorists and make burglars wish they'd chosen an honest way to make a living.
12) Invent a device that would trick rapists and other thugs into killing themselves.
13) Design and build the following from scratch (not from a kit): a snowmobile, a motorized toboggan, a radio-controlled snowmobile, a copying machine, several electronic stethoscopes, an echophonocardiograph with integral electronic stethoscope, a Trauma Scope, an invasive metal detector, several intubation detectors that differentiate esophageal versus tracheal intubation, a noninvasive cardiac output monitor, a new type of finger splint, a histographic accelerometer, an automatic TV/Radio volume control that compensates for ambient noise, an automatic TV/Stereo sound muter triggered by an incoming or outgoing phone call or a doorbell ring, a telephone call counter, shock absorbers, a new type of spring, a log bandsaw, several bug killers, a sound-proof booth, a new drill bit, an innovative workbench, new toys, and a simple device that reduces energy consumption while improving the performance of electrical appliances.
14) Invent a new type of beautiful flooring, umpteen security devices, a new ladder, a ladder stabilizer, numerous safety devices, exercise machines, an innovative flotation device, new methods of propulsion, a new cheese wrapper, an economical automated home auto washer, a new nozzle that improves the efficacy of car washing (or washing similar things), innovative storage devices (here is a robotic one), a new studfinder, a way to protect wires and pipes embedded in walls during subsequent nailing or screwing into the wall, a speed monitor so parents can verify that their adolescent children ever exceed a preset limit (a great way to dissuade them from doing it, since you could threaten to suspend or revoke their driving privileges if they do), a way to conceal acne blemishes in seconds without cosmetics, and a beautiful new type of home siding.
15) Make a jig that allows slatwall to be installed faster and with incredible precision.
16) Learn more about sex than Dr. Ruth . . . want proof? I also discovered something that seems to be impossible, which is how an adult male can increase the size of his penis without surgery or the usual methods that work poorly or not at all.
17) Discover how to lose weight without dieting, drugs, herbs, exercise, or surgery.
18) Think of a new way to accelerate meat cooking in ovens without raising the temperature or using convection.
19) Invent a simple device that makes old out-of-tune non-electronic ignition engines spring to life.
20) Think of a way to accelerate plant growth without using fertilizer, chemicals, or water.
21) Invent a new way to harness enormous amounts wind energy inexpensively.
22) Invent devices that would reduce the risk of transmitting venereal diseases while increasing sexual pleasure. Hence, people would be more willing to use them (unlike condoms), thus potentially saving millions of lives. (I discuss this in The Science of Sex.)
23) Make a device that allows your car radio to instantly tune to a weather station even if it cannot receive the weather broadcasts that are transmitted on frequencies outside the AM and FM broadcast bands.
24) Develop a way to make possible spot reduction (e.g., on hips, thighs, or "love handles") or spot enlargement (e.g., on breasts).
25) Figure out how to make a ROM (Read-Only Memory) chip behave as if it were a complete computer.
26) Invent a new "chip" that integrates voltage.
27) Make a combination lock whose combination cannot be forgotten by its owner, even if he has Alzheimer's disease.
28) Make an EKG circuit that costs less than an order of fries at McDonald's.
29) Make devices that make it safer for people with chronic medical problems (such as diabetes, seizures, or heart disease) to live alone.
30) Take those ubiquitous free CDs from AOL and turn them into an engine, fan, or pump, or other useful things.
31) Invent a new type of wheel that performs better than any wheel you've ever seen, and does things that would make an engineer's jaw drop in utter amazement.
32) Think of a way to make a complete circuit using no return wire. (Ever notice how even the simplest circuits have at least two wires? Even if you just hook a light bulb to a battery, you need one wire to carry current to the light bulb from the negative terminal of the battery, and one wire to return the current to the positive terminal of the battery.)
33) Think of a way to make a snowmobile with zero inches of suspension travel give a smoother ride than the latest models with long-travel (10" to 16") suspensions.
34) Think of three ways to reduce or eliminate skidding when cars travel on ice (other than the obvious: studded car tires).
35) Think of three new ways to minimize impact deceleration (and therefore minimize the risk of injuries) in vehicle accidents.
36) Make a tool that can thread a hole from the inside out.
37) Take an engine that doesn't work, and make it run better than the day it came out of the factory.
