Rampant Culture of Sexual Harassment in the Australian Medical Industry
March 8 2015
Recently, vascular surgeon Dr. Gabrielle McMullin made some very disturbing comments about the culture of sexual harassment in the Australian medical community. This one in particular really got my goat:
“What I tell my trainees is that, if you are approached for sex, probably the safest thing to do in terms of your career is to comply with the request.”
The only concern regarding ‘safety’ in a situation where a woman is being unwillingly propositioned for sex in the workplace should be that of physical safety. And the fact of anyone’s physical safety being under threat by a colleague is absolutely unacceptable.
While I commend Dr. McMullin for bringing attention to a deeply unsettling issue, I in no way commend her strategy for addressing it.
As a senior female surgeon, Dr. McMullin is in a position of privileged authority, and is powerfully placed to give voice to the change that must occur for women to be safe from sexual threat in the workplace. Beyond that, she has a duty of care to her fellow colleagues and, especially, to her mentees. By encouraging women to stay silent and comply with sexual abuse in the workplace she is not only neglecting that duty of care, but is also undermining the dignity, achievement, and personal autonomy of every woman in her profession and beyond.
For if Dr. McMullin believes that the impact of her comments is isolated to her industry, she is very much mistaken; I am surrounded by intelligent, capable, hard-working, beautiful women making careers for themselves not only in the medical industry, but in all manner of typically male-dominated fields. Should those women—whom I dearly love and admire—ever find themselves the victim of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace, it makes me feel physically sickened to know that this is the advice they would receive from a fellow woman in a position of high professional authority. That in 2015 we have women telling other women to accept sexual abuse as par for the course in pursuing a career is vile, infuriating and deeply, deeply saddening.
Profound and pervading change is needed if this problem is to be rectified. And it starts by allowing women to feel safe to report harassment in the workplace, by instituting systems through which the perpetrators, and not the victims, are condemned.