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I am fortunate to have incredible, unforgettable mentors in my life. Some I have referred to explicitly as so in conversations; some likely have no idea I think of them as mentors. Some have passed away; some I texted just a few days ago to catch up. The one common vein they share is that they are all women.
In the age of #MeToo and Time’s Up, when we are surrounded by stories about Weinsteins and Lauers, it is hard not to think about the generations of women who have been robbed of opportunities through harassment and sexism. As a young female physician who is automatically assumed to be a social worker or a nurse when walking into a room just because of my gender, I feel the frustration every day when I read these stories.
Sometimes it’s merely annoying. And sometimes it’s disturbing and infuriating. It is overwhelming to think about how many women are told they are unimportant or inferior because they are women. It is upsetting to think about how often “female strengths” of compassion and intuition are looked down upon, and to see this create a twisted belief that these traits are not admirable but detrimental, that women do not have what it takes. And it is painful that these criticisms create in our minds an “imposter syndrome,” a fear that we will never be good enough, and certainly not as good as our male counterparts.
I have held this fear for as long as I can remember. As a woman who has always loved science and whose Local Ideas Festival was about the environment and who now works in medicine, I have felt it with every step entering a career that remains dominated by men, particularly in leadership roles. I will admit that this fear has at times made me brush off a dismissive comment, ignore a passive (or active) aggressive insult, stay quiet instead of speak up against a male colleague.
In a world like this, it is easy to feel held back, stuck, or denied. It is easy to call it quits. But then I think of the women in my life who have been my mentors – strong women, women who stand up for themselves and thus for all women. I cannot think of the many exact words of advice they have given me through the years, but I will always remember the strength I felt just through their presence. The fact that they are here to be role models is enough.
Amanda Taub of The New York Times recently wrote an article about the #MeToo movement and a fellow law student who she never knew personally, but who was an inspiration for her through a popular legal blog, who showed her the possibilities despite the fact that she was a young woman. Taub insists, “Examples matter. Exposure matters.” For a young woman with dreams and hopes and aspirations, the importance of these figures is hard to put into words.
The female mentors in my life have shown me that it is possible. These are women who pushed open stubborn, discriminatory doors, who ensured that they would not close on them or any of the women who will come after them. To be surrounded by women who will not let anything stop them, and to be shown that your gender does not matter in terms of what you can achieve, that it has no indication of your abilities, is one of the greatest gifts that can be given.