38) Write a few books . . . or even just one book. Incidentally, writing Fascinating Health Secrets and The Science of Sex took years of research and writing. Many new books have captivating covers but disappointing content because the authors are too busy writing their next book to give much time to the current one. Especially in the case of The Science of Sex, I think that readers will be stunned by the amount of information in that book that is NOT in other sex books. Other sex "experts" evidently believe that a book is worthwhile even if it rehashes things that have been said a thousand times before. I think that is an egregious waste of paper.
39) Think of a way to charge capacitors faster than the theoretical maximum dictated by the capacitor's time constant.
40) Invent a way to reduce static received by AM radios during thunderstorms.
41) Think of a way to automate data exchange during telephone orders.
42) Or, for the ultimate challenge, program a VCR. :-)
So who did all of those things? Hillary Clinton, the so-called "smartest woman in the world"? No. How about Marilyn Vos Savant, who also claims to be the smartest woman in the world? No. It was me, a guy who was once chided by his sixth-grade teacher for being "slow." So if a one-time idiot like me can leave the world's most intellectually elite women in the dust when it comes to actually doing things, then that doesn't say much for women. By the way, the above list is far from complete, and it doesn't include some of my best ideas, for reasons that should be obvious. In answering your question, I thought it was timely to review my inventions and projects I've worked on. I read through tens of thousands of pages, and compiled a partial synopsis that was over 300 pages long. (Now do you know why it took me so long to respond to your question?) Update: Three years later, that synopsis is now over 400 pages.
One of my female friends suggested that the capabilities and achievements of women are often less than men because of different cultural expectations and exposure to experiences that may teach valuable lessons, such as fixing an engine, washing machine, or furnace. If a father did any of those activities, he would be far more likely to recruit a son to help him than a daughter. I don't think this is the sole explanation because it fails to explain why people, such as myself, who grew up without fathers have learned to do a thousand things besides their occupation. So why can't women do those things, too? I have a friend in Switzerland, Sandra, whose diverse talents include the ability to fix a diesel engine. But she is as rare as a dodo bird. I've known some women with genius-level IQs, but none besides Sandra had any noteworthy diversity of capabilities.
If any feminists read this, they're probably wishing they could skewer me. Instead of hearing their protestations that women's capabilities are as diverse as men, I'd love to hear some evidence of this. I don't think that I am especially talented at cooking, baking, or sewing, but I can do those things far better than any woman I've ever dated. I can make cinnamon rolls from scratch that make cinnamon rolls from a bakery seem as bland as Styrofoam. So why is it so difficult for men to find women whose culinary talents extend beyond tossing two eggs and a cup of milk into a Pillsbury® cake mix? Are today's women so averse to "women's work" that many men can now do women's work better than they can?
To me, one of the great mysteries of life is what single, childless women do with their free time. About a year ago, an impertinent medical student wrote to me and suggested that she was as talented as me because she wrote one song and could play the violin. I've written several songs (one of which I've sung on the radio at the behest of the show hosts), and I could make a robot that could play the violin and make delicious cinnamon rolls even without using a technological crutch such as a microprocessor. And I could do—and have done—a thousand other things. Yet she is more talented? Are they giving med students LSD these days?
Nowadays, it is politically correct to say that women are superior to men. Nationally syndicated talk show host Sean Hannity loves to insinuate that men are clueless knuckle-dragging morons in comparison to women. Are we? Look at the world around you, and think of the million and one inventions and scientific breakthroughs that made this world possible. Why has 99% of this world been created by men, not women? My brother is fond of saying that if we depended on women for technological advancement, we'd still be living in huts and crying when children died of appendicitis or other diseases and conditions that we can now easily treat.
Sure, raising children is time-consuming and bound to detract from the ability of women to create things. But why aren't women filling the world with their inventions before they have kids, or after their children head off to college? Or what about women who remain childless? What's their excuse?
Believe it or not, but I'm not a misogynist. The vast majority of my friends are women. They're either smart or very smart. They're kind. They're fun. Some are witty. All are interesting. But none have accomplished even 1% of what I've done in my free time, and I wonder, "Why not?"
Instead of engaging in politically correct rhetoric and repeatedly chanting how superior women are, à la Sean Hannity*, I think it would be more productive to analyze why women have so much unfulfilled potential. Estrogen obviously does not lower IQ, but does it decimate initiative and a resolute determination to never give up until success is achieved? Even though more than a few men are couch potatoes, men have collectively accomplished much more than women. Again, why? (*Message to Sean: do you truly believe this preposterous assertion? Or are you just trying to curry favor with your female listeners? If your wife is so superior to you, as you've said many times, then why isn't she on the radio?)
