June 13th 2009
My summer session English 4 class (a literature class) has been focused on men and women and class struggle, so we have read and had numerous discussions on the “nature” of men and women (keeping in mind that as individuals we’re all different). It is an intensive class, with a lot of reading and I’m rather proud of how my students have responded. The conversations we’ve been having have really been exciting for me.
Because we’re reading non-fiction prose along with fiction, I have felt it important to be open about my own life and my own questions on the nature of men and women and relationships. So, I was open with my class about my feeling relative to a colonoscopy I have scheduled this month.
On the surface of it, there’s nothing remarkable about this procedure and the statistics on colorectal cancer show it affects men and women virtually equally. Instead, my musing on the procedure has to do with the doctor performing it, my “male” inclinations and social conventions. When I received the notice from the gastroenterology group I was referred to that a consultation had been scheduled, the name of the doctor was a longish Indian name which I couldn’t pronounce. I assumed the doctor was a male and thought nothing of it.
Of course, he was a she. Perhaps more importantly (and at this point, I’m beginning to move into the queasy territory of literary nonfiction–the exploration of the inadequacies and foibles of the self, exposed to all) I found her quite attractive. She was neither skinny nor overweight, about 5′ 5″ I’d say, with (it looked like–I didn’t touch it) soft, medium-length hair and a smooth, creamy complexion. Her voice was low, almost husky, and I guessed her age as mid-thirties. She was wearing a black knit blouse and brown slacks–conservative, but fashionable. I’d been waiting for nearly an hour when she came in and my first inclination (to complain) disappeared as she smiled and began talking to me.
When she introduced herself, she mentioned her name was changed from the card they’d sent me because she was divorced now. We shook hands and she sat across the room from me (it was a largish exam room). I was wearing a T-shirt with Greek letters on it and she assumed it was from a fraternal order, so she asked me about it. I’ve never been in such an order, but I told her I thought they were more effective for women (sororities) than for men since I felt women networked and supported each other better. I said that I thought men were too immature and competitive at the age that most join these fraternities for them to have lasting value.
At this point she began to speak of her divorce and how ostracized she felt, of the way her ex-husband’s friends never called her, etc. She spoke of the effect of all this on her son. She talked about being the breadwinner, and thus having to pay alimony and child support. I listened to her, watching her, and I was keenly aware that I felt the urge to do something! I don’t believe in “male” roles any more than I do of “female” ones, but there I was suddenly feeling protective and wanting to comfort her. It was a strange feeling and as I became more aware of it, the more uncomfortable I became. It was almost a sexual response. For example, I found myself consciously trying to find anything to look at besides her breasts, which in turn meant I was hyperconscious of them anyway.
To make things worse, this woman will be sedating me to thread a camera and some sort of clipper thing up my butt in a couple weeks! I guess I’d have felt less self-conscious if she had been a 70-year-old grandfather-like guy. I mean, there’s no way in our next meeting I’m going to leave a good impression on her even if I cared to. And I don’t care to. I have no interest in her besides my continued good health. But that didn’t stop my mind spinning off on all the tangents…
That’s where this musing ends. Except it doesn’t–women have had male doctors and Ob/Gyns for forever. I’m just seeing this dance between the sexes, sexual (intended or not) and non-sexual, now with new eyes. I cherish my female friends as I do my male ones and I don’t sleep with any of them. But I am a little shocked at how quickly that detachment drained from me in that exam room.