Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the Japanese media’s depiction of women doctors, or, at least, one TV drama’s depiction. What prompted the column was the cited article in Shukan Gendai, which openly defended the Tokyo Medical University’s practice of shaving points off of examination scores for female applicants in order to reduce those applicants’ chances of being accepted at the school. The university’s, as well as Gendai’s, rationale is that women are more likely to leave the medical profession when they marry and have children, thus robbing Japan off much needed medical expertise, especially in the realm of surgery. If women were allowed to compete for medical disciplines openly, then, in the future, says the magazine, there will be an “increase in the number of doctors who cannot perform surgical procedures.”
It’s an odd turn of phrase, but the scare tactic is obvious: Your chances as a patient of surviving certain diseases will be diminished because there will be fewer surgeons to treat them. What’s particularly galling about this forced connection between presumed choices and medical productivity is how dependent it is on circumstances that aren’t that difficult to overcome. One is already mentioned in the column, which is that women are not as physically strong as men and therefore cannot cope with the demands of surgery. It’s one reason why women doctors do not opt for surgery when choosing a discipline. Since there are women surgeons working without any known drawbacks all over the world, this is a facile argument.
But Gendai really shows its hand when it tries to knock down the proposal that Japan should just train more doctors in general rather than limit any demographic from attaining medical licenses. After all, Tokyo Medical University only accepts a certain number of applicants, whether they be male or female. If the overall number were increased without handicapping women, the issue of fewer surgeons would go away. The problem with this idea? The Japan Medical Association doesn’t want to increase quotas, presumably because more doctors means lower average salaries. Also, most doctors work in private clinics, not hospitals, and if there were more doctors there would be more competition for patients. If this is one of the reasons for discrimination against women doctors, then Gendai should insist the JMA change its ways, but instead it doubles down on the supposition that women still won’t want to be surgeons and the “consequences” of such decisions will be dire.
The limitations demanded by the JMA also play into another bogus theory of why women are not cut out for medicine: work load. Doctors, especially emergency room professionals, often have to work punishing hours, and women, the magazine contends, can’t handle the burden as well as men can. This theory is not limited to medicine; in all occupations in Japan, real dedicated employees–read “men”–are expected to go the extra mile to prove their worth as workers or professionals, and women don’t necessarily buy into this ethic. That’s probably true, and for good reason. It’s stupid. Overworked doctors may be the norm and something of a romantic cliche, but it is in no way an ideal situation. A larger pool of doctors would solve this problem, and women have to be included. It’s not rocket science, or, to use a more apt metaphor, brain surgery.