I have no ulterior motive in discussing this topic. I don't want to hold women back. I would love to see them tap their potential and do as much with it as men have, or even more. However, I'm not holding my breath. Women are so sacrosanct that it is usually taboo to broach the subject of why there is such a huge disparity between what they could do and what they've actually done. It would be instructive to analyze why this is true. If a reason could be found, a remedy might be obvious. However, if this problem is swept under the rug, as it usually is, it will remain forever unsolved.
In pondering this subject, I wondered what might explain why women are squandering their potential. In my opinion, few women know what it means to really try. Sure, they might expend a lot of effort when someone else has paved the way for them and provided them with a roadmap for success (such as in school), but when they're left on their own to solve a novel problem, they'll give up unless it can be solved in five minutes without breaking a sweat. They're inclined to prematurely deem problems insolvable or just too arduous. In contrast, I don't think there is anything I can't do. I never give up. I've been working on one supremely challenging problem for over 30 years. I am not daunted by difficulty. Most of my inventions come to me in a flash, but others are the product of years of investigation and analysis.
An article in the March 7, 2005 issue of Time magazine quoted scientists who said that men and women have different brains, abilities, and behavioral tendencies. When baby girls fail they are apt to soon give up and cry, but baby boys tend to get angry and persist, according to Dr. Sandra Witelson, holder of the Albert Einstein/Irving Zucker Chair in Neuroscience at McMaster University. The article also mentioned how Dr. Witelson knew of brilliant women who did not achieve their potential because they gave up when they encountered an obstacle such as not getting a grant.
Even apart from intellectual pursuits, I think many women have a dearth of gumption and drive. When I think of the enormous amount of work that I put into building my house and improving my land, I can't think of any woman who has done anything remotely comparable. Some of this was backbreaking labor that is physically impossible for most women, but most of it required neither brains nor brawn. I moved a few hundred tons of brush while clearing my building site and working on my acreage, one stick at a time. I've seen women rake a few leaves, but move a million branches? Never.
So why don't women do this? Ah, now we're getting to the heart of the matter. Women don't do it because they don't have to. Using their God-given talents, they can make men do just about anything. Men traditionally assume riskier occupations and activities because protecting women comes natural for us. If I was married and had a tree that needed to be felled, would I let my wife do it? Never. I'd get out my chainsaw and do it, even though I know the death rate for logging is 1.25% per year. That makes police work seem as safe as being an Avon lady.
I don't know what to think of men. Are we gallant protectors of women? Or are we suckers who are duped by women into doing the dangerous, dirty work, after which we are denigrated as being clueless knuckle-dragging morons who are inferior to women? I don't think the latter gloomy explanation is the best one. Even if women weren't around, I'd still be busy as a beaver creating things and making this world a better place. I am mystified that women are usually content to sit back and let men do most of the work that advances the world. Wouldn't we have a better world if women were as innovative as men? Of course.
Why don't women experience the same impetus to do things, instead of sitting around and doing whatever it is that they spend their time doing? I think that women are too easily lauded and coddled, and that reduces their incentive. A woman could have a pretty face, big boobs, or great legs, and that alone could be her ticket to success in life. Successful men trip over themselves in their eagerness to make such women their wives. So why should these women even lift a finger? The answer is obvious: many women don't try because they don't have to. They coast while men are sprinting. Men don't wait around for attractive women to sweep them off their feet and shower them with money, gifts, and a house. Except for a minority of women who are true go-getters, most women seem to cruise around in neutral until they find a financially secure man who can give them things. Women, stop howling. You know it's true, and virtually every psychologist who studied this issue knows that it is a fact. Heck, anyone with a room-temperature IQ knows it: women want financially secure men. If those women were financially secure and could bring just as much to the table, so to speak, they wouldn't let economics influence their spousal selection. Instead, they'd marry for love and only love, as almost every man does.
Yes, some women consult only their heart, and not a financial balance sheet or a guesstimate of a man's future earnings, when deciding whom they should marry. However, so many women put finances into the equation that this has become a truism and a central facet of our culture. It's also one reason why men are so interested in financial success, because they know that will enable them to obtain a "better" spouse.
