Dr Ashleigh Witt
Dr Ashleigh Witt is a medical registrar and basic physician trainee in Melbourne. She studied at Monash University where she was heavily involved in student politics as the president of the Monash University Medical Undergraduates Society (MUMUS Inc) and developed her passion for public speaking and advocacy. She completed her internship at Western Health and commenced physician training with aims to eventually specialise in geriatrics and palliative care.
At the start of 2015, in response to the exposure of bullying and sexual harrassment in surgery, Ash became vocal about gender inequity in medicine, writing an article on the topic called ‘It’s not Lady doctor, its doctor’. This blog received much media attention and thousands of female doctors read it and screamed ‘me too’.
Women were allowed in into medicine in 1983, but despite 122 years of women in medicine, and significant improvements to gender roles, Ash believes there is still a long way to go.
‘When I walk into a room, people assume I’m the nurse, the social worker, the dietician, the cleaner – anyone but the doctor. How long will it take society to see a woman in the hospital and not call her ‘sister’?’
In particular Ash has spoken out against the culture of sexism through ‘banter’ in hospitals. She believes that sexual harassment and gender inequity in medicine encompasses much more than just physical violation.
In her speech at Australian Doctor’s Health Conference this year, Ash stated:
‘Gender inequity and sexual harassment is a spectrum. At the most extreme, awful end of this spectrum is rape, but at its most mild, gender inequity is everytime you say something to a female colleague you wouldn’t say to a man. It’s those side jokes and ‘banter’, its commenting on my outfit instead of my skillset, its calling me ‘lady doctor’, not ‘doctor’. And for everyone who says ‘Oh that’s just banter, learn to take a joke’ – Have you considered the extent of what we hide under that lighthearted term of ‘banter’?
This banter is what has allowed the subtle undercurrent of sexual harassment to become a well accepted part of our profession. The fact is, these comments are so common and unexciting that we forget that they are not okay.
These seemingly harmless comments, coupled with the line that we ‘need to take a joke’, teach women in medicine that they need to just accept everyday sexual harassment. And worse still, they encourage those deeds further along the spectrum of sexual harassment.
Ash’s tips for surviving medicine as a feisty woman in a man’s world are this:
- As long as you can’t see down it, up it, or through it – wear whatever you want to wear. A consultant once told me that ‘to compete with the boys you need to dress like the boys’. I’ve exclusively worn dresses since then.
- Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do something. Fight for what you believe is right, fix the broken parts of the system.
- Sometimes, as much as you don’t want them to, the tears come in public – go to the bathroom. Better to miss 5min of the ward round then be the girl who cried
- Get a mentor. Find a powerful, feisty female consultant and ask them to mentor you. It’s that easy. It’s so flattering to be asked, no one says no.
- Mentor the female med students below you. Pay it forward.
- Call out sexism when you see it. The change starts with us.