Content warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault.
In May, Netflix debuted “Our Father,” a shocking documentary that took Twitter and TikTok by storm. The film highlighted the grave violation of autonomy and privacy by a fertility doctor who, without consent, inseminated patients with his own sperm.
The story brings to light a debate of male prevalence in female health care.
As the film quickly racked up 42.60 million viewing hours – making it one of 2022’s most popular Netflix documentaries thus far – it raised questions for viewers about who is occupying positions of power in reproductive health care settings.
It’s time to think critically about male prevalence in female health care, and how the standards of the industry should better reflect patient autonomy rather than the interests of practitioners and the legal frameworks they work within.
This film, and others like it, echos a trend in popular culture. Reproductive rights are an increasingly pressing topic of conversation, especially since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, leaving abortion regulations up to individual states and reducing access to care.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends seeing an OB-GYN for the first time between the ages of 13 and 15, and getting a pap smear for the first time after the age of 21. And sometimes, as college-age students seek care for the first time, men are the only practitioners available for patients to see.
Women are systematically disadvantaged in their influence in STEM industries, including medicine. For instance, less than a third of doctors are women while men dominate 37 of the 43 medical fields. And despite 41 percent of OB-GYN doctors being men, only 8 percent of patients who seek OB-GYN care prefer a male doctor, according to an article from the Dayton Daily News.
There are certainly benefits to having men in reproductive care spaces – and we want to be clear that everyone, regardless of gender identity, should have the opportunity to pursue career paths that focus on women’s health issues. Transgender and gender diverse patients in particular may benefit from the ability to choose a health care provider that they feel best suits their interests and identity.
But while these benefits exist, it’s still crucially important for women to have power in spaces that concern their health and safety.
Since Roe was overturned, those impacted by the decision have taken to social media to share how women should protect themselves. Viral tweets urge women to delete their period apps to avoid authorities potentially using fertility information against them. Other posts encourage women to not disclose the date of their last period to primary care providers.
These fears are not unfounded. Patient privacy has been completely uprooted since women’s decisions regarding their reproductive health have become an unprotected right. And part of the fear of health care professionals taking advantage of patients stems from a lack of female providers.
In a world where people who can get pregnant are ever-so careful with their personal health information, we must turn to creating health care spaces that value the struggles women face, rather than uphold regressive legal precedents. In an industry that has potential to take advantage of women in vulnerable positions, patients must be able to discuss intimate health issues with providers who can identify with their concerns and who are also personally impacted by legislation limiting their privacy.
Health care professionals, including female practitioners, are not immune to their own beliefs and biases. But increasing the number of female professionals in a field that fundamentally impacts them is a step toward elevating their voices and needs.
The demographic of practitioners is changing. In 1970, seven percent of gynecologists were women, whereas now, they make up 59 percent of the profession. Women succeeding in these fields is indicative of important progress being made towards equality, both for the women giving and receiving care.
In a post-Roe world, the ongoing debate of men overseeing female care needs to shift to consider the protection of female patients. Men in these positions of power need to advocate for their patients and listen to the women in their fields.
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