Newsweek magazine published an article in their June 16, 2003 edition on why we strive for status. The article included two pictures of the same man. In one picture, he was elegantly dressed in a suit and tie; in the other, he wore slightly tattered overalls and looked like a typical furnace repairman. Turn the page, and there is a 20-something man dressed in a suit and then in attire representative of what workers wear in fast-food restaurants. Women who are beautiful enough to be choosy are more likely to pick the man in the suit. Perhaps he is a doctor, lawyer, or CEO. Whatever he is, women are sending him and other men a clear message: if you have money and status, you are so much more preferable to men who—eewww!—wear dirty overalls at work, or who work in burger joints.
So what is my point? Women like nice things. No surprise there. If they are sufficiently attractive to make this an option, many women choose men who can give them what they want instead of earning it on their own. Hence, if a woman is pretty, she doesn't have to try as hard as men. Just coast and wait. Let men toil away. Why worry about fulfilling their potential and accomplishing things on their own? Just go on a diet, wear a Wonder Bra, and the men will come. With their stuff, of course.
I'd enjoy hearing from anyone who thinks she can prove me wrong, but remember that there are currently about three billion women in the world who are doing what their mothers and grandmothers did: letting men do most of the innovation. Are there a few exceptions? Certainly. While I'd enjoy reading about your personal achievements, I'd rather focus on why most women are frittering away their potential.
What about women who are not beautiful? Can they coast through life? They often do, although they frequently end up with less expensive possessions (house, car, clothes, jewelry, etc.) than gorgeous women. (To anyone who doubts that there is a correlation between wealth and beauty, please be willing to wager a million dollars on your preposterous assumption.) If such women are not beautiful, why can they coast? The answer is two-fold. First, I think that many men can be attracted to a woman even if she has only one redeeming physical attribute, such as a pretty face, radiant smile, voluptuous breasts, shapely rear, tight abs, or enticing legs. It's a rare woman who has nothing physical going for her. Second, even for the few women with no particularly attractive features, there are an equal number of men with a commensurate lack of attributes who desire a relationship with someone, anyone, who has a 46XX genotype and the magical organs that it confers: breasts and a vagina. Men have a boundless fascination with those things, making anyone who possesses them at least temporarily desirable—which is one reason why many relationships don't last . . . but I digress. Bottom line: women know they have what men want. Some more than others, perhaps, but they are all innately desirable to some extent. Women sense this, and often coast because they know they will eventually find men who are willing to give them stuff in exchange for a relationship and the benefits afforded by it.
On to a related topic. Besides frittering their potential, almost all of the single women I've known frittered away their money and had virtually nothing to show for their lifetime of work. Most either lived with their parents or in an apartment, and had no appreciable assets. You may be thinking, "That's easy for you to say, because you're a doctor." Well, had I not become a doctor (and wasted over a decade in training), I'd have a heck of a lot more money than I do now. Anyone who goes into medicine for monetary reasons is an absolute idiot. If you put the same time and energy into other occupations, you could make a million dollars before you'd earned your first dollar as a doctor (see this page for substantiation of that). From a financial standpoint, the biggest mistake of my life was becoming a doctor. Hence, a medical career is not a financial savior, it is a financial encumbrance that stymies the potential of people who have a lot of it.
In conclusion, I believe that a distressingly high percentage of women are content to fritter away their time and money until they find a Prince Charming who can give them things. It's not that women don't have potential. They do. It's not that women aren't smart. They are. In fact, the latest studies I've read on this matter documents that women do better than men in school (although there are, perhaps paradoxically, more male geniuses than female, resulting from the wider bell curve of male intelligence that also gives more male dunces).
Furthermore, women are more likely than men to attend college. So if women are more likely to obtain an advanced education and excel in it, why on Earth aren't women more innovative and productive? Why is finding a good provider so important to them? Why can't women be the ones showering men with stuff, instead of the other way around? It's because our society inculcates an inimical message to women: you have something that men want. Use that as a quid pro quo to get what you want. Too many women are waiting around for that stuff to fall in their lap, so they're not using their full potential to obtain those things on their own. As a result, too many women are dependent upon men, and that fuels a vicious cycle in which women don't run at full throttle because they know that they'll get what they want even if they don't give a 100% effort.
