Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Women doctors? Ya gotta be kidding! Yet for the early years of the 25 that I spent in a medical school teaching and doing research that was sadly a fact. But strong women pushed and prodded to get in and one or two were finally accepted only to face a hell few people today can imagine.

“There was recently an obituary in The Lancet of a famous woman physician. The obituary writer describes her going on one of her clinical rotations, and the professor saying, "I don't want you here. They say you have to be here, but you are not welcome here. I don't want any women on my service."

One woman, Dr. Estelle Ramey, just took the all-male medical establishment on in their own science, leading the way for more women to study medicine in very difficult times.

The early anatomy lectures I audited were difficult to endure as many professors showed pornographic slides ostensible to teach about the skin. These were greeted by hoots and ribald comments from the med students – all male. As first one woman and then more were accepted in my State’s medical school, the Professors confined these fun and games to private lectures given only to the males in the class – females were not invited. Most women got around this by getting the notes from a male classmate in order to pass the exams.

Things certainly got better every year as more women instructors were hired but it was still shocking to us when a new anatomy textbook came on the scene in 1971. Anatomy faculty as is usual, got advanced complimentary copies. Understand now that the human body and all its parts was no stranger to those of us in anatomy, but this book by three anatomy professors from Duke did more that raise eyebrows, it created a storm of protest all over the country and Dr Ramey led it.

This textbook was titled: “The Anatomical Basis of Medical Practice. So you have a picture of a male torso, in which the head, the arms, and the genitals are cropped out, and little arrows point to where the muscles are of the male torso. But for the female torso, you have a full frontal nude shot, head to toe, of a woman in a seductive pose, with little lines pointing to the linea alba and the other muscles of the abdomen. You have women, nude, swinging on garden swings, with towels wrapped around their head, and splashing in the surf, ostensibly to show the effect of ultraviolet ray on the skin.

The short review above does not even begin to describe the pornography throughout a textbook written under the guise of teaching human anatomy.

This book engenders a national boycott organized by the American Association of Women in Science. Their president is Dr. Estelle Ramey-who was a physiology professor at Georgetown. She organizes a boycott of the Duke anatomy textbook. It is decried in Time magazine and Newsweek magazine, and eventually Williams and Wilkins chooses not to reprint it.

The Anatomical Basis of Medical Practice disappears from the bookshelves about six months to a year after it’s published. But the story of the pornographic anatomy book, The Anatomical Basis of Medical Practice, is a story of how women are subjected to victimization, how they’re portrayed in medical illustration, about how some professors thought there was no big deal. They were “just being cute.” By the 1970s, women were prepared to push back. If this episode had occurred a generation earlier, women would have simply looked down at the floor, and hoped the unpleasant would have gone away.”

Certainly if it happened today, lacking the strong convictions and leadership of Dr Ramey in the Women’s Movement, it would be just dandy to publish such a book. After all, so many women of today seem to feel it’s old fashion to protest sexism and misogyny or even battering.

Just imagine what Ramey’s reaction to Obama’s campaign against Clinton would have been. Unlike all the present women leaders in science, industry, politics and our Movement for Equality [like NOW] she would have had his guts for garters and women would have a leader in the White House.

Her wit and wisdom are still valid today and it took immense courage to say things like this during the early years of women’s self-revival:

“If it’s testosterone the public wants in a president, as an endocrinologist I can’t recommend a 70-year-old man in the White House. They should get a 16-year-old boy instead,” she said. “It seems the only thing the public doesn’t want to see in a president is estrogen.”

Men, she said, are clearly the weaker sex, and Mother Nature may well be a radical feminist, based on the biological evidence. The female of every species, she noted, is stronger in terms of stamina, longevity and performance under stress.

“Men were designed for short, nasty, brutal lives. Women are designed for long, miserable ones,” she opined.

We are the only animal that cries. It is a God-given emotional outlet. When men aren’t allowed to cry tears, they cry blood. They bleed internally.

I have worked all my life with men, and I have discovered that some of them are very smart, some of them are very stupid, and most of them are mediocre hacks. Women fall into the same categories. We will have equality when a female schlemiel moves ahead as fast as a male schlemiel. That’s equality, not when a female Einstein gets promoted to associate professor.

Asked once by a sneering lawyer if she preferred the title “chairperson,” Dr. Ramey responded, “I’d rather be a chairman. They make more.”

“I am appalled at the fact that men have not studied the differences between males and females for their own advantage,” she said in the 1980s. Such studies would help men as well as women and society, she said, because women outlive men by seven to nine years.

“Now, I like testosterone. Every home should have some,” she said. “But it becomes damaging as a man gets older. I’m trying to help men live longer, although I’m not sure all of them deserve it.”

Dr Ramsey’s medical contributions to both women and men have earned her an honored place in medical history. However, the leadership of our movement for equality has largely ignored her and few women of today have even heard of her. Perhaps this is because she spent her time bravely and forthrightly promoting women’s abilities and value rather than the political posturing we see among women in the Movement today.

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