In my opinion, the beautiful woman syndrome partially explains the chasm between the collective potential of women and the collective achievements of women. Incidentally, the beautiful woman syndrome is not a quantal thing: i.e., it is not something that is either fully present or absent; it can be present to varying degrees. In a culture like ours that overemphasizes the importance of appearance, it is not surprising that women are so susceptible to the beautiful woman syndrome. Attractive men are relatively insulated from this problem for a simple reason: the mark of a man is success, not appearance. A man can be handsome and still be considered a failure. If a woman is hot, countless men are eager to date her even if she is perennially unemployed and heavily in debt. A gorgeous woman could have a long list of negative attributes and still be rabidly sought after by men. To men, she is worth more than gold. Hence, she is a de facto winner, not a loser, regardless of what her credit rating is.
Because women can become winners without breaking a sweat, some of them won't try as hard as they otherwise would have if they were less attractive. This doesn't apply only to the "10s" with gorgeous faces, large breasts, tight abs, and great legs. If a woman has any standout feature, it's a sure bet that she will have her pick of endless men. Because great breasts or legs are much easier to acquire for the women blessed with the great genes that confer those assets, they can rocket ahead of other women in the race for success: just marry a successful man, or take advantage of society's proven tendency to give more money and opportunities to attractive women.
Thus there is a major discrepancy between the recipe for success in men and in women. With few exceptions, a man must work hard for years to become a success, while a woman can become an overnight success just by marrying a rich guy. How could she achieve that? By slaving away for 110 hours per week, as I did for many years? No, by having the luck to be born beautiful.
Bottom line: If success is so easy, why try so hard? This slacking off is what accounts for some of the failure of women to achieve as much as they could. I think that wasted potential is a tragedy, so the fact that so many millions of women have accomplished much less than they could have is one of the great tragedies of all time. Yet no one seems to care much about it. I would rather live in a world where women take more pride in their accomplishments than their beauty, but that's not the way things are. Men use success to get beauty; women use beauty to get success. When it comes time to burn the midnight oil, it's not very surprising who is more willing to go the extra mile. So who will achieve more? The answer is obvious.
UPDATE: The Oprah Winfrey Show recently teamed up with QVC to search for the "Next Big Idea." From a field of 6000 applicants, eight finalists were selected to appear on Oprah's May 3, 2007 show. I was dumbfounded by what I saw. All eight finalists were women (perhaps not too surprising, considering Oprah's thinly-veiled misandry), whose ideas included a fold-down baking pan, a vegetable peeler, a food item (a stuffed biscuit), a clip for hanging Christmas cards on wreaths, a plastic ball to assist in floral arrangements, decorative drapes for shutters (can you say, "just another craft project"?), a radio-controlled doodling toy, and an eye shadow applicator.
Ahem. Calling most of these things "inventions" isn't just a stretch, it is the "Next Big Stretch." Several of the ideas have been around for years, and the remainder are anything but the kind of great ideas you might expect from a pool supposedly representing the best ideas from 6000 entrants. Stick a knife into a biscuit and stuff some food inside—is that really an invention? I did that when I was a hungry kid looking for a snack at a time when I was "slow," according to my sixth-grade teacher.
The winning idea was the fold-down baking pan, invented by a woman supposedly desperate to find a better way to remove food from a pan. Sheesh, hasn't she heard of a frigging spatula, for heaven's sake? Instead, she concocted a maze of sheet metal that looked like it was designed by the same person who styled World War II-era ammunition containers. Her pan looked to be impossible to thoroughly clean without scrubbing for hours with various brushes to reach into its nooks and crannies. I love baking, and I love most baking gadgets if they serve a purpose and aren't more of a nuisance than they are worth, but I wouldn't use her fold-down baking pan if someone gave it to me! And that, my friends, was judged the best of the 6000 ideas. The "Next Big Idea"? No, the "Next Big Disappointment."
My contention that women give less than a 100% effort is clearly a generalization. It obviously does not apply to Melanny who, I fear, may be trying to achieve more than is humanly possible. To elaborate on this, I'll present my review of Walking Out On The Boys by Frances K. Conley, M.D. Following this, I will summarize this presentation, then segue into a discussion that should make you stop in your tracks and spur you into contemplating whether your chosen career is likely to fulfill your expectations. You are probably thinking, "Of course it will!" Not so fast. I'll soon explain why. Until then, here is